What Cake would Jesus Bake?
Protection of religious liberty is a big issue among evangelicals. There is a conviction that everywhere we turn our religious liberty is under attack. I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that, yes, there is a clear and present threat to religious liberty in America. The trouble is that I think it is us who are the threat.
Just this past week Kansas narrowly averted passing a law giving, in the name of religious freedom, the right for any business or government official freedom from lawsuits if they deny services to gays because of their religious conviction. The bill passed the State House easily but failed in the State Senate, not because they were concerned about offending gays, but because the bill was so vaguely written that the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests began to oppose it.
If an employee didn’t want to serve gays the law gave him immunity but left the employer with choosing to either let another person serve them or denying service – even if the employer had no religious objection and, hence, was not covered by the law. This was just one of many potential scenarios.
The Kansas bill is very similar to other bills introduced in other states. This is not surprising as the bill was actually crafted by a group called The American Religious Freedom Program based in Washington D.C. I’ve come to conclude that this effort to “protect religious freedom” by passing laws legalizing the right to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation is not only wrong it is dangerous.
I know the defense that some people use. A baker who doesn’t want to do a wedding cake for a same sex couple says it violates his religious freedom because it forces him to “celebrate” a wedding he feels is morally wrong. Sorry, no. You are not celebrating a wedding, you are vendor selling a product or service. If you want to not serve them then don’t but, as Andy Stanley says, “leave Jesus out of it.”
Some say that marriage is sacred and this compels them to take this stance. Sorry, no. There is no equivalent furor over serving people who have been divorced, marriages of believers and unbelievers, or other situations where the same objections could be raised. Nobody interrogates people getting married to see if their marriage meets some standard – except here.
This is nothing more than a Jim Crow law for gays and I can’t see how such a stance can be reconciled with the Jesus I see in the Bible. He routinely served, healed, fed and ate with people He didn’t agree with. Indeed, the essence of the anger religious leaders had against Him was that He didn’t shun sinners. In fact, you could say He made a point to associate with the worst sinners he could find; tax collectors, prostitutes and lepers, whose disease was seen as a product of sin.
If evangelicals believe that gay people are going to Hell; that they have chosen evil; or that they are somehow trying to subvert society by seeking to promote a lifestyle we disagree with it does not follow that they should ostracize them. Christians should not be seeking distance ourselves from “sinners”, we should be engaging them, listening to them and ministering to them. Telling them we won’t bake their cake is the antitheses of what it means to be a Christian.
The legalization of the right to refuse to serve gays stands in stark contrast to the wonderful work we do in other areas. Christians routinely minister to unrepentant murders and rapists in prison ministries. We love and serve all sorts of people who do not share our views and values. What is at work here is not Christianity but Christianism, the belief that we need to promote Christian moral positions as the basis of law and public policy.
I have many fine friends who disagree with me on this issue and they will remain my friends. But I can’t help but feel that Christianism is leading us to a dangerous cliff and cannot be silent as we approach that cliff. I am convinced to the depth of my soul that Christianism is a threat to religious freedom; of others to be sure but even, in the long run, to ourselves. It may well be the most tenacious foe our faith will face in our lifetime. Let’s just bake the cake and get on with bringing Jesus to those we serve.