28 November 2012

Lexington's Fairness Ordinance: It's About so much More than the Law

I believe that laws reflect the values of a culture.  What a society deems as appropriate ultimately becomes codified in laws that put certain parameters on people's behavior.  Laws reflect a value system, but laws are not morals.  Laws give expression to morals.

Once again, the moral question of homosexuality has come to my attention in the headlines of yesterday's The Lexington Herald-Leader.  Some time ago a T-shirt printing company in Lexington, Ky, Hands On Originals, refused service to the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization.  The company's managing owner Blaine Adamson, chose to refuse service after learning the order was for promoting the 5th annual gay pride festival.  According to the company's attorneys, Adamson rejected the order because he did not want to support the message, "that people should be 'proud' about engaging in homosexual behavior or same-sex relationships."

However, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission has decreed that Hands On Originals had engaged in discrimination and violated the city's Fairness Ordinance (1999) that stipulates that homosexuals are a protected class of people.  It's possible now that the discussion may proceed to a public hearing between the groups.  What a circus that will be if that happens!

I drove to Louisville yesterday, listening to the Lexington talk radio blowing up with debate concerning this case.  I heard people calling in to defend the rights of the store owner to have his own personal convictions about homosexuality; therefore, having the right to refuse service if he wanted.  I heard others insist that the "law is the law" and that he had clearly violated the Fairness Ordinance of the city.  Back and forth it went all morning. 

So, here we are again at the intersection of a Christian's conscience guided by the Bible and law.  It is clear that Hands On Originals violated the Fairness Ordinance.  If we go by the letter of that law, that conclusion is inescapable to me. (But I'm sure that the lawyers will split hairs that I can't even see)  But, there is a much bigger issue here than just the letter of the law.

In regards to homosexuality, the Lexington ordinance is an example of the shifting values of a culture and may be exemplary of the legal future of our country as a whole.  By making homosexuals a protected class, Lexington's law makers have given a moral thumbs up to homosexual behavior.  Again, behind every law is a value that creates it.  And behind that moral value is a source of authority for the value that creates the law.  If homosexual behavior is morally acceptable, then it is perfectly proper to create laws to protect homosexuals from discrimination.  If homosexuality is wrong, then it seems just as appropriate to create laws to discourage the behavior.  This has actually been the case in the past.  Many of such laws against homosexual behavior were labeled as "crimes against nature."  Most have been repealed since the 1960s, but some are still on the books.  Of course, nowhere are such laws actively enforced.  Few people stop to ask how those who went before us could have ever created such laws - laws against sexual activity.  And the laws were not restricted to homosexuality, but adultery as well.  It begs the question of what source of authority were such laws founded on.  The obvious answer is the Bible. 

Today, the Bible, which has in the past been a primary moral source of authority for giving shape to our laws, has been pushed to the side as antiquated, no longer having the influence it once exerted on the public.  Today, sexual behavior has been categorized as a purely personal choice and has become essentially an amoral topic for many.  Sexual behavior is an area that is no longer under the scrutiny of God's Word.  Sexual behavior is now under the category of "live and let live," a private choice. 

So here is the tension.  What are Bible-believing, Christian business owners to do?  Laws are increasingly forcing them to give consent to behavior that they believe God has clearly said is wrong.  For Bible-believing Christians homosexual behavior is not just wrong for them, it's wrong for anyone.  This is a position that is becoming increasingly unpopular and one that our laws are going find ways to punish.

The choice may eventually boil down for some between capitulation to the law or breaking the law through civil disobedience.  Again, laws are not the same thing as morals.  And sometimes in history laws have not been moral.  And when this happens people of conviction have defied those laws and endured whatever punishment the governing authorities has levied against them.  Many, many examples of this exist.  Christians who defied Roman Emperors, Protestants who defied Roman Catholic authorities of church and state, Anabaptists who defied local laws for conscience sake, Germans who broke anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany, and African-American civil rights activists who broke segregation laws are just a few examples of when allegiance to a higher authority motivated many to break man's laws.

I believe that we are witnessing in my lifetime a moral shift of enormous scope and significant consequences.  I see a country unfettering itself from its biblically informed law system in regards to sexual behavior, and replacing it with laws that essentially punish those who want to adhere to the old understandings.  My concern is that God will give this country over to it's own "degrading passions" as described in Romans 1.  When God's abandoning wrath comes against a people, then their ruin is certain.  Only genuine repentance will lead a people back to a place in which they honor God and worship Him rather than themselves and their idols.

Christians, get ready to stand now.  Know what you're standing on.  Don't be moved no matter what the cost.  And by the way, right now churches are exempt from such fairness laws.  But don't count on that remaining the norm. 




