Sunday, April 05, 2015

MOP Day 4--On Laws, Conscience, and Respect

Normally, I don’t touch politics or controversial subjects.

However, a current debate kind of affects our lives.

So between the Hobby Lobby case in the Supreme Court, Indiana’s Religious Freedom law, and the case of the bakery in Gresham that went out of business after their refusal to make a cake for a lesbian wedding, a few basic questions emerge.  Particularly: can a business have a conscience?  Can the owner’s conscience affect the work the business accepts or refuses, or the things it supports?  What if there's a conflict between one person's wishes and the other's beliefs?

Which brings us to a certain grass-seed warehouse and Rogue Ale.

Paul bought our warehouse from his dad who had taken over from his dad.  Dozens of  sons and nephews have worked there; countless tons of seed have been cleaned, bagged, and shipped.

Yes, it’s a business.  It’s also a big part of the family’s lifestyle and history.

Some time ago Paul started taking on custom projects.  He became certified to work with organic grains and feed.  He has since cleaned oats, cracked corn for chickens, processed rice bran, and much more.

A few months ago, Paul told me he has a moral dilemma.  Someone had called him from a company called “Rogue,” or something like that, wondering if he could process some barley.  He said yes.  The truckload of barley arrived.

Now Paul, not being an imbibing man, for personal and religious reasons, didn’t recognize the Rogue name for what it was, as many Oregonians including his wife would have, even though she doesn’t imbibe either, and he was disturbed to find out that they make beer, and this was the barley’s intended purpose.

What, he asked me, should he do?  He could not in good conscience supply a company that made alcohol, but he had already told them he would do this load of barley.

I felt that the greater evil would be to not keep his word.  He agreed.  So he explained to the Rogue representative that he hadn’t been aware of their company and he was willing to process this load, but he had religious reasons for not wanting to do more after this.

Things could have turned one of several ways just then.

Rogue Ale would have had every legal right, at this point, to insist that we continue to offer them this service.  They needed to have barley processed. We had the time, the machinery, the proximity, the workers, and the storage capacity.  We had a business that served the public.  

Our only reason for saying no was a religious preference.

They could have threatened, harassed, and made a public outcry.  They could have given us a bad name in the grain-and-feed community.  I’m not sure what the laws are in Oregon, but I suppose they could have pressed charges of discrimination and maybe even have sued and put us out of business.

And really, would you have blamed them for being upset and taking legal action?

We would, I hope, have followed the New Testament teaching to suffer loss rather than retaliate or take legal action in return.

They also could have called us plenty of adjectives such as fanatical, behind-the-times, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

And again, they would have had good reason to lob a few of those labels at us.

They didn’t do any of that.

Instead, they were unbelievably kind, understanding, and gracious.

They thanked us profusely for helping them out of a pinch with that first truckload, and they assured us that while they would love to continue to work with us, they had no desire to violate our conscience and they would take their barley elsewhere in the future.

They did not try to change our minds.  Or our business, or beliefs, or behavior.      

We deeply appreciated their response, and in return we made no attempt to change their business and its purposes.

I had to wonder if the Rogue folks were raised by the same standards we were, especially that deeply ingrained conviction that you must always go to great lengths to honor people’s religious beliefs, even if it inconveniences you and maybe even costs you time and money, and even if your beliefs differ vastly from theirs.  And even if you think their beliefs are wrong and you’d love to change them.

That’s why I wore a scarf and balto (long black robe) in the Middle East, so I wouldn’t be offensive to Muslims, and why I made sure the Seventh-Day Adventists had meatless options when they came for dinner, and why my Mom wore her Old Order shawl and bonnet to Amish funerals, and why my non-Mennonite sisters-in-law always wore long skirts at Mom and Dad’s house, and why Great-Aunt Ketty used chicken fat and not lard to make pies for the Jewish family in Portland, years ago, and why I’ve refrained from taking what could have been phenomenal pictures of Amish relatives, even though it pained me to let the opportunities pass, and why I am careful to be proper and respectful during Muslim or Catholic prayers and services even though they might make me uncomfortable.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this consideration as well, such as when my employer let me have Sundays off because we believe in keeping it holy, and he also let me wear my head covering even though it didn’t fit very well with the restaurant uniform, and when the P.E. teacher didn’t make me dance with the others. And then there’s the farmer who harvests on Sunday but waits until Monday to bring his seed in, and does not take his seed elsewhere, like he would have every right to.  And the many in the past who were extra careful about movies and TV when our children were over because they didn’t want to be offensive.  And the friends and family who didn’t invite us to their weddings because they knew we don’t believe in remarriage after divorce and thus spared us the awkwardness of not showing up to give our blessing.  We discussed this, actually.  We love and respect each other.  We just don’t agree.  They didn’t have to be as gracious as they were, and I’m grateful.

