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By Harrison Hartsough
I spoke at a recent meeting of Geneseo’s apologetics club, Ratio Christi, regarding how Christians should approach law. My argument was steeped in the natural law theory of Aquinas, but in a larger sense, in the common Christian notion that morality comes from God. Although I was hoping that my talk could present an appeal for prayerful consideration of passages such as Romans 13, or Matthew 22:21, in light of our duty as ambassadors to Christ (I did say something to the effect that much of the abortion protest that has gone on is nothing short of despicable) I was asked the question: where do you fall on the question of flower arranging?
The sentiment behind the question, that a Christian with a consistent Biblical understanding (knowing where I stand is not terribly relevant to my argument, but I do believe a true interpretation of Scripture marks homosexuality as sin) might have to serve or otherwise do business with a homosexual couple, is certainly valid. The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, though constitutionally sound, threw out debate on the topic, opting instead for the kind of sweeping judicial ruling that would inevitably foment into an apoplectic response by the Christian right. NPR reported pastors stomping on and burning copies of the decision. Christians genuinely fear the implications of the Court’s decision.
The question, frankly, was not what I wanted to address. As soon as we ask such a question there is a dichotomy, an us-them mentality. Running the course of this logic to its end, we see that (at least if we properly understand scripture and its attitude on sin) business owners should deny service to unmarried couples they can observe to be pregnant, or to individuals who openly express sexual promiscuity. I have found little Scriptural evidence to suggest that Christians should not follow the law in this instance.
In short, when it comes to doing business, or paying taxes, Christians must follow the laws of the land, coexisting peacefully; functioning not as pariahs but as ambassadors of Christ, set apart, but ministering to the world. Why? Because when it comes to persecution or in this case, inconvenience, we are not culpable Biblically, and furthermore, society cannot function when laws are capriciously disobeyed. In the aggregate, a society cannot function when its parts are permitted to determine for themselves which laws are valid and which are not.
Biblical examples exhibit high standards for disobeying laws: Daniel contravened a law requiring him to pray to a king (most laws we may dislike simply permit un-Biblical conduct), Esther entered a room to save her people, and the apostles continued spreading the Gospel in spite of a law saying they could not (following the Great Commission, an essential part of Christianity). Thus, some laws are so contradictory to a Christian understanding that they must be disobeyed.
Within the church, we cannot call the Court’s decision a morally sound one – I cannot emphasize the need for sound doctrine enough. But neither can we deny that we are told to pay taxes, told to obey the government, told that Jesus associated with sinners. The question I was asked was inane at best, and Pharisaical at worst. It did not seek understanding, how to balance between our duty as ambassadors and to God’s law, but instead sought a route through which I might be criticized, as though my argument concerning morality and God’s law would suddenly be lost because I do not believe there is a crisis of Christian conscience. So I’ve waited until now to answer the question, and my answer is decidedly that by and large we must follow the laws set before us, taking refuge not in political movements, but in the understanding that Jesus reigns.