The following is written by guest contributor Rena Lindevaldsen, a senior fellow for Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement.
The fury over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has left many Christians struggling with a biblical response to the allegation that the law legalizes discrimination.
It’s important to highlight that the law leaves in place existing nondiscrimination laws – it does not strip away legal protections. Rather, RFRA protects the right of every individual to the free exercise of religion balanced by the fact that there are some compelling governmental reasons that would justify infringing upon that right. RFRA provides that if a law substantially burdens a person’s free exercise of religion, then the governmental entity must prove that the law advances a compelling governmental interest and does so in the least restrictive means (which means that there is no other way to achieve the state interest without interfering with the free exercise of religion). An extreme example will highlight the analysis.
Let’s assume a religion requires a human sacrifice be made once a year but state law prohibits the taking of another’s life. Because the law substantially burdens the free exercise of religion, RFRA would require the state to prove that it has a compelling governmental interest for the law and there is no other way to achieve that interest without interfering with the free exercise of religion. In that situation, the state’s compelling interest is protecting human life. There is no other least restrictive means of achieving the law without interfering with the free exercise of religion because the state law prohibits exactly what the religious belief requires.
As applied to the business owner who would not cater a same-sex wedding, RFRA is actually legally unnecessary because refusing to bake a cake for, or to cater, a same-sex wedding is not discriminating against someone based on his sexual orientation; it is refusing to lend support for an activity. Everyone is entitled to purchase a pastry from the store, but not every couple is entitled to have the baker make a cake for their wedding. Although the nondiscrimination laws should not reach so far as to force someone to participate in an activity, given the “politically correct” view many judges and human rights commissioners take on the issue, RFRA exists to ensure free exercise protections.
When a same-sex couple insists on a business actively supporting a particular activity – the wedding – and that activity directly conflicts with the religious beliefs of the owner, then the owner’s free exercise of religion is substantially burdened. And, unlike the state’s interest in protecting human life, there is no compelling government interest to require a business owner to participate in activities contrary to Scripture.
Many Christians respond, however, that in order to demonstrate Christ’s love or to keep the peace we should bake the cake, photograph the wedding, or provide employment benefits to same-sex couples. The reality is that we serve a God who demonstrated the highest form of love by sending his son to die on a cross for our sins. God also gave us Scripture, which is inerrant, infallible, and inspired, so that we would understand that there are objective, never-changing truths that articulate right and wrong. The Bible plainly sets forth many actions that are sinful, one of which is same-sex sexual conduct. As Christians, the Bible should be authoritative in all areas of our life and used for teaching, rebuking, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). We also are to capture our rebellious thoughts and bring them into obedience to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5). As a result, we lack the authority to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we will follow even if we want to believe it is more loving to turn a blind eye to certain sins.
As Christians who seek to honor the Lord and to be salt and light to the world around us, the most loving thing we can do for an individual who is living a life in rebellion to God is to tell him the truth in love. We wouldn’t think twice about helping someone struggling with another sin issue, but all too often we shy away from the truth about sexuality for fear of offending.
Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that the Church needs to be the thermostat in the culture – turning up the heat to reveal unrighteousness. All too often, however, the church is the thermometer that simply reflects the cultural consensus. Cultural consensus says we should remain silent in the face of active rebellion to Biblical standards, but if Christ’s sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross means anything, we must be willing to sacrifice peace and comfort to share God’s truth in love to a hurt and lost world.
Rena M. Lindevaldsen is professor at Liberty University School of Law where she serves as Interim Dean, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and Associate Director of the Liberty Center for Law & Policy. Dean Lindevaldsen is also a senior fellow for Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement.
The views expressed by guest writers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Academic, Lifeway Christian Resources, or any employee thereof.