Open for Service: an Opinion


If you are interested in one of these stickers for your business, go to openforservice.org

If you are interested in one of these stickers for your business, go to openforservice.org

I have tried writing many blog posts about this, but they have become too convoluted with legalese and political nuances. So I am going to start fresh.

It is my opinion that a refusal to serve someone on Christian principle is an oxymoron, and that it is not the most fruitful way to bear witness to the Faith. While Jesus certainly has standards that He expects people who choose to follow Him to observe, His service and love for others (from breaking bread to feed them, to healing their sons and daughters, to giving His life for them on the Cross) was never conditional on their belief.

In fact, it is likely that many of the people He fed, served, and healed were later in the crowds of onlookers screaming “Crucify Him!” Remember the 10 lepers? He healed all of them, even though He knew only one would return to thank Him. He did not withhold service or love, and did not expect His followers to do so, either.

The wedding cake scenario is being used as an example where the business owners believe that to provide a good or service is to participate or in some way sanction a marriage that is different from their own belief in what marriage is. While that decision is between them and their spiritual guide, my opinion is once again different. I would consider it a business transaction and nothing more. If sharing my understanding of marriage was a prerequisite for allowing people to buy and eat my cake, I might as well stick to putting up flyers in the fellowship hall, because the only people who share my understanding of marriage are other Orthodox Christians. But if I decided to serve the public, it would be just that, a decision to serve, without condition.

Many of the friends, family and loved ones who attended our wedding were not Christians. Some attended with their partners of the same sex.  And while I always rejoice when a friend shows interest in Orthodoxy, I fully recognize, respect and understand that their attendance of my wedding, giving of gifts, and participation in my wedding party were not statements of agreement with my theology or my understanding of marriage. They were there because of their respect, love, and friendship toward me. I am deeply grateful for this, and it carries a lot of weight in my discussions about these topics and issues.

I don’t own a business, of course. I know that decisions have a context, and actions have motives, and it’s exactly zero% my perogative to judge or condemn anyone. And I recognize that business owners are going to continue to make decisions without my input, as they have always done.

My view is admittedly simplistic, but it is essentially that businesses are civil entities. They are a part of a community, and access of all members of a community to the goods and services of a business is a civil right that should not be dependent on religious belief, sexual orientation, disability, racial/ethnic identity, and so on. (I have similar views on the right of everyone to obtain a legal, civl marriage.) For a business to claim they serve the public, but to exclude some parts of the public is discriminatory by nature. And while businesses can choose their customers, and discrimination may not be their intention, I believe that the refusal-to-serve approach will end up giving the businesses a negative reputation and doing more harm than good to their bottom line.

I think that any law that allows businesses to refuse service should also have provisions that guard against discrimination, and that  allow patrons who feel they have been discriminated against to take appropriate legal action (many RFRAs have this language, and some who do not- such as Indiana and Arkansas- are in the process of getting theirs changed).

What a business does is their business (just as the decision whether or not to support a business based on their practices is a choice I can and do make). But this debate has a lot of important questions driving it, including: what makes a business a Christian one? I would venture (perhaps with some repercussions) to suggest it is their service, and whether or not that service is provided with grace, kindness, and respect.

Every business and every owner will approach these situations differently. But in my own life? I believe I do not have the right to refuse service to anyone, but an obligation to serve, love, pray for and respect everyone.  The rest is up to God, and my neighbor. And in this I have peace.

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11 thoughts on “Open for Service: an Opinion

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog and you definitely have a lot of good points. As a Christian with gay friends I really don’t know how I feel about it. But I can’t figure out why the media is only focusing on Christians not serving gays. I’ve seen other videos where Muslims also refuse to give service to gay people. This seems to be more widespread.

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    • I think because the prominent lawsuits in the media regarding refusal to serve are against Christian business owners. I appreciate you reading, and I also consider myself as always “figuring out” my relationship to God and mankind within my Christian life. We are always working on our salvation. It’s a process. I know that for some, who disagree with me, refusing to serve is to take a stand. Would I do it that way? No, but if I can accept that they, too, are working on their salvation, and that my responsibility is not to judge their choices, but to do the best I can with mine.

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      • a unrealistic reputation because I think are more Christians with your point of view! Thanks for writing this! I think talking about faith is important.

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      • I appreciate that– I think a lot of Christians are afraid to share this point of view– if they are anything like me, anyway 😉 I was nervous about writing this, because it can easily be misconstrued as backing down or compromising your beliefs about marriage, and at any rate, we are never done working on things, and it may be that I have some things I need to adjust. I am just taking it one day at a time, and trusting that God is aware that my intentions are to love my neighbor, not to compromise my beliefs.

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  2. I agree with everything you said. I have a couple of issues with it coming from different areas of my life. My daughter is gay, so she could walk in to that bakery and they would have no problem serving her. She could buy whatever she wanted, but they wouldn’t make her a wedding cake if she wanted one. That feels wrong to take her money in any form if they are against her because of their beliefs. I am not a Christian. I am divorced (more than once.) I could walk in there and order a wedding cake and they would make it for me which also makes no sense. If they are opposed to gay marriage because of the sanctity of marriage and their beliefs, then why would they serve me when marriage to me has nothing to do with god. They should refuse me also. The hypocrisy is where my problem with the whole thing comes from.

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    • Right- that is one of the issues regarding the story in AZ that really bothered me, There were a lot of mixed messages, and I think that couple ended up feeling betrayed because they had always gone to that bakery and the people who owned the bakery were well aware that they were gay. Strange all around!

