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Is it illegal for me to say what I believe?

A Christian family bakery in Northern Ireland decided that they could not, in good conscience, decorate a cake with a slogan that promoted homosexual relationships.  They were sued and lost their case this week and that provides the occasion for publishing this blog. The picture of Bert and Ernie, with its slogan is what they would not produce on the cake.

Phobia means fear.  I am neither afraid of homosexuals, nor of homosexuality.  So, I guess I am not homophobic.

So,therefore I must be in favour of same-sex marriage; I must think that homosexual relations are to be admired and promoted. Right?

Our news media assumes that all of us have to be one or the other–in favour of homosexual marriage or afraid of it which usually implies that such a person is hateful. But the issue does not fall neatly into those two categories. So let’s not use them. Let’s have the discussions on this complex subject without fear and without demonizing those who think differently than you or I do.

There is so much that could be said on this subject without stirring up hatred towards homosexual people. There is far too much of that. I would be wise for us to remember that no one has the ability to directly choose their sexual orientation. But, sexual orientation is not my primary concern here. Let’s, rather, think about how we decide what is right and wrong; what should be legal or illegal because in the case sited above it is about law, how it changes and why.

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that just a couple of decades ago most people in the UK, USA, Germany etc. believed that homosexual marriage didn’t make sense because marriage was between a man and a woman. If we still believe that now, are we somehow dangerous?  Did we really all change our opinions in such a short time?

I think a significant percentage of us, whether we claim to be religious or not, still think that sexual morality is important and that homosexual acts are not what we were designed for. If that significant percentage of people had a choice, I think they would prefer that their children would not have same-sex relations. Some people think that way because of religious convictions–whether Christian or Muslim or otherwise–and some people think that way because of a range of  issues that accompany wide-spread homosexual activities.

But that is not my point.

There is a bigger question behind this specific issue.  What is the basis for law?  Do we derive it from social opinions?  If people change their mind about an issue, should the law change? If enough people vote one way on a moral issue, does that make all the others wrong and their opinions illegal–or illegal to express?

Let’s think about another example in my home state of Colorado in the USA. A sufficient number of citizens in Colorado voted to legalize marijuana, so the law changed. Now the consequences have begun to be felt, many of which were not anticipated. Driving under the influence of weed has been demonstrated to be dangerous, but unlike alcohol, there is no immediate way for traffic police to test if a person’s ability is impaired by marijuana. In light of that, it is still illegal to drive while impaired by consuming too much alcohol, but it is okay to drive while impaired by the effects of smoking marijuana. Neighbouring states are angry about trafficking of weed into their territory and are threatening court action against the state of Colorado. There is long list of consequences that most voters were unaware of when they went to the polls. Is a majority vote always good and right? Is morality determined by votes? Sometimes only 30-40% of voters turn out, so as few as 20% of citizens can change law. Is this the tyranny of the politically active and powerful minority?

If society’s opinion is the basis for law, then with the help of good funding for campaigns and the cooperation of key figures in the media, social opinion can be manipulated (that can happen quickly, or it might take a few years) so the law or laws can be changed to agree with those who have the power of influence.

Is there another more reliable foundation for our laws?

From the beginning of Western Civilizations, for the first 500 years or more, the laws of Western nations were grounded in “Natural Law”. Natural law was assumed to be universal values that were grounded in God’s nature and character as revealed in Biblical commandments. Of course, many people were not practising Christians, in fact active believers were rarely in the majority. But, people generally agreed about what was right and what was wrong. The values and opinions of society were based upon a higher source than majority opinion.

Michael Sandel, the philosophy professor, maintains that we must derive our morality from a “higher source”. He skilfully points out that without that higher source we are simply too vulnerable to manipulation followed by tyranny.

Yes, I think we have been manipulated, not just on the subject of same sex marriage, but on many moral issues and how the law reflects them. The recent decision in Northern Ireland confirms that the latest whim in relation to sexual behaviour has triumphed over long-held beliefs and, it is now illegal for citizens to act according to previously held normative beliefs.

If we stay on this path, where are we going? In most of our nations there is only one area of private sexual behaviour that is illegal–sex with children. But even that value is being subjected to the same erosive forces that swept aside all the previous laws relating to fornication, adultery, prostitution and same-sex acts…. Those forces will continue to persist until they have repeatedly reduced the age of consent and finally eradicated that idea all together. Eventually the idea that young children can give their consent will prevail.

The last 60 years of “legal evolution” have taken us in directions that would few would have predicted or wanted if we had “sampled public opinion” back then. Are we sure we want to continue with this dangerous experiment?

Lynn Green and his wife Marti first came to England and began the work of Youth With A Mission here in 1971. From 2004-2011 Lynn was YWAM’s International Chairman. He continues to convene YWAM’s global leadership meetings, and focuses much of his energy on international leadership development.

