The Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows business owners to deny service based on sexual orientation. More to the point, the bill allows those in the wedding industry – photographers, bakers, planners, and the like – to deny services to homosexual couples based on religious convictions. Across the nation, of course, the issue of Christian bakers refusing service to homosexuals is a controversial one; in many instances the bakers face fines and sometimes shut down their businesses on principle.
I want to ignore the legal issues regarding personal conscience coming into conflict with societal obligations. The issue is tricky – after all, all of us wish to live with our personal convictions and to act on those convictions. None of us wants to engage in or aid an activity we believe to be wrong. But at the same time, sometimes being in a society means we have to do things we don’t want to do. That’s part of being an adult in a community. Where that limits begins, however, is highly contentious and I’m not sure if we can discover that line, hence my reluctance to engage in that discussion. While I think we’re moving beyond a secular state and into an anti-religious state – that is, one in which you’re allowed to believe in your faith, just not act upon that belief – I’m also uncertain whether a business owner has a right to exclude certain people from his business.
That being said, what is the Christian approach to such an issue, regardless of the law? If you owned a bakery and made wedding cakes would you make one for a homosexual couple? For many Christians who believe homosexuality to be a sin the answer is typically a quick no, or causes some to pause for a minute. But what if we used similar examples? What if the couple is grossly overweight, obese, caused by gluttony (Proverbs 23:2)? What if one or both people in the couple is/are divorced (Matthew 5:32)? What if the couple is extremely wealthy and gives nothing to the poor, and in fact intend to use this wedding as a display of their greed (1 Timothy 6:10)? What if they don’t go to church (Hebrews 10:25)? The list goes on of potential sins that the couple perpetually engage in as part of their lifestyle.
Now, some could make the case that these sins are different as they do not change the meaning of marriage. Homosexual marriage, it’s argued, changes the entire definition of marriage. Certainly one could make that case. Yet, the problem of a divorced couple going through a marriage remains; as does the problem of if the couple has already had sex and lived together, or if the couple does not attend church regularly, or if the couple isn’t even Christian. See, while “One man, one woman” fits nicely on a bumper sticker, it doesn’t really fit the Christian ideal of marriage. I dare not say the Biblical teaching on marriage because while the Bible is a holy book inspired by God, it also doesn’t always display the ideal in telling history. To put this bluntly, would we refuse King David a cake at his wedding to Bathsheba? While homosexual marriage might be different from gluttony, it is no different than remarriage or a watered-down version of a church wedding.
Marriage is a sacred act, but in being a sacred act it exists outside the realm of state control (which is why the State shouldn’t be in the business of issuing marriage licenses and should stick to civil unions for all). Being a sacred act, however, means far more than “one man, one woman.” While that might be an element of the traditional Christian ideal, the Christian ideal is of two people becoming one body within the realm of the Church. These two will go on to create a family and become their own miniature church that holds communion with the Church. Marriage acts as the icon between Christ and the Church and there are rules surrounding the formation of that icon; those rules extend beyond the genders of the participants. Thus, if we are to refuse a homosexual couple a wedding cake because they violate the traditional Christian marriage definition then in the hopes of consistency we ought to refuse quite a few other couples as well. After all, remarriage is not permitted except in the case of adultery and an affair (in an ideal situation). Marriage outside of the Church makes absolutely no sense; a Catholic baker baking a cake for a Baptist wedding is slightly absurd as there is no communion (in a true sense) at a Baptist wedding, there is no priestly blessing, etcetera.
Legal issues aside, from a personal standpoint the issue of denying people a wedding cake because they’re homosexual doesn’t make much sense. The question we ought to ask ourselves isn’t should we serve those we disagree with, but rather do we do enough for those we disagree with? Matthew 5:38-42 is quite instructive:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
While Christians must draw a line on what we will and will not participate in, certainly that line extends beyond baking a cake. We can disagree with what someone does – even if in our modern world people struggle with disagreement – but it doesn’t excuse us from acting out against them. After all, did Christ condone the actions of prostitutes by dining with them? When he healed the lame, did he refuse others because of their sin (for would he not have then refused all)? Did he participate in sin when he gave his own life as an offering? Do we say Christ condones drunkenness because he turned water into wine at a wedding, serving the guests the best wine at last (meaning the guests, at best, were very tipsy)?
Christ calls us to be holy, but our sin does not cause him to cease serving us. If it did then we would all be lost. Do we cease feeding the homeless even though we know that by feeding them we’re empowering some of them to continue living lives of sin? If we stopped serving everyone we disagree with, soon we’d have no one left to serve. While Christ is honored and glorified when we take necessary stands on important issues – they’re not called “martyrs” for nothing – he is equally glorified and honored when we serve those who bear his image.