Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Flowers for Gay Weddings

By now, most have heard of the many and varied court cases related to conscientious objection, usually of a religious nature, to serving gay weddings. They are filling the courts as bakers and florists, bed and breakfast operators and caterers, are being sued for not wanting to engage in activity they deem supporting the wedding itself.

But now we are starting to get the decisions.

A judge ruled that a Washington state florist who refused to provide a flower arrangement for a gay wedding “because of [her] relationship with Jesus” violated the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws.

Background: the couple asked the florist to provide flowers for their wedding in March 2013, three months after Washington state legalized same-sex marriage. The florist had served the couple at least twenty-times before, and knew they were gay. But when the request came to provide flower arrangements for their wedding, she said that she could not provide the arrangements because doing so would have constituted a demonstration of approval for the wedding itself.

“I just put my hands on his and told him because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, couldn’t do his wedding.”

The charge against the florist was discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The State Attorney, who brought one of two lawsuits against the florist (the other came from the ACLU), said “If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”

But the legal team for the florist said she hadn’t denied the couple flowers, just the arrangements. An arrangement, it was argued, was a form of free speech. They were welcome to her flowers. Further, they argued the florist’s faith should exempt her from anti-discrimination laws.

In a sixty-page opinion, the judge maintained that “religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law…In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the courts have confirmed the power of the legislative branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious beliefs.” 

More specifically, the judge maintained that while religious beliefs are protected, religious actions are not. When the state of Washington approved gay marriage, a Christian refusing to serve gay weddings became illegal.

The florist’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner with Alliance Defending Freedom, said of the pending appeal: “The ruling basically said that if you dare to not celebrate same-sex marriage because it violates your religious convictions, that the government has a right to bring about your personal and professional ruin…Her home, her business…her life savings and retirement, these are all in jeopardy…all because of her deeply held religious views.”

Many Christians are conflicted about such stories, not to mention verdicts. No one wants to see true discrimination take place.

But there is a significant difference between serving a wedding and, say, serving a meal. Many in opposition to the florist’s stand want to link it to the civil rights movement and the abhorrent Jim Crow laws that were in effect until the mid 1960’s. 

However, the analogy is specious on several fronts, but most importantly because a wedding has always been a deeply religious event. Among many Christians, it is one of the holy sacraments. It is not about a general refusal of service on the basis of race, gender or even sexual orientation. It is about forced compliance in regard to what has historically been, and continues to be for most, a sacred act being treated in a sacrilegious way, and people being forced into participating in that sacrilege.

She would sell them flowers. She just didn’t want to create something that would be used for the wedding itself. She didn’t try to stop the wedding, or refuse them flowers for their wedding…she just didn’t want to be a participant. They could use the flowers for whatever they wanted, but that was their concern. She didn’t want to have to create something expressly used to, in her heart and mind, dishonor God.

Think of it this way: suppose she had been asked to make a floral arrangement for a Hindu wedding, a floral arrangement that was destined to be given as a sacrifice to a particular Hindu god. To make such an arrangement would be, for a Christian, unthinkable. It would be making something for a purpose that they simply could not bring their hands to craft. And for some reason, I think the court of public opinion would be with her.

To say that belief cannot be linked with action is to say that religion is fine as long as it isn’t real. As long as it doesn’t result in an actual lifestyle of conviction. It should be treated as a personal, private preference, but not a transcendent reality. As such, it must compromise itself to anything society deems desirable.

Let’s not be naïve about the not-so-subtle agenda that seems to be creeping into the cultural discourse on such matters. For many, it is not enough for homosexuality to be allowed; it is not enough for it be accepted; it is not enough for gay marriage to be legal. The end game for some seems to be the penalization, if not criminalization, of any and all convictional opposition.

To my thinking, this is the heart of the “religious freedom” concern.

And this is the heart of the matter for the florist as well, for after being offered a settlement in this case she responded by saying:

"Your offer reveals that you don't really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It's about freedom, not money. I certainly don't relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important."

So when the argument goes, “Yes, of course I believe in religious freedom. But if you’re going to be a photographer, you will have to subvert that to your role in society as a photographer. After all, you don’t have to be a photographer!”

...or,

“Of course clergy and churches should not be forced to officiate gay weddings. But if they don’t, they should lose their tax exempt status,”

...let’s call it what it is. This is the active penalization of religious conviction, and the polar opposite of religious freedom. 

Of course the photographer has to be a photographer. It is their vocation, their livelihood, the fruit of their training and education. If you want discrimination, here it is: you are saying you can’t be a Christian photographer, at least not a practicing one.

So there you have it.

A judge has ruled that a “relationship with Jesus” doesn’t justify acts of conscience. The only problem is that a relationship with Jesus demands just that.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Sarah Kaplan, ‘Relationship with Jesus’ doesn’t justify florist’s refusal to serve gay couple, judge rules,” The Washington Post, February 19, 2015, read online.

Samuel Smith, “Florist Who Refused Gay Wedding Offered Settlement; I Will Not Be Like Judas, Betray Jesus For Money, She Replied,” The Christian Post, February 23, 2015, read online.

