Chris Martin, from the Hawaiian Pacific Baptist Convention, encourages pastors to rest, stay focused, and be creative during the pandemic.
Ben Mandrell shares how we can use creativity and technology in discipleship.
On October 16, oral arguments were heard in Minnesota for a case centered on creativity and compelled speech. Carl and Angel Larsen are the directors of Telescope Media Group which exists to tell stories that honor God. These filmmakers are also strong proponents of marriage and believe that it is one of the greatest stories to be told. They desire to make films and wedding videos that tell the Christian story of marriage and the way that this is a God-honoring narrative.
In the state of Minnesota, the Larsens could face criminal charges if they declined to create wedding videos that contradict their Christian convictions. Because they wish to both create art in line with their Christian belief that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman, they face fines up to $25,000 and jail time of up to 90 days. In response to this, the Larsens have filed a challenge through Alliance Defending Freedom to have their rights upheld before they begin to create these videos.
Central to this case is the question of whether a government can compel or constrain an artist’s artwork. As Christians, we believe that individuals are created in the image of God. As image-bearers of a creating God (Gen. 1-2), we also imitate God as we use the gift of creativity he has given to us (Ex. 35:35). The drive to create works of art in literature, film, music, and physical medium such as paint or sculpture is connected to our status as beings who bear the image of a creative God.
Christians should recognize the drive to create and also protect that right. The Minnesota Human Rights Act limits the ability of the Larsens to creatively exercise their ability to showcase the glory and grandeur of God in the institution of biblical marriage. The law represents an overreach by the government to compel artists through their artwork to tell a particular narrative. The state has constructed a narrative of what is acceptable and then limited the ability of artists to interact in the public square.
This suit is similar to two other cases which have been brought before the Supreme Court in recent months: Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers. In Masterpiece Cake Shop, Jack Phillips argued that he should not be compelled by government authorities to create a wedding cake for a wedding that contradicted his Christian beliefs about marriage. The court upheld that Phillips had been unfairly discriminated against in the previous ruling of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and appellate courts. Baronelle Stutzman’s case centered on the same issue but with floral arrangements. This case was sent back to the state of Washington Supreme Court to be reconsidered in light of the Jack Phillips ruling.
Central to all three of these cases is the right of the government to compel speech from any individual, but especially artists. The creation of artwork is a specifically personal and intimate act. Every artist brings a portion of themselves to their work. Artists are declaring a message about fundamental truths of reality and creation through their artwork. A wedding video is not just about a couple. It is about the truth and beauty of marriage which is built into the fabric of creation. When artists create, they are doing so with the hope that at the end they may join God in declaring “it was good” (Gen. 1:18). For the state to step into the public square and tell an artist that they cannot tell a particular story because of their religious convictions is an overreach of the state.
The state has no ability to judge between religious convictions. As the 18th century Baptist minister John Leland argued in his sermon, “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable,” it is only when those religious beliefs break forth in actual violence that the government should intervene. Even then, it does not punish the thoughts and motivations; it only punishes the actions and harm.
Carl and Angel Larsen are not looking to actively discriminate or hurt those who believe differently than they do about marriage. They are only seeking to tell the story of God’s design for marriage and fulfill their mission to “magnify Christ like a telescope.” They see their work as filmmakers and artists as part of the ever unfolding story of God’s plan to extoll his glory by making the realities of God and his plan for creation clearer.
As Christians, we should be the most vocal in defending the rights of all peoples to live out their convictions in alignment with their conscience. Carl and Angel Larsen seek to create films. Jack Phillips creates artwork with cakes. Baronelle Stutzman arranges flowers. All of these creative acts are the result of the creative impulse in all image-bearers of God. Christians should consider how this case will indicate the future role that artists may have in the public square. They should be prayerful of the dangers of a government which seeks to overreach and constrain the consciences of artists.
Further, they should be aware that in making this argument they are making it for all peoples. This is not just a Christian case, although the Larsens are bringing the case because of their specifically Christian convictions. It is a case which is applicable to all peoples. No one should be barred from speaking in the public square or operating a business because of a deeply held religious belief. The freedom to speak and produce art is the right of all artists whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or non-religious.
We should all be aware of cases such as these because they are indicators of the state of conscience protection in the culture. Christians and non-Christians should all be proponents of the rights of conscience and the right to freely create and express an artistic vision of the good, true, and beautiful.
