Christianity,  Politics

Powers and Merritt double-down against religious liberty

Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt are doubling down on their argument that Christian business owners are morally wrong when they refuse to participate in same-sex wedding celebrations. In a co-written essay for The Daily Beast, they argue that Christian business owners are morally and legally obliged to participate in gay wedding ceremonies with their goods and services. Not to participate is tantamount to the kind of discrimination that whites in this country used to exhibit against blacks.

Let me just say first of all that I am grieved by this article. Not merely because it is a moral and constitutional mess, but also because of who has written it. Do Powers and Merritt realize that they ratify the arguments of Christianity’s fiercest opponents when they attribute our conscientious objections to animus and bigotry? There is a larger context here. The sexual revolutionaries have done a fine job over the last decade of demonizing Christians as purveyors of hate because of our commitment to what the Bible teaches about sex. Powers and Merritt are joining their voices with our opponents when they militate against conscience rights for Christians. And this all by itself grieves me. I would have hoped for more from them.

But what are we to make of their central argument? They contend that providing services for a gay wedding does not imply “participation” or “approval” of same-sex marriage. But we have to ask if this is really their place to judge as far as public policy is concerned. They suggest that “society” or “100 married couples” are the arbiters of what does and does not violate someone else’s conscience. This is absurd. Is this really how Powers and Merritt want to treat religious liberty in this country? Such that the majority might be able to dictate to the conscientious minority, “We don’t see any reason for you to be offended by this, so get over it.” What’s worse is that they favor an approach that would allow the government to make such a determination—as if the government is competent to define what should or should not offend religious consciences. Neither the government nor anyone else has the right to prohibit free exercise based on their opinion about what ought not offend the faithful—much less to impose coercive penalties upon Christians who do not want to participate in gay wedding.

But apart from constitutional and public policy concerns, what are we to make of their moral claim—that providing goods and services for a gay wedding is perfectly consistent with Christian faith? Powers and Merritt say that Christians are discriminating against gay people by giving a pass to unbiblical heterosexual weddings. Yet to make this argument, Powers and Merritt must assume a moral equivalence between gay marriage and conjugal marriage. And this is precisely the point. They are not equal.

Marriage—the covenant union of one man and one woman—is a creation ordinance that God intends to be the norm for all of humanity. When a man and a woman are joined together in matrimony, they really are married—even if their relationship proceeded from unbiblical grounds (such as prior divorce or being unequally yoked). On the contrary, gay marriage is different. It is a sinful fiction. A gay wedding ceremony celebrates what God abominates. There is no sanction or creation ordinance supporting the sexual union of two people of the same sex. As far as Christians are concerned, gay marriages are not really marriages.

The wedding of a man and a woman enters them into a holy estate. The wedding of two persons of the same sex does not. No one should be surprised that Christians would demur from participation in celebrating what God prohibits them from celebrating.

Finally, Powers and Merritt single out Russell Moore for special censure:

So, Moore–a sincere Christian and a leader we respect–is telling Christian vendors that it’s okay to do something “wrong” by providing services for a heterosexual wedding as long as they don’t know its unbiblical.

I don’t know what else to say except that this is a blatant misrepresentation of what Russell Moore has written on this subject. Nowhere does Moore say that it’s “okay” to do something that is “wrong.” But I encourage readers to read Moore in his own words. It will be plain to even the casual reader that Moore said no such thing. (UPDATE: Moore has just posted a must-read response to their charges here.)

Of course we do not expect society at large to understand the teachings of Christianity or why the Bible might prohibit Christians from participating in gay wedding celebrations. After all, it is not their consciences that are in view here. It’s ours. But I would have expected more from Powers and Merritt.


  • Esther O'Reilly

    You would have hoped for more from EITHER of these writers? Ha. In the words of The Princess Bride, “Get used to disappointment.”

  • John Hanna

    I think what’s disappointing in this matter is the lack of regard for the informed consciences of fellow Christians and the assumption that refusal to participate springs from animus. There’s no room being given for Christians to work out how to honor Jesus among our neighbors amidst a profound social revolution.

