Mississippi House Bill 1523: Helpful or Hateful?

As a pastor I get asked my opinion on various political topics from time to time. Sometimes people want to know how I see certain issues from a biblical or theological perspective. I am more than happy to have those conversations. To that end, I have had a number of discussions with individuals recently about MS House Bill 1523- also known as the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.”

I have read the whole bill a few times. Simply put, the bill seeks to offer protection for those who have a traditional view of marriage whose convictions would lead them to deny certain goods or services to homosexual persons or couples (Section 3). For instance, this bill protects a Christian adoption agency from getting sued for denying an adoption request from a same-sex couple (Section 4.2 and 4.3). It also protects people with rental properties from getting sued for denying applicants whose lifestyle differs from their religious convictions (Section 4.1c). Many other protections are detailed that are pertinent to caterers, florists, tailors, or any industry that affects the “celebration or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” (Section 3.1a)

Based on the reactions I have seen to the bill, the above paragraph might have you nodding in approval of HB 1523 or gritting your teeth in angst over it. I have heard the terms “hateful” and “bigoted” used to describe the bill and its supporters. I have heard the word “un-Christian” to describe those who are against it. That is the very reason I generally save commentary about political issues for conversations rather than congregations. Our congregation has people on both sides of the aisle; none of whom would I describe as “hateful” or “un-Christian”

However, what bothers me the most in all of this is when Christian people forget that there are two kingdoms: the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God. That being said, it is right and good for Christians to seek the manifestation of the principles of the Kingdom of God within the kingdom of man. For example, William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian, used his influence as a member of Parliament to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire because of his Christian convictions about the dignity of all persons. Even still, we mustn’t confuse man-made government with the invisible Kingdom of Heaven, or man-made law with the gospel.

The truth is this world and its kingdoms have never and will never mirror the in-breaking Kingdom of God. The true Church will always fall outside the margins of earthly governments. In following Christ we will always be led to walk across the grain of the culture we find ourselves in be it communist or democratic, secular or theistic. There will never be a Supreme Court, Senate, Congress, Legislature, Governor, or President that works for or speaks on behalf of the Kingdom of God.

HB 1523 does not speak for God. The Supreme Court does not speak for God. The true Church has never needed a man-made government to legislate on its behalf or to validate its convictions. Let us not forget the lessons of church history wherein the community of Christ thrives in the midst of persecutions from the kingdoms of man and loses its way when it is declared the religion of state, empire, or nation. Every time.

That is not to say that the laws of our earthly kingdom have no impact on our Christian living. We are, after all, in the world even if we are not of the world. For example, in Acts 22 Paul appealed to the privilege of his Roman citizenship so that he didn’t get killed for preaching Christ. He was grateful to be born a Roman citizen and thankful that it provided protection for him in a time of need. To that end, HB 1523 “protects” my church (and me for that matter) from a lawsuit that might stem from our conviction about marriage. The leadership of our church affirms what the scriptures teach regarding marriage; that it is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman whereby the two are made one flesh (Gen. 2:24, Mk. 10:8, Eph. 5:31). As a matter of faith, our leadership could not condone a same sex union in our church and I could not conduct a same-sex marriage. We have refused to host or conduct weddings of certain heterosexual couples based on that same biblical framework as well. HB 1523 was an effort to protect congregations like the one I serve and people like me from being sued for making decisions consistent with that conviction. As a reminder, the First Amendment of the US Constitution offers us those same protections. At no time, however, do these protections relieve us of our obligation to love and welcome all people with the radical hospitality of Jesus.

That’s why to Paul, being Roman was a secondary citizenship. Paul reminds the Philippian church, though they too were part of the Roman Empire, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” He wrote that from a jail cell that he was in for preaching a gospel that the world hates. His heavenly citizenship trumped his Roman citizenship. Every time.

Because of that truth, we as Christians are not to condemn, ostracize, marginalize, de-humanize, or reject those who live in a way that is not consistent with our convictions. Christian, need I remind you that you do not live in a way that is consistent with your conviction either! We follow one who loved, walked beside, served, and forgave all manner of people whose lives opposed the kingdom he came to establish. As followers of Jesus we need to welcome, love, honor, and be gracious toward all people. As business owners, owners of rental properties, restaurateurs, and laborers in service industries we need to extend the same hospitality that Christ extended to all persons. Never once did he water down truth. Never once did he withhold extraordinary grace. God’s kingdom does not afford us an either-or answer in this regard, but rather an other-than.

I am glad to live in a nation where I can preach the gospel of Jesus Christ without threat to my life and that I can stand on my convictions as a matter of law. Even still, I don’t need Washington D.C. or the State of Mississippi to protect my religious liberties. I am an American. I live in Mississippi. I am sincerely grateful for both but certainly needful of neither. Paul was happy to appeal to his Roman citizenship for protection and yet sang hymns at midnight in a prison where he was bound by Roman shackles.

HB 1523 has not relieved me of any burden I bear for following Christ in a world that rejects him. Undoubtedly, many who support this bill will find my openness, hospitality, and love toward homosexual persons an affront to their convictions, just as many who are against this bill will find my convictions regarding covenant marriage narrow-minded and bigoted. “Pick a side!” they say. “Are you for it or against it?” they ask. It all grieves me. I’d like to think one can live with conviction and compassion. At the same time. All at once. That might just be my dual citizenship talking though.

-SBC

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