If I owned a business…

shopkeeper

Recently, quite a few Christian businesses have been faced with accusations of discrimination because they have refused service to various individuals with whom they have moral and/or religious disagreements.  Even though I don’t own a business (teaching a few piano lessons hardly qualifies me as a business owner), I have thought through this issue very carefully – and Biblically – and I have arrived at conclusions as to how I would handle situations if I did own a business which served the public.

One qualifier that should be understood is the distinction between a business and a church.  A church is not for profit and a business is for profit.  A church, though many people don’t understand this, is a private entity whose membership is comprised of people who meet certain qualifications.  A business is a public service that offers various goods for a price to any who will purchase them.  Therefore, the things that I would do as a businessman are entirely different from those as a pastor.

The law forbids businesses from discriminating based on many things such as religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and etc.  Many Christian business owners have found themselves being sued because they have illegally discriminated against those who have sought out their services.

Unfortunately, the general response of Christians in such circumstances is to claim religious persecution and that their first amendment rights have been infringed (incidentally, the constitution of the U.S. is a man-made document; the Bible does not guarantee freedom from religious persecution, but actually anticipates it).  The first amendment was not intended to protect for profit businesses, but to prohibit the establishment of a particular state religion and to protect the free exercise of religious worship.

I do believe that a business owner should be able to make reasonable decisions as to who he may or may not serve; however the law regulates the extent to which he can take those options.  As a Christian who believes and lives by the Bible, I’m instructed to obey civil government (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1-2; 1st Peter 2:12-25).  The resistance to government by some Christians in the United States is based upon an incorrect interpretation and/or application of Scripture.  Many Christians have been indoctrinated with the false idea that the U.S. is, or should be, a theocratic Christian nation which provides rights to Christians.  The reality is that the United States is an earthly nation like every other; historically, we have simply had more Christian influence than most other countries.

So, if I owned a business and could not conscientiously comply with a particular law, my options would be:

1) Close or sell my business

I’m convinced that it would be a righteous testimony for a believer to humbly say, “I cannot in good conscience obey this particular law as it relates to my business; I will not disobey the law and so I will take a personal loss, close my business and trust God to provide for me through other means.”  This submissive action would assert a trust in God, it would demonstrate an adherence to personal religious principles, it would maintain an obedience to the Biblical command to obey civil authority, and it would remove opportunity for the rest of society to speak evil of Christ and His followers!  The Apostle Peter stressed this in his letter to scattered Jewish believers.  In 1st Peter 2:20, Peter asked, “for what glory (honor) is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults (errors), ye shall take it patiently?  But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”  Peter draws a fine line between suffering for my sake or suffering for Christ’s sake.  Here is the difference, suffering for my sake would be fighting to maintain my American Dream of a for profit business; suffering for Christ’s sake would be persecution because I’m preaching the gospel, or suffering because I abandon my for profit business since I can’t maintain it with a good conscience under the law of the land.  Peter is clear that there is no cause to boast in the first case, but there is honor in the second.  When a believer is fighting to maintain profit, he is suffering for himself; when he is willing to suffer loss for the sake of Christ, he is suffering for the right cause (Philippians 3:7-10).

Furthermore, Peter indicated that the cause of Christ is actually exalted when believers take the correct approach to suffering.  The following is a lengthy portion of Scripture, but the importance requires posting it.  1st Peter 3:13-17,

“13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. 17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.”

The historical context of the passage of Scripture quoted above is very likely that these individuals were being persecuted simply because they were Christians living in a hostile Roman world.  However, the following applications are appropriate.

Verse 13 – how can I be prosecuted for closing my business?  On the other hand, I can and will be prosecuted for breaking the law.

Verse 14 – my suffering of financial loss for a spiritual reason would work towards my spiritual happiness and satisfaction because I did not violate my conscience or the law.

Verse 15 – I will have opportunity to witness of the eternal hope that I have because my response was so out of the ordinary that it will cause others to wonder at the grace in which I live.  I will have done nothing which will alienate those to whom I hope to minister the love of Christ.

Verse 16 – where I may have been spoken of as an intolerant lawbreaker, I will have manifested that I am willing to give up my profit for the sake of my conscience and the testimony of Christ.  The world will recognize this as genuine Christian character.

Verse 17 – it is better, in the eyes of God, to suffer for following a Christ-calibrated conscience than to suffer for breaking the law (even if the law is thought to be unjust) in order to fulfill the American Dream.

2) Suspend my business and utilize the legal means to change the law

I’m not a social warrior, so it is unlikely that I would pursue this option, but I do think it is acceptable for a Christian.  We have a legal system by which legislators introduce laws which will be voted upon and either pass or fail.  If I felt that a law was unjust and felt so inclined, it is entirely acceptable for me to use legitimate legal means to either introduce new law or amend existing law.  This is why we have representatives.  Following this method, I would still be living in obedience to God-ordained government. If the law can’t be or isn’t passed or changed, then I would realize that I’m not able to operate my business in good conscience and in obedience to the law; I would therefore have to find another means of financial support.

If I owned a business.

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