    A complicating factor here is the state’s demand for compliance. That “Caesar” is mandating the Christian’s participation might actually be a primary reason to resist. At that point, the provision of goods/services doesn’t spring from good will but as an act of compliance with the State’s demands and threats of punishment. Both on the Federal level and in state after state, there is a declaration that marriage as a male-female institution is “hateful, bigoted,” etc. Surely, a conscientious Christian can take resistance to such accusations into account without being subject to derision from his fellow believers.

    Furthermore, amidst a universal chorus of societal approval, a Christian might decide that the loving and compassionate thing to do is to say that there’s a better way, even if it costs him business. I understand why society might say you either go along or you’re a hater. But that Christians would object in vehement terms to the effort by their fellow Christians of recognizing both the beauty and brokenness of our neighbors, which we share with them, isn’t helpful, even if those objecting would themselves handle the situation differently.

    Something that keeps coming up repeatedly in these discussions is the sin of same-sex relations as compared to others sins and Christian “inconsistency” in that regard. The problem with this issue isn’t the sin of homosexuality. The difficulty is the insistence on affirmation and celebration and the charges which accompany the refusal to affirm and celebrate. That’s why there’s an ongoing conflict whose only “resolution” is Christian compliance.

    I think the recent “coming out” of a couple of athletes highlights the uniqueness of this situation.

    It is certainly well known, even if not widely discussed, that a “fringe benefit” for professional athletes is the availability of promiscuous sex. While this is generally acknowledged, on occasion, an individual athlete will attract attention for his “hot girlfriends” or something of the sort. As a sports fan, this isn’t something I think too much about when watching a game, even as I know I don’t at all approve of such behavior. However, if the sex lives of athletes were to be made public and there were a demand for approval and affirmation for the athletes’ myriad of sexual choices and relationships, that would be a strange thing indeed. Yet, that’s effectively what’s taking place with respect to the athletes who are “coming out.”

    The problem is that the behavioral and moral category of sexuality is misplaced into that of the benign physically descriptive category of race. Yet, such misplacement is made for the purpose of gaining behavioral, moral and social approval without reservation.

    The fact is the union of the sexual binary of male and female is woven into the fabric of reality and is that from which life springs. It touches on every aspect of our common lives. “Viva la difference” lies at the heart of so much of our culture, including literature and music and humor. That the presumption of such relationship is now tagged with the pejorative label “heternormative,” which is to be opposed, presents a historically unique challenge. It’s an effort to eliminate basic human social structures through shaming and the coercive power of the state.

    Under such circumstances, I think those, such as Powers and Merritt, blithely making sweeping statements that “love” would simply go along are being overly simplistic, lacking in wisdom and lacking in love for their brothers and sisters who are already facing much hostility.

    • Ian Shaw


      What other reason could there be besides animus and hate, after all the USSC pretty much made the ruling on DOMA based on the premise that any disagreement/opposition to the issue at hand is based out of hate that want’s to inflict serious harm to another human being. We’re branded as hostes humani generis. It’s not that Christians aren’t infomed (some are), It’s a shame we have to battle it on 2 fronts. Having to present the argument in a way that infoms those ignorant that we even have a right to be at the conversation table in the first place, and then also having to present our main point/argument. That’s what’s rough. Our position get’s us excluded before any true dialogue can begin, and yet, I don’t find that inclusive or tolerance when you eliminate your opposition from the get go, while claiming to be willing to have an open dialogue.

  • Bob Wilson

    I agree that photographers and florists should be able to opt out of SS weddings. But I’m still very unclear about how far Christians want this to go.

    Once same-sex couples are legally married, should apartments be able to turn them away? Can doctors refuse patients if they see they are being reimbursed by insurance the patient has from a same sex spouse?

    Obviously gays, sinful as they might be, have to be able to live. Do Christians want to be able to refuse common place secular services to gays?

