In my previous letter I outlined ways in which religious freedom and the redefinition of marriage are currently in conflict. Hopefully now you can speak (not argue) in an informed way with those who insist that there is no conflict between the two. When you are having that conversation the first question to ask is "what is your definition of religious freedom"? Is it the robust, ample definition that we have employed for the past 239yrs of our nation's history or is it a very narrow, constricted definition that limits religious freedom to what happens inside the four walls of a church, synagogue or mosque? If it is the latter than there is a conflict.
The narrowing of the meaning of religious freedom from public practice to exclusively private worship will certainly affect how the Church operates in society. But always remember that this is God's Church and He will make us who He needs us to be at this present moment. We are by definition people of hope and so what we shall become is in God's hands. Maybe, as the Gospel points out when Jesus sent the Twelve on mission, he told them to take no walking stick, moneybag or extra tunic, we have become too loaded down, too encumbered to effectively carry the message of the Good News. So yes we might loose the institutions that we built to help Christianize the culture but implicit in that loss is an opportunity as well. We should never lose sight of that.
But what about when the clash comes to you and your livelihood as it did to the owners of a Bakery in Oregon? But before we get to that, let's look at another scenario.
Another Bakery this time in Colorado was asked to bake a cake for a customer and write on the cake what the owner considered to be an anti-gay message. The baker declined. The customer sued in the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (at present sex orientation is not a federally protected category as is gender, race, religion so most of the conflict is at the municipal or state levels). The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization stood up for the baker's right not to be forced to write on a cake anti-gay messages. So much for the image of the Christian being hateful and homophobic. The basic principal that ADF was defending is the right to conscientious objection, not based on person, but to being compelled to further a message that one has serious moral objections to.
Of course the Colorado Civil Rights Commission agreed with that assessment. But when the shoe was on the other foot in Oregon and a baker refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony the result was the complete opposite. The owners were severely punished with a $135,000 fine and instructed not to speak about this issue ever again. The owners of the Oregon bakery had previously served this lesbian couple that requested the wedding cake but the owners drew the line when it came to participating in their same-sex wedding. Much to their credit the owners were willing to accept the consequences for standing on principle. And that's the heart of the matter.
The right of a business to refuse service based on any number of criteria is well established (e.g. no shirt/no shoes no service; cash only/no credit) and the right to conscientious objection is likewise well established in law. Whether or not these will apply to ss-marriage ceremonies is yet to be seen in general. But the question of first principles is something we all should reflect on.
What is my bottom line? Where's the line that if I cross it I have compromised my basic fundamental values? If I cross that line how do I live with myself? Or is it a question of not having any principles at all and only making choices based on self-interest or wanting to be liked? Many people today simply have no principles thus they merely sell out to the highest bidder. Sort of like the story of the man who sits down at a bar and strikes up a conversation with the lady on the next stool. He asks her, "Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?" After a moment she says, "yes". Then he asks her, "Would you sleep with me for five dollars?" She looks at him angrily and says, "What type of lady do you think I am?" And the man replies, "We already established what type of lady you are, now we're just haggling over the price."
Is there a price at which you are willing to sell out? Are there principles by which you live your life, conduct your affairs, make your choices? If so are those principles worth dying for? If not, there really isn't much to live for, is there?
Love, Fr. John B.