26 November 2012

Dad Had the Answer to the Fiscal Cliff

We can all remember dad saying to us the classic parental rhetorical question: "If you're friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?"  This statement was typically the response to some kind of juvenile foolish thinking and decision making. And the obvious, common sense answer was a contrite, "of course not dad."  Why would I follow a fool off a cliff to my own demise?  If I did so, then I'm the fool!  That was the essential lesson that our parents attempted to instill in us with the image of the cliff.

If you haven't heard of the "fiscal cliff" that our elected legislators and president are currently speeding toward, then you've been living under a rock.  As soon as the presidential election was over, the fiscal cliff became the buzz phrase all over Washington and in the media.  Essentially, come January 1, according to the current law, dramatic spending cuts will go into effect in the federal budget and Bush-era tax cuts will expire.  Most politicians and pundits alike seem to think this will certainly place greater burden on an already sluggish and sputtering economy.

Everyone seems to agree that jumping off the cliff is idiotic.  However, it seems that we get to watch our partisan politicians play a game of chicken, seeing who will flinch first, while the consequences of their actions will impact those whom they are supposed to be representing and for whom they are working.  It's the endless, predictable, pathetic drama of Washington that the ordinary, hard-working American gets put out with.  Most folks want to see our elected officials work together for the common good, make reasonable sacrifices if necessary, and put service of country before self. 

God's Word describes why government exists.  In Romans 13:4 government is described ideally as "a minister of God to you for good."  People should understand that God has established government as a means by which evil is restrained and punished, and law-abiding citizens are protected.  As a believer I am captive to the Bible's teaching that I should honor and pray for those who God is allowing to govern me and my family.  However, I also have a biblically-informed expectation that my government should be making decisions that have my best interest at heart.  These decisions may not always be easy ones, but at the end of the day they should be the morally responsible ones. 

This so-called fiscal cliff is just the latest example of politics overrunning real service among our elected representatives.  Each side will try to leverage public fear to their advantage and play the blame game instead of just doing their duty to the people and consequently honoring God in the performance of that duty. 

I hope that you will join me in praying for our legislators and president in the coming weeks.  Our duty as the church is to pray for these men and women who shoulder this enormous responsibility.  Let's pray that they will exercise wisdom and cooperation.  Let's pray that conviction will fall on them that their own careerism will take a backseat to their mission.  Let's pray that they will put petty partisan behavior aside and work for a common good.  Let's pray that they will make sound decisions for the long-term good and not for what is just politically expedient in the moment.  And let's pray that they don't allow their desire to be re-elected to their positions to deter them from doing what is right for the people. 

I sure hope that some of their dads or moms are calling them and saying, "Son, if your fellow Senator jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?" 

20 November 2012

Hobby Lobby & Obamacare

Yesterday a federal judge ruled that Hobby Lobby could not be exempt from the birth control mandate of the Affordable Health Care Law (a.k.a Obamacare).  After an initial flurry of dissent from religious organizations, mainly Catholic, we saw the federal government quickly back peddle and declare that churches and religious organizations would be granted exemptions from the birth-control provisions of the new health care law.  However, Hobby Lobby is not recognized by the government or the courts as a religious organization.  It is a for profit business, obviously. 

In September Hobby Lobby sued the federal government over the birth control portion of the health care mandate.  David Green, CEO, contended that the provisions that force a company to provide certain kinds of birth control, such as the morning-after and week-after pills, violates his religious beliefs.  In other words, Mr. Green believes the federal government shouldn't force him to pay for a practice that he considers immoral.  Obviously, he believes that life begins at conception and that these early forms of induced abortion (mislabeled as birth control) are morally wrong. 

The reason his request was denied by the federal judge was because there is no precedent of a business like Hobby Lobby having a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.  I read one article that quoted a lawyer admitting that this area of legal argument was "uncharted waters."  And indeed it is! 

As the federal government becomes more intrusive (whether you see that as good or bad), these kind of conflicts over moral issues are going to continue to surface as genuinely motivated Christians push back against encroaching moral coercion, whether within a recognized "religious" or "secular" context.  No doubt the two issues that will become flash points in the years ahead are abortion and homosexuality.  The vast majority of Christians who attempt to live biblical lives, not merely "spiritual" lives, consider abortion and homosexual behavior wrong- plain and simple.  However, our prevailing culture is attempting to shame those who hold to such values.  If you are against abortion, then you are participating in a "war on women."  If you dare assert that homosexual behavior is wrong, then you are castigated as an immoral bigot and intolerant and against civil rights for the LGBT community. 

Businesses like Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby have already now surfaced as recent examples of the clash between our culture and Christianity.  I think this is a trend that is going to continue.  And it is not inconceivable that the day is coming when our lawmakers and our court systems will begin to impose the social consensus on such issues on religious organizations too. 

