Gay Wedding Cakes and Christian Duty

On a December 19 website posting, Skye Jethani provides “A Christian Case for Gay Wedding Cakes”.  In his article, he responds to three objections by conservative Christians who have protested a recent court ruling.  The gist of the ruling is that refusal of a Christian cakeshop owner to provide cakes for homosexual weddings constitutes violation of a Colorado anti-discrimination statute.  Jethani states that Christians must move beyond a “culture-war” mentality to consider how “Scripture and Christian values would have us live beside our LGBT neighbors.”  Jethani notes three typical Christian objections to such a ruling:

  1. Providing a wedding cake is participating in the celebration of a same sex wedding.
  2. A religious business owner should not be forced to serve customers his faith disapproves.
  3. If Christians don’t stand against this ruling, the government will soon force churches to perform same sex marriages.

However, I’d like to suggest that these objections are best considered by first asking two questions to frame the issue:

  1. What should be a Christian’s responsibility toward God in the current pluralistic milieu?
  2. What kind of political arrangement gives the best chance for harmonious living within a pluralistic society?

In terms of capacity to influence politics, the individual has little leverage.  However, we do have ultimate control over our response to conditions within our environment, so discussion of the second question has direct relevance to our behavior day-by-day.  And that is Jethani’s focus, I gather.

Nonetheless, I find that Jethani’s approach, if considered in isolation, doesn’t sufficiently address  what political arrangements are most conducive to civility.

I personally believe that, broadly speaking, a libertarian approach to politics is most conducive to civility today.  In my view, it gives the best chance for peace and the absence of strife.  And there is a sense in which we must acknowledge as Christians that we do live in the midst of two realms, the kingdom of God (where his rule is acknowledged) and the kingdom of man (where it is not necessarily embraced).  God is very gracious to us, and 2 Kings 5 shows us in the prophet’s blessing of Naaman, his economy is not a harsh, exacting legality that automatically implicates and charges us with the sinfulness of people and conditions with which we are often closely associated.

In light of that, let me provide responses to the three objections via two questions: (1) what is our responsibility before God?, and (2) what is the ideal approach at a political level?

  1. Providing a wedding cake is participating in the celebration of a same sex wedding.  (a) I don’t think God would necessarily charge a Christian with moral complicity in providing a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding which he would consider a morally offensive activity.  (b) At the same time, a libertarian political approach would affirm that the answer to this type of question is best left up to the individual.  There is a wide range of conscience on this issue.  Who are we to declare, on behalf of another individual, what constitutes his “participation” in such an event?  “Drawing the lines” of what does and doesn’t constitute “participation” by a given individual in a given context seems rather pharisaical and judgmental in its own right.
  2. A religious business owner should not be forced to serve customers his faith disapproves.  (a) Christian liberty, biblically understood, is liberty for something.  We are freed from sin in order to love God and people.  When considered in that sense, there is a wide range of options for a Christian restaurant owner to draw his own lines in terms of service.  Very probably, his openness toward those of another race or creed would be a glorious opportunity to share the welcoming love of Christ.  However, love should certainly be defined as more than acceptance – I don’t think it would take much imagination to think of a situation where denial of service to certain folks would be a good thing.  How about denial of service to other professing Christians who have a terrible testimony for Christ?  Love is not always mere acceptance; it can also involve the discipline of shunning for the purpose of eliciting repentance.  (b) A libertarian approach would support this basic objection.  It would distinguish between government-enforced racism (e.g. apartheid) and racist views held by individuals, promulgated through personal speech and property.  It is seen over and over that in a democracy, the prevailing morality is eventually codified in a community’s laws.  We condemn puritanism as a historical movement and yet become very puritanical ourselves.  It is the civic puritan within us that promotes tolerance, yet cries out for legal sanction against the “intolerant”.  Social, racial, and economic resentments are cultivated and encouraged.  And the “culture wars” mentality for both Christian and secular is a natural consequence of the extension of the public sphere to encompass all thoughts, relationships, and transactions carried out by individuals.  All sides have their own versions of “holy war” today.  Instead of asking questions like “whose morality must be legally victorious?”, perhaps a libertarian approach could do a better job of promoting civility by asking the question, “what is so wrong with affirming the virtue of following one’s own conscience in debatable matters?”
  3. If Christians don’t stand against this ruling, the government will soon force churches to perform same sex marriages.  (a) The wording of this objection seems to place too much weight on political activity for Christians.  In fact, it seems eerily reminiscent of the verbiage on countless direct mailings I have received through the years:  “Christians, if we don’t organize against/in favor of A, then B will most certainly happen”.  This line of thinking is not compelling for me for this basic reason: it perhaps unwittingly diverts attention away from the eternal responsibility of the church to promote healthy, holy marriages; rather, it commands her fixation toward the pursuit of legal successes that may or may not come.  Maybe it’s being said and I am missing it, but is anyone saying, “If the church doesn’t experience a renaissance of concern for marital holiness, then we are doomed”?  I realize there is legitimacy in a “both/and” approach.  I am just wondering which approach is truly capturing the heart of Christian America these days.  (b) A libertarian approach could help by encouraging the church to re-address her language with regard to “marriage”.  It seems to me that marriage, understood at a biblical level, is not applicable to same-sex relationships.  Could it be a good step for the church to resurrect the covenantal term “matrimony”?  Such a move could help her clarify her own perception of the institution and distance it from the idea of marriage found in the civil codes, which are now fairly devoid of covenantal concepts such as mutual responsibility and sanction for violation.  What is libertarian about this approach is that the state would be deposed as the principal legimitizer of matrimony, as it now is in the eyes of so many.
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