It is a culture war that has raged in churches and courtrooms, in parades and fast food places. Now in the most bizarre turn of all, the “gay marriage” battle is being fought in bakeries across the country.
It is a story that’s in the news again this week, but we’ve seen it several times now: A bakery declines to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing Christian conviction. The gay couple files complaints of discrimination with the media and state. Both sides rush to stake out their battle lines – gay rights activists bring boycotts and threats against the business owners while Christians raise the rallying cry of religious freedom. The conversation ripples outward with both sides becoming louder and louder. Everyone involved believes they themselves are the victim of discrimination.
While many Christians see this as a disturbing indicator of mounting persecution, I see it as a disturbing indicator that somewhere along the way we got confused about what it means to be followers of Jesus. And now we have these culture war skirmishes where we exchange volleys of Bible verses but don’t look at all like Him.
As I watch the story pass through the news cycle every few months, I wish that we could change its course.
The bakers’ argument is simple yet problematic – “I don’t want to help somebody celebrate a commitment to a lifetime of sin… The Bible tells us to flee from sin. I don’t think making a cake for it helps.”
But there’s simply no Biblical command for Christians to deny services to those whose actions you believe to be sinful.
If there was, who could Christians serve? If all the Christians who believe gay marriage is sinful followed this precedent, where would it stop? Christian landlords would refuse to provide a home for gay couples to live in. Christian shop owners would deny selling groceries and household goods that gay couples would use to live their gay lives. Christian employers could even decline to hire gay people, knowing that they would use their wages to support their “lifetime of sin”.
Here our hypocrisy is on display. Where is the refusal to do business with any other people deemed “sinful” by your interpretation of the Bible? If you believe premarital sex is sinful, do you decline a wedding cake to any couple who had premarital sex? What about couples that are divorced and remarried ? What about couples who are of mixed faith – “unequally yoked”? Or couples who aren’t Christians at all – after all, without faith it is impossible to please God? By this standard, these Christian bakers would have to carefully vet each prospective couple to make sure that they will have a Godly marriage free from sin, perhaps have them sign a Statement of Faith. How else could the bakers be sure that they’re “fleeing from sin” rather than “helping somebody celebrate it”?
But if we continue this line of thinking, who CAN Christians do business with? Should a Christian landlord rent a home to non-Christians who will live there “in sin”? Should a Christian restaurant owner turn away any guests that are likely to commit gluttony? What of materialism and greed and consumerism? They’re all strongly condemned in the Bible – far more than gay marriage. Should a Christian retailer turn away any customer whose purchases support a life of THOSE sins?
This is where the “cake debates” reveal a larger problem. We’ve reduced Biblical ideas of sin and godliness to a small handful of sexual “issues” where we plant our flags and fight to the death – abortion, gay marriage, pornography, premarital sex. The great majority of our words are spent arguing about these things to the neglect of a holistic view of Christian living. In the process, we make people into props for our debates and eliminate the potential for any meaningful relationship.
We’ve taken the whole of the Bible and somehow turned a few verses into an excuse for discrimination.
Christians have an undeniable double-standard in how we treat people who we believe to be sinful. I don’t think this double-standard is simply an oversight or a mistake on the part of some Christians. It reveals a systemic problem that’s wholly taken for granted: when we draw our circles in the sand, gay people are on the outside. Always. It’s veiled in terms of “Biblical marriage” and “personal belief” and “religious liberty”, but when it’s directed only at the gay community I can’t help but wonder if it’s just bigotry baptised in the language of religion.
I fully affirm the freedom to practice religion and to worship God without government interference. But discrimination against gays is simply not an act of worship to God nor a sacrament of the Christian faith. While I recognize each individual Christian’s right to their own conscience, this shows us how far Christianity has been hijacked by political interests. When Christians have become convinced that refusing service to gay couples is actually an act of service to God, something is wrong.
Contrary to the narrative being spun by some conservatives, this isn’t a case of being denied the “right to believe what we believe.”
You can believe that God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman for life – nobody’s going to penalize you for that. Where Christians get in trouble is when we try to make everyone else live by those same beliefs. But freedom is a two-way street, and there are laws established to protect that freedom for all citizens. These laws that some Christians see as persecution of their faith are the very same laws protecting them from discrimination.
Suppose that the headlines read “Athiest Baker Refuses Wedding Cake to Christian Couple.” The uproar would be deafening. Every conservative Christian and political news outlet would be outraged. If it happens to us, we want to call it persecution. But when we do it to others, we want to call it “religious liberty.” We can’t have it both ways, and I find these fear-mongering cries of persecution to be simply dishonest.
It is interesting to note that the Bible actually addresses this scenario in I Peter 4: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler [that is, a Christian who tries to make non-Christians conform to Christian standards]. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” Perhaps this isn’t a new phenomenon after all. Perhaps from the beginning we’ve had this tendency to push our views on other people and then suppose that we are being persecuted for it.
What has been conspicuously absent in all this talk of the Bible and Christian values and pleasing God is any mention of Jesus.
It’d be easy to wrap this up with talking of how Jesus was a “friend of sinners”, and how Christians should follow His example by befriending sinful gay people. But I think that’d still be missing the point. And it’s simpler, even, than that.
Christianity is a religion of love and of grace. Whenever morality becomes elevated above love we have veered away from the meaning of the faith.
Perhaps the most Christian thing of all is to love God and love our neighbors.
Perhaps Love is patient and kind and keeps no record of wrongs.
Perhaps Love covers a multitude of sins.
Perhaps Love doesn’t demand that everyone live up to our standards.
Perhaps Love gives with no strings attached
Perhaps Love meets people where they are and cares about them as people instead of issues.
Perhaps Love bakes a cake.
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Note: This blog is visited by a diversity of readers – Christian and nonreligious, LGBTQI and straight, conservative and progressive. Please read the comment policy before commenting. Any comments that are deemed hurtful or rude may be deleted at my sole discretion (this includes comments comparing gay marriage to predatory acts, and comments referring to gay people as “the homosexuals”).