It is hard to miss recent media portrayals of anyone who voices or acts on their religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage in how they run their business as “bigoted” and seeking a “license to discriminate.” This consistent narrative has judged their motives without reason, roundly rejecting small business owners’ (often wedding vendors) claims that they are simply living out their faith with love, but can’t be a part of a ceremony that violates their consciences.
When the owners of Memories Pizza — a small town pizzeria in Indiana — were posed a hypothetical question about whether they would cater a same-sex wedding last year, the “intolerance” of their simple response that they would not resulted in a threat to burn down their shop. They didn’t react in turn, but continued to explain that they would happily serve customers who identify as homosexual; they just didn’t want to be a part of the wedding. Of course none of this mattered to those not seeking the facts.
Now it appears that a man ordered two pizzas from Memories Pizza, without stating his reasons (as is quite normal when ordering pizza), and brought them back to serve at his same-sex wedding. He’s recorded the event, and claimed Memories “catered” his gay wedding — without knowing it. In response, Memories owner Kevin O’Connor hasn’t threatened to burn anything down. He hasn’t called anyone a bigot. He’s actually not really too interested in what happened.
So what’s the point?
Memories Pizza served a man regardless of his sexual orientation. The owners did not deny him service. They didn’t “turn him away.” And the fact that their pizzas were served at a gay wedding isn’t too bothersome to them. They didn’t quiz the man when he came in, asking him what he would use the pizza for. Those truly seeking to understand the conflicts in the “wedding vendor cases” should study what happened here, for they will see that no one involved is interested in simply turning away customers based on their sexual orientation.
What else can we learn?
It’s important to note that Kevin O’Connor didn’t run around claiming “my conscience was violated here!” Conscience is not violated merely by the occurrence of events; there must be knowledge of what one is getting oneself into. Thus, conscience is violated when someone is forced to knowingly participate in something they believe is wrong. Kevin wasn’t forced to participate in anything here; thus he wasn’t upset. He had no problem with serving a person in his shop, whether or not that person identifies as homosexual.
This is an important teaching moment on the role of conscience in the “wedding vendor cases” and beyond. The small business owners involved are not asking to simply “turn people away” or for a “blank check” to do whatever they want; they are advancing sincere conscience claims in certain circumstances. Memories Pizza’s unproblematic “catering” of this same-sex wedding shows that. Those who sincerely care to understand more about such religious freedom claims can learn from this development.
The mainstream media seems to be in a constant battle to try and wrest control of who they think Pope Francis is and what he stands for. What the media often fail to do is to quote the Pope’s actual words when he speaks against the modern orthodoxies that they are so fixated on upholding, in particular that of same-sex marriage.
During his homily at the Mass in Rome celebrating the opening of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family on October 4, Pope Francis reflected yet again, as he has done throughout his papacy, on the central and indisputable truth and beauty of the family, that is, of one man, one woman, and their children:
In the first reading we also hear that God was pained by Adam’s loneliness. He said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). These words show that nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him and takes away his sense of being alone. These words also show that God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone. He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love: to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in children, as the Psalm proclaimed today says (cf. Ps 128).
This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self. It is the same plan which Jesus presents in today’s Gospel: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).
But the Pope did not stop there. He went on to point out the ills that modern society currently suffers from in regard to its understanding of what marriage actually is:
For God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which his creatures will be doomed to solitude! Indeed, being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.
Paradoxically, people today — who often ridicule this plan — continue to be attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love. We see people chase after fleeting loves while dreaming of true love; they chase after carnal pleasures but desire total self-giving.
He followed this by quoting his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger), who cuts to the heart of modern society’s ill-conceived notion of “freedom”:
“Now that we have fully tasted the promises of unlimited freedom, we begin to appreciate once again the old phrase: “world-weariness”. Forbidden pleasures lost their attraction at the very moment they stopped being forbidden. Even if they are pushed to the extreme and endlessly renewed, they prove dull, for they are finite realities, whereas we thirst for the infinite.”
Despite the media’s best efforts in pigeonholing him to fit their agenda, Pope Francis will continue to confound them with what he actually says. Only time will tell if they will ever listen.
Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu stood before the UN and berated the assembled members for their deafening silence over the Iran Deal and the threat it poses to Israel.
He reminded them of the promise made by Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s, “there will be no Israel in 25 years,” and recounted to his listeners that only 70 years after the murder of 6 million Jews, Iran’s rulers have promised to destroy his country and murder his people. He rebuked the individuals represented at the UN for their lack of response, saying it has been “Nothing but absolute, deafening silence.”
Netanyahu then proceeded to silently glare at the UN for a full forty-five seconds before proceeding with his speech explaining why Israel was not celebrating this deal. And with good reason. The Iran Deal is in fact, a deal which will almost invariably provoke a nuclear arms race and is nothing short of a machination to destroy his country.
Also last week, in our very own United States a young gunman murdered innocent victims in a mass shooting. Why? Simply for their Christian faith. CNN reported the testimony of a father of a wounded student:
‘Before going into spinal surgery, Anastasia Boylan told her father and brother the gunman entered her classroom firing. The professor in the classroom was shot point blank. Others were hit, she told her family.
