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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