    • Esther O'Reilly

      Yes, apartments should be allowed to turn away gay couples. In fact, they should be allowed to turn away couples engaging in common fornication as well. Medical care is different though.

      • Bob Wilson

        Thank you. I’m not trolling here, I take the right of dissent seriously. But I’d really like to hear the larger issue discussed.

        Full blown libertarianism–the right to turn anyone away for any reason at all–has very little support these days. Our history of Jim Crow (and its sheer scale and malevolence) discredits the idea.

        If then, the allowance for discrimination is to be restricted only to religious conscience, is it enough that the patrons appear to be living sinfully or must providing the service unacceptably entangle the provider in that sinful behavior?

        • Johnny Mason

          Bob, in regards to your second question, the issue is really more about the participation in or celebration of a specific event. In one of the discrimination cases, the gay couple were regular customers of the florists, and they were never denied service or treated differently in any way. It wasn’t until they wanted flowers for their wedding that the florist balked. So this florist was not denying service because they were gay, they were denying service because they did not want to be involved with the wedding.

          So let’s say Westboro Baptist Church members want to rent out a room at a business owned by a gay man. And the event is the “God hates fags” symposium. I think we would all agree that the gay man would be perfectly justified to refuse to rent to them and there would be no cries of religious discrimination. Now Westboro could sue the man for religious discrimination because they are Christian, but what the gay man was refusing was not their faith but the event that was being planned.

  • Chris Ryan

    What is it about baking a cake that makes the baker a participant in a wedding? My baker didn’t buy me a wedding gift, he stuck me with a bill 🙂 Basic commerce simply does not equal participation.

    The other thing is we live in a democracy and all rights are limited. The 1stA doesn’t give you the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater and the 2ndA doesn’t give you a right to carry a bazooka. Even before Mormons renounced racism in 1978 it was already illegal for them to discriminate against blacks in hiring. So, yeah, all of our rights are circumscribed….And, for what its worth, we should be the first ones condemning homosexual bigotry. Or maybe we could promote employment protections for gays…

    • John Carpenter

      The cake celebrates the event. In this case, the event is centered on what is morally perverse and abhorrent. So to make something or provide a service that supports what is morally perverse and abhorrent is itself morally perverse and abhorrent. To be required to do so is tyranny and is a violation of our constitutional right to freedom of religion.

      • Chris Ryan

        Actually tyranny in this country is best exemplified by slavery, or Jim Crow. An abuse of Constitutional freedoms would be telling a man that he can’t visit his dying partner in the hospital room because they’re gay, and the state doesn’t recognize his marriage. Or that the kids they were raising together will go to someone else because the state doesn’t recognize the rights of a gay couple to adopt and raise kids. That might be tyranny. Baking a cake is something else…Fun, maybe. When we take bigotry against gays seriously, we can find common ground. Until then don’t hold your breath for a conscience clause.

        • John Carpenter

          Actually, tyranny is best exemplified when the state commands us to celebrate what God condemns, thereby telling us we have to serve the state rather than God.
          Homosexuals are criminals against nature and should be punished like any other criminals. Homosexual was illegal in most of the US before the great moral break-down of the 1960s and ’70s.
          Bigotry is you absurdly assuming that being a sexual pervert is a grounds for violating the religious rights of others.

          • James Bradshaw

            John Carpenter writes: “Homosexuals are criminals against nature ”

            I have no particular obligation to “nature”. It swallows entire populations whole in tsunamis, floods and earthquakes. It deforms children in the womb. It causes cancer, death, disease. It’s responsible for pathogens that are becoming untreatable. What are you anyhow? A Christian or some sort of goofy tree-hugging pantheist?

            “Homosexual was illegal in most of the US before the great moral break-down of the 1960s and ’70s.”

            So was interracial marriage. Slavery was QUITE legal for decades, thanks to your friends at the Southern Baptist Convention and all the other slave trade apologists holding the Bible above their heads.


