By JOHN FORTMEYER
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Bakeries in Gresham and in Denver, Colo.
A florist shop in Richland, Wash.
A photography studio in New Mexico.
A wedding reception site in New York state.
These and other Christian-owned business nationally in recent years have experienced loss of revenue, formal charges of unlawful discrimination, hostile opposition and more because they have declined, based on their owners’ faith, to provide services for same-sex weddings. Believing that these business people need help to maintain their integrity and stand firm in their religious, conscience and free-speech rights, a Vancouver man has formed a nationwide association for such businesses.
The Christian Wedding Professionals Association (www.christianweddingpros.com) already has dozens of member businesses here in the Northwest and in about 12 other states so far.
Represented in the free-membership group are a wide range of professionals, including limousine drivers, officiants, dry cleaners, caterers, musicians, bakers, printers, formal wear renters, clergy and more.
Frank Bratcher was well aware he was wading into potentially controversial waters when he formed the association. But he said he saw a critical need for such a group in the face of what he sees as an “increasingly anti -Christian, anti-traditional marriage and relationship culture,”
“Christian wedding pros are finding themselves being bullied, attacked, persecuted and feeling isolated because of their personal and religious beliefs,” he said. “Somebody’s got to stand up to this and fight back.”
Bratcher himself operates a wedding-related business and noted that he, in fact, has a homosexual employee among his staff who he treats with personal respect. Bratcher strongly emphasized that he bears no ill will whatsoever toward gay individuals. But he wants to do all he can to ensure that the rights of Christian business owners are preserved and that their viewpoints are allowed the same expression as those shown by the gay community.
“We don’t want to stand there and punch people in the face, but we don’t want to take the punch either,” he said.
He said the association aims to provide marketing support, training, sharing, encouragement, legal advice, fellowship and prayer for Christian-based, wedding-related businesses.
Bratcher said membership in the association does not dictate how individual businesses should react to their particular challenges regarding same-sex marriage. While the highly publicized cases have focused on businesses that have flatly refused to provide services for same-sex ceremonies, businesses may choose other ways to respond.
For example, he said, a business might opt to go ahead and provide a particular service but direct any income from it not to their business, but to a particular ministry or even to the Christian Wedding Professionals Association itself. It is up to the individual business owner’s own conscience and what they feel is God’s leading, he said.
“When you get to that point, you decide, do you go out of business, or do you use the proceeds to enforce your faith?” said Bratcher.
The only firm requirement for membership is that the business adhere to the association’s faith statement. While membership is free, the association does invite donations from interested churches or individuals. Bratcher has contacted many Christian vendors of wedding services, and finds that while some are “almost too scared to join” because of the potential for opposition, they also understand that there is a need for mutual support among those facing the same challenges.
“One business owner said, ‘Thank God you are doing this,’ ’’ he said.
For more information, phone Bratcher at 979-308-8038 or go to the association web site.