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The courage of Barronelle Stutzman

She refused to worship the culture’s gods

Supporters gather around florist Barronelle Stutzman after a 2013 court hearing in Bellevue, Wash. Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson

The courage of Barronelle Stutzman
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Nearly a decade ago, a florist from rural Washington State turned her world upside down by respectfully refusing to use her creative talents in the service of a same-sex wedding. Thanks to a recent settlement, Mrs. Stutzman no longer faces the threat of losing her home or retirement, but before we let her return to the peace and quiet she has always deserved, we should make sure we understand what happened.

To that point in her life, Barronelle Stutzman had lived quietly, not in the sense that she had not done anything remarkable—her successful business and large family said otherwise—but in that she had not been someone to cause trouble. On the contrary, her Christian sensibilities had her on good terms with the world. That included Rob Ingersoll, the long-time client who had become a friend and would eventually ask her to create floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding.

Citing her beliefs about marriage, she politely declined the request and assumed that would be the end of the matter. She was wrong.

What she may not have recognized then, but should be clear to us now, is this: what appeared to be a professional opportunity was really a coercive call to worship. The culture has created gods out of sex, tolerance, and autonomy, and in many places, the culture—if not the law—tells us to worship those idols on command. The sacrifice these gods require is seemingly small but hugely significant; a rainbow sticker, a pronoun, or even silence may suffice for now. But make no mistake—if you refuse to make the sacrifice, you will be treated as the heretic you are.

Mrs. Stutzman violated the first commandment of the sexual revolution which is “thou shalt have no other gods before me.” You may recognize that commandment because the God of the Bible issued the same command, which puts those seeking to serve both in an impossible place. Barronelle Stutzman chose to serve the God of the Bible and, as a result, became a symbol of bigotry.

How strange. How hurtful.

She could have easily avoided all the trouble with a simple apology, a promise to listen and learn, a promise to do same-sex weddings in the future, and an expression of regret for all the pain her actions caused. There were likely moments that path seemed desirable. After all, no one enjoys being misunderstood and misrepresented. She could have even become, by secular standards, one of the “good Christians” who will bow to the secular pressure, but she chose fidelity to God.

For many of us, the prospect of government pressuring Christians to surrender their loyalty still feels strange. We remember a world in which people were free to make different decisions based on different beliefs, and the government, as well as the community, would accept that.

As disturbing as our current situation is, it may be comforting to know it is not new. Christians have long been asked to resist pressure to worship false gods. The church was born into a polytheist culture that worshiped gods of war, gods of the sea, as well as gods of the moon and sun. There was a goddess of fertility, another for hunting, and there was no expectation that you would choose only one god. As such, the problem Romans had with first-century Christians was not that they worshipped Jesus but that they proclaimed there was “no King but Jesus.” It is Jesus’s exclusive right to our worship that presents the problem.

Despite the history of conflict, many in the church today insist the real source of the conflict is that Christians are not friendly enough. Like Barronelle, the story of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission suggests otherwise. For most of a century, they have helped addicts with their addictions, housed the homeless, and given refuge to the abused regardless of who they are or from where they have come. You cannot find more considerate, compassionate people. Still, the Union Gospel Mission’s commitment to biblical sexuality has earned them the same scorn—and lawsuits—as everyone else who rejects the claims of the sexual revolution.

The truth is, you can’t be nice enough to please the powerful authorities of this culture; the only path to peace with the culture is submission. Significantly, that also happens to be the only path to peace with God. This is a binary choice: Serve God or serve the idols.

Ten years ago, Barronelle Stutzman made her choice. But the rest of us should never forget what happened and be mindful that our call to worship will come as well. No one escapes this conflict. Hopefully, we will recognize it when it happens, and, by God’s grace, may we respond just like her.

Joseph Backholm

Joseph is a senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. Previously, he served as a legislative attorney and spent 10 years as the president and general counsel of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He also served as legal counsel and director of “What Would You Say?” at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview where he developed and launched a YouTube channel of the same name. His YouTube life began when he identified as a 6-foot-5 Chinese woman in a series of videos exploring the logic of gender identity. He and his wife, Brook, have four children.

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