In all the debates about wedding cakes and insurance coverage and such, I can well understand people’s desire to have their wishes accommodated.  And how it can feel hurtful and discriminatory and annoying if they’re refused.

What I can’t understand is that people would actually put their own wishes ahead of someone else’s practice of a deeply-held religious belief, in something that’s not a life-or-death matter.

But maybe that’s just me being all old-fashioned and Amish.

I also don’t understand the assumption that suing a business and bombarding them with messages that they’re hateful or bigoted or worse will actually make the owners change their minds.  It shows a serious ignorance about what a religious belief is, where it comes from, how it works, and what it takes to change it.

People might cave in out of fear, but that’s not real change.  If they change their minds because of economic loss or public backlash, then it wasn’t an actual religious belief to start with.

If Rogue Ale had really wanted us to change our views on alcohol, they couldn’t have chosen a better method than their kindness and graciousness.

And even if we never change our views, we will always think of them gratefully when we pass their big building on the way to the Marine Science Center in Newport.

They could have made things really hard for us.  They chose not to.

Some people are bound to abuse a religious/conscience law, but in the long term, the potential dangers of denying people and businesses freedom of religion/conscience seem to me much greater and more alarming.


  1. This reminds me of a blunder we made in March due to ignorance. It was easily fixed and did no damage, but it provided our children with a good laugh. We live such sheltered lives we don't know vices when we see them. And that's not all bad.

  2. Wonderful testimony. It's all about respect:all about "love your neighbour as yourself!" I have really been thinking of this with the latest horror attack here. If I love you, I will respect you, and what you believe. There is so little love in the world, people want their rights.

  3. You have a gift of explaining things with such common sense. I truly do not understand how anyone could disagree with you, but hey, what do I know, I'm just a white girl from the sticks who has been told I have no right to an opinion.

    What a great testament to the quality of people at Rogue!

  4. I have been a long-time lurker here. This is an unusual topic to break my silence on, but I wanted to thank you for braving the controversy. You addressed a matter I have long questioned: Why are those who preach a tolerance-for-all gospel so intolerant when their desires are crossed?

  5. The world of politics and controversy is coming to us. It is hard to avoid some discussion when some assume you shouldn't be in business (able to feed yourself or family) unless you cater to their worldview and demands. Not that those of faith should fear, but there is some sadness to be felt and maybe a bit of speaking out (with proper respect and kindness) to be done. Thanks for sharing!

  6. All politicians should read this!

  7. Thanks for presenting such a lovely testimony about respect to all. I thought it was beautifully expressed. Thank you!

  8. Thank you, Dorcas. I appreciated every word and thought of your post.

  9. I think you handled this well. Good job, Dorcas. And Happy Spring to you and your merry band. :)

  10. Your article is well written and while I respect both your opinion and your freedom to express it, I stand behind the idea that the denial of services to one group of people while rendering services to all other groups is discrimination. While I don't think that group should seek out targets for lawsuits, please remember that not too long ago, protests and riots changed the way the nation responded to blacks and while not perfect, we have made considerable progress in coexisting in the same neighborhoods and the same lunch counters. There is no reason for people in business to seek out the reasons they should deny services, neither should a potential customer make a scene providing those reasons. People are people and should be served in the same manner and the same type of service the business offers all others. I am glad you got the response you wanted from rogue Ale and you are gracious to mention them kindly.

  11. You're quite right, Dorcas. It reminds me of how Jesus tells us that if we're of the world, the world will love us. But if we are one of Christ's, the world will hate us. It seems they don't mind what anyone believes except for the truth. Doesn't make any sense, does it? It won't be like this in eternity, though! We must never stop telling the truth, and never give in to intimidation tactics. No matter how hard it gets or what it costs us. It's better to obey God than man. Thank you for your encouraging post. I'm looking forward to MOP!

  12. Thanks to all for the comments.
    to anonymous--it's true: we discriminated. Thanks to Rogue's kindness, it all worked out. Should this happen again in the future, are the only options available to either go out of business or go against our religious convictions? I'd like to think there are other solutions.
    And Lea, we did not feel hated by the world in this situation, thankfully. However, we were willing to "obey God rather than man."

  13. I wasn't really referring to your situation, Dorcas, and am glad you didn't feel hated. It's just that a lot of people who do the same thing your husband did in standing up for what he believes in, are feeling the pressure. It seems okay to call good evil and evil good, but those who call good good and evil evil are discriminating. That's what it seems like to me anyway - like people are trying to silence those who have a moral standard by intimidation and bad publicity. Which is why I'm glad you've shared your thoughts on a better way.

  14. Very well written Dorcas,
    I am curious about something Anonymous said, and would like to clarify the point that Christians do not refuse service to gay people, or any other people group on ground of prejudice but rather they do so on ground of conscience. In other wrods, if a gay couple come into a bakery shop owned by a Christian ordering a birthday cake, the Christian would have no problem serving them, but when they come in ordering a wedding cake with something wirtten on it that violates the Christian's conscience, they may be denied service, not because they are gay but because what they want done violates the Chrsitian conscience. Here is where many people misunderstand the meaning of tolerance. Tolerance in Christianity means to love all mankind and desire the best for our worst enemies. It does not mean to share in their sin.

