Wading into the SB1062 debate

BillyDeeIt may be folly to actually make a public statement on something as volatile as SB1062, called the “Religious Freedom Bill” by proponents and lambasted as a discriminatory bill against gay people by opponents. I may be getting myself in trouble with friends near and dear to me on both sides of the aisle by saying a word about it, but as Lando Calrissian once famously quipped, “Here goes nothing!”

My first thought is that most people’s opinions of SB1062 come solely from what others have said about it. They haven’t read it, even though the entire legislation is 2 pages long and not hard to read. If you’re one of them, then learn something by reading it. It’s not too much legalese…it’s pretty easy to actually understand. Not that there aren’t nuances of interpretation and application, but it’s not like it’s rocket science here.

Now to my understanding. I personally think it is a tempest in a teacup. The only thing that this bill really does is allow corporations to claim the same exemption for sincere religious beliefs that individuals now have. Most corporations aren’t huge businesses like Walmart; they’re small businesses like a landscaping company that has an LLC or a mom and pop restaurant that has an incorporation document for liability and taxes.

I guess I am pretty libertarian in my leanings. I think that the government should stay out of peoples’ lives as much as possible. I think that there MUST be protection from any discrimination whatsoever in dealings with the government, but those protections don’t (or shouldn’t) apply to private businesses. The first amendment protects people from government intrusion on free speech, but it does not protect a person from being thrown out of a business if they say something the owner or manager finds offensive. There is a huge difference in my opinion between government and private enterprise.

Say, for instance, my wife wanted to have her hair cut. She goes to a barber shop but the barber, a Muslim, won’t cut it because his religion doesn’t allow him to touch women. (this is not hypothetical…it happened in Ontario, Canada) In my opinion, he should have the right to refuse service to anyone he wants to, and if he can’t cut her hair then that’s not a human rights issue. She can go elsewhere; if he chooses that business practice, then he can live with the business consequences.

I feel the same way about no smoking laws. A business should, in my opinion, be free to set their own policy on allowing smoking in their establishment. If one allowed smoking I wouldn’t go there, but they set their clientele with their policy. The same holds true in other areas. For instance, in Arizona people can carry firearms for personal protection. A business can put up a sign prohibiting the carry of firearms on their premises. If they do, a good number of my friends won’t go there. It’s perfectly acceptable for them to have that policy as private business owners, though they set their clients by their policy.

What that highlights is that my opinion is that the protections we have are mostly from our government, not from each other. If a business wants to adopt a policy that they won’t serve white people, that’s their prerogative in my opinion. I won’t go there and I am okay with it. I think that the free market would take care of most such businesses in America, frankly. If a business adopts policies that too many customers find objectionable and they take their business elsewhere, the business changes or folds. That’s economics 101 in a capitalistic society.

Now as to whether it is wise for a business owner to fall back on religious reasons for not serving a customer, I think that it can be but it must be done with care. My wife owns a business helping women have babies as a doula and midwife in training. I own a business teaching self defense part time. Many of my friends own businesses. I also pastor a church, which is an Arizona corporation upon whose board of directors I sit. Should we be able to set our own policies? Absolutely.

  1. As a pastor there are some weddings that I can’t perform as a matter of my faith and as a pastor of my church. We have policies to that effect. (these revolve mostly around who is eligible in the Scriptures to marry) I have protection to exercise my faith and to do so within my corporation of our church.
  2. My wife gets to set who she thinks that she should work with as a doula and midwife. If she knows that a couple wants religious rites at her birth and that she is required to participate in them, and they violate her faith, she absolutely should have the right to decline that client.
  3. If a racist skinhead with a swastika tattoo and hateful attitude registers for my classes, and I am genuinely concerned that he will use the skills I teach him for harming others rather than protecting himself and his loved ones from aggression, I should 100% have the right to decline to train him. This is part of my faith, that I teach defense and not aggression, protection and not harm. I should be able to live that out in my business, whether it is a sole proprietorship or a corporation.
  4. Our church has a membership covenant and as a corporation should be able to decide who our membership is. If that excludes some people because of their choices, that should be our determination. For instance, our church does not believe that the Bible allows for sexual intimacy outside of marriage. If a couple were living together outside of marriage, we would not welcome them as members of our congregation (though we would welcome them to come worship and be loved). We should be able to set that standard. (and we are under current law)

