Of Hotels and 2 Kingdoms

An HB Classic

Plains Hotel Cheyenne WYIn view of the Oregon case in which a baker faces prosecution for refusing to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple, it seemed like a good idea to re-post this. The original context was the challenge that there’s no good way to defend, from natural law, the freedom of a hotel owner to restrict the use of his property from those who intend to use it to violate the moral (natural) law.

The other side of this question, however, is the matter of civil freedom, which the post addresses. Is there such a thing as private property and if so, on what basis is the use of that property limited by the state? What is the nature of freedom relative to the magistrate?


Darryl Hart has written a provocative post at OLTS on “The Bureau of Weaker Siblings.” The intent of his post is to reply to those who argue that, on a two-kingdoms view, there being no such thing as a “Christian” hotel, a Christian hotel owner would be bound to allow renters who intended to use the hotel room to commit fornication.

You should read the post for yourself, but I wish to kibitz and suggest some revisions to his arguments. As I understand it, his argument is that the objection is silly because it is selective. The Christian hotel owner who won’t rent to fornicators is a weaker brother who has more trouble with some sins than others. Perhaps I am a weaker brother (who knows? Does the weaker brother know he is one?) but I would rather respond by saying that there is a solid, natural-law-based, 2 kingdom approach to this problem.

Darryl mentions a natural law approach to resisting fornication (that the act of fornication is contrary to the creational intent of sex for procreation). This view seems to concede the Romanist view of sex. We should rather say that fornication is contrary to creational intent because, by definition, it entails sex outside of marriage. I’m not ready to concede the case that birth control is sinful. He also suggests that the hotel owner might not have “access” to natural law. I doubt this. Who doesn’t have access to natural law? To whom has natural law not been revealed? Isn’t one of the points of NL that it is universal? (Rom 1-2)?

There is a natural, creational, law argument could be made against renting rooms to fornicators. First, remember that when I say “natural law” I mean a divinely revealed moral law that is embedded into the fabric of creation. It is known because it is revealed by God in nature and in the human conscience. Contrary to the sheer assumption by some critics of natural law, it is not a form of ethical “neutrality.” Further, the natural or creational law is universally known by all humans, in all places, at all times. If you’re not familiar with the idea of natural or creational law, please take a moment to read this basic essay. Contrary to the published representations given by some writers hostile to the very idea of natural, creational, law it is not some novelty invented by neutrality-believing, antinomians who don’t believe in, teach, or confess the sovereignty of God over every area of life. The question is not whether God is sovereign. Rather, the question is how has God chosen to administer his sovereign authority over the various spheres of human existence and endeavor.

Second, we should not concede that, relative to civil life, all sins are equal. They may all be equally heinous before God and in the assemblies of the church, but civil life is a covenant of works. We don’t expect nor do we want the civil magistrate to regulate sins of the heart. We do rightly expect the civil magistrate to regulate the sins of the body, however, that have the effect of destroying common social life.

Gluttony is manifestly harmful. Go to the mall. Watch the ever fatter American posterior struggle up the escalator. It’s not a pretty sight and it’s wearing on the health care system (and on health workers who have to lift fat Americans!). Nevertheless, gluttony does not have the same effect of on the social fabric as fornication. Families, neighborhoods, and communities are not necessarily torn apart by gluttony. For now anyway, there is plenty of food to go around (two or three times). The same is not true relative to fornication or adultery. Paul says that these sins are against one’s own body. Indeed, but as a matter of civil policy, they are also against other people. As we’ve seen with the recent economic collapse, trust is essential. If banks cannot trust borrowers, they do not loan (even if they’re holding public money). If savers do not trust banks, they do not put their money in banks. In the absence of trust, economic relations quickly grind to a halt. Fornication and other abuses of the family destroy the trust essential to any society.

Civil society has an inherent interest in a fixed definition of “family” and in regulating sexual conduct so that it occurs within creationally-mandated heterosexual confines and further, because sex often leads to procreation, society has a natural right to insist that it occur within the confines of creationally-mandated social contracts or marriage.

I concede the premise that there’s no such thing as a Christian hotel, but I doubt the premise that the Christian hotel owner has no real right to restrict admission to his property to those who intend to use that property to commit a crime against nature or society, even if that society foolishly no longer publicly recognizes such behavior as a crime.

