Help With Your ‘Sincerely Held Beliefs’

The Georgia Legislature has just passed a law that would allow faith-based businesses to deny services if it would violate their “sincerely held religious belief” to provide such services.

While Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the bill, the Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a similar bill into law today.

Proponents in both states claim that the law does not single out gays, or any group. I’d like to help such proponents and their loyal-voting business owner supporters, to assure that we’re not just dealing with hateful, narrow-minded singling out of one group based on cultural values masked as sanctimonious devotion.

It might seem straightforward to such proponents. A straight married (or engaged) couple walks in, and business takes place. A same-sex couple walks in, and “sincerely held religious belief” takes over.

But it’s not that simple in Scripture. Here is a Bible-based guide for how to proceed.

(And before I start, let me apologize in advance if this offends those who have suffered a divorce. That is not my intent, and I would offer you grace even in a business context. I am merely trying to help open-minded folks of “sincerely held religious belief” apply the Bible that they use to shut out gay couples.)

When the straight married/engaged couple walks in, a business owner of “sincerely held religious belief” must ask, “Is this the first marriage for both of you?” If it is, all proceeds; if not, further questions are needed.

The next question involves whether one or both parties has been widowed. Any combination of widowed spouse and first marriage likewise passes the “sincerely held religious belief” test.

Once past these questions, we enter the sticky wicket of divorce. If not a first marriage or one involving widows, the question must be asked: “Were either of you divorced before you met and decided to marry?” A tough question, but “sincerely held religious belief” can handle the tough questions.

In Matthew 19:9, Jesus warned any man who would divorce his wife for any reason except sexual immorality on her part would be committing adultery if he remarried. Paul sets down similar commands for those of “sincerely held religious belief” in 1 Corinthians 7.

Sometimes a business owner might not need to ask. An older gentlemen driving a brand-new convertible with a fiancee still wearing her Hooter’s shirt: a definite red flag.

In cases where it is not as clear, however, the business owner of “sincerely held religious belief” must ask the couple for information on their divorce. If both or either member was the victim of the other first spouse’s adultery, then the business transaction may continue.

If, however, either member of the couple was involved in adultery that caused the dissolution of the marriage, regardless of whether it included the person involved in the new marriage, then the business owner of “sincerely held religious belief” must, sadly, put the couple in the same trash bin that the same-sex couple has been relegated to.

But what if the offending individual committed the adultery years ago and has repented and been forgiven by the offending spouse? Such is the struggle for those whose “sincerely held religious belief” include a literal interpretation of Scripture. Nowhere does Paul or Jesus allow for that. No deal.

As I mentioned earlier, my personal evangelical Christian convictions would incorporate my business, and even if a customer’s lifestyle offended me — more likely through their hateful narrow-mindedness masquerading as “sincerely held religious belief” than through divorce or same-sex marriage — I would still gladly serve them. To my mind, my Christian character, as displayed through my work (I pray), would bless and inspire them to investigate Christianity.

But for those whose “sincerely held religious belief” involves rejecting business relationships with those we are called to evangelize, I hope this process helps you to make sure that when you indignantly pick up your robe and reject those whose sin you abhor, you are doing so for the right reason — and not because you are narrow-minded, hateful, and using “sincerely held religious belief” as convenient cover to specifically reject gays.

You’re welcome.