Way back, when I was in Seminary or Course of Study classes, I remember hearing that the most damaging persecution to the church was not the physical torment that so many suffered and died from, but economic persecution. Our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ stood firm in the face of all variety of physical torture. But, according to the one lecturer I was listening to, people would often crumble when faced with the prospect of losing their home or livelihood.
Jesus recognized how great a threat material wealth was to the faith. Whether speaking to the rich young ruler, or as part of his Sermon on the Mount, our Lord knew that many people, when faced with the choice of following Christ or pursuit of wealth, would drop Him like a bad habit and run after filthy lucre. Jesus is clear when he lays down the challenge in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (NIV) There is no dispute here about what Jesus is saying: you can serve Him, or money, but you cannot serve both. A person may deceive his or herself into thinking such a feat is possible, but at the end of the day, one will ultimately be revered by the individual as the true object of worship and adoration.
Money is a tool. That is all it is, and ever will be. It sits in its place until it is needed, just like a hammer or wrench. Unfortunately, so many of us have turned it into an idol and served it, instead of letting it serve us. Please, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. There is nothing wrong earning a living and having material possessions, but there is something wrong with elevating these things to the point that we choose them over true devotion to God.
For instance, right now, in different parts of the U.S., we are seeing movements to protect religious freedoms. The concerns of those pushing for such protections are that business owners will be forced to do things that run contrary to their religious convictions. Now, what I find interesting, is the way pressure is being applied to these states. The NFL says it is contemplating taking Atlanta out of the running for a future Super Bowl bid, and Hollywood executives are threatening to pull out of projects that would have been made in Georgia. Similarly, the NBA is making threats of pulling out its All Star game from North Carolina. Notice the message: if you do not conform to what we want, then we will hurt you economically. I am curious to see the response, though I have a gut feeling I know what will happen: the states will cave, and the laws will be vetoed or overturned legislatively.
Once these laws are reversed, business owners with strong religious convictions will be left with a difficult choice: compromise or face crippling economic sanctions until the business collapses.
In the face of such a future, what is the Christian business owner to do? This is not an easy question, though I believe it should be thought through sooner rather than later. Many hard decisions will need to be made. In particular, business owners must ask themselves if being asked to provide a particular service does, in fact, violate some tenet of the faith, or if their refusal of service is informed by something else. Let’s face it, the majority of the services that businesses offer do not interfere with the religious convictions of sincere Christians.
The question will also have to be asked if the business could curtail certain services to all customers and still be functional. For instance, businesses that frequently deal with customers getting married (e.g. bakers & florists), will need to decide if they will continue to support the wedding industry. If the choice is made to support the industry, then some level of compromise will most likely be a part of that decision. On the other hand, abandoning that segment of business could be financially crippling to the business.
I am certain that there are other questions that can be asked as well, but these are the two that stand out most prominently in my mind.
To summarize my rambling, the words of Christ are as relevant today as they ever have been: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matt. 6:24 NIV)