      Also, regarding your daughter and the contrast between what would happen if both of you tried to order a wedding cake hits the nail on the head of my issue with the logic behind it. I agree with the traditional definition of marriage, and I do think there is a theological element to it. However, there are so many, many ways to harm marriage that are not even being considered in the dialogue about these types of bills (among Christians, anyway). Divorce, spousal abuse, infidelity, sexual abuse, addiction, materialism, being a workaholic, and on and on. A big part of my view on the subject of marriage is that I need to focus on keeping my own marriage holy by staying faithful to God and loving my spouse. I can pray for my friends and their marriages and relationships, and help when I can, but beyond that I have no control and should not be focused on how their sin is harming marriage, whoever they may be. Yes, I believe there is a theological component to it, but I cannot and should not try to legally prohibit someone outside of my Church from making decisions out of their own free will. If they decide to become an Orthodox Christian down the road, any life changes and adjustments are private and between them and their priest. It would be difficult, as it is for anyone, but never impossible. My responsibility is to love and to work on my own salvation.

      Thank you for your honesty and sharing your story. I am humbled and glad you have found comfort in my words.

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  3. If my memory of the Gospels is correct, Jesus was quite clear in not regarding commerce as an exercise of religious conscience, and conflating the two provided the only example we have of him getting angry enough to commit a violent act.

    I work as a medical asst and imaging tech. I’ve performed exams on injured gang members. I KNOW they live an evil lifestyle. I don’t get the option to withhold treatment, or to behave any differently with them than with any other patient. I’m paid to serve the public, so that means every member of the public. After helping dig bullets out of sinners to help save their lives, it’s hard for me to have much sympathy for someone agonizing over baking cakes, flower arrangements or photography.

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    • Mikey (just guessing at your first name due to your SN),
      You make an excellent point, and the reasoning behind it is at the heart of what I wrote. Thank you for sharing that story and for the work you do.

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  4. ** NOTE: THIS COMMENT IS NOT IN RESPONSE TO ANY COMMENT ON THIS THREAD, BUT WAS THE RESULT OF A FACEBOOK DISCUSSION WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS A VIEWPOINT DIFFERENT FROM MYSELF AND THOSE WHO HAVE COMMENTED THUS FAR. I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE OF VALUE TO POST HERE, IN CASE THERE WAS ANY CONFUSION REGARDING MY LOGIC, OR DESIRE FOR ME TO FURTHER CLARIFY MY POINTS. I just wanted to add the disclaimer so anyone who had already commented would know that the “you” is not them, but the person to whom I was replying. I want to thank EVERYONE, including the commenter to whom this response was written, for keeping the discussion of this issue civil and respectful. I think a meaningful faith/worldview is one that does not shrink from being challenged and questioned, and it is always refreshing when a comment thread remains a safe place to do that.**

    My issue is NOT about whether or not a business should have the right to refuse service in general. There are times where it is clearly appropriate to refuse service: if a customer is disruptive or abusive toward the owner or patrons, or if they break the terms of their contract, if they refuse to pay, etc.

    The heart of the debate around RFRAs seems to be whether or not religious belief of the business owner is a valid reason to exercise that right, and what rights the patrons of the business that are refused service retain. The blog I wrote was an attempt to illustrate why I do not think that religion should be a reason to refuse to serve someone, using examples from the life of Christ, the increased possibility of discrimination, negative publicity, and hurting the bottom line to illustrate my point.

    I agree with you that a business should not be prohibited from refusing service under any/all circumstances, and that those decisions should remain with the business owner. I am also not claiming that a business owner should be required by law to do something which goes against their conscience. I was merely explaining why the decision to serve people of all backgrounds would not go against my own conscience.

    The law was passed in Indiana, just as it has been in many other states.Those business owners continue to have their rights protected, just as they always have. Part of what I was expressing in my blog post is that I think that a protection against discrimination is an analogous protection of individual rights for the patron of the business. I think to include that in the text of the law is fair, and I don’t think it places any real danger on the business owners, for the most part, although there are always exceptions.

    To address your concern about business owners being arrested for refusing service, I would be alarmed if this took place also. While business owners who take a refusal-to-serve stance do take risks in their decisions (lower bottom line, discriminatory practices, negative reputation in the community), I don’t think arrest is one of them, since not catering a wedding would be highly unlikely to be seen by a judge as a hate crime.

    It is true that it is risky for businesses to refuse service for religious reasons [and it is my opinion that to do so is to discriminate, since there are likely patrons of a variety of beliefs being served by that business on a given day, with only certain groups being refused based on differences that can be easily distinguished], but nobody is prohibiting the owners from doing so, and that is not what I am suggesting should happen in my blog post. In fact, I imply or state that the decision who to serve is the right of the business owner in more than one place.

    The purpose of my post was to ask if the refusal to serve is truly an expression of Christian faith, and I don’t think it is in most examples people use in discussion. However, I was simply trying to provoke thought or discussion, not to pass judgement. As I indicated in the blog, decisions Christians make about how they interact with others in a personal or professional context, are between them and their spiritual guides. And I shouldn’t condemn them anymore than I should condemn anyone else who expresses their values and beliefs differently than I would. I was just giving my perspective and the reasons behind it. Hope this helps clarify some things. (I will now copy/paste this in the comments section of my blog, in case it helps clarify for other readers.)

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