In 107 A.D. the Emperor Trajan issued a decree that all Christians must sacrifice to Caesar and the other Roman gods. Christians by the thousands refused and paid a horrible price. One of these was Polycarp, Bishop of the church at Smyrna, who was arrested in February, 155 A.D.
On the way to Polycarp’s execution in the arena, the captain of the guard tried to persuade him to recant. “What would be wrong with just saying Caesar is the lord of the world? All you must do is sprinkle a little incense in front of the Emperor’s statue, and you will save your life.”
“I will not,” said Polycarp. “To do so would be to deny the Lord of all.”
And so the old Pastor was executed, burned at the stake in the arena. He died as did Christians by the thousands in that era because they believed with certainty that Jesus is none other than the God of Heaven. How could they deny him and worship Caesar who was only a man?
Thankfully, today in America we Christians do not face such a choice. We have religious liberty.
Or do we? Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin are a Christian couple in Albuquerque, New Mexico who run Elane Photography Company. In 2006 they were approached by a pair of lesbians who asked Elane to be the official photographers for their civil union commitment ceremony. It seems the Huegeunin’s could not legally refuse because homosexuals are a protected class under New Mexico’s human rights law.
And yet… when Jesus said in Matthew Chapter Nineteen: “At the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,’” Jonathan and Elaine believe it to be the pronouncement of God, not man. Plainly marriage was the creation of God, and He plainly made it a union of a man and a woman.
History tells us that some of the early Roman Christians did decide to compromise. Just say “Caesar is Lord.” You don’t really have to mean it. Just burn a little incense to the Emperor. We don’t remember them today. We do remember and honor Polycarp and the thousands like him whose fires of martyrdom sparked the flame of Western liberty. The Huguenin’s did not compromise either. They chose to honor their Lord’s word rather than celebrate a homosexual union.
Rebuffed, the gay couple chose another photographer; but because these Christians must be punished, they complained to the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. The case went to litigation. The District Court sided with the gays and ordered Elane Photography to pay $6,600 in attorney’s fees to the lesbian couple.
The Huguenin’s appealed the decision on principle, saying Americans in the marketplace should not be subjected to legal attacks for simply abiding by their beliefs. But the Court of Appeals disagreed. In the Court’s ruling are these words which Caesar and every tyrant of history would heartily approve: “The owners of Elane Photography must accept the reasonable regulations and restrictions…. despite their personal religious beliefs that may conflict with governmental interests.” (italics mine.)
Of course, the “personal religious beliefs” so lightly tossed aside by the Court are the very beliefs held by Christianity for two thousand years, and by Western Civilization for one thousand years. They are taken directly from the Scriptures that formed the common law of Western Civilization.
Jonathan and Elaine then appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, who sadly but predictably sided with the gays. Violating one’s religious convictions is at times the price of citizenship said the Court in so many words, and held out the option that Elane Photography could go out of business is they so chose.
And so here we are in America in 2013 with two Christians being forced to give up their livelihood or else dishonor God and His Word. Some Americans might say “who cares?” But we should all care, and deeply so. When government puts itself above God and becomes the enemy of religious conviction, the liberties of us all are in danger.