The Pen

Hitched To A Free Market…


Please excuse me for a moment, as I offer a bit of a political, theological, and cultural commentary. I was going to call this “ranting,” but a friend told me that pastors don’t rant, they proclaim, so these rants proclamations are related, as they all have to do with the same current event at a town just west of me.

If I traveled on Interstate 90 about two hours west, I would come to the resort town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – beautifully situated on the northern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Coeur d’Alene is, I believe, French for “resort town.” As long as I have lived here, Coeur d’Alene has long been known as a place to go for quasi-Las-Vegas-style quickie weddings.

By now, many people – most people – have probably heard the news story about the Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and how they’ve run afoul of a Coeur d’Alene city ordinance regarding not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. It seems that the Hitching Post wedding chapel specializes in “traditional weddings,” and their view of “traditional weddings” does not include the now-legal-in-Idaho practice of same-sex weddings. So the owners of the Hitching Post now face fines and jail time for refusing to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. The husband-and-wife team that own the Hitching Post profess to be Christians, and both have some sort of ordination as “ministers,” and cite their refusal to do such ceremonies as based on religious conviction. But their wedding chapel is not a church; it is a for-profit business. So, the real question here is; should the government be in the business of forcing business owners to conduct their businesses in a way that violates their personal beliefs or religious convictions?

For many people, this question was settled during the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s. As a result of those times, it became illegal for businesses to refuse service based upon race, color, or national origin. I want to say right now that I do not believe that that was the right way for a nation with ideals of liberty and freedom to handle the issue.

[Author’s note: in this section of my rant proclamation, I am using examples drawn from America’s history of racial tension. The use of these examples does not mean that I accept as being in any way valid the LGBT activists attempts to equate sexual orientation with skin color. As my friend Voddie Baucham said back in 2012, “Gay Is Not the New Black.]

The government should not be allowed to discriminate based on skin color, hair color, eye color, sex, or any other physical characteristic you would like to name. And regulated monopolies, such as mass transit systems, power companies, water companies, etc., since they operate as quasi-governmental agencies, should not be allowed to discriminate, either. But what about private businesses?

I am a strong proponent in a free market. If some neo-Nazi racist skinhead wants to open a whites-only lunch counter, I say let him. And then we can let the market determine if he stays in business, or not. My hope is that the market would put such a business out of business before too long, but, sadly, I expect that there are enough neo-Nazi racist skinheads around to support a few businesses of that type – but not a lot of businesses of that type. Social and economic pressures will be sufficient to assure that such businesses are few.

That being the case, why did America take a different tactic? Remember that there were laws in place in many places that legalized and institutionalized racial discrimination. Government services, public transportation, public schools – these were all segregated as a matter of law. And, as I have already said, the government should not be allowed to discriminate along such lines. Those laws needed to be changed, and they were. Why, then, were laws put into place to control the practices of private businesses?

The argument is that private businesses do businesses with the public, and therefore the government, as the representative of the public, has the right to tell a private business that they must do business with everyone. I contend the private business owners should be allowed to do business with whomever they choose to do business, and not do business with whomever they choose not to do business with. I say that, knowing full well that I will not agree with every business owner’s decision about whom they will and will not do business with. That is what it means to live in a free country.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe racism to be immoral. In fact, I want to make it absolutely clear that I detest racism. Yet, in a free society, racists are free to be racists, and the rest of us are free to say how detestable their racism is, and to attempt to dissuade them of their wrongheaded ideas, attitudes, and actions.

Which brings us back to the question of the Hitching Post in Coeur d’Alene. The Hitching Post is a private business, and their business practices should be governed by the convictions of the owners of the business. What if it was a Jewish wedding chapel, instead of a Christian one? Should they be forced to conduct weddings on Saturdays? What about the Muslim owners of a catering company? Should they be required to serve ham?

Weddings are big business. In a free market, there is no need to penalize or close businesses that do not want to do business with some segment of that market. If there is enough of a demand for businesses that cater to the wedding needs of a homosexual clientele, business people will see the opportunity to make money, and open businesses to address that market.

That was the political rant proclamation, now here is the cultural rant proclamation. Weddings shouldn’t be such a big deal. Marriage is a big deal, but weddings should not be. Pride, ego, and American consumerism have turned weddings into way too big of a deal. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is $25,200. $1600 of that is spent on clothing, another $1500 is spent on flowers. The average bride and groom spend $800 on the invitations alone. Weddings, as I said earlier, are very big business.

But all of this emphasis on weddings has trivialized marriage. The wedding is so important that the marriage itself seems secondary, and a lot more time and effort and planning is spent preparing for the wedding than is spent preparing for the marriage. I have spoken to couples who were eager to spend thousands to get the right caterer and the right photographer for their wedding, but who are unwilling to spend six weeks with me in premarital counseling. (I did not officiate those weddings.)

Weddings should not be such big business, and the realities of marriage should not be trivialized in the pursuit of the fantasy of the fairytale wedding.

Now, the theological rant proclamation: what about this wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho? Well, if weddings should not be big business, then wedding chapels should not be businesses at all. Not if they are trying to be religious institutions, as well. Religion should not be a business. Of course, influenced by the American entrepreneurial spirit, many in modern evangelicalism have turned religion into a business – and many are making very good money at it – but this should not be. And I know that I would not want to be any of those religious hucksters on Judgment Day, when they stand before the throne of God to answer for their actions.

Obviously, there are some theological issues involved with this couple that run this business. Both of them are “ordained ministers.” Since the Bible clearly limits the office of pastor to men, the ordination of a woman is unbiblical.

Then there is the fact that these people are not ministers of the gospel at all. The pastoral office involves much much more than simply officiating at weddings. The Hitching Post says that it provides “traditional religious weddings.” Religious, perhaps, but not Christian. A minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ would be concerned more about the marriage than the wedding, and more about the souls of the bride and groom, and be much less likely to see officiating at weddings as a mere business opportunity.

If the couple being wed are not active committed participants in a local religious community, be it a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever community, then why would they desire a religious service in the first place? Just go to the justice of the peace. And if the couple being wed are active members of a religious community, would they not desire that someone from their religious community officiate at their wedding?

But, saying that I do not believe that wedding chapels are good or Biblical, I still don’t think that wedding chapels should be banned. I agree with Russel Moore and Andrew Walker in their recent article on this topic, where they wrote:

“Saying that we don’t agree with these wedding chapels is not to say that we think they should be hounded out of business. Again, these are two separate questions. Our churches don’t ordain women either, as in the case of this co-pastor, but we don’t want the government to outlaw women’s ordination. There is no compelling government interest in running this couple out of business, sacrificing their First Amendment rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. Such government-enforced orthodoxy shouldn’t exist in a free country.”

Okay, I’m done ranting er… proclaiming… For now.