8 comments on “Is it illegal for me to say what I believe?

  1. Terry Okara

    Very informative and educative..
    We should not judge but pray for them too

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  2. “From the beginning … people generally agreed about … values … based upon a higher source than majority opinion” — Opinions in flux on marijuana use, acceptable sexual practice (and many things) a DIRECT result of consensus breaking down on what is quoted above. If that ‘be taken out of the way’ then ‘lawlessness’ has the day (2Th2). In fighting the battles, let’s keep the ‘main thing,’ the main thing. Good article, Lynn.

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  3. Lynn, you’re asking all the right questions. If society’s norms change according to pressure from minority groups, and if our values and beliefs are diluted and accused as time goes by, what will it lead to? I shudder at the thought. I do think though that Christians will undergo more genuine persecution as we stand for the Lord’s absolutes and values. It’s going to cost us more and more to not give in to the subtle manipulation that’s taking place. The very moral principles we believe in will become illegal. Having said that, I’d rather walk in the fear of the Lord than the fear of man, and we’ll be tested on that. Thanks, this gets me thinking.

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  4. Martin from South Africa

    I do think businesses should be clear upfront who they are willing to serve and have their values as part of their signage … It was morally wrong for the bakery to take the order and then turn around and say they can’t for fill the agreed obligation. This produces shame and a sense of judgement in people. It would have been better if the bakery advertised that they uphold certain personal moral values (not necessary Christian) and this limits them in what they can write on cakes. They have their own code of conduct which places restrictions on the service they can provide. Please note: there is going to be an appeal so it not a done deal. Warning to Christians not to run around now saying this is now the law as the matter is on appeal. Lets fight the judgement spiritually but also be sure we walk in love with all those we come across. Jesus die while I was still a sinner. His loving kindness turns my heart towards Him.

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  5. I always appreciate your perspective Lynn and your heart for breaking down walls and courageously following Jesus. I am about to start typing down some thoughts so forgive me for taking up a few hundred words. Someone did that to me the other day on Facebook and it really annoyed me. So I hope you won’t feel similarly hi-jacked by this lengthy response. On this issue I think we will witness a change of perspective much like the change of heart felt by those who 20 years ago in 1993 were calling for Ireland to keep its criminalisation of gay actions, and who today realise criminalisation of living as gay is just wrong. Regarding the gay-cake in Belfast I think this is a very good article with an alternative perspective: http://www.hargaden.com/kevin/2015/05/19/how-to-bake-a-gay-cake/ Im afraid I don’t see the argument about the ‘normative’ approach being indicative of the ‘right’ approach to this issue. LGBT people are between 2 and 10% of almost any population so they will always be the vast minority. So ‘normal’ will never include them. The question for me is how do we as heterosexual Christians show love and empathy to a 17 year old in tears as he confesses his life long struggle with a gay orientation, as happened to me 23 years ago. That boy may have never had a sexual experience. Romans 1 isn’t going to help him in any way. The leading Christian ministry working with gay people Exodus has confessed their lack of certainty that it is possible to change a gay person’s sexual orientation (good article here: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/06/24/521/). The question then is how do we help a gay kid? If we can’t pray the gay away or exorcise the demon. Of course we can help a bi-sexual person choose to turn towards heterosexual relationships but for a gay person? From a theological perspective it takes some gymnastics to re-interpret the 3 New Testament verses that clearly reference same sex behaviour, although some people make a good attempt like James Allison. Although it is telling that N.T. Wright does not agree that we can re-interpret Romans 1 to mean merely pederasty. Nevertheless regardless of the theology, we have a pastoral duty to ask questions that go beyond whether it makes any difference to the overall definition of marriage to allow gay marriage. I personally think it is not appropriate to somehow link grown adults marrying as the next step to legalising child abuse, especially when there are more heterosexual child abusers than gay ones. This is not a good argument, in fact a gay person reading it will feel victimised and alienated. But they will have spent a lifetime feeling that. I remember bullying an effeminate boy in my class at school. God forgive me! No wonder there are pride marches. It is the inevitable manifestation of a lifetime of abuse and scapegoating. The photos of Christians hugging LGBT people at Pride marches while holding signs saying “I’m sorry” seems so much more the heart of Jesus than the fight to maintain rights for a Christian demographic. As Christians we are surely not meant to be a demographic that fights for rights! Surely we are to be making a universal call to all to follow Jesus who is the friend of sinners, who woos Roman centurions, sex workers, tax collectors and Samaritans by loving them and not legislating at them. Greg Boyd makes this point powerfully and well in this video I think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySkB30rf5Ao So all this to say that I feel very uncomfortable with what is being said by many evangelical Christians at this time. It smacks of mean-ness. Why do we allow re-marriage for divorcees?!! It changes the definition of marriage but we can live with it. Heck why do we allow divorce and not campaign for it to be illegal unless for marital unfaithfulness as Jesus counselled? But truthfully most evangelical Christians are part of the 98-90% majority of the population, we are heterosexual, and so we find gay sex utterly distasteful. As a heterosexual evangelical I feel compelled to find ways to show dignity and love to young people who find that they have same-sex attraction. It is hard to do that while maintaining that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to the legalisation of child abuse. This is a stirring video of former President of Ireland Mary McAleese who is a charismatic evangelical, giving her opinion of same sex marriage: http://www.independent.ie/videos/irish-news/video-this-is-personal-mary-mcaleese-on-marriage-referendum-2015-31234927.html. So those are my thoughts and I do indeed think that while this is one of the most contentious issues facing Christians today we better be prepared to be able to dialogue lovingly and thoughtfully about it. I hope this comment is thoughtful enough. I have no desire to start fights but I do think it is helpful for me to share my perspective as it adds to the dialogue that your blog post has initiated. We can talk about it now or we can wait 20 years, when we probably won’t need to do much talking. In the meantime lets be the best witness we can of the radical love of Jesus for all.