David Green has stated that he will appeal the federal judge's decision.  If appeal is denied, then Green has three options.  He could choose civil disobedience and not comply with the mandate, in which Hobby Lobby would incur financial penalties imposed by the federal government.  He could choose to close his successful business in order to avoid violating his conscience, consequently laying off all his employees.  Or he can bow to the wishes of the government in spite of his moral objection based on his Christian convictions.  None of these options are good, and all are  being forced on him by our federal government.  Thomas Jefferson is rolling over in his grave even now!

Green stated, "we seek to honor God by operating the company in a manner consisted with biblical principles."  Apparently, this is getting harder to do in America, and it's going to get worse.  I hope the church and American Christians, committed to biblical standards, are ready.  The easy path will be to bow and blend.  The difficult path will be to endure the shame and let our light shine. 

06 November 2012

What My Church Can Learn from Chick-fil-a

Today, on my way to Dayton, Ohio from Hazard I was blessed to drive through a Chick-fil-a in Georgetown, Ky on route. A really good fast food chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-a is now a treat for me when I'm out of town.  I enjoyed the sandwich, once I took the pickles off. Don't care much for pickles.  But as I got back on I-75 North, eating, driving, and listening to election day coverage on the radio, I began thinking about the consistent experience I have at Chick-fil-a without fail no matter which store I visit.

I can't remember a single instance in which I didn't leave a Chick-fil-a without a gratifying experience.  From the food, to the service, to the feel, it's always good.  Always!  I don't believe I could say that about any other business that I've frequented enough to notice. 

As a pastor, this got me to thinking about what my church could learn from such a well functioning organization.  I though of three things that stood out to me.  Here is what my church could learn from Chick-fil-a:

1. Be committed to serving

Without exception, when I go into a Chick-fil-a or even through the drive through, I'm treated with more politeness, courtesy and thoughtfulness than anywhere else I've been that day.  The place oozes with kindness.  It's actually really weird in a good way.  I could almost understand this in a single store where a local manager works hard and picking out good employees and just dares them to treat a customer badly.  However, I've been in Chick-fil-a's in multiple states and they all make you feel like you've walked into an etiquette show room.  The organization has created a culture of service and from my point of view it's not a feigned politeness.  Every time I hear the words "my pleasure" I feel like it's a sincere statement.  Even though they are taking my money in exchange for the sandwich, they always make me feel appreciated and not taken for granted.  They communicate to me that I am the reason they are doing what they're doing.  They convince me through kindness and courtesy that they really do want me to enjoy my sandwich and have a great day.  I think there is something here my church could learn.

2. Be focused on executing service with excellence

If just being nice wasn't enough, every Chick-fil-a establishment that I've been in is a clean and orderly environment, efficient, and delivers a consistently good product.  Employees are never standing around while a table or floor is dirty or customers are waiting.  The service they provide is obviously the product of some great training, which reflects a real commitment to excellence.  You just don't get that high level of consistent quality by luck or wishful thinking or good intentions.  I think there is something here my church could learn.

3. Be unafraid to put conviction above the bottom line

I used to live in the South where you didn't have to drive far to find a Chick-fil-a.  More than once I drove the family to eat lunch after church on a Sunday afternoon to our favorite chicken sandwich place only to be reminded that they weren't open.  After experiencing that moment of devastation, I reminded myself that this was one of the reasons I like to support their business.

Being closed on Sundays is surely an oddity to most Americans.  However, for Chick-fil-a it is a matter of conviction.  They want their employees to be free to worship and have a day of rest.  Could they increase the bottom line if they were open on Sunday?  Absolutely!  I and many others would gladly help them!  But obviously this organization is about more than the bottom line.  Of course, they are in business to make money, but making as much money as possible doesn't seem to be the goal. 

This year Chick-fil-a suddenly found themselves caught up in a sensational controversy about homosexuality.  President Dan Cathy made a statement in an interview that he supported the promotion of "biblical families."  The context of his statement was actually about divorce in our country not homosexuality.  However, those within the reactive gay community went crazy!  You would have thought Cathy had walked up to a gay guy and punched him.  However, Cathy and the organization stood by his comments.  They were also criticized that the organizations they made charitable contributions to were not gay friendly as well.  Again, Chick-fil-a stood by it's convictions and did not succumb to the pressure.  In an amazing outpouring of support, Chick-fil-a patrons turned out in record numbers to support the franchise.  I'm not sure that I had ever seen anything like it before.  People like it when you have clear convictions and stand boldly for what you believe.  You'll always have opposers and haters, but everyone knows where you stand.  And those who share your views will support you.  I think there is something here my church could learn.

Service, excellence, and conviction.  I think these ought to be applied to a mission that's a whole lot more important than feeding people chicken sandwiches. 

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