            • Esther O'Reilly

              Come on James, don’t be glib. When a Christian uses the phrase “crime against nature,” that’s shorthand for “a crime against God’s created order for the natural world.” God created man pure and sinless, with a complementary sexual orientation. When the fall happened, the milk went bad, including sexuality. The same rot that made nature sick made the heart of man sick as well. Homosexual orientation is a tragic deviation from God’s created order for sexuality. When it’s truly inborn, it’s like a birth defect is a tragic deviation from God’s created order for the body.

              • Chris Ryan

                Oh come on, Esther. John went further than that. He thinks that homosexuality should still be a crime–he says they should be “punished like any other criminals.”…And this is why we can’t have nice things…like a conscience clause.

                • Esther O'Reilly

                  John’s articulating a niche position that I have no particular interest in defending. The vast majority of butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers being arm-twisted by Uncle Sam aren’t interested in taking that position either. I was simply pointing out that James was being deliberately dense in his interpretation of the phrase “crime against nature.” I do think that’s a valid phrase to use when describing the moral evil of homosexuality, even though I might disagree with John that it would be wise or effective to criminalize homosexual acts on a governmental level.

                  • James Bradshaw

                    Esther, when I see the word “evil”, I think of malicious intent. Where do you see that in committed gay couples?

                    Evil is raping a child, beating one’s spouse or even CHEATING on one’s spouse. It’s enjoying watching other people suffer at one’s own hands. It’s stealing from people who have done you no wrong or have even provided for you.

                    How do you see “evil” in choosing to dedicate one’s life to another person merely because the other person is the same gender?

                    • Esther O'Reilly

                      One result of the complementarity of the sexes is that a child is best off with both a mother and a father. The should be clear by the natural light, and studies bear this out. So a gay couple who adopts is being selfish by denying that to a child. Taking pleasure in destroying children’s innocence is also evil.

                      But why should evil be limited to “hurting others?” What about a child who repeatedly disobeys his parents in an area where neither they nor anyone else will be particularly affected by his actions? What if he even goes to great lengths to hide it from them? He’s not hurting anybody, so we can’t say his actions are evil, right?

  • Howard Davis

    It seems like everyone who benefit from reading Romans 14 again. Be slow to despise and judge those who respond to the controversy differently than you do….don’t go against your conscience….let everyone’s conscience be fully persuaded….anything done not driven by faith is sin. But do not destroy the kingdom over such differences. The Bible calls out homosexuality as a sin, but how we respond to this sin is not clearly laid out. Except that we be marked by the fruit of the Spirit…in everything.

    • John Carpenter

      Actually, how we are supposed to respond to homosexuality is clearly laid out in scripture. As for Israel’s theocratic constitution, the response is spelled out in Lev. 20. As for the church, the response is laid out in Matthew 18:16ff and 1 Cor. 5 and Ephesians 5:11 — “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but rather expose them.” We’re to be telling the world that homosexuality is perverse and wrong not helping them celebrate it.

      • Howard Davis

        John, your references prove my point. We are to judge those inside the church, but not those outside the church. We are to declare that sin is wrong, but we are not necessarily to protest every sin. If you believe we ought to, then you should listen to Merritt and Powers and heartily protest every wrongful divorce…for this is working to destroy marriage-as-God-intended much more than homosexual unions/marriages.

  • Johnny Mason

    There seems to be an extreme case of ignorance when it comes to this Arizona. I dont think Kristen Powers or Jonathan Merritt or many of the people commenting on these thread have actually read the bill. They are fine just eating at the trough of demagoguery.

    Here is the actual bill:

    All the Arizona bill does is amend a section of Arizona law regarding free expression of religion, and extends that freedom to individuals/businesses rather than just clergy/religious institutions. There is no mention of gender, sexual orientation, or marriage. It simply means the state cannot use force to violate your religious beliefs. Something everyone should be in favor of. The fact that Christians are claiming that this is bigoted and equivalent to Jim Crow show a complete misunderstanding of a) the first amendment b) Jim Crow laws and c) the Christian faith.