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    • Thanks for the response, Jonny. If you read my commentary again, you will see that I am not writing about the rights or wrongs of same-sex marriage. I am writing about the basis for law. With the cake ruling, we came a step nearer to outlawing some aspects of Biblical teaching. Two people (you are one) wrote back on the gay issue, but you will note that I did not state my beliefs about that. ( I have had over 7000 views so far.) You have assumed that I did.

      My personal view is that fidelity should be encouraged. However, the civil partnerships that were already available are sufficient to serve that purpose. Indeed, there was nothing stopping same sex-oriented people from committing to one another for life, whether or not there was a legal basis, but the civil partnerships provided for inheritance, taxation issues, next of kin provision etc. There was no need whatsoever for government to redefine marriage to mean what it has never meant before. I thought it was also significant that the homosexual community was split on the subject, because many of them were content with how the law read and did not want to appear to be more antagonistic.

      These are completely different issues than questions related to reaching out to or pastoring same-sex individuals. I have had decades-long pastoral engagement with homosexuals, so I am quite sympathetic towards those who already suffer immensely from a sense of shame and rejection.

      Also, note that I did not in any way connect homosexual orientation with child sex abuse except both are mentioned in the same article. I did that purposefully, without saying that homosexuals are more likely to abuse children, because I know that some people feel so defensive about this that they would assume I was equating them. I kind of wanted to see if that would happen. I am well aware that children are most a risk from male heterosexuals with a child orientation/fixation as part of their sexual appetites.

      However, I am also aware that one of the leading reasons for homosexual orientation is an early life (first two decades!) experience with an older same sex person. I think we should do everything we can to protect young people from this distortion of their sexuality. With it comes a number of difficulties, some of which you refer to, which no one would choose. However, when we present homosexuality as normative and educate children on the subject very early in their lives, we remove the deterrent to same-sex experimentation and, for some of those, that will lead onto and adult same-sex orientation. In this fallen world, we cannot maintain the deterrent and also extend full acceptance to same sex acts and activities. I believe we should maintain the deterrent but extend personal acceptance to those with same-sex orientation

      There is also quite a lot that could and has been said about sexual identity. (See Biblical and Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality by Goddard and Horrocks.) We are, so far, stuck with having to decide whether we are hetero or homo sexual. There are not just two identities, rather there is a spectrum, and many people have a mix of same-sex and opposite-sex interests. Very often, if they begin to recognize a same-sex interest, they feel they must be homosexual. If that identity is seen as unattractive, the person is less likely to act upon it. If it has been promoted as normative, they are more likely to act upon it and entrench an orientation that would have otherwise been a passing curiosity.

      There you have a brief summary of my thoughts on the subject of same-sex marriage and orientation. But my blog is not about that!

      So, read it again, please.

      p.s. I assume that you are happy for your thoughts to be public, along with my reply, so I am approving your comments and my reply. If you would rather not, let me know by email and I will pull them down.

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  6. We all have to Vote in Australia Lynn,
    that takes away the Political minority’s influence.

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  7. Just the other day I was throwing the question around to a few people. Throwing in the phobia part was a brilliant marketing ploy. The challenge is obviously not to be polarised by the subject. Religious people have done a shocking job at dealing with this issue and that is what makes it almost impossible to speak into the situation.

    As all of our history shows, the human race just swings to extremes. That is the human condition, not being able to fully process what is the true and right thing to do, but having to do it all the same. That was first sin not being able to trust the spirit of God and taking matters into our own hands, creating a problem that has wreaked chaos on the whole planet. In our secular society—a society without a God, we are the gods and must determine what is right and wrong, there is no other option, hence wild swings and a constantly shifting system of ethics.

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