Last week, this blog featured the story of Dr. Vesni Roi who chose not to accept a patient whose legal caregivers were two lesbian women. In that case, the doctor referred the patient to a different pediatrician who was not troubled by the fact that treating the newborn baby involve working professionally with a lesbian couple as if this trio of people were a family. In Michigan, the doctor’s right to accept or reject patients because of her Christian principles was not challenged, because Michigan has no law that gives legal standing to such a complaint. The story has, however, inspired a great deal of public controversy about the lack of a law to prevent her choice.
This week’s post features a story with a very different ending, although the fundamental issue for Christians is identical. Barronelle Stutzman operates a florist shop in the state of Washington. When a long-time customer asked her to provide flowers for his same-sex wedding, Barronelle refused. She told him that her relationship with Christ prevented her from any participation in a same-sex wedding. She referred him to other florists, and more than one florist offered to do the wedding at no charge. After the partner of Barronelle’s customer engaged in a Facebook rant, the attorney general of the state of Washington took Barronelle to court, alleging she had broken a state law against discrimination. Her defense was her commitment to live according to the teachings of her religion. A few weeks ago, a judge ruled that Barronelle had a right to hold personal principles based in her faith, but she has no right to act on them. Read here and here for more details
This ruling directly contradicts the Christian principle of living the faith. The Bible teaches in very clear language that Christians are not really Christians when they only mouth the words of the faith. In the book of James, the author speaks at great length about the importance of living the faith. He says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22 ESV). More importantly, Jesus himself says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21 ESV). Jesus said that mental assent is not sufficient. Action in accord with faith is expected. The apostle Paul was more graphic. He explains the importance of the actions of a Christian by comparing actions to the components of a building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. –1 Corinthians 3:10-15 ESV
Paul teaches that the deeds of a Christian must build up the church, the way construction materials contribute to a physical building, and God will judge those deeds. Trash will be burned up in the fire of God’s judgment and only deeds that survive that fire will be valued in God’s eyes. It is clear that the words and deeds of Christians count for something. It is not enough to claim to be a Christian. Even knowing all the books of the Bible is not enough. Memorizing part or even the entire Bible is irrelevant if it makes no impact on a person’s words and deeds.
The ultimate test is what happens at the final judgment, the end of time. What will survive the cataclysm that burns up the old heaven and the old earth? The book of Revelation speaks of the tests Christians face daily to deny the faith and do things inconsistent with Christ’s teaching. In the letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus says, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5 ESV bolding mine). To the church at Thyatira, Jesus writes, “I know your works,” (Revelation 2:19 ESV) after which he proceeds to describe the evil deeds, and then he says that his rewards are for “the one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end” (Revelation2:26 ESV bolding mine). Repeatedly Jesus says, “I know your works,” and then he holds the people who make up the churches accountable for living up to his teachings.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects the right of every citizen to do the things required in order to be faithful to whatever religion he or she chooses. Numerous court decisions have expanded the meaning of that amendment to make it clear that “free exercise” of religion does not extend to a right to harm other persons or property. Barronelle Stutzman harmed nobody. She did no harm to anyone’s property. She simply stated her conviction about marriage and declined to be a party to behavior that conflicts with her relationship with Christ.
Christ calls Christians to speak and act consistent with their professed faith. Dr. Roi and Barronelle Stutzman have done that. Pray for these two Christians to be vindicated for living their faith. Pray for Christians around the country to have the same courage and grace these women have shown in the face of cultural and legal threats to people of faith. What would you do in these situations?
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.