    The law even specifies limits on this protection. Meaning that this freedom must pass the standards of “undue burden” and “compelling government interest”.

    There is some fear that if this law passes, all the sudden there will be massive discrimination against gays. There are states that have no protections for sexual orientation and we do not see any of this wide spread discrimination. Christian business like Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby have gay employees and serve gay customers. This is just fear mongering and quite hypocritical given the fact that many who supported SSM kept claiming that slippery slope arguments were invalid. Apparently, the slope is only slippery when your ox is being gored.

    So I ask those who oppose this bill, should individuals be forced to something that violates their conscience and their faith by the state, and if not how would you protect them? How would you protect the baker or the photographer in this case? Or is your argument that they need no protection?

    • Ian Shaw

      Johnny, Chick-Fil-A, doesn’t refuse to serve any customers that visit their locaitons. In fact, when homosexuals were protesting their locations a year or so ago, they gave free food to the protesters. Chick-Fil-A is a privately held company, they have no stockholders to answer to. So you find something wrong by them not willing to say cater a homosexual wedding but yet serve customers at their locations (regardless of creed, orientation, etc.)?

      I guess I don’t find that discriminatory, as the refusal of service in this instance is a specific instance of violating 1 Chorintians 8:7-9 as Dr. Moore mentioned in his response.

      So if I drive a Ford and I go to a performance shop and they tell me they only make say aftermarket pistons and camshafts for Chevy’s, does the legal precedent set here allow me to sue the machine shop to make me a product for my vehicle? Sounds like it does to me.

  • Ian Shaw

    My question would be why are people even giving Powers the time of day as someone deemed an authority figure in evangelicalism, let alone Christianity? She’s recently accepted Christ (allegedly), and yet, she’s on a platform that claims her to be an expert in the area. Should we respond to her scriptural/theological ignorance,? Sure, but let’s not give her the attention that would be warranted if say John Piper or somebody like that went off their rocker.

    “Do you know the history of psychology, Matt Lauer? I do….and now I’m an expert.

      • Esther O'Reilly

        I hear what you’re saying, it just bothers me that she’s being taken so seriously. I suppose it’s because it’s not immediately obvious how confused she is to a lot of evangelicals (witness her supportive comments on this very thread).

  • Michael Lynch

    I still think Andrew Alladin’s comment from the last post on this is the best. It also went unrefuted by the usual commentors who side with Powers on this issue.

    “Based on her logic a Christian plumber would be required to fix the sinks in an abortion clinic, and a Christian sound technician would be required to provide install equipment in a strip club, Both of these establishments are not illegal.”

  • andrew alladin

    A thought experiment for Powers and Merritt: Polygamy is legalized (we’re headed there) and a catering company is contracted to provide onsite services for a loving polygamous wedding. Does the owner – a Christian – have the right to say no. Would Kirsten Powers also say that Jesus would “bake the cake” at such a wedding. Fast forward a bit, say 9 months, and a beautiful baby boy is born into that wonderful polygamous home, and a Christian baker is asked to provide for the festive occasion (onsite). Can she say no? Would Powers also say that Jesus would “bake the cake” for such an event? You can’t just stop at homosexuality just because you have gay/lesbian friends but don’t know any polygamous couples.

    • Howard Davis

      Andrew, I think that Powers/Merritt would say that you have helped to prove their point rather than exploit it. Bakers most likely would not know that the man was married once or many times by the cake they made. Should bakers research to see if a baby has been born out of wedlock, because of rape, etc.? Even if they found out, would they still not bake the cake if they are Christian? What about if it were a prodigal son party, should they refuse to celebrate for that too?

      Do not hear me endorsing homosexuality or homosexual marriage? But that is really not what is being advocated by Powers and Merritt.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    The “great moral breakdown of the 1960s and 70s” was immediately preceded by the halcyon decade of the 1950s, a time when morals were so pure that people were jailed out of suspicion for communist sympathy, xenophobia was the status quo, and when Jim Crow was the law of the land throughout your home state of North Carolina and the rest of the south. While hardline conservatives continue to like to mythologize the 1950s, it remains only relevant inside their own circles and has lost absolutely all persuasiveness in mainstream culture.

