At first glance, it might just seem like the same old news: another florist, another same-sex couple, and another ruling. But what may seem to some as a simple judgment might just be the most important thing that you read today.
It isn’t Barronelle Stutzman’s plea that she is being forced to celebrate same-sex unions against her rights and faith. It isn’t the fact that she was sued. And it certainly isn’t the fact that a judge ruled against her. All of that is par for the course these days.
But what should grab your attention is Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom’s reasoning for ruling against Stutzman: you can believe, but you can’t necessarily practice, religion!
Now on the face of things, that might sound almost reasonable. After all, we live in jihadist times. And we certainly don’t want militant jihadists following the parts of the Koran that tell Muslims to kill all infidels (ie., Quran 2:191-193).
But religious freedom has always carried with it elements of a practiced faith, not just a believing faith.
So if a Christian won’t sell flowers to someone for the purpose of celebrating something that their faith teaches is an abomination, are they to be treated as the jihadist? After all, the same-sex couple had many other flower shops that gladly offered to serve them – some that even offered to give them the flowers for free. Won’t the marketplace take care of this by itself?
But what if the flowers weren’t the goal? What if compliance with the law isn’t even the goal? What if faith without works is the goal – an empty belief? And until the practice of the Christian faith is dead, persecution will continue.
Christians who thought they could “coexist” and practice their faith, in this legal environment, are in for a rude awakening.
You see, Ekstrom’s ruling violates a fundamental principle that has been “on the books” for almost 2,000 years. James, the half-brother of Jesus, explained, “Faith, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17). In fact, James has harsh words for one who would take Ekstrom’s position: “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?”
Of course, I preach James, not Ekstrom. And I tell a congregation every Sunday that we need to put our faith into action. We need to have a living, working faith to be a church that is pleasing to God. But if we put those words into practice, have we violated the law? And am I inciting others to violate the law?
Perhaps. But that is no surprise. And James still says, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).