A Question for Progressive Christians on Religious Liberty

religious-libertyLast week I wrote on the significance of the free speech and religious liberties issues involved in the New Mexico State Supreme Court decision, which barred Christian wedding photographers from refusing to photograph same-sex ceremonies out of conscience. I pointed out that, in essence, the state is demanding a sacrifice, an offering that constitutes the price of citizenship in a sacralized state. Among other things, I said that as Christians we need to be prepared to be martyrs, those who give testimony in the face of opposition, to the Kingdom of God, on a host of issues whether it be unjust military actions, economic situations, or violations of God’s creative ordering for sexuality.

Predictably the reactions were mixed. Certainly the non-Christian commenters and respondents had some negative comments, who basically agreed with the court, comparing these photographers to segregationists, etc. I disagreed with them, but it was to be expected. The more interesting reactions were those of more ‘progressive’ Christians who, nonetheless, seemed to support the Court’s decision that the moral and religious convictions of their brothers and sisters ought to be subjected to the State in this area. They essentially echoed the sentiments and arguments of non-Christian critics, only with a caveat about being personally Christian, or an extra jab about self-righteousness for good measure.

This raised a question: in general, where do the Christians who disagree on the material issue of same-sex relationships stand in relation to their witness of their brothers and sisters as a political issue? Or how about those who agree that same-sex relationships are prohibited to the Church, but the secular state is to be governed according to its own principles apart from Christian convictions? If it came to it would they support Christians who have taken, gentle but principled stands on this issue out in the economic and political realms, or, would they generally side with the State on this issue? I’m not talking about outright bullying and so forth, but, essentially, saying ‘No, that’s not something I can support. Sorry.’ in the way that Elane photography did.

So, for example, I am not a pacifist. At the same time, I have deep respect for the consciences of my pacifist friends and family in the body of Christ. I was raised, somewhat, in the Quaker tradition and learned a bit about their quite costly conscientious objections, as well as willingness to risk imprisonment and legal persecution because of their religious convictions. Even though, at the end  of the day, I disagree on the material issue of war, I still would support their decision to be conscientious objectors and would argue for their religious liberty to do so.

The question I’m asking is: if it comes to it, will progressive Christians support their fellow Christians’ right to exercise their religious conscience in submission to King Jesus against the will of the State, or not? Or, to put it in more Anabaptisty lingo, is resisting Empire only about economic and military issues, or can it be about social and moral issues as well? Does the issue of same-sex marriage, trump the religious liberty issue here for you, or not?

And, if there are degrees to your support either way, what are they? Should a wedding photographer have to photograph and practically affirm through artistic and economic practice a practice they object to? How about a preacher who, non-aggressively, but honestly preaches what he/she believes are the historic injunctions against same-sex practices in Romans 1 and elsewhere? If that were to one day be deemed ‘hate-speech’ or some other such designation, where would you stand given that you disagree with that interpretation?

I ask this in good faith because the answer isn’t always straightforward. There are situations where ‘religious liberty’ concerns runs into other human rights such as life, liberty, etc. and I probably would side against the ‘conscience’ side of the debate, such as, in say, polygamy cases, or the application of certain fringe practices. Maybe this is one of those cases where you think that Christians should be quietly obedient, rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and obeying the authorities placed over us (Rom. 13)? Is this one of those issues for progressive Christians, or is there some other category or reasoning that I’ve left out?

Without a full-on discussion about whether the verses really say one thing or the other on same-sex practice, or who is right at the end of the day, the traditionalists or revisionists, I’d be curious to hear people weigh in, either in comments or if you’re a blogger type, a short post or something. I don’t plan on arguing or even commenting much, but I am curious to see where people are at and the conversation this might start.

Soli Deo Gloria