I recently visited Nashville and had a great time in this raucous, bustling town. Back in the 1800′s it was a booming city on the frontier, with saloons filled with gamblers and whiskey. In 1885 Captain Thomas Ryman owned 35 riverboats and many saloons, providing him with an ample income. A thorn in his side and a threat to his wealth was a preacher by the name of Reverend Sam Jones. On May 10, Captain Ryman went with some friends to one of Rev. Jones’ tent revivals to stir up trouble. But instead of disrupting the revival, Ryman was deeply touched by Jones’ preaching. The Captain experienced an earth shattering conversion and had a miraculous change of heart. Afterward, filled with religious zeal, he refused to lease any more bar space for the purpose of selling liquor on his riverboats.
With his new religious fervor, Ryman vowed to build a meeting hall with the capacity to hold the enormous crowds thronging to hear Sam Jones and others preach. He wanted to make sure the crowds had access to a structure sturdier than a revival tent. The new facility cost around $100,000 and took seven years to complete; it was called the Union Gospel Tabernacle. On June 1, 1892 Rev. Jones preached for the first time in the meeting place built in his honor.
After Captain Ryman died in 1904, Rev. Jones urged the name of the hall to be changed to Ryman Auditorium, in honor of its founder. The auditorium eventually became known for hosting the “Grand Ole Opry” radio show from 1943 until 1974, when the new Grand Ole Opry auditorium and recording studio was built in a different part of town.
I love the story of Captain Ryman because it reflects the power of the gospel, as well as the importance of communicating this message to sinners. Currently there is a huge controversy brewing with several lawsuits against Christians who refused to provide service to homosexuals because of their religious convictions. A photographer refused to photograph the wedding of a gay couple, and a baker refused to bake a wedding cake for two men’s wedding. The baker, Jack Phillips, did offer to make brownies or anything else the couple wanted, as the judge residing over the lawsuit noted “Phillips believes that if he uses his artistic talents to participate in same-sex weddings by creating a wedding cake, he will be displeasing God and acting contrary to the teachings of the Bible.”
The judge went on to say this “fails to take into account the cost to society and the hurt caused to persons who are denied service simply because of who they are”, and ordered Phillips to bake wedding cakes for any future same-sex couples. According to the judge, Phillips’ religious rights aren’t applicable when it comes to refusing to embrace gay marriage. Since the baker still refuses to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples, he could possibly be thrown in jail.
Many Americans are equating this case to the discrimination faced by blacks under the Jim Crow laws. I fail to see the correlation, since the discrimination from the Jim Crow laws was by whites refusing to serve another race, while this ‘discrimination’ involves a man refusing to ‘participate’ in the sexual act of two other men. A black man, or Jew, or Asian or Hispanic is unable to change their race, and should never be discriminated against or refused service based on the color of their skin or race.
In contrast, the baker didn’t simply refuse service – his deeply held religious convictions prevented him from participating in a sexual union. Restaurants and retail stores are not refusing to serve gay men or women, gays aren’t forbidden to ride buses or purchase homes. As Erick Erickson explained in his article Yes, Jesus Would Bake a Cake “The disagreement comes on one issue only — should a Christian provide goods and services to a gay wedding. That’s it. We’re not talking about serving a meal at a restaurant. We’re not talking about baking a cake for a birthday party. We’re talking about a wedding, which millions of Christians view as a sacrament of the faith and other, mostly Protestant Christians, view as a relationship ordained by God to reflect a holy relationship.” It is truly frightening that in a country based on religious freedom, a man could go to jail for making a stand for his Christian faith. I firmly support anyone’s religious freedom, and feel it is absolutely wrong to coerce someone to violate those convictions.
Phillips’ lead attorney, Nicolle Martin, with the Alliance Defending Freedom, explains “American citizens should not have to live in fear of a prison sentence merely for disagreeing with the government’s opinion. All Americans should remain free to honor God in our lives and in our work. The government has no business threatening Americans with jail time for simply exercising their constitutionally-protected freedoms of religion and speech. Every American, whatever you think about this issue, should fear a government that ignores the First Amendment in order to exercise this kind of power over its citizens.”
Even though I support the rights of these Christians, I do wonder if a different approach might be more beneficial. What if Phillips had agreed to bake the wedding cake, and then used that opportunity to share his evangelical faith with the other two men. Perhaps he could explain that God created man and woman to become one flesh, and that to be a sacramental marriage, the union must be procreative, capable of producing children. Possibly he could have shared the story of the women caught in adultery and explain that even though God loves all his children, black, white, gay, straight, alcoholic, adulterer, etc., he asks for a certain purity from them. Phillips could have shared Jesus’ words to the adulteress “go and sin no more”.
The evangelical could have explained that God only wants to protect his children, and a homosexual lifestyle is destructive, both physically and emotionally. Sadly, homosexuals suffer from depression and other emotional disorders at a disproportionate rate compared to straight individuals, with a resulting higher ratio of suicides. Those in the LGBT community claim discrimination and bullying is the reason for such widespread unhappiness, and these actions may contribute to the high numbers, but in and of itself that explanation fails to tell the entire story.
The statistics in the gay culture are far grimmer than the rosy picture portrayed by the movie industry. As Hollywood pushes their ‘gay agenda’ to normalize homosexual behavior, it has become more acceptable in our culture than it ever has before (at least since the times of the Roman Empire), yet the suicide rates continue to rise in the LGBT community. Physical abuse and addictions are additional issues which plague homosexuals at higher rates.
Promiscuity rates are far higher among gays, resulting in AIDs infections of gay men almost three times the incidences of heterosexual men. Violence among same-sex partners is on the rise as well. According to the Community Programs Coordinator at The Network/La Red, a Boston-based domestic violence support group specifically for LGBTQ people, same sex domestic violence is the new silent epidemic.
Pope Francis emphasized the importance of a compassionate heart stating “sterile priests do not help the Church,” and referred to the Church as a “field hospital” where injuries are treated. Theories abound about the origins of homosexuality – some experts claim trauma, such as sexual or physical abuse, can trigger gender confusion. Others claim those with same-sex attraction are simply born that way, which doesn’t quite gel when you survey identical twins and discover one is gay, and the other is not.
Our world is filled with hurting, trouble people in need of the gospel of Christ. Whatever the origin, those with same-sex attractions need healing; they need us to share God’s abundant love and tenderness. Just as Rev. Jones’s words pierced the avarice in Captain Ryman’s heart, our words can set others free from anger, depression, unforgiveness, loneliness and insecurity. Only through much prayer and discernment can you make the difficult decision to reach out to gay couples with love and compassion and be a ‘part’ of their wedding, or to stand up for your faith and refuse to participate in a union that cannot be blessed with God. Whatever your decision, share it with kindness and charity, without contempt or condescension.
History of Ryman Auditorium http://ryman.com/history/captain-tom-ryman
Healing from Homosexuality http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/life-and-family/homosexuality/healing-of-homosexual-attractions/
“Yes, Jesus Would Bake a Cake For a Gay Person” http://www.redstate.com/2014/02/21/yes-jesus-would-bake-a-cake-for-a-gay-person/