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Militant Islam

This past week, a high-profile White House meeting with the title “Countering Violent Extremism” went out of its way to avoid labeling acts of brutal violence by Al Qaeda, ISIS (the so-called Islamic State), and their allies as “Muslim” terrorism or describing their ideology as “Islamic” or “jihadist.” 

The concern is wanting to stay away from any sense that the United States is at war with Islam itself, much less to lump the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims with vicious terrorist groups. But a growing number are saying that this is failing to look at the very real threat that is militant Islam.

They’re right.

To understand why, one must understand a few things about Islam itself. First, that there are five practices, or “pillars.” 

These are:

*The reciting of the "Shahadah," which is when you say "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet." 

*To offer seventeen cycles of prayer each day, usually spread out over five periods of time.

*To fast during the daylight hours of the ninth lunar month of Ramadan.

*To give at least 2.5% of their income in offering.

*To make the pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca.

But some Muslims add a sixth practice - The Jihad. This is an idea that is often misunderstood even by Muslims. In essence, the Jihad is a personal war you wage against yourself in terms of submission. It has to do with mental or spiritual striving.

But it can also include actual war for the sake of the Islamic faith against others, either to defend or extend the interests of Islam. Then it is called Jihad of the Sword, or a holy war. It’s based on certain passages within the Quran that urge people to fight for the cause of Allah, and to kill pagans wherever they are found.   

For example, in the second chapter of the Quran there is a passage that teaches that whenever believers meet unbelievers, Muslims are encouraged to smite their neck (Quran 2:244; 47:4; 9:5; 9:29).

Islamic tradition approves of violence against infidels and those who leave Islam as their native or chosen religion. 

Fighting and killing are described as beloved activities. 

And according to the 47th chapter of the Quran, if you die in the course of this kind of Jihad, as a martyr, you go straight to paradise (Quran 47:4-5).

In fact, Muhammad is quoted as saying the following: 

“The sword is the key of heaven and hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of Allah, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting or prayer: whoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven, and at the day of judgment his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and cherubim.”

With that kind of rhetoric, and that kind of reward, you can imagine that you are going to get some takers. And all it takes for this kind of Jihad to take place is for a Muslim leader to issue a “Fatwa,” which is a legal ruling by a man of high standing in Islam that someone is in violation of Islamic principles and should be punished by faithful Muslims. 

So while Islam itself implies peace, as Muslims will quickly tell you, the Quran does contain calls to violence. And the peace that Islam calls for is a very unique kind of peace, and is granted only to those who follow the path of the Quran. When Islam is opposed, the Quran states, and I quote, “Fight them [meaning the non-believers] so that Allah may punish them at your hands, and put them to shame.”

Now you say, “What about Christianity? Doesn’t the Bible have its share of violence and bloodshed?”

And the answer is “yes.”

It does.

But as former Newsweek reporter Kenneth Woodward once wrote,

“The Bible, too, has its stories of violence...But these stories do not have the force of divine commands...Moreover, Israeli commandos do not cite the Hebrew prophet Joshua as they go into battle... [the way] Muslim insurgents...readily invoke the example of their Prophet, Muhammad,...And while the Crusaders may have fought with the cross on their shields, they did not – could not – cite words from Jesus to justify their slaughters.”

So why is militant Islam arrayed against the United States?

In many ways, it’s due to a single place:

Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims because Muhammad selected Jerusalem as the first direction of prayer, until they rejected him as a legitimate prophet, which made him change the direction of prayer to Mecca. Muhammad is then said to have ascended to heaven from the stone that is now enclosed by the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. 

The Mosque there is considered the third holiest Mosque in the Muslim world, after the ones at Mecca and Medina.

So why does this cause hostility toward America?

The main reason is because America has historically supported Israel, the nation who is seen as keeping the area out of Muslim control. Thus America, in the eyes of some Muslims, has declared war on Allah himself.

But that’s just part of what’s going on – because this isn’t just about a practice or a place – it’s also about a goal that is part of the heart and soul of Islam. 

Muslims believe that humans are born good, but are corrupted by non-Islamic cultures. This is very different than the Christian faith, which sees all humans as being born in sin, and facing the same sin-struggle.

For Muslims, the problem isn’t sin as much as it is living in cultures and societies and under governments that do not follow Islamic Law. So the way to battle that corruption is to put everything and everyone under Islamic Law.

According to Islamic beliefs, the best hope of salvation for a Muslim is the elimination of non-Muslim influences and to advance Islam in a socio-political way. They seek the perfect society through the enforcing of Islamic law. The goal is having everything, and everyone, under Islamic law.

Even if it means by force.

This was how Islam initially spread throughout the world under Muhammad. It was through military expeditions, or Jihads. Within twelve years after Muhammad's death, that strategy resulted in the occupation of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. 

Islam is, at its heart, a political religion. In fact, it has been said that Islam is the world’s only major faith that can truly be defined as political. Which is why our world is ablaze with conflict between militant Islam and the West.

It brings to mind the now prescient writings of Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington. Seeing this conflict looming on the horizon, he called it the “clash of civilizations.” 

Released before 9/11, Huntington contended that there were three great civilizations (Western, Asian, Islamic), that there would be great conflict between the West and Islam, and that Islam’s militarism would force itself upon the world.

