Legal Issues Facing Christian Business
In the realm of religious political discourse in the US, contraceptive/abortifacient funding and gay marriage reign supreme. These push other issues to the side – legal issues that have a huge impact on Christians in the workforce.
What if the government forced you to vindicate sin?
As a photographer, strongly considering photography as a source of income in seminary and if needed as a bi-vocational pastor, I couldn’t help but be touched by this story:
Elane Photography… received an email from a woman in a same-sex relationship inquiring about prices for shooting her and her partner’s “commitment ceremony” in Taos. The photographer knew that she could not in good conscience use her artistic skills to photograph a ceremony that communicated support for redefining marriage. Although the same-sex couple found another photographer for their ceremony, one of the partners filed a discrimination complaint with the state, subjecting the owners to a trial before the Human Rights Commission.
The owners explained that they tried to operate their business according to their higher principles, including those on marriage. The commission rejected their First Amendment defenses, found the company guilty, and ordered it to pay $6,600 in attorneys’ fees. The case is now on appeal and awaiting a decision by the New Mexico Court of Appeals.
– Santa Fe New Mexican (emphasis added)
The Human Rights Commission requires Christians in business to sponsor sin.
Not Just Homosexuality
This isn’t a rant against homosexuality. There are a myriad of business scenarios this type of ruling could impact:
- The construction company which refuses to build an abortion clinic.
- The cleaning service which refuses to clean a strip club.
- The newspaper which refuses to run advertisements for a casino.
- The doctor who refuses to conduct abortions.
If the government prevents Christians from recusing themselves from business deals based on moral grounds, we could find ourselves required to perform actions we abhor.
How Can Christians Respond?
Christians have many options in responding to this trend. I’ve listed some here along with some of the difficulties I see them presenting. I’m not saying that these are the only options or the best options. Neither are the considerations complete. This isn’t legal advice. It’s a starting point for thought and discussion.
1. Civil Disobedience
The first option is to knowingly disobey such orders. Knowingly abstaining from sinful actions and bravely submitting to the consequences is a powerful witness.
- This is dissimilar from the race-focused civil rights movement of the mid-20th century on one major factor: the momentum of cultural perception. God created all humans in His image so race-based discrimination is an affront to the very character of God. The civil-rights movement of the 1960’s was a movement towards biblical truth.
However, abortion, gay marriage and similar issues are anti-biblical. Western culture is moving away from, not towards, a biblical truth. Culture will be against us, not for us. We will not be cheered for this, we will be jeered for this. Go down this path with eyes wide open.
2. Political Change
The western societies characterized by policies like this (or on their way to it) are also characterized by some form of citizen government. As such, citizens have the ability to affect change in their government’s policies.
This is exactly what the Alliance Defense Fund is doing in the case of Elane Photography. ADF is going to the courts to defend Elane Photography with the intention of establishing court rulings favorable to conscience-driven business practices.
Other avenues include:
- Ballot measures to make concience-driven business practices legal
- Nominating, promoting and voting for politicians friendly to the cause
- Much like civil disobedience, these measures are going against the momentum of the present culture. You might lose business, reduce social standing, receive threats or even be attacked for your stance.
3. Change Your Product
The business of photography is driven by specialization. No one is simply a “professional photographer.” There are:
- Maternity photographers
- Advertising photographers
- Landscape photographers
- Fashion photographers
- Infant photographers
- Architectural photographers
- Sports photographers
- Wildlife photographers
- …and a whole host of other specializations
No one sues a landscape photographer for not shooting their wedding.
Would Elane Photography be in this trouble if the service they provided was specifically “photographic documentation of Christian weddings”? Christian weddings have different customs, symbols and points of emphasis than civil ceremonies, marriages for other religions and other family events and is therefore a legitimate specialization. If that is the specialized service you provide, chances are much lower that you will be sued for not providing services in conflict with your morals.
- 1. Offering more specific services will limit your potential pool of clients. This could have obvious impacts on revenue.
2. The laws of your jurisdiction may not provide legal shelter with a simple rebranding of services. Consult a lawyer before rebranding your services for legal protection.
4. Use The Opportunity For the Gospel
Perhaps Elane Photography could have used this as an opportunity to advance the gospel. If the final photographs delivered included Bible verses that proclaimed the gospel or posed challenges to sinners, might God have been served?
This also gives a Christian to hold a relationship with the non-Christian instead of avoiding them. Not only your product, but your words and actions are a witness to the unbeliever.
Bake the gospel into your product and your dealings with the world.
- 1. This method involves actually conducting the practice with which you disagree. It is, without question, a grey area. It risks directly sinning or putting a stamp of approval on the sin.
2. You must be completely transparent about what service you are going to provide. If the photo book you deliver is going to be saturated with Scripture, this can’t be a surprise when the customer takes delivery. Make sure your contract explains that the photos will be accompanied by relevant Bible verses.
3. Your work represents Christian business to the world in a special way. Your product must display excellence or it will tarnish the name of Christ with the labels shoddy, lazy, unrefined and substandard.
Jesus is a treasure. Represent him that way.
How would you respond if you were in Elane Photography’s place?
What other considerations are there for the options I listed above?