Everyone in the classroom dropped to the ground.
The gunman, while reloading his handgun, ordered the students to stand up if they were Christians, Boylan told her family.
“And they would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,’” Boylan’s father, Stacy, told CNN, relaying her account.
“And then he shot and killed them.”’
In the history of the universe, the persecution of Israel is nothing new; religious persecution of the people of God is nothing new; even Christians slaughtered for their faith is not a new phenomenon. It may be new to Americans because it is on our soil, and in our lifetimes.
Israel is currently defending the right to protect its very existence. The jailing of Kim Davis marks the first time in American history a Christian citizen was incarcerated for not compromising a sincerely held religious belief. Last week, we had American citizens shot in cold blood for testifying for their Christian faith.
Franklin Graham said so aptly, “Persecution and targeting of Christians isn’t just in Iran or the Middle East, its right here in America. The bold souls at Umpqua Community College who stood up to say they were followers of Jesus Christ were heinously gunned down with no mercy. Jesus said, ‘If they hate you, remember they hated me before they hated you.“’ (John 15:18)
If you were faced with a similar situation, how would you react? Ponder that question deeply. It should drive you to your knees. While you’re there, pray for Israel. Pray for those facing religious persecution. Pray for the victims of those in the Oregon shooting. Pray for your family and friends.
The irony is almost overwhelming: We are rightly compassionate toward women whose loss of their littles ones causes such pain, but the Left is fiercely defending the nation’s largest provider of abortion by trying to discredit the organization that revealed its evil behaviors and minimizing the gravity of what Planned Parenthood does to almost-born babies.
Any society which can tolerate these things, let alone legislate for them, has ceased to be civilised. One of the major signs of decadence in the Roman Empire was that its unwanted babies were ‘exposed’, that is abandoned and left to die. Can we claim that contemporary Western society is any less decadent because it consigns its unwanted babies to the hospital incinerator instead of the local rubbish dump? Indeed modern abortion is even worse than ancient exposure because it has been commercialised, and has become, at least for some doctors and clinics, an extremely lucrative practice. But reverence for human life is an indisputable characteristic of a humane and civilised society.
The only thing that has changed is the further coarsening of our culture and the greater number of unborn deaths. And that’s why the battle for life and for the dignity of women preyed upon by the abortion industry goes on.
There has been much media discussion over what the Pope said or did on his brief visit to the United States last month. Some topics drowned in the news coverage of others. However, one thing the Pope was certainly not confused about was his stance on religious liberty. Before Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pope Francis clearly proclaimed:
“One of the highlights of my visit is to stand here, before Independence Hall, the birthplace of the United States of America. It was here that the freedoms which define this country were first proclaimed. The Declaration of Independence stated that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that governments exist to protect and defend those rights.”
“History also shows that these or any truths must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended.”
Concluding his speech, he stated:
“Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights. May this country and each of you be renewed in gratitude for the many blessings and freedoms that you enjoy. And may you defend these rights, especially your religious freedom, for it has been given to you by God himself.”
In so clearly restating the American vision of religious liberty which has existed for over two centuries, Pope Francis reaffirmed the human right of religious liberty, given by God to all people, everywhere. In clearly restating this right, Pope Francis reiterated and reaffirmed an American ideal.
And by reminding us to defend and uphold religious freedom, Pope Francis simply reminded Americans to be American.
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The First World War began a little more than 101 years ago. It shattered a generation and its cost in lives and treasure remains stunning to contemplate.
Yet out of the war came C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, two of the 20th century’s greatest proponents of the importance of Christian virtue for all of culture. Unlike a generation of young writers who lost faith in the God of the Bible, Tolkien and Lewis produced epic stories infused with the themes of guilt and grace, sorrow and consolation. Giving an unabashedly Christian vision of hope in a world tortured by doubt and disillusionment, the two writers created works that changed the course of literature and shaped the faith of millions. Dr. Joe Loconte’s new book, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 is the first book to explore Tolkien and Lewis’ work in light of the spiritual crisis sparked by the conflict.
One of the things these men came to value was a core Christian commitment to the dignity of every person. As image-bearers of God, each of us has a primary duty to Him – which is the very foundation of the religious liberty which undergirds all of our other freedoms. As Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “Every Government consists of mere men … if it adds to its commands ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ it lies, and lies dangerously.”
At noon on Thursday, October 8th, join us at FRC or watch online as Dr. Loconte shares the circumstances which bound together and inspired these two dearly loved authors.
Joe Loconte (Ph.D., King’s College, University of London) teaches history at The King’s College in the heart of New York City. He has written thoughtfully on many of today’s most pressing issues, and his commentary on religion and democracy, human rights, and international religious freedom appears in the nation’s leading media outlets, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New Republic, the Weekly Standard, and National Public Radio. He is also a regular contributor to the London-based Standpoint Magazine and Italy’s La Stampa.
Sincerely, Rob Schwarzwalder Senior Vice-President Family Research Council
P.S. Be sure to watch the speeches of leading presidential contenders and other compelling panels and events at this year’s Values Voter Summit. The stakes for the 2016 election are high, and VVS helps us understand what they are and how each of us can make a difference.