Religious Liberty, Marriage Licenses, and the Cost of Discipleship

I was looking for something new. That was the start of it. I made a phone call and talked with a recruiter. And a packet of pamphlets and government forms arrived in my mailbox not long afterwards.

I had been a minister for several years. I enjoyed trauma chaplaincy work, but was looking for a new challenge. This particular ministry sounded challenging and meaningful. And they needed people.

The setting: the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

For a whaile I agonized over that pile of paperwork. Being a federal prison chaplain was something I believed I could do well. I was willing to do the work. And the need was great.

But there was one thing I just couldn’t get past. And so, I picked up the packet, threw it in the trash and started looking elsewhere.

Growing up, like most people in my death penalty state, I believed some people deserved the ultimate penalty for their crimes. I didn’t love the idea of an electric chair, but I believed that justice sometimes required an eye for an eye.

That changed for me when I became a Christian and read the Gospels. My own personal faith journey convinced me that supporting the death penalty was incompatible with following the Christian faith.

And that was the reason I knew I couldn’t be a chaplain in a federal prison system where the death penalty is still practiced. Even if I never had to escort a human being to the death chamber, I could never work in a system that upheld the option of killing someone.

I know there are some who disagree with me, but that’s what I truly believe. Just like there are good Christians who disagree about same-sex marriage.

I’m proud to be a part of a tradition that blesses the marriages of all. And I’m glad that now state and federal laws recognize my religious freedom as a member of the clergy to marry any two adults who love one another.

Many Christians disagree. And some are the very people whose government job requires them to issue marriage licenses.

Let’s be clear. These are not members of the clergy being forced to perform same-sex marriages. These are government employees, paid for by their fellow citizens’ taxes, who are being asked to follow the law.
Just like I would have been had I chosen to be a prison chaplain in a death penalty system.

Religious liberty is guaranteed in this country. But that does not mean that every job needs to bend to your particular interpretation of your faith.

So when someone is being asked to follow the law, and issue a marriage license, and they say they are being persecuted, I just don’t buy it. You are being no more persecuted than I was when I decided not to be a prison chaplain. We are both operating out of our sincere Christian convictions, after all.

The job of someone issuing a government marriage license is to basically handle a piece of paperwork. In this case a piece of paperwork that says that two people will have their marriage legally, not even religiously, recognized.

If you really believe doing your job is against your faith, then quitting would be an act of faith. Defying the law so two people you will never see again can’t get married? Not so much.

One of the most important teachings of Christ is that we must be willing to lose everything to follow him. Discipleship, as Bonhoeffer said, is costly. And sometimes it will cost us our jobs. If you really believe doing your job is violating your faith, then stepping aside would be a small price to pay for the love of the Gospel.

4 thoughts on “Religious Liberty, Marriage Licenses, and the Cost of Discipleship

  1. Beautiful. Great to find and share convictions. Even more beautiful, and far more difficult is to find unity within the diversity of convictions.

    Your reflection reminds me of Helen Prejean’s statement: “The profound moral question is not, ‘Do they deserve to die?’ but ‘Do we deserve to kill them?'”

    Here’s to getting the question right!

  2. I totally agree with you! I also view changing positions is another good solution without losing your job. My friend was overwhelmed with her very busy high paying job, so she changed into another position that pays less and in another department. Now, she is happier.

    I like how you are so fair and using yourself as an example. I feel the same way about not working in jobs that conflicts with my values and sense of ethics, more so as a Christian back into the church exploring UCC or Congregationalists. Thanks for sharing your very open minded and fair views. I am subscribing to you.

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