Obviously, if one refused to rent rooms to sinners, then one could not operate a hotel for lack of customers. Let us establish that a hotel owner could reasonably, on natural law grounds, restrict admission to some class of persons. If a hotel owner reasonably believed that a potential renter intended to use the hotel to commit mass murder, he would be within his rights to refuse service. Can anyone disagree with this? Is it only because the civil magistrate has a law against murder or is there is a more profound reason to refuse to admit the murderer? Of course there is. Murder is a violation of the moral-natural-creational law, which law is written on the conscience of every human.

What about more venial sins? It’s true that the hotel owner could probably not refuse service to a liar, but he could refuse service to a con-artist who has the intent of using the room to commit a crime. Both are liars, but the latter intends to do something which the public has a natural interest in restricting.

If a hotel could refuse service to a con-artist, then why couldn’t a hotel refuse service to those who cannot give reasonable evidence that they are married? It wasn’t very long ago that people had to sign hotel registers. I remember doing it in my life time. Weren’t those registers part of social controls on the use of public accommodations?

A related but politically incorrect matter is the question of whether one has a natural right to restrict his business from those who wish to use the property/facilities to commit crimes against nature and society. The problem is not so much with the hotel owner who refuses service as it is public policies that no longer recognize the nature of private property. As much as one favors the civil rights act of 1964, one of the unintended consequences was the loss of civil liberty for those who conduct business. Racism is stupid, bad business, and immoral but should have been made a criminal offense? Or, should public policy, in pursuing the goal of eliminating racism, tie the hands of a business owner who provides some public accommodation? Cannot a business owner assert a prior right to refuse to provide service to anyone?

Nevertheless, it is one thing for the magistrate to require a business to serve all races. It is another thing to require a business owner to serve those who are intent upon committing a crime against nature. Simply because one conducts a commercial enterprise, it is not obvious that anyone and everyone has a right to enter and to do whatever he will.

I doubt we need a bureau of weaker siblings. What we need is a stronger doctrine of natural law.

[This post was published first on the HB on 11 April, 2009]

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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  1. 1.) What kind of natural law? Thomist, neo-Thomist or Kantian? Based on Scripture, right reason or what? I believe in natural law, for what good it serves, but I don’t think you 2K people get it. You guys seem to to think there is some sort of neutral ethical plane that all men of good will can agree on. That doesn’t exist. Marcus Aurelius said wonderful things about natural law as he slaughtered saints left and right.

    2.) Talking about natural law is easy when there are strong churches exercising ethical pressure on the elite. In this society, it doesn’t mean anything. To modern men, natural law is the law of equality. Everyone has the right to do whatever they want, unless they harm other in certain ways. Meanwhile, we are all to throw incense on the altars of multiculturalism, feminism, sexual equality, anti-racism, anti-anti-semitism and all that.

    3.) When you say a “divinely revealed moral law that is embedded into the fabric of creation,” that sounds like the Ten Commandments to me. I’ve always wondered if you are slipping away from the hardshell 2K view of Irons and others. Hmmm.

    • James,

      I understand your skepticism but from the pov of the Reformed tradition it’s unwarranted.

      If you’ll take a moment to read the essay on Calvin’s doctrine of natural law, and if you’ll read VanDrunen’s work on natural law, you’ll see that there is a historic, confessional, Protestant approach to natural law that is distinct from Thomas and distinct from the modern alternatives.

      The beauty of natural law is that everyone already, on some level, believes and accepts it! We know that on the basis of special revelation. We must be wise in our use of it and appeal to it, but I think this post and the post on homosexuality gives prima facie evidence that a more sophisticated and extensive case could be made.

      As to Lee Irons etc. I take it that you don’t read the HB much?

  2. Is there any way you could give a short bibliography of writings on natural law (or link to one), particularly from a Reformed perspective?
    I agree we need a stronger doctrine of natural law. I sometimes hear the complaint that there is so little developed work on natural law (especially responses to arguments against it from non-Christians philosophers) that it is very difficult to hold and publically defend at the moment, even if future work world make it a viable position.

  3. I’ve read this stuff. I don’t see how it answers the questions. An appeal to natural law doesn’t work today because nobody can agree what natural law is. Are you a neo-Thomist, a Kantian, a Straussian, what? Why is natural law theory better than revealed moral theology in the first place?

    With all due respect, sir, I think you have an conclusion looking for premises. You have set your face so far against theonomy that you are determined to go as far in the other direction as you can gets. I think both positions (2K and Bahnsen) are extreme.