  • Nathan Cesal

    Only in America is selling something a celebration.

    I don’t think we want to go to the logical ends where refraining from business with people based on a personal conscience takes us. Where will you live, what will you eat, where will you work, where will your kids go to school when the majority objects to you?

    It’s more than cake and pictures.

  • Steve Winseth

    I know this is off base and perhaps doesn’t quite have a place in this discussion but I wonder if there are any parallels that can be drawn from it. A look at Muslims and handling pork or alcohol in public stores or providing other services. I remember this from about 6 years ago in Minneapolis and now it’s making headlines again in the UK:

  • Ian Shaw

    Andrew Walker put it best-

    what Powers and Merritt fail to clarify is that this debate isn’t over whether Christians should or should not do something, but whether they must do something. They insist that this discussion is about whether a particular action is right or appropriate to one’s faith. Their discussion, though, omits how something that is right (according to them) can’t be compelled, which is important. To leave the discussion at that point, however, is to miss the larger horizon of implications.

    Were a gay baker to object to providing a cake for a church-sponsored event celebrating biblical marriage, I’d defer to a gay baker’s right to refuse, and respectfully seek out business elsewhere. He should be willing to serve Christians generally. He should not be coerced into providing food and drink for celebrating what his conscience forbids. That’s what it means to live in a free society. The state shouldn’t force the baker to provide a cake for a perspective that he or she vehemently disagrees with. In the same way, an African American who owns a t-shirt company shouldn’t be forced to make a t-shirt for a KKK rally. Imagine the stifling harm done to a society where a sign company owned by a gay man would be forced to print the heinously offensive, gospel-denying neon placards of the Westboro Baptist Church. That is no longer a free society. When companies are free to contract according to their conscience, the products of a free society—decency, respect, and civic pluralism—are cultivated.

    The issue never was, and never will be, about Christians picking and choosing what they will or will not do. It’s about what Christians are forced, mandated, or compelled to do by state law. Powers and Merritt, in this instance, are on the side of government coercion, and a loss of Christian conscience.

  • Curt Day

    There are two basic problems with the above post. First, it encourages a tribal or gang mentality when it complains of Powers and Merritt defend the arguments of our “fiercest” critics. This shows a tribal or gang mentality because the merits of Powers’ and Marritt’s article is being judged here by association rather than what is said. Right and wrong in tribal or gang thinking depends on who does what to whom. A more objective and Christian evaluation of Powers’ and Merritt’s article would focus not on who said what to whom but what was said and why.

    Second, I find the view expressed in the above post to be rather myopic in two ways. First, other rights are involved here besides religious liberties. This is because in an economic system where public services are often only or predominantly provided by the private sector, the withholding of services can and has been seen as a violation of Constitutional Rights. One only needs to see how the courts eventually view the withholding of public services to Blacks during Jim Crow. But not only can the withholding of public services be seen as a violation of Constitutional rights, it can become downright dangerous, which is especially true when lodging, housing, or food services are withheld. Thus, the state/gov’t has a valid concern with public services are withheld from members of a particular group.

    Myopia is also present in Burk’s description of gays as being one of our “fiercest” enemies. Does he not remember when homosexuality was criminalized in the US? Does he not know about countries criminalizing either the support of homosexuality or the practice and how their laws are influenced by the Church and/or missionaries? Does he not remember how Christians would call for the firing of homosexual school teachers? Or does he not observe how Christians oppose same-sex marriage? So now when some Christians support the right of businesspeople to withhold public services to gays or gay events, why can he only see the push back that comes from the targets of the antagonism of many Christians? This is myopic and we have to ask whether this push back is a rejection of the Gospel or, at least a partial, resentment of past and present treatment.

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