All that said, are we going to see businesses adopt anti-gay stances or have discriminatory policies? Not much. I am a conservative Christian and have trained people at ASP who are gay, for instance. No problem. I have invited friends who are not Christians to do business with me, to come to worship with us at our church, and my wife has helped women in many walks of life and with many religious affiliations (including none) to have their babies. This is the ebb and flow of life in a pluralistic culture.

But do I want protection from prosecution if I won’t marry a cohabitating couple who aren’t willing to go through premarital mentorship? Yes, yes I do. Do I want to be able to turn someone away from my self-defense classes who I fear will twist my teaching, knowing that I am somewhat responsible for the abilities of my students? Yes, I do. Do I want my wife not to worry about losing her midwifery license because she politely declines a client so as not to participate in a Wiccan birthing ceremony? Yes, I most certainly do.

Do I also want to consider my Christian witness in all of these decisions? Yes I do. I have talked to many couples in the first situation, and in love offer to walk them toward marriage in whatever situation they find themselves. I can’t officiate a wedding because of my convictions that doesn’t meet a certain set of criteria, but I have offered mentorship and marriage building help to those couples. (offered it many times, in fact) I’ve trained people whose philosophy differs from my own, whose worldview is not mine, and who worship a different God. I don’t ask for a doctrinal statement from my students in self defense! My wife has helped many women have babies whose religious beliefs are very different than ours are, and over all these situations we have prayed and decided to be a light in their life and that the actions we took were acceptable to our Lord. Most businesses, in the vast majority of situations, would do the same.

I don’t want the guvmint in those decisions. They are private decisions and should be so.

If you comment, please be kind to others in your comments. Thanks!


Gun Control and Meaningful Discussions

wolvesIf you expect me to get into the fray on Gun Control and the 2nd Amendment from a biblical basis here on ABF, allow me to disabuse you of that notion forthwith. I do that in other places and definitely have my biases, but this post is not about who is right and who is wrong in that particular discussion. Rather, the thing that impresses me the most as I watch people on both sides of the issue is how both sides talk past each other so much and how much caricature and misunderstanding goes on.

In this particular issue, among Christians I see those who believe in gun control often saying  that those who are 2nd Amendment supporters are more interested in their guns than about the Great Commission or Jesus’ admonition to love. In return, the gun rights folks call the gun control proponents sheep and communists who hate the Constitution and freedom.

Why the rancor? It is because each has their own particular worldview, and that worldview colors the issue to such an extent that they can’t really comprehend the other side. They are so convinced that they are right that they are convinced that anyone who doesn’t see the issue their way is clearly non compos mentis. Because they are so set, there is really no way to dialog about the issue with others of a different stripe.

This is why, in my opinion, so many issues have become so polarizing and so emotional in America today. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have made expressing unprocessed emotions and ideas much easier and much farther reaching. For instance, I know people with 2,000 friends on Facebook. 20 years ago if they wanted to express an opinion to that many people it would have taken a significant investment in mailing letters or making phone calls. In that time my friend could have cooled off and thought through their ideas before publication. Now, though, with a couple of presses of their smartphone they put it out there for the world to see and share and comment on.

What’s the answer? In my opinion, it starts with having a meaningful clash. (this is a known topic in logic and debate and is not original to me, but I can’t find a good link…) A meaningful clash can only come when both sides of a discussion begin with areas of agreement and from there move on to areas of disagreement. If we do not start with areas of agreement we talk past each other and can’t have a meaningful discussion.

