What Does It Mean to Participate?

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments concerning same-sex marriage.  Recently in the news, there have been news reports about different states either enacting or considering Religious Freedom Restoration pieces of legislation, as well as news about penalties handed down against certain business owners who have refused to provide their services, such as baking a cake, for the ceremony.  Their refusal was grounded in their assertion that doing so would be tantamount to participation in something with which they disagree on moral grounds.

Does this equate to participation?  That’s the question.

The definition I found for participation is this: “to be involved with others in doing something : to take part in an activity or event with others.” (Merriam-Webster.com)  So, by this definition, does baking a cake for a same sex wedding equate to participation in the wedding.  I’m just not sure.

If it does equate to participation, would a baker consider him/herself as participating in every graduation open house for which s/he makes a cake?  If not, why would that baker change his/her view regarding providing a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony.  If “yes,” then shouldn’t that baker also consider him/herself as participating in a person’s addiction and obesity if that person happens to be obese because of an addiction to bakery goods and buys his/her sweets (donuts, cakes, pies, cookies, etc.) from that baker?  If that person would say, “No,” I would ask, “Isn’t it the same line of reasoning?”  You cannot have it both ways.

If a store happens to sell condoms, is that store or sales clerk participating, in some way, in a sex act which may be outside the bounds of marriage because it/s/he sold the condoms to that person?  This line of reasoning can go far in its application.

Does a business transaction equal participating in something?  That’s the real question.  And if the answer is “Yes,” then there are some great and far-reaching implications of that answer.

Now, I wholeheartedly would say that a pastor officiating a wedding ceremony most definitely is participating.  Those who are in the wedding party most definitely are participating.

The scare tactic I have heard more than a handful of times is that, if same-sex marriage is legalized, pastors would be eventually forced to officiate at same-sex ceremonies if they officiate ceremonies of people outside their congregation.  I just don’t see that happening due to the separation of church and state.

My “industry” is specifically, intentionally, and totally “religious.”  Because of this, there are requirements of law from which I am exempted from having to follow because of the separation of church and state.  These are those requirements that are not generally applicable, such as abiding by the local building code.  (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=95-2074)  Requiring a pastor to perform a ceremony against his/her convictions is not generally applicable and therefore a violation of the separation of church and state and I do not foresee a court ruling differently.

Some have said to me that I have opened myself up to being required to perform these weddings since I perform weddings of those not part of my congregation, especially since some of the couples I have married were living together before marriage.  I disagree due to the previous paragraph.  Additionally, my reasoning, which is based in what I see as my pastoral role, is that it is my job to be part of helping people carry through on decisions that I believe are pleasing to God.  A couple who is currently living together, but unmarried, who decides to get married is doing just that.  Therefore, I place my “pastoral blessing” upon them and that decision by participating, helping them carry out that decision.

I will not officiate at a wedding which I believe will not lead the two individuals getting married into a result that pleases God.  Whether that is a same sex couple or a hetero couple, it doesn’t matter.  If I believe that the decision to get married will not result in being pleasing to God, I will decline to participate.  And I have done so.  And it is my fundamental right, under the separation of church and state, as a pastor to carry out my decision as to whose weddings I will or will not officiate.

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Do Christians Treat God Like the Genie in the Lamp?

Most people are familiar with the story of Aladdin and the genie in the lamp.  All Aladdin had to do was just rub that lamp, the genie would come out, and grant Aladdin 3 wishes.  The genie was at the beck and call of whoever rubbed the lamp.

Do Christians, in practice, treat God in much the same manner?  I was really struck by this idea two years ago when a read a booklet written by Graham Cooke, a man whose teaching has greatly impacted me over the past 4 years, titled “Crafted Prayer.”

Why do I say that, in practice, Christians often treat God like the genie in the bottle?  Simply, take a look at the common approach to our own praying and how we request others to pray.  It is common practice that when we ask people to pray for a situation or a person or an issue, we ask them to pray for a particular outcome.  For example, if we ask for prayer concerning a medical test, we ask people to pray for the result we desire.  If it is a test for cancer, the common request is for people to pray for a result that is negative for cancer, because that is the result desired.  So, people pray and ask God to make this desired result occur – just like rubbing that lamp.

If the result does come back as desired, the common response is “See, God does answer prayer” and “Praise God.”  If the result comes back with the undesired result, the common response is that “Well, sometimes God answers prayer with ‘No.'” The problem with this, though, is how does it mesh with Jesus words in John 14:13-14 when He says, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”  Further, John the Apostle says in 1 John 5:14-15, “And this is the confidence which we have before him that whatever we should ask according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us whatever we should ask, we know that we have the requests which we ask from Him.”

In the common way of praying and asking others to pray, which is a request to pray for a certain outcome, where is the confidence in that way of praying?  Frankly, I don’t see anymore than hoping that God will grant the request, just like hoping the genie in the lamp will be obligated to grant the wish.  Could this be why there are those who struggle in the area of prayer regarding effectiveness?  Underlying this common approach to prayer is a (in a small child’s voice) “please, please, please” begging.

Furthermore, I have a struggle with the common response that if the desired outcome which is prayed does not occur.  It is said that, in this case, God said “No.”  But if I stick tightly to what John wrote, it goes much deeper than that.  John gives an “if-then” statement.  If a certain situation happens, then there will be a definite result.  The opposite, though, is also true.  If the certain situation does not occur, the result does not follow.  So, if what we pray is NOT according to God’s will, He is not obligated to hear and answer.  Now, sometimes God does answer even if the request is not according to His will (Paul’s prayer in 2 Corinthians 9 would be an example), but He is not obligated, for He is not the genie in the lamp under certain requirements.

Further, under the common approach to prayer, which is riddled with a lack of confidence and, therefore, is really ineffective praying, our focus is on what WE want to have happen.  We are not focused on what GOD wants to do.  Heck, the closest one gets under the common approach to prayer to asking God what He wants to do is when one says, “They will be done.”  The common approach to prayer is not really all that concerned with what God wants to do; that phrase is just thrown in there to make sure all bases are covered.

I like how Graham put it.  “Prayer isn’t about finding the will of God.  Prayer is about praying the will of God.”  There is prep work to be done before actual praying, our speaking forth, prep work that is crucial to having confidence in what is being prayed.  The problem is that this typically runs in the face of a drive-through, microwave, ATM approach to prayer.  It takes time and commitment.  It takes being willing to genuinely worship first, then become still before God and listen to what the Spirit and Jesus are already praying as they intercede for us before the Father. (Romans 8)

Now, I realize that we pray quickly about something out of a sense of compassion and concern for a person or situation, but what good is it if this prayer lacks confidence due to the fact that we have not taken the time to ask what I consider the most important question: “God, what is it that YOU want to do in this?”  That’s the most important question because it gives God the preeminence, the first place.  And after asking the question, we must become still and listen.  It is also good if we are able to come together with other believers and allow them to be part of the process of ascertaining what the Spirit and Jesus are already praying.

So, how about we approach prayer regarding situations and issues in this manner: instead of making the situation/issue known along with a request of how to pray, let’s make the situation/issue known and then ask people to join in worshiping God and then becoming still and allow what the Spirit and Jesus are already praying to come through, be written down, and then put into a prayer that is prayed the same way every time.  And then that is what is prayed.

I’m fairly certain that if the Spirit and Jesus are already praying something, that’s what will eventually happen in God’s timing.  We just get the privilege of adding our voices to theirs and this is when our praying turns into proclamation because I’m confident that if I’m praying what the Spirit and Jesus are praying, what I’m saying is what will happen.

Talk about confidence and effectiveness in praying.