I sit with a friend over breakfast, our table squeezed in among other pairs of diners. We reach across to one another and hold hands for a brief moment. She has tears in her eyes and I have tears in mine, both of us tired and both of us broken over the state of things. She tells me her heaviness and I tell her mine, and I realize we’re asking the same question of one another: Does the work we’re doing matter at all?
In our own ways, we’re each seeking redemption and reconciliation, for ourselves and for others. In trying so fervently to dispense hope and then discovering our impotency to right all wrongs, we’ve lost the very thing we’ve tried to give. We ourselves are empty and vulnerable. We feel invisible and wonder why we should care anymore. Why should we care for the disenfranchised? Why should we continue to shoulder responsibility? Why should we go on loving those who have wounded us so deeply? Why produce and cultivate when we could sit back and merely consume?
I’m reminded that creative work done in imitation of God is always focused on redemption, for this is his pattern. It’s also fraught with difficulty. When we step out in front of the crowd, willing to lead and communicate and counsel and carry burdens, sometimes we stand alone and, many times, our work will be done through tears.
Creative work done in imitation of God is always focused on redemption, for this is his pattern.
Solomon, in his brief treatise on beauty and time, says there is nothing better than to use what we’ve been given to do good in this life (Eccl. 3:12). How, I wonder, is it better to sacrifice for the thankless than to seek my own good?
Because the most beautiful beauty in this life is redemption, and redemption only comes through sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed so our redemptive story could be written; if we are to create beauty in this life, it will involve imitating the Savior’s sacrifice.
We must be in the mix, embracing the hard work. In the paradox kingdom, the greatest is a servant and the one who chooses to be last will one day exalted to first. Although these are valued roles in the kingdom, they are thankless, invisible roles in the world. Who cares for the servant? Who supports the last in line? Who remembers the one at the bottom?
Those who do good creatively, who seek redemption persistently, find solace and help in the arms of the Suffering Servant. Our God is a God who sees the invisible and remembers what they have done in his name. This is why it’s better to sacrifice than to self-indulge—it draws us close into the heart of our Savior.
His heart helps me continue on when I wonder where he’s writing redemption, for when I’m embraced by him, I can also wait on him. Secure in him, I can then acknowledge there are things he left inconsolable and faithfully work, knowing that change or healing or beauty may not come quickly. We may need to walk alongside a friend for many seasons, bearing with them and they with us, until beautiful fruit is borne. In order to do this, we must be willing to engage doubts, temporary setbacks, questions, tears, and all of our own struggles to believe and endure that spring up in the process.
Perhaps you’re waiting for something to be made beautiful. What can you do in the meantime? Give yourself to creative good. Give your life to love and serve in the ways you’ve been gifted. Draw your own perspective back to the small beauties of everyday life. Engage with others at the redemption level of life. Love others enough that you’d seek beauty for them as well as yourself.
One of my favorite aspects of how God designed the church is that we each have different ways of seeking redemption for others. We get to be creative according to where God has placed us and what story he’s given us and what gifts and skills he’s implanted in us. We don’t all have to do good in the same ways. In fact, we mustn’t, because we need every stitch in the whole pattern in order to draw the eye to the whole Christ.
I’ve recently recognized God calling me to lay down roles and take up influence, to be creative in doing good. How can I creatively use my influence, however small it is, in my community? The answer: to work toward change in the very things my friend and I were talking about over breakfast. Loving mercy, hating injustices, loving people, hating what keeps us from community with one another.
God has given us work to do. He has placed us in homes, in families, in neighborhoods and workplaces. How are you cultivating beauty? Craft your sermon with diligence. Receive your customers with joy. Proctor your class with excellence. Teach your children with love. Order your home with care. Embrace your suffering with patience.
Our creative work is a love offering.
And we need all creators creating.
This post is from Christine’s book, Searching For Spring: How God Makes All Things Beautiful in Time.
A few years ago, I was working in the creative office of my alma mater. I heard our creative director say something that struck me. “You know that they can fire us, right?” He was referring to the business we had “hired” to produce a recent project.
