Monday, July 6, 2015

Conscience Conundrums: Should I Bake the Cake?

The internet is abuzz with opinions about various creatives and their participation or non participation in the new normal in nuptials. On the heels of SCOTUS already infamous decision on Obergefell v Hodges, advocates of same sex marriage have new artillery to continue their intolerant blitz towards forced tolerance. The New Fundamentalism marches on. 

For Christians who are opposed to the new definition of marriage, there seems to be a split on how to deal with this new reality. Though this case isn't new, the most recent situation making headlines is the Oregon bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a same sex couple. Amazingly, they have now been fined $135k and given essentially a “gag order” — seemingly, they are forbidding them to talk any more about the case. How very tolerant and First Amendmentish of the New Fundamentalism. Regardless of where you stand on the same sex marriage issue, you should be shocked and concerned for how this is being used as a legal bludgeoning tool to force conformity to the state. As one writer who is an advocate for SSM has said, “If same-sex marriage isn’t just a pathway to happiness, freedom, and equality for gay citizens, but a way to pummel religious Americans into submission, it will be a disaster.” Indeed, it is being used by more than a few as a pummeling implement. The couple in the case above accused the bakers of “mental rape” by not baking them a cake. Welcome to ‘merica. Can we not pretend that they could not get their cake elsewhere? Queue the tolerance battering ram. As Andrew Walker put it, "#Lovewins. And if you don't think it does, you're a bigot."     

But back to the dessert table. Some Christians say, “Just bake the cake and use the opportunity to witness.” They argue that showing “love” to these people is what Christians should do. Jesus would bake the cake, right? Or maybe more in line with his profession, he’d make the arbor under which the two brides pledged “till death do us part.” On the other side, theologians like Al Mohler have argued that participating in the union gives tacit approval. They argue, the marriage is not real. God defines marriage, not a court. So then, as Christians, we must refuse to lend our cake baking or arbor making abilities. We must also refuse to attend such celebrations. These unions are fundamentally sinful. Unlike other sins, this sin is one that redefines the God-given institution of marriage. We can serve said couple in our restaurant, but we would politely refuse to cater their wedding. 

I’d say that this is ultimately an issue of conscience that every believer will wrestle with at some point, probably sooner rather than later. I want to take an opportunity to try to convince you that we need to politely refuse to lend our creative abilities to the event itself. Generally, I’d rather not fight with folks. Win them with “love,” right? But is that approach what most closely matches the biblical accent? We of course must “speak the truth in love.”  But let’s not forget the “speak the truth” part. Truth divides. Truth is counter cultural. Truth gets people in trouble, like bad trouble. Telling the truth got John the Baptizer’s head served at a dinner party. Telling the truth got Jesus killed. We can’t assume that staying alive is always the best witnessing tool. As Justin Martyr famously put it, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” If God’s plan has included people dying for the cause, is it possible that his plan could also include social ostracism and financial consequences for some creatives? 

I don't want to make too much of an argument from silence, but at that risk, let’s talk about John the Baptist. He was the forerunner to Jesus. He was the Isaiah 40 voice in the desert proclaiming, “prepare the way.” The Messiah is coming, so y’all get ready. In his proclaiming, John was anything but politically correct. I think if John were alive today, someone would give him a copy of Carnegie's book. John went to an inconvenient place and preached an inconvenient truth. I love what Jesus says in Matthew 11. At this point John is in prison. Jesus says of John to the onlooking crowd who were shocked at the direct message of John,
“[7] As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? [8] What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. (Matthew 11:7-8 ESV) 
In other words, if you’re looking for a culturally friendly, non-offensive message, you went to the wrong place. John is a man who cuts it straight. John the Baptist is one of my favorite Bible characters, camel cloak and all! 

John’s no nonsense approach is exactly what had landed him in prison. John had the audacity to speak out against an immoral marriage — how dare he! Mark 6.14-29 records John’s criticism of King Herod for stealing his brother’s wife, Herodias. Feeling the embarrassment of the stinging rebuke of the locust eating prophet, Herodias eventually seizes the opportunity to have John killed. 

We could say to John the Baptist, “You need to just love these people. I mean, how are you going to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ without your head? Build relationships, that’s the key.” But what if the Messiah’s way is prepared by John’s head on the platter? I’ve heard many say that these bakers are missing witnessing opportunities by not serving these couples. But I’d argue that in God’s wisdom, John’s witness still stands today in a much more significant way than if he had acquiesced. Maybe Christians who work as bakers, photographers, caterers, musicians, and florist have suddenly and unwittingly become the front line for the gospel battle. You may be thinking, but we aren’t talking about the gospel per se, we are talking about marriage. True, but so was John. He died because he called out immorality. I’m praying for boldness for my Christian brothers and sisters as they put themselves at great personal risk while standing for the Truth.

You may land in a different place on whether we may or may not participate in such celebrations. But please, let's not let fear drive us to violate our own conscience.

Grace and Peace!

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