Wednesday, 26 October 2016

And of Asher he said...

In Moses' final blessing on Israel he said to the tribe of Asher, "As your days, so shall your strength be" (Deut. 33:25). He promised that they would get strength for each day, and I think the McArthur family (owners of Ashers, the bakers) have proved this through the whole legal rigmarole of the last couple of years.

In an astonishing decision, Ashers appeal against a previous ruling of unlawful discrimination was dismissed on Monday. Ashers had refused to provide a cake with the slogan, "Support Gay Marriage". The man (Gareth Lee) who requested the cake had been served in Ashers many times, they had no trouble serving him, and absolutely everything available to anyone else was available to him. There was no product they would provide for me that they wouldn't provide for him. This was not discriminating whom they would serve but what they would serve, and apparently that is not allowed.

And yet, it is... I spoke to one of our politicians here in Northern Ireland about this and I asked her would Ashers be compelled to make a cake with an anti-Semitic slogan on it if someone demanded it, and her response was that anti-Semitism is illegal so no. So the situation is this, you are allowed to act on your conscience if, and only if, the thing you're asked to do is illegal - that is exactly the same freedom of conscience they have in North Korea. This is the State taking ownership of and lordship over your conscience - unless the State allows you then you are not allowed to have a conscience about certain issues, or at least you are not allowed to act like you do. This is backwards and upside down - laws are meant to prohibit, not permit, what I mean is, the law is meant to tell you what you aren't allowed to do, so as long as you are not violating the law you can do what you like. It is now becoming the case that we need laws to permit us to do something - you can't refuse to do a cake with a certain moral / political message because it's not illegal to promote that message, only if it's illegal can you refuse to do it. This is the foot of tyranny firmly in the door.

This same politician expressed utter bewilderment at how anyone could think that writing a message meant you were promoting it. I have no doubt her utter bewilderment was totally disingenuous but that aside, I told her that's fine, if she would have no conscience about writing a message she profoundly objects to then she's free to do it, but freedom of conscience doesn't mean freedom for everyone to follow her conscience, it means freedom for everyone to follow their own conscience.

I was speaking to someone else about this, and he said, "So if someone's conscience said they shouldn't serve black people you think that should be allowed?" But this is just confused. Conscience has to do with morality, and morality has to do with behaviour, and the last time I checked, skin colour wasn't a behaviour, so anything to do with skin colour is nothing to do with morality and therefore nothing to do with conscience. This argument is just an attempt to make people with a conscience about sexual morality look like bigots. Anyway, if someone was so bigoted as to refuse to serve people whose skin colour was different, I would vote with my feet and take my business elsewhere, and I expect anyone with any moral gumption would do the same.

Remember too, this is a very narrow minded way of looking at the same-sex marriage debate. The message to "Support Gay Marriage" is a message many who identify as homosexual would not support (e.g.). So it is just ignorance to equate opposition to SSM with discrimination against those who identify as gay.

I was listening to some of the discussion about this and those who supported the ruling said that there is no such thing as a Christian business, so you can't bring Christian values into your business. Does this mean a Christian man who has a construction business must take on work to build or service night clubs or gambling casinos? Does it mean a Christian publisher can't refuse books that go against Christian teaching? What about Ashers refusing to put profanity or pornography on cakes (apparently they have refused to do these things before)?

The thing is that these issues never cause a problem. People are grown up enough and tolerant enough to understand that some people have a moral qualm about night clubs, gambling, profanity and pornography, but you dare not have a moral qualm about anything to do with homosexuality. It is the untouchable, because it is how many people actually identify themselves - they define themselves by their sexual attraction, and so they take it as demeaning to their very identity if you object to their behaviour. But the reality is they are so much more than their sexuality and it is demeaning for anyone to find their identity in a sexual preference.

But what does it mean to say that there is no such thing as a Christian business? Does it mean that when you set up a business you have to act like you don't believe Christianity is true? Do you have to go by the values of secularism? What are they? What holds them up? It looks suspiciously like a sky hook.

Another commentator said that Ashers aren't being compelled to write messages they disagree with, they just have to stop doing wedding cakes. Oh... okay, they just have to stop doing a major part of their business, right. And no one is forcing the photographer to service a same-sex ceremony or the printer to print an anti-Christian message, they just have to... go out of business.

Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, the liberty to run a business according to your beliefs and convictions, tolerance - that is how much this cake cost, and we all (Christian or not) pay for it.

The promise to Asher was that he would get strength for each day he faced. It looks like there could be challenging days ahead, may every Christian be upheld by God's strength to stand firm and remain faithful (as the McArthurs have done).