    Classical Reformed theology (pre-2K and pre-Bahnsen) did not make such a bifurcation. Our forefathers would go back and forth between biblical ethics and natural law as its reflection. You can’t just write this off as a relic of a theocratic age.

  4. I doubt that a natural law defense would stand up in an anti-discrimination lawsuit today.

    • Russ,

      It’s a good thing that Dr King didn’t take that approach or there would never have been a voting rights act!

      Isn’t natural law the basis on which most great changes to civil law are made? If we can’t appeal to natural law against civil law, then we’re really up a creek. We have to start over — after all the country was founded on “self-evident” truths.

  5. You mean the same MLK who wrote:

    The church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
    Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 1963
    US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 – 1968)

    • Mark,

      There are doubtless a great number of things that Dr King said with which any confessional Reformed would and should disagree. His theology was, put plainly, not very biblical. One idea with which we should disagree was his use of the institutional church as an engine of social change.

      • The simple point of the quote is that it’s misleading to suggest his movement was dependent solely on natural law. King read his Bible in church. And took explicit truths found there into the public square. It’s not that complicated. Why, it’s even confessionally Reformed!

        • Mark,

          I agree that King used transformational rhetoric, but his great speeches were largely an appeal to broadly shared American values, e.g. the Declaration. Most Americans were unaware of and unaffected by his transformationalism.

        • But Mark, I’m not sure King affirmed Art. 36 of the Belgic Confession. I think that’s one of the points of Scott’s book, Recovering. You need to affirm a Reformed confession to be confessionally Reformed. Don’t tell me that now you don’t need to affirm the confession to be confessional? I wish I had known that during your pestering of me on Art. 36.

          Can you say selective? Sure you can.

          • Daryl:

            Who said King was confessionally Reformed or affirmed Article 36? Even a Southern Baptist could {unintentionally?} undertake actions–like taking truths of the Bible into the public square–that are consistent with what we find in the confessions. Agreeing or acting in conformity with only certain aspects of the confession doesn’t make him Reformed– I’d agree with Scott’s premise on that score.

            But it’s a quite different thing from what I “pestered” you on, i.e., a self- professed Reformed fellow deliberately eschewing matters found in the confession. Wouldn’t you agree?

          • Mark, don’t you think THE confession (as if it is the only one) refers to Christ as Lord? Is “Lord” a word you associate with republicanism and democracy? If so, you may need a refresher course on political history.

  6. Scott:

    The embedded link labeled “this basic essay” is non-functional for the reader to follow.

  7. “The Bureau of Weaker Siblings”. Provocative or pathetic? The real question is whether or not a Christian landlord is obligated to rent to Planned Parenthood or worse, a lesbian multi million dollar abortion mill enterprise from California like one instance I knew of. But don’t tell me. The pietistic pentecostal answer was the aborted babies go straight to heaven, so no prob.
    Further what of LC 99:7 wherein what we are forbidden we are as we are able to permit or hinder others in their place? Or the fact that some sins admit of no restitution, cf. LC 150 in that some sins are more heinous than others.
    And while the civil govt. may not discriminate, a business owner has the right to refuse service to those without shoes, shirt or ____ do they not? Civil “rights” go both ways, no?
    I also understood the natural law to be one thing, the natural man’s understanding of the same to be well . . . sinful, naturally. Only the Bible gives us the correct take on the natural law. Maybe the literature suggested addresses this objection, but it seems to be so obvious that I am surprised it hasn’t been refuted in passing.

    As re. civil rights and a theological quack and hypocritical whoremonger, well, maybe we better not go there.

  8. The real question is whether or not a Christian landlord is obligated to rent to Planned Parenthood or worse, a lesbian multi million dollar abortion mill enterprise from California like one instance I knew of.

    Another is whether the Christian has liberty to rent to such places, or to false religionists looking for a place of worship. Another is whether the Christian is obligated to rent to free enterprisers, or to those displaying idolatrous art? Another is whether Christian pharmacists can refuse to dispense birth control, or get an excused absence in medical school from the day pregnancy termination is taught; when do personal ethics trump vocational demands?

    Why should your question get all the fun, Bob?

    • “Why should your question get all the fun, Bob?”

      Never said it should, but if we are going to get down to brass tacks instead of knock over straw men, we got a ways to go/the Bureau of Weaker Siblings ain’t there yet.

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