Commencing Persecution

This province was first settled by (and a majority of the assemblies have ever since been of) the people called Quakers, who, though they do not, as the world is now circumstanced, condemn the use of arms in others, yet are principled against bearing arms themselves; and to make any law to compel them thereto, against their consciences, would not be only to violate a fundamental in our constitution, and be in direct breach of our charter of privileges, but would also in effect be to commence persecution against all that part of the inhabitants of the province.

So wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1755.  How things have changed. Witness the recent case in the state of New Mexico in which a Christian photographer, who has a conscientious objection to homosexual “marriages,” has been told by the New Mexico Supreme Court that violating her conscience is the price of citizenship in New Mexico.

Elaine Huguenin, of Elane Photography, refused to photograph a lesbian “marriage” ceremony based on her Christian belief that homosexual “marriages” are a violation of God’s order and therefore not something she could participate in.  In Franklin’s words she was “principled against” participating in that union.  Huguenin made it clear that she had no problem photographing lesbians or homosexuals in general; the line her conscience was not free to cross was participation in an event she believed morally wrong.   The lesbian couple filed a complaint based on the New Mexico state Human Rights Act, and won.

The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the earlier rulings last month by a unanimous decision.  The portion of this decision making the most headlines has been the following, by Justice Richard Bosson:

The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.

Think of these statements by Bosson:

they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives

the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs,

I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.

Bosson is making clear that in the state of New Mexico, at least, Christian conscience is a matter relegated to our “personal lives” only.  The Huguenins, and others of faith, must bring their conduct in line with public policy, whether or not such conduct is in direct violation of their conscience.  To Bosson, the price of citizenship is no less than a person’s conscience.  In other words, though I’m sure he would reject the implication, the state is master of an individual’s conscience, or if that statement was rebutted, their conduct, at least.  The state can and will compel you to act contrary to your faith.  Friends, this is no different in it’s basic philosophy than the Soviet Union’s treatment of Christians throughout the Cold War era— the state, not God or a person’s conscience, is the final authority one must answer to.

In Franklin’s day, the cost of the eventual liberty the Quakers would enjoy from British hegemony would not be equally paid for by the conscientiously objecting Quakers.  Nonetheless, the liberty that informed the American Revolution was understood to be broad and deep enough to include Quakers and their refusal to participate in all things military within the fabric of the new society.  That is not the case today in New Mexico.

The lesbian couple who filed the complaint against Elane Photography had their union ceremony and it was photographed by another company.  That couple had no problem getting the photographic service they were after.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t get what they wanted, they didn’t want the Huguenins to be able to refuse them, or others like them.  This case, and others like it in the country today, are being prosecuted not so much that individuals may enjoy civil rights but so that other citizens may not.

This nation was founded on religious liberty, informed by the Christian religion and the Bible.  But a sea change has occurred and a rising tide of animus and persecution against that liberty, religion, and Bible is occurring.  I join with my spiritual kinsmen who continue to pray for repentance and revival in this country.  But in the face of consistent and increasing legal isolation of Christians, it’s time to raise the lanterns, singly and doubly, and warn the faithful that persecution is coming, in fact, it has already commenced.

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