To Serve, Or Not To Serve

Christian Business in a Political World

By Jeff Laird

Should a Christian business owner refuse service to someone, on the grounds that they don"t approve of that person"s sin? Or should they serve anyway, as an opportunity to witness? It"s hard to believe the US court system actually had to consider whether or not a citizen has the right to make such decisions, let alone tell them they don"t. But for a believer, moral concerns come before legal ones. What does the Bible say about this dilemma?

There"s no way to make a blanket statement on this issue that would apply to all believers in all situations. The Bible gives us clear instructions on how we"re supposed to live, and guidelines for how to interact with others. But how we apply these has a lot to do with the specific circumstances we find ourselves in. One lesson God intended us to learn through the Law (Romans 7:4-6) is that true obedience means continual submission to the Holy Spirit, not just black-and-white rules and regulations (Luke 9:23).

The only way for the unbelieving world to hear the Gospel is if we live it out, and proclaim it (Romans 10:14). Totally avoiding everybody who rejects Christ or lives in sin would require us to live on a different planet (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). We can"t be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-15) unless we engage. Light has to shine into darkness in order to be meaningful, and salt has to get into the food in order change its flavor. "Tolerance" literally means "putting up with" something one does not like; it does not require approval or support. So, there"s a good argument to be made that Christians ought to be as (literally) tolerant as we can, in order for our loving character to be as visible as possible (Matthew 5:16).

Serving someone coffee, selling them a car, or even renting them a hotel room require no personal expression. It"s reasonable to say most business transactions suggest no particular moral agreement. In those cases, the best approach, both legally and morally, is probably to tolerate, witness, and interact. Part of the price of living in a free society is being exposed to those with whom we disagree; a principle that is meant to work both ways, and to protect those on both sides of an issue.

On the other hand, some dealings do imply a level of moral or social agreement, because they involve a direct form of expression. Musical performance, specialized foods, artwork, photography, and so forth require a person to directly invest their creativity and expression. In those cases, a Christian has a much stronger moral case to refuse involvement with persons blatantly in rebellion against God. We literally cannot avoid tolerating sin to some extent, without moving to Mars. But at some point, interaction looks like endorsement, and even tolerance becomes inappropriate (1 Corinthians 5:1-7; John 7:24). We are specifically told in the Bible not to violate our Spirit-led conscience (Romans 14:22-23), but where that line falls is something each believer has to determine as the situation presents itself (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Legally, one would like to say the constitution prohibits forced participation in something a citizen feels is immoral. Unfortunately, the political climate in the United States is rapidly succumbing to a hostile, oppressive attempt to force Christians to do just that. It appears that believers will be forced, more and more frequently, to choose between spiritual success and secular success. That doesn"t mean we shouldn"t use every tool at our disposal to stand up for what we believe in. The Apostle Paul was not afraid to exercise his legal rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37-38; Acts 21:39).

One tool we have available, and unfortunately don"t use often enough, is plain old logic and critical thinking. In particular, we should note that turnabout is not only fair play, it"s inevitable. Gallows built for ideas a person dislikes can just as easily be repurposed and used on them, something I"ve openly warned LGBT activists to consider. If we accept the idea that "non-discrimination" means people have to directly participate in things they find morally objectionable, what does that make of freedom?

For example, some applaud the idea that a Christian baker or photographer should be forced to serve a same-sex commitment ceremony, or suffer legal consequences. But the exact same legal principle, applied in the same way, could force a Muslim caterer to serve pork at a barbecue. Or, force a gay baker to make a "hate cake" for a group like Westboro. Or, force a gay photographer to take pictures for men celebrating their faith-based "recovery" from homosexual to heterosexual orientation.

Most homosexuals I know would find that last example especially noxious. But that"s the point: all of the people in those examples should have the right to say, "I choose not to participate in that." And so should a Christian photographer who doesn"t want to participate in a same-sex ceremony.

Everyone pushing "totalitarian tolerance" needs to think carefully about what it really means. If you create a society where "tolerance" means forced participation, how is that freedom? How long before the same blade swings back the other way? Make no mistake, this kind of legal stance cuts both ways. Everything"s happy on the quiet side of the cannon, but don"t be so naïve as to think the government, or society, won"t ever turn your own tactics on you, given the chance.

While there are no easy answers for believers, there are steps we ought to take. Spiritually, we need to demonstrate Christian love and righteousness, exemplifying how truth and love can coexist, and putting our critics to shame (1 Peter 3:15-16). That means discipleship and a purposeful, committed faith. Socially, we need to be aware of our rights, involved in choosing our leaders (1 Samuel 12:13-25; Proverbs 28:12, Proverbs 29:2), and vocal about protecting our faith against those who would slander it (Proverbs 14:34). That means voting, education, and communication.

Like it or not, discrimination, unfair dealings, and even full-blown persecution are not just a possibility for Christians, but something we should expect (Luke 21:12-19). It"s easy to be cavalier about this kind of decision, when it"s other people who have to choose. When it suddenly becomes a "me" instead of a "they", we can only pray to make the Godly choice, rather than the worldly one.

Image Credit: Stephanie Kilgast; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  |  Current-Issues  |  Political-Issues

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Published 4-15-2014