Thursday, 20 January 2011

By choice or by nature

So we now have a British court ruling in favour of homosexual civil partners, who were refused a double-bed room by the Bulls, B&B owners in Cornwall.

What should Christians make of this? Firstly, that British statute law places sexual orientation on an equal footing with race and creed and that the distinction between same-sex civil partnership and marriage is legally blurred.

To many Christians who accept the biblical record of creation, homosexuality represents the final act of contempt against divine order in nature. God specifically created male and female for the purpose of maintaining lifelong companionship and procreation. It is far too reductive to separate the goal of lifelong marital companionship that is crucial to development of stable society from the divinely bestowed complementary sexual and behavioural functions of a man and woman in marriage. Sex is not merely for procreation, it is a central to the original and divinely instituted process of developing a permanent earthly bond within a marriage: ‘What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’  (Mark 10:9)

Homosexual acts may appear to simulate these complementary roles, yet they directly subvert the complementary function of the genders. The harm is that the behaviour maintains a subversive defiance of God’s order for marriage.

Paul was clear that a heterosexual relationship with a godless heathen could still be transformed into a holy union through the Christian partner’s patience, prayer and exemplary behaviour. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away’ (1 Cor. 7:12) The same can’t be said of homosexual relationships.

Nevertheless, the main issue raised in this case is not whether we are free to disapprove of homosexuality. It is whether we are free to withhold business services from certain groups that we consider immoral.

If I advertise a prayer room in my hotel, can I be selective about which faiths can use it? If I’m building an extension for someone, can I stop work if I find out that it will provide a home for a lesbian couple? Is providing a roof over their heads tantamount to aiding and abetting their lifestyle.

It does seem that if we carried this through to its logical conclusion, we would end up rejecting the call of Christ to: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6:27 – 31)

Paul highlights a distinction between maintaining church discipline and isolation from external contact: ‘I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.’ (1 Cor. 5:9 – 11)

So, Paul distinguishes separation that preserves internal church discipline from a complete withdrawal from the wider society. We cannot and should not minimize all non-Christian contact. If a Muslim comes into your printing establishment and asks for a quote for publishing a book, do you refuse point-blank on the assumption that it might be extremely critical of Christianity? Or do you see it as an opportunity to engage in a good-natured conversation, possibly leading you to highlight the eternal merits of the risen Christ?

Some people consider that anything short of hostility is a compromise. Let’s be honest, the compromise begins when we fail to be forthright and decisive in our opposition to godless behaviour. Satan cannot entice a heart filled with devotion to God. We are not so much contaminated by the influence of outsiders as we are by our own flagging resolve and desire for mainstream acceptance.

Also, by shunning unbelievers at every turn, we lose a valuable opportunity to influence them for good. The value of quiet, godly and kind interaction is more important than avoiding the threat of moral contamination: ‘You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.’ (1 John 4:4)

Perhaps our practical hospitality and service will help refute the idea that Christians are ‘too heavenly minded to be any earthly good’.

The overriding fear expressed by committed Christians who interact with the wider society, is that of providing tacit endorsement to impenitent sinners. Paul was clear that we should set a good example, be respectfully candid in challenging evil on all fronts and not waste significant amounts of our discretionary time/effort on those who claim to be Christian, but perpetually reject the gospel by their worldly behaviour.

However, your business does not involve discretionary time or effort. Once you accept the request for a service or product, you are under an obligation to deliver it to the best of your ability. We can and should still challenge immorality thoughtfully and respectfully, but why single out homosexuals more than any other group? The gospel roundly condemns all forms of godlessness: ‘Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;’ (Titus 2:12)

For centuries, Christianity enjoyed an ascendant position within our legal framework. The moral stance of the major Christian denominations was equated with public standards of decency. This is no longer the case. However, it also was never the case in first-century Palestine.

In the early church, a converted slave would be obliged to render service towards even the immoral and deviant guests of his owner. He might have to clean up after a night of revelry. As long as service does not demand that the Christian participate in or encourage immoral behaviour, Paul words are clear: ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.’ (Eph. 6:5)

So the rule is that, once you are under a contractual obligation to someone (even by spoken commitment), you should fulfil it, once it does not require your own participation in or encouragement of wrongdoing. To be under an imposition to merely provide a benefit, (but without the foreknowledge that it will actually be misused) cannot be considered to aid and abet wrongdoing. In the publishing example, if you felt it that the requested publication might be an incitement to religious or racial hatred, you might mention that you would need to send a proof copy to the police. ‘Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves’

It’s intrusive to assume the worst and try to police a customer’s behaviour, even if it is offensive. People are won over by freely responding to the truth, not by hounding them with censorious restrictions. As long as you are unequivocal about your commitment to Christ’s position on the matter, you have discharged your obligation.

So, it is one thing to respond diligently to a business obligation (even though you realise that the benefit that you provide could be misused). It is quite another to attract a niche of openly immoral clients through pro-active marketing, or to behave in a manner that celebrates, supports, encourages or ignores their continued defiance of God.

May God help us to respect and maintain this distinction.