  15. The Baritone4/06/2015 10:56 PM

    Excellent comment, Fifi.

    Hopefully someone will tell that last comment to all the people who are pushing this abominable agenda. And they are the ones who claim that Christianity is being rammed down THEIR throats. Goodness...

  16. Nice job Dorcas is explaining the issue. I'm thinking of sharing on FB (If I'm up for the pushback.). May I?

  17. Great article, Dorcas! A Christian friend of my husband and me had an interesting perspective that he shared recently. He is a great photographer and has photographed many weddings, portraits, etc. He said he would have no moral problem taking a gay person's portraits, senior pictures, etc. but would not take the photos of a gay couple's wedding because he believes that event itself is sin. If he were to simply say he would never photograph a gay person, then he'd better be consistent and say he'd never photograph someone who lies, speaks rudely, or is selfish!

    You always present truth (even difficult ones) in ways that just make so much sense. Now if only the rest of the world had their heads screwed on straight!!

  18. A head hunter submitted my husband's resume to Budweiser many years ago and he was called for an interview. He explained that he could not work for their company and they were very gracious. I think of that every time I drive by the plant on the interstate and respect them all the more for the way they responded to my husband.

  19. This blog, this is perfect! If more people would be gracious like this, if more people would realize that we are different and just be gracious about those differences instead of mean and hateful, this world would be tons better! This post hit me in a personal (good) way - I myself am a Seventh Day Adventist, and if I were visiting and eating dinner at a non-Adventist home, I wouldn't expect a meatless dinner, but I would appreciate it if there was one. :-) And a few of our friends are extremely careful of what their kids eat and watch on TV (more so than we are), so when their kids are over at our house, we make sure we don't serve food that offends or watch shows that offend.
    As always, I enjoy reading your posts. Thank you for this one! :-)

  20. beautifully written and expressed. thank you!

  21. So well written... I appreciate the examples of respect. Sometimes, in relation to Amish people, when outsiders or former Amish show up wearing clothes similar to the Amish, it might look hypocritical, but in reality it is only sign of respect, not hypocrisy. And feeling respected means so much to anybody.

  22. Dorcas, this was presented beautifully! I may reference this in the future if ever asked to defend my position.

  23. So, after reading this blog post a while ago, I have finally decided to comment. This has really been weighing heavy on my heart... this idea, that because of your faith, you can reserve the right to discriminate against others. Most importantly, I want to point out what I feel is the biggest hypocrisy of Mrs. Smucker's argument... Her position of not wanting to process barley for the beer company because it violated her beliefs on 'imbibing'. While I don't believe that I have read in the Bible that drinking alcohol is forbidden(not to mention that no one asked her or her husband to "imbibe")... I believe (having been raised Mennonite) the getting drunk (I might point out that you can have a cocktail/beer and not be drunk) and 'causing a brother to stumble' arguments are the basis for the Mennonite's dogma that forbids it in their congregations. So... Let me ask you this question... do you think, that by standing firm on this issue, Christians look like 'the shining light on the hill' or do you think that they are driving people away from Christianity (causing a brother to stumble)? What is your mission? To stand on principle? Or bring others to the saving knowledge of JC? (yes, I know the lingo) Please read the Bible and honestly tell me that if Jesus were the one behind the counter, would he turn them away or bake them the best cake ever??

  24. To Anonymous--Your comment, perhaps unintentionally, brings up an important and relevant point: who should decide if someone else's religious belief or practice is valid and justifiable?
    You see the situation thus: our preferences regarding alcohol are not supported by the Bible, and we should not use them to justify refusing to serve a brewery. And, apparently, our decisions do not make us the shining lights we ought to be.
    You have every right to your view and I have no doubt at all we are not yet the shining lights we ought to be, having plenty of issues to deal with and a constant need of grace.
    However: is it up to you--or any other observer--to make that "call" on our behalf? What qualifies you for that role? What makes you the right person to override and nullify our decision and beliefs? Or to decide for us that our viewpoint isn't valid?
    I think that among all the opinions and words flying around, this is one of the crucial questions: who gets to determine if someone else's religious beliefs are valid? A judge? A client? A psychiatrist? A random commenter online?
    I can see why you reach the conclusions you do, you have every right to your perspective, and it is not for me to change your mind.
    As to what Jesus would do about a cake, or a load of barley, I don't know. I think each of us needs to love Him and follow his voice, and this will not look exactly the same for every Christian. Certainly we would not fault another Christian who reached a different decision regarding alcohol use or supplying barley to Rogue Ale.
    But this was what we felt in our hearts was the right thing to do, and we are so grateful to the clients who allowed us that freedom of conscience.