Monday 21 March 2011

Thought Picnic: Civil Laws Always Trump Personal Beliefs

Another one of those things

Every once in a while, I dare to stick my toe in the barracuda infested waters of Nigeria discourse and commentary outside the haunts that I am more comfortable with when it comes to addressing social issues.

I cannot understand how it always ends up looking like a battle field where the fundamentally religious is pitched against the norms of civil society and reason is in danger of being suffocated and derived of the oxygen of tolerance.

Reneging on a contract for religious reasons

It started off on Facebook, with the following status:

A Canadian florist refused to provide flowers for a wedding after she found out that the couple was same-sex. Kim Evans, of Petals and Promises Wedding Flowers, reportedly agreed to sell flowers to the couple, but then backed out when she learned they were gay, citing her Christian faith. The couple was not identified, but their wedding planner said the florist's rebuff was "going to stay with them for years. [Link to Source – Facebook membership might be required.] The original news story is found here [1].

I will concentrate more on my views than that of others but suffice it to say that the moment someone applauded the act of Kim Evans and I raised issues about the wrongness of her act it developed into the well-trotted scriptures about sin, sinners, homosexuals, Christianity, the Levitical laws and much more.

This blog fleshes out the opinions I shared and the direction in which I had hope to steer the discourse.

The test for faith, hope and love

I like the way she has cited her Christian faith which probably is a valid excuse considering the circumstances, but that is a very personal if not a selfish thing. If she cited her Christian hope, she cannot have hoped to win her customers over to her kind of thinking by her actions it would read as being outrageously wicked to mar the couple’s happy day just because it did not correlate with her beliefs.

No matter how one dares to stretch the imagination there is not a smidgen of Christian love to see because love is tender, love is kind and does not create offence, her only refuge could be her faith because love has a selflessness that demands a lot of Christians when dealing with the world at large.

The “infidels” had entered a contractual agreement with her company out of good faith and just to give context to the matters of faith, hope and charity (love), there is a Bible verse [2] that states; “Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love”. She probably passed the test of faith, one can only wonder what she hoped for but she definitely failed the test of love.

I went on to wonder how this looks for people looking at the broader issue of Christians who cannot be trusted to follow through on agreed contracts because their intolerance and bigotry (my view was that the withdrawal of business on the basis of religious belief was an outward display of prejudice) gets in the way of them ministering love that might work winning these people to the truth.

And I concluded, she was wrong!

A lack of comprehension

A number of comments followed from the idea that there was no prejudice in the lady’s actions to the fundamentalist homophobia seeking refuge in scriptural superfluity until someone interjected to bring a sense of frail humanity into focus but sides had been taken and some were already implacably entrenched.

I followed taking this reasoned support by identifying the gulf that had developed in educational standards in Nigeria where we are allowed the latitude of critical thinking and contextual analysis of issues which helped our comprehension of matters and the allusion that Nuhu Ribadu made on the presidential debates last Friday that Nigerian education is in tatters.

That sadly illustrates the fact that many with whom we engage are unable to accommodate different perspectives to an issue once they have found something they are familiar with to sink their teeth into.

Whilst they might well be able to reel off quotes and verses they very rarely find ways put such into context that exposes any critical thinking ability or logical process such that everything is literal and the figurative is too abstract to appreciate and as the assumed discourse develops contrived analogies are lumped in that it might just take a treatise to unravel the jumble that makes for the flawed thought process.

When you engage

It then get very easy to digress and concentrate on the subjective and sentimental without addressing the core issue which is personal beliefs are personal and private and not one is stopped from having such beliefs but when such a person has to interact with the public like running a business there are civil laws that have precedence over those belief systems allowing for a level playing field of clear communication and protection from prejudice and discrimination by reason of civil laws.

Like one religious person did say in the news story, “The shopkeeper has every right to her own convictions as long as she is a private citizen in her own house, but if she opens her doors to sell flowers, then she must be prepared to meet and deal with the public.”

This is the dilemma many religious people face their inability to appreciate the boundaries of their religious beliefs in the context of the society that they have to deal with. One option is for such people to assemble and reside in religious ghettos, separate from an influence and situation that would make their beliefs a subject of societal scrutiny.

The state ranks above personal beliefs

Recently, we have had cases of the religious beliefs conflicting with the sense of duty where people paid to provide a public service allow their prejudices to decline serving sections of society with different moral values or belief systems or they feel their religious laws are superior to the state and civil laws.

That situation is untenable and presents opportunities for a chaotic society if everyone believed themselves outside the ambit of civil laws that do not agree with their faiths.

The bigger lesson is found in the admonition or rather the advice to [2], “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.”

This is one case where Caesar and God are confused in roles and service, when they are supposed to be separate spheres of operation, and what we know as the separation of state and religion or more particularly, the separation of personal belief systems from how we interact in the public space.


[1] Florist refuses to outfit same-sex couple's wedding - New Brunswick - CBC News

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. NLT

[3] Luke 20:25 "Caesar's," they replied. He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." KJV

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