Perhaps an example can help. Let’s say that Bob, an atheist, believes that same sex marriage should be legal. Jim, on the other hand, believes that since the Bible forbids same-sex relations that it should be illegal. Bob does not believe that the Bible should be normative for relationships today. If Jim argues that God said same sex marriage is wrong so it is wrong, then he and Bob aren’t starting from areas of agreement and therefore they can’t have a meaningful clash.

This issue of gun control and the 2nd Amendment is the same. Gun rights advocates are arguing that modern sporting rifles protect the people against tyrannical government. Gun control advocates are arguing that assault rifles kill and maim and have no place in society. See how they talk past each other? There can be no meaningful clash of ideas because there are no meaningful areas of agreement.

But are there? Yes, there are. In this issue, for instance, we can agree that our main concern is safety. Both the NRA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns are interested in safety! They are interested in protecting the American people, and that is laudable and good. Now certainly they disagree on the best approach to accomplish that goal, but the goal is the same! Certainly the people arguing for gun control say that their goal is safe kids in schools and homes and malls. Gun rights advocates say that their desire to own guns is to keep their own family safe and to protect the republic from despotism. See how the desire is the same, just from a different angle?

How much better would this debate be if Wayne LaPierre would meet with President Obama and Ted Nugent and Michael Bloomberg and tell them all how grateful he is that they are concerned with the safety of our nation. Imagine how little rancor there would be if they listened to why they feel the way they do and affirmed their common desire for safety for our nation and its people. I have 4 kids in public schools, and regardless of what side I am on, my goal is for them to get a good education in a free and safe environment! That’s the same goal as everyone else in this discussion.

Take the singular issue away and the idea remains. In the church, take gender issues in ministry. What if we began from the common ground that we all want to honor God and help people use their spiritual giftedness in God-honoring ways? In society, what if we re-framed the immigration debate by realizing that our goal is to keep our nation free and prosperous, with liberty and justice for all? What if we began the abortion debate by realizing that our desire is to honor the foundational American governing principle of the sovereignty of a person over themselves? (and yes, this is an area of agreement…more another day perhaps)

So before having a debate on gun rights, find the place of agreement. In the gun control debate, it’s the safety, security, and prosperity of our nation. Gun control advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is to limit access to firearms to prevent Sandy Hook from reoccurring. Gun rights advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is by allowing more good guys to have tools available and on-hand to combat bad guys when events occur. It’s the method, not the goal, that is different, so instead of hurling invectives across the impassable chasm between us it seems to be a far better method to get on the same side of the chasm and make the problem the enemy rather than the people who are looking for solutions to the problem!


A Decade of Perspective

This morning, I spoke from Romans 12:14-13:14 about the perspective that we should have as Christians on the events of 9/11.  You can listen here:

A Decade of Perspective: West Greenway Bible Church Sunday Sermons

Paul’s message in this passage shows us how to interact on a personal level with those who wronged us, how to consider our national response to terrorism, and more than anything else helps us keep the most important things in life in focus.

Give it a listen; I think it’s worth your time.

Tell me, what’s your perspective on 9/11 ten years later? Has your view of the events or their aftermath changed in the past decade?


A Fair (and Fun!) Fight

Hey all, sorry I have been scarce.  It’s been hectic finishing up the semester at ACU and transitioning to two worship services at WG.  Thanks for your patience as I dropped off the face of the blogosphere.

This morning I had a great time that really encouraged me in Christ that I thought I would share.  If you’ve had much exposure to the Lordship Salvation controversy you are well aware that it can be a contentious and nasty argument at times.  When it is pursued as a means of telling who is “in” and who is “out,” it is never fun.

Today, though, I had a very different experience.  I had three friends come over to my office to discuss this issue.  One is a pastor and seminarian, one graduates from seminary in a few weeks, and the third is studying the Bible at ACU.  So the table had some people with a background in the text.  More than that, everyone had a position on the topic that they came to the table with!

