It’s no secret that our country feels divided. We can’t turn on the TV or scroll through social media without seeing an argument about current affairs.
And while healthy debate is a good thing, it seems like most of these discussions tend to demonize and ostracize. People are called “haters” – and much worse – simply for expressing their beliefs. And too many have bought into the lie that you must agree with someone in order to love them.
That’s why it is so timely that the theme for the 2019 National Day of Prayer comes from John 13:34: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you.”
Loving someone doesn’t mean you agree with them 100 percent. It means you treat them with the dignity and respect worthy of a person created by God. Many of our clients are beautiful examples of this message. And while they are fighting for their First Amendment freedoms in court, they never forget to put this commandment in action.
Carl and Angel Larsen
Hospitality is important to Carl and Angel Larsen. They invite people from all walks of life over to their Minnesota home for dinner—and I mean all backgrounds. The Larsens have hosted an atheist for a barbeque, a Chinese Buddhist who shares their love of sushi, and a Vietnam veteran struggling with addiction for their Christmas celebration.
Carl and Angel love sharing a meal and hearing others’ stories because storytelling is important to them. That’s why they started their filmmaking business, Telescope Media Group (TMG)—a video production company that strives to tell stories that glorify God.
A few years ago, Carl and Angel decided they wanted to enter the wedding industry and use their creative gifts to promote the beauty of marriage as God designed it—the union of one man and one woman. But they soon discovered that a state law was being interpreted to mean that if the Larsens tell stories celebrating marriage between one man and one woman, they are also required to tell stories celebrating same-sex marriage. If they follow their faith and decline to do so, they face crippling fines and even jail time.
The Larsens decided to challenge this unfair law in court. They are now waiting for a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Blaine treats everyone who orders from his promotional printing company, Hands On Originals, with respect and dignity—no matter what they believe or how they identify. In fact, Blaine has printed materials for a local band whose lead singer identifies as lesbian.
While Blaine serves everyone, he can’t print all messages. In 2012, Hands On Originals received a request to print a T-shirt with a message that Blaine knew he couldn’t print because it conflicted with his conscience.
Still, Blaine handled the situation with grace. He told the group that ordered the shirts, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GLSO), “We won’t leave you hanging.” He offered to connect the GLSO to another printer that would do the job for the same price he would have charged.
Still, the GLSO went to the local government and accused Blaine of breaking the law. This launched a years-long legal battle that brought Blaine and his business significant challenges. Customers pulled their business, the mayor of the city publicly criticized him, and local groups launched a campaign to smear Blaine’s company.
Blaine has won twice in court, but the government keeps appealing. He’s now waiting for the Kentucky Supreme Court to hear arguments in his case.
It’s important to befriend one another despite personal differences. That’s what it means to love our neighbors. And that’s exactly what Barronelle Stutzman, a floral artist from Washington State, does.
One of Barronelle’s favorite customers at her shop, Arlene’s Flowers, was Rob Ingersoll. Barronelle served Rob for nearly 10 years, and the two formed a friendship. Barronelle knew that Rob identified as gay, but that didn’t bother her. She enjoyed their conversations and creating beautiful floral arrangements for him.
But one day, Rob requested that Barronelle create custom floral arrangements to celebrate his same-sex wedding. Barronelle knew that this would express a message contrary to her conscience. So she made the difficult decision to decline Rob’s request. Rob seemed to understand—the two hugged, and Rob left the shop.
But then the attorney general of Washington read about the story on social media and decided to sue Barronelle in both her professional and personal capacity. The ACLU followed up with a lawsuit of its own. Now, if Barronelle loses in court, she could lose everything she owns, including her retirement savings and her house.
Barronelle’s case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last summer, the high court sent her case back to the Washington Supreme Court to be reconsidered in light of the decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Barronelle is still waiting for the decision from her state’s supreme court.
Just because someone doesn’t share our beliefs doesn’t mean we can’t love them. And I’m truly grateful for the extraordinary ways Carl, Angel, Blaine, and Barronelle exemplify this.
Unfortunately, these clients are not met with the same respect. Instead, they are being forced out of the market and punished by the government because of what they believe.
This isn’t right. In America, we should be free to live and work according to our deepest beliefs. And we should treat each other with respect, regardless of our personal beliefs or backgrounds.
On this National Day of Prayer, please pray that each of us will live out the call to love like Carl, Angel, Blaine, and Barronelle. And pray for these cases as they await critical decisions that will impact religious freedom for us all.