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For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:7-8)


Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, lays out a narrative of a man, Sir Thomas Moore, caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma: fealty to his sovereign king as a government minister or fealty to his conscience. The issue was that his king, Henry VIII, desperate for a male heir, wanted to annul the marriage to his current wife and marry another in hope that she would produce a male child.


The dilemma was that Moore could not agree with the actions of Henry because it did violence to Moore’s religious beliefs as a Catholic. Thomas Moore’s convictions told him that annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was morally wrong. The Act of Succession gave no option of silent disagreement. The Act required all those asked, to take an oath to recognize Anne Boleyn as Henry’s lawful wife and their children legitimate heirs to the throne. Refusal to take the oath was an act of treason. Thomas Moore would not sign an oath to the Act of Succession and he was beheaded.


In King Henry’s England there was no right of conscience against the interest of the crown, no freedom of religion or religious dissent. The will of the State trumped conscience and religion. In our American society from the onset, although at times very imperfectly, conscience and religious liberty were woven into the nation’s fabric. Conscience, for example, brought the Pilgrims to the shores of Massachusetts and the Quakers to Pennsylvania. Religious freedom was protected but no one religion prescribed in practice and in our constitutional government.


Now religious freedom and conscience are under siege in this culture. That freedom of conscience is the defining issue of the recent law passed, but vetoed in Arizona. Many have misrepresented the driving issue as hatred against gays but that is not the case. To put a point on it, the issue is the right to not be forced to participate as a vendor in a gay wedding or commitment ceremony.


A series of lawsuits and court/government actions in other states directly led to the writing of this law. A few examples are these originally detailed in an article by Ryan T Anderson and Leslie Ford at National Review 1. :


Elane and Jon Huguenin run Elane Photography, a small business in Albuquerque, N.M. Back in 2006, the couple declined a request to photograph a same-sex ceremony because of a difference in beliefs. Elane explained: “The message a same-sex commitment ceremony communicates is not one I believe.” Elane Photography never refused to take pictures of gay and lesbian individuals, but it did decline to photograph a same-sex ceremony. Other photographers in the Albuquerque area were more than happy to photograph the event — and Elane has no problem giving them that business. But in 2008, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission ruled that the Huguenins had discriminated based on sexual orientation. The commission required them to pay $6,637.94 in attorneys’ fees. In 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the Human Rights Commission. It concluded that under the state’s sexual-orientation and gender-identity law, “the First Amendment does not protect a photographer’s freedom to decline to take pictures of a same-sex commitment ceremony even when doing so would violate the photographer’s deeply held religious beliefs.


When Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman asked the Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa to bake a wedding cake for their same-sex commitment ceremony in 2013, Sweet Cakes declined the request. The bakery owners consistently served all customers on a regular basis, but making a cake for Cryer and Bowman would have required them to facilitate and celebrate a same-sex relationship — which would violate their religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. But the lesbian couple filed a complaint under the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In January, the agency issued a ruling that held the Sweet Cakes by Melissa violated Oregon’s sexual-orientation law by refusing to bake the cake. As the story gained local media attention, the owners, Melissa and Aaron Klein, immediately faced boycotts, threats and protests. Fearing for their safety, the Kleins closed Sweet Cakes by Melissa in September 2013.


There are more examples to be found to illustrate the problem that leads many to feel such a law, establishing the right of religious objection and conscience is needed. The question is this: does the government have the right to force people to participate in an action they consider morally wrong? At what point does the individual loose their right to disagree?


All kinds of nonsense has found its way into the public discourse on this, chief among them equating the denial gay marriage rights with the Jim Crow laws of the South in last century. There is even on Facebook a picture of a group of African-American students staging a sit-in at a Woolworths lunch counter to draw a connection. This tie-in is specious as the issue is not physical being (race) but action or behavior. We cannot choose our race but to varying degrees we can and do choose our behavior after birth. Gay marriage is first and foremost an action, an event. In the cases that sparked the Arizona law there was no situation where the vendor denied services, such as cakes, flowers, photography and so forth for a person being gay. In other words, they would bake a cake for a gay person, make a flower arrangement or take their picture.  It was over the issue of participating and providing service in a same-sex marriage that reined them up short. The problem is that the gay couples took umbrage and brought the government into the issue to force compliance or punish these vendors. Elane and Jon Huguenin, Melissa and Aaron Klein are not going to violate their beliefs that their Christian faith tells them that same-sex marriage does violence to their Christian faith. I take my stand with them on this issue. As Elane and Jon have made clear, we do not hate gays, do not wish them harm and will act on an interpersonal level with love and grace. For us, however, love and grace do not equate with agreement on the right of gays to marry.


The gay community has long demanded tolerance for their choices and lifestyle. They do not want to be judged for their actions or positions. Until recent years their gayness was considered as out of the mainstream and they fought for their individuality and right to be different. Will they deny that right to others?


In our nation we have given those who object to war the right of conscience in war-time. We call them conscientious objectors. Is there no conscientious objector status for the socially conservative Christian? It seems as if society at large would deny that status and this is not a new problem for the Christian community. In the early Church according to Roman culture it was a religious and social duty to worship Caesar as divine. Christians could not, in good conscience, perform the prescribed Caesar worship. Their higher religious duty was to worship the triune God alone. So for their dissent early Christians were persecuted. For many of us same-sex marriage is analogous to Caesar worship because we believe it is a denial of the teachings of both the Old and New Testament. We cannot participate in a same-sex marriage; we cannot burn the incense to Caesar.


For this stance people will disagree with us. Some will call us bigots, intolerant, small-minded and hateful because we believe that the only true marriage is between a man and a woman. We do not hate gays; it is that we cannot deny the tenants of our faith.


For myself, as I post this some will disagree and de-friend me, or call me down and respond negatively. The irony is that some will respond with great intolerance against what they perceive as my intolerance. This shines a light on a larger, burgeoning issue in our culture where increasingly in media, education and government tolerance ends where conservative thought begins. Liberalism, it appears, is moving steadily towards totalitarianism and religious freedom is cast aside. Although we want our religious right to object and disagree respected realistically we know that we, in the short-term, may be on the loosing side here. With this, we are actually regressing to Henry’s England where religious dissent was curtailed and silenced. I am not equating our current predicament with Sir Thomas Moore as far as the outcome but the push is to silence us all the same. The weapon of choice is not the executioner’s axe but lawsuits, fines and closing businesses. Sir Thomas Moore was executed by his government because he would not, in his words in Bolt’s play, “…bend to the marriage.” What will be the fate of those who, for conscience’s sake as Sir Thomas, will not bend to these gay marriages?


Some reading this will cheer these actions against people such as the Huguenins and the Kleins. I encourage you to consider that you may, by cheering on those who deny others their right of conscience and expression, be sawing off the tree limb on which you sit. As you, knowingly or not, push towards totalitarian restrictions on the rights of others your own rights may one day be on the chopping block as was Moore’s neck.


1. Bake us a Cake or Else, 2/18/14 National Review On-line




Copyright © 2014 Brian Bailey, Author