The cool thing, for me, was that at the end of the day I left energized.  Now, for some it may have not been that way, but in the midst of the discussion we tried to be thoughtful and polite.  We tried not to set the other side up as a caricature but to really consider what they were saying.  We went through the case of Judas, and 1 John 3:6-10, and James 2:21-24, and 2 Timothy 2:11-13.  We considered what each text said and how each side understood it.  We looked at the Greek text when appropriate and did some impromptu word studies (thank you, Logos!).

At the end of the day, we realized that despite some differences we had a lot more in common than we originally thought.  And more than that, we realized that there is a big difference between being an “evangelical” and being a “fundamentalist,” which I would define as a Christian who believes that anyone who deviates from their doctrinal conviction in non-essential areas (inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, full humanity and full deity of Jesus, Trinity, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone) is a heretic and headed to hell.  Thankfully we had no fundamentalists in the room, only evangelicals!

The discussion was spirited but cordial; it was passionate but grounded in John 13:35.  And that really encouraged me, because it showed me again that we can have unity in diversity within the bounds of historic, orthodox Christianity.  Yay!

So today I am encouraged by my brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t shrink from a good “argument” and do it with class.  So much thanks to Drew, Sean, and Kristin for a fun morning, and let’s do it again.

How about you?  When we get together next, are you in?  Can you handle the requirements?  Do you do this, or do you run from these discussions?


A Fresh Perspective

Oh man was I frustrated today.  Like, grind my teeth and say dirty words frustrated.  For the past week I have been completely and totally looking forward to a buffalo “hunt” that I was going to get to do tomorrow.  Okay, it’s not really a hunt (they’re privately owned animals on a farm), but still I was going to get to harvest an organic, free range buffalo!  And I was going to eat it and turn its hide into an awesome rug, then wear it and walk around the house saying “Tatonka.”

And then it all fell apart this morning.

First and most importantly, the one guy I just HAD to have come with me backed out for various reasons.  He knows how to take and prepare a large animal, and I don’t have the experience to do it without him.  So when he backed out, I was in trouble.  Well maybe next Tuesday? Nope, busy already.  Thursday? Nope, booked helping the Bible department at ACU.  After that?  Well, they’ll be sold and gone by then.  It started to look hopeless.

I was upset, to say the least.

My catharsis right now is running.  I run to clear my head and to think.  This morning I skipped my run because Laura and I ran a ridiculously hard half-marathon on Saturday in the White Tanks with 1800+ feet of climbing in the 4 miles in the middle. (then descending the same…ugh)  I was so sore this morning that I slept in instead.  But I was so frustrated that I decided to go for a run at noon just to clear my mind.

I ran like the wind.  I felt slow, but my last mile was one of the fastest miles I have ran this year!  I just ran my body hard and ran the emotions dry, then asked God to show me His view of the situation.  I shut my mind off and focused on my breathing and on putting one foot in front of the other at a hard pace. 

Afterward, I had a new perspective.  I had asked God for some clarity, and while He hadn’t told me why it had fallen apart, He reminded me that He isn’t angry with me and that He knew what was best.  Who knows, maybe the whole thing would have been a disaster for me.  Maybe I would hurt myself, or we will need the money we would have spent to do something else.  Maybe I will get drawn for elk this year and will need the freezer space! (oh please, Lord, let this be it!)

At the very least, I wasn’t so angry anymore.  I was still not excited about it, but at least I was at peace instead of raging at the injustice of it all or upset at my friend who canceled.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ” (Romans 12:2, NAS)

I thought of this verse this afternoon as I considered the attitude shift.  I hadn’t had a spiritual mountaintop, just a hard run on sore legs.  I hadn’t sat and prayed my heart out, just asked God for some clarity as I hit the “start” button on my run tracking program on my phone.  I hadn’t meditated on Scripture much either.  And yet despite that, God took the request I made and used my run to change my heart toward the situation.  And for that, I am really grateful.
What does God use in your life to change your perspective?  Is it a nap, or music, or a loved one?  Is it counsel or video games or a good book?  Is it prayer or Scripture reading or exercise?  When you’re upset with the world, how do you let God work the emotions out of you and give you a new perspective on the situation?