We were in the middle of a highly detailed project involving a few different groups of people at a production house. Our organization and this production house had worked together for years on various projects and had built a great relationship, but this particular project was pushing everyone and was something new for all of us. The production house was trying to figure out if this project was something they could actually execute, and we were trying to make sure they could perform at the level we desired. Some frustration ensued during the process, but we were able to walk through the project without any major issues. However, what our creative director said in that moment always stuck with me.
We could be fired as a creative client. This production house was not required to keep working with us, regardless of the project. If they found us to be overly difficult to work with, if the project did not align with their values as a company, or if they just didn’t want to work on this particular project for some stated reason, they could in fact “fire” us as a partner and decide that they were not the best fit for this particular situation.
They would lose the business, but saying “no” in design is a cherished value in the creative community. A business or designer is encouraged to do what is best for the client and for themselves. That sometimes means turning down good paying work in order to protect the business. This assumption of creative liberty is in everyone’s best interest because it allows both parties to find the right fit to see a project through and does not force them to work on something they don’t desire.
Our inherent freedom
This freedom possessed by the production house is a similar freedom that all creatives have to accept or turn down work. But this freedom is often overlooked in today’s conversations about religious liberty and creativity. We read of cake bakers and photographers being taken to court over refusing to use their creativity to participate in a same-sex ceremony or an artist who refuses to perform a concert in a certain state based on legislation that violates his or her values.
Why is it that so many are completely against an artist using their creative and religious freedom to refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding, while they simultaneously celebrate the artist that refuses, on principle, to perform in a state in which there is legislation that goes against his deeply held beliefs?
Scripture teaches us that God created each man and woman in his image (Gen. 1:27) with certain inalienable rights. As Creator, God used his creative abilities to make everything and gave us a similar ability to take what he has created and to design things of our own. Our creative abilities are God-given and are designed to be used in glorifying the true and original Creator.
Religious liberty is a right given to each person by God and must be used responsibly.
Along with these creative gifts, we were also given the ability to worship and a freedom of conscience by which we could choose to glorify and honor God or to glorify and honor ourselves. We know how that choice ended up for mankind (Gen. 3); we chose to glorify and honor ourselves instead of God.
These artistic freedoms granted by God are central to who we are as his creation. All people have dignity and worth. All people have the ability to choose right and wrong. And all people are accountable for their actions and stewardship of the gifts they have been given.
As a creative who is also a Christian, I believe that all people have the right to live out their beliefs through their actions in all aspects of their life, especially in their vocation. Creativity is not just putting out a product or offering a service to someone. When one creates, we put our heart, mind, and soul into what we create. Just like a great writer is a part of their work or a sculptor puts his mark on his creation, we give ourselves to what we create—and it will always bear part of who we are. This is why creatives care so much about their work and how it is used or portrayed.
Our cultural hypocrisy
Every decision that we make is informed by our understanding of ourselves, the universe, and our concept of God. Just as the artist who decides they, in good conscience, cannot use their creative gifts to serve a same-sex wedding, I also believe that a creative should not be forced to violate their deeply held beliefs to perform in an arena in any place that they do not want or feel comfortable. To label some actions discriminatory while at the same time giving other artists freedom of conscience to not perform in venues for popular causes that hit at a politically convenient time, is nothing less than hypocrisy. It shows, sadly, that religious liberty and freedom of conscience in America are really about what’s popular, instead of giving space for disagreement. Sadly, opponents of religious liberty are living by a maxim that they only apply to themselves.
Creative freedom and liberty cannot only apply to the popular positions or stances on cultural issues. They must also apply to minorities whose positions might seem completely off base to the majority. My position on same-sex relationships and ceremonies might not be popular, but why should I be forced to violate my personally held beliefs if others are able to exercise their beliefs in their public vocations? Others might be celebrated by society, but both sides have the same rights and freedoms because every person has inherent worth and dignity.
Religious liberty is a right given to each person by God and must be used responsibly (Matt. 22:37-29). These are complicated issues, but even the complicated issues and variables surrounding certain cases can be worked out in public, and accommodations for all beliefs can be made in a pluralistic society. I believe that religious liberty applies to all people of all faiths or no faith at all, because I believe that all people are created in the image of God. No government or societal pressure should be able to coerce someone to violate her deepest held beliefs.
Sally Lloyd-Jones joins Russell Moore to talk about her bestselling children's book, The Jesus Storybook Bible. Lloyd-Jones shares ways for parents to engage the hearts and minds of their children with the beautiful story of the Gospel.
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