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Response to Rev. Raushenbush on arbitrary beliefs and faithful Christian witness

July 6, 2017

In an letter to the editor of the USA Today on July 5, Rev. Paul Raushenbush, helps us understand the arguments the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to hear regarding an upcoming case on religious liberty. He writes, in part:

By accepting the case of the Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a samesex couple, the Supreme Court is opening up the possibility that an arbitrary religious belief might be used to sanction discrimination and refusal of service to a citizen.

Religious freedom is a foundational principle of our country, something we should all hold sacred. However, when one person’s beliefs turn into actions that trample on the dignity of another, freedom of religion morphs into deified discrimination.

While I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of Jack Phillips’ religious beliefs, they are, in fact, arbitrary, and increasingly less prevalent within the Christian church as more of us welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer congregants.

We first need to understand the perspective of the author. There are a few biographical details provided we need to interpret. First, “Reverend” does not mean what we might assume—someone who pastors a church and holds to orthodox Christianity. Instead, Raushenbush is Senior Vice President of Auburn Seminary. The fact he works at a seminary also does not necessarily mean what you think it means. Auburn Seminary is a multifaith institution that does not teach the fundamentals of the Christian faith: the Bible as the Word of God and Jesus as the only way to salvation. Raushenbush is also a married gay man with an impressive resume of journalistic and academic institutions.

This is all important background to know when Raushenbush considers Jack Phillips’ sincerely held religious belief to be arbitrary. The whole notion of what is arbitrary is what is at issue for the author here. He and a growing number of people like him, have rejected the clear teaching of the Bible on the subject of God’s design for sex and marriage. Because those portions of the Bible do not conform to their personal preferences, they must be set aside as merely the words of men. Furthermore, the institutional church must make special provisions for the accommodation of their sin– described here as “welcoming LGBTQ congregants.” To be clear, every church is full of sinners and Christ died for them all. As the saying goes, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

None of this is at issue in the cake case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, but Raushenbush and others would like to make these issues the issue from within Christian institutions. The issue at issue is whether or not Mr. Phillips can be forced to proclaim a message (through the artistic expression of specialty cake baking) that is contrary to his sincerely held religious beliefs–however arbitrary others might find those beliefs to be.

People believe all kinds of ridiculous things, and in America they are free to believe them; but no freedoms are absolute. Even the freedom of speech is not absolute–there are things you cannot say in the TSA line of the airport, on a public bus or in a school.

So when it comes to religious liberty: will the United States, by force of law, limit the freedom of conscience and religious expression in an effort to bring all Americans into conformity of thought on the LGBTQ agenda?  

This letter to the editor is raising the question specifically for Christians: what are we going to do when the autonomy of the individual is ranked by some in institutional Christianity above Biblical teaching about marriage and sexuality? What will we do when some demand, as Raushenbush goes on to say:

Those yelling loudest for this “religious freedom” are captives to fear. They fear the way it will affect religion itself as they witness more and more people of faith realize that supporting LGBTQ equality is part of being faithful in the 21st century.

Contrary to what he believes about us “yelling loudest” for religious freedom: I do not fear the way this will affect religion. I am concerned about people having life-transforming, eternal relationships with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and understanding that God is real and He has spoke to us in His Word.

These beliefs— the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus Christ alone is the way to salvation, and holiness is a real calling for Christians to allow their lives to be brought into every conformity with the will of God in all things— for the record, I’m holding to them with conviction as a part of being faithful in the 21st century.

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