He was right.

Not every Muslim is a wild-eyed terrorist that wants to bomb the world to bits or kill every American in sight. And many, if not most, Muslims around the world condemn any and all terrorist acts.

But the fact remains that while the aims and actions of September 11th did not represent all Muslims, it was still done in the name of Islam. So have been the beheadings of ISIS. As Graeme Wood writes in the most recent edition of The Atlantic,

“The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Radical Islam, militant Islam, yes,

…but Islam.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Scott Shane, “Faulted for Avoiding ‘Islamic’ Labels to Describe Terrorism, White House Cites a Strategic Logic,” New York Times, February 18, 2015, read online.

Kenneth Woodward, “In the Beginning, There Were the Holy Books,” Newsweek, February 10, 2002, read online.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic, March, 2015, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

An Irrelevant Church

Rob Bell, former pastor and now host of the “Rob Bell Show” on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN television network, is now maintaining that a church that doesn’t support same-sex marriage is irrelevant. Bell had earlier questioned the existence of hell in his 2011 book “Love Wins.”

Bell made the comments on an episode of Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” where he appeared with his wife to talk about religion and spirituality. 

He called the church’s acceptance of gay marriage “inevitable,” and that the reason it should be accepted is because loneliness “is not good for the world.”

“I think culture is already there,” Bell continued, “and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.” 

So let me get this straight:

For a church to be relevant, it must not only embrace homoerotic behavior, but jettison the Scriptures as any kind of authoritative guide to this or any other cultural issue. The new apologetic is personal fulfillment. In this case, no one should be lonely, so whatever fills the loneliness gap should be affirmed.

Sometimes I don’t know where to begin.

But I’ll give it a try.

First, if the Bible is to be cavalierly abandoned as mere “letters from 2,000 years ago,” then historic orthodoxy has truly been abandoned. Christians embrace the Old Testament as inspired by God because Jesus did, and the New Testament as equally sacred because it is based on the teaching of Jesus and His apostles. If you relegate the Bible to less than the revelation of God, then you are relegating Jesus to less than the Son of God.

As Christians, we can have robust discussions on the nature of inspiration, and certainly on the dynamics of interpretation, but not on the authority of the Bible itself. That was established by Jesus.

Second, to adopt self-fulfillment and self-satisfaction as the ultimate apologetic is to make “self” central to all things. This was, of course, the great temptation put before Adam and Eve in the garden that led to the fall of humanity. Pursuing whatever I desire is not what is best for the world. What is best for the world is when I submit my desires to what is best for the world.

And that is determined by God.

Third, the “relevance” of a church is not found in its capitulation to culture, but its transformation of culture. Any student of ecclesiastical history knows that whenever orthodoxy has been abandoned in order to mirror culture, it has led to the church’s great demise. We do not gain the world’s attention through a compromised voice, but through a prophetic one.

No one would argue the need for a winsome and compelling voice for Christ in our culture more than me;

No one would argue the need for contrition for a lack of love toward those with a same-sex orientation more than me;

No one would argue the need for the church’s relevance more than me;

But if others follow Bell’s strategy, the church really will continue to be even more irrelevant than it already is.

Because it will cease to be the church.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Carol Kuruvilla, “Former Megachurch Pastor Rob Bell: A Church That Doesn't Support Gay Marriage Is 'Irrelevant', The Huffington Post,  February 20, 2015, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

"Not a Very PC Thing to Say"

Every now and then an essay breaks out and becomes the fodder for much conversation. Such was the recent musings of Jonathan Chait in an essay for New York Magazine titled “Not a Very PC Thing to Say.”

Before you think this was a conservative writing to uphold conservative ideas, think again. This was a self-ascribed “liberal” taking other liberals to task for being so “PC” that they were undermining…liberalism!

The heart of his essay, to my thinking, was a lament for the seeming inability for disagreement apart from demonization.

In one of the more telling sections, Chait writes: “Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate.”

Going further, he maintains that “political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.”

And in case you didn’t think that was strong enough, consider the following:

“If a person who is accused of bias attempts to defend his intentions, he merely compounds his own guilt…It is likewise taboo to request that the accusation be rendered in a less hostile manner. This is called “tone policing.” If you are accused of bias, or “called out,” reflection and apology are the only acceptable response — to dispute a call-out only makes it worse. There is no allowance in p.c. culture for the possibility that the accusation may be erroneous.”

But it was his final paragraph that suggested the way forward:

“Politics in a democracy is still based on getting people to agree with you, not making them afraid to disagree. The historical record of political movements that sought to expand freedom for the oppressed by eliminating it for their enemies is dismal. The historical record of American liberalism…is glorious. And that glory rests in its confidence in the ultimate power of reason, not coercion, to triumph.”

Yes.

So let’s have an open and robust public square contending for hearts and minds, including those ideas that might be deemed faith-based. Or even, dare I say it, rooted in historic Christianity.

And then, let’s all agree to disagree

... agreeably.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Jonathan Chait, “Not a Very PC Thing to Say,” New York Magazine, January 27, 2015, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

About Dr. James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

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