Exodus 10:21 (NIV) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand
toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt
–darkness that can be felt.”
In a nicer world, two gay men about to be married would walk into a bakery owned by a Christian cakemaker. They would ask to discuss a wedding cake and he would politely tell them that his religious beliefs prevent him from decorating a “gay wedding” cake although he would gladly bake it. Just not provide the desired artwork. But, he would suggest, there are seven other bake shops in town and he knows of several who would gladly provide such a cake. At that point, the gay couple might say “Oh, ok…understood. We respect your views and we thank you for your guidance. We will go to one of the other shops.” Then the Christian baker would offer them good wishes, and everyone would be satisfied.
But what if the gay couple’s motives were to challenge the law and the Christian baker? What if they are not willing to go to another bakeshop but want him to do it? What if they really want to possibly ruin his business because of his views on homosexuality and gay marriage? That is what happened in Colorado in 2012 when Jack Philips declined to bake a wedding cake with artistic decorations celebrating a gay marriage. In the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Philips was found to be in violation of a civil rights law and fined accordingly. This last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated Mr. Philip’s First Amendment Rights of religious expression and ruled in his favor. Many Christians celebrated but many legal observers said, “Not so Fast!”
It is interesting to look at the ruling itself. It seems animated by the contempt that the commission showed to Mr. Philips. Perhaps if they had been respectful and ruled on the precise issue of discrimination, the court might have ruled otherwise. I certainly do not know. But I am left wondering about this case. And…I am uncertain how the Christian baker will fare in the years ahead as we live in a world where “The darkness can be felt.”
I am a thorough-going, Christ-centered evangelical but I am somewhat puzzled at this situation. Of course, we Christians all want the baker to be given some slack. And we get it. We would not expect a Jewish printer to do business with a Nazi group planning a rally…or a black carpenter to build the reviewing stands for a Klan meeting. People should have the right to say, “I’m not interested in doing business with you.” But…how far can this go on religious grounds. How important is it to ask if the religious man’s scruples are “sincere?”
What if he or she sincerely believes that the Bible teaches African-Americans are inferior and therefore he does not wish to do business with them? What if he believes that Presbyterians are of the devil and he refuses to serve them…based on some convoluted interpretation of Scripture? Can we contemplate the Supreme Court Justices sitting with open Bibles trying to see if the merchant has rational and “sincere” views?
Can the Christian Ford dealer refuse to sell cars to Muslims because Islam teaches that Jesus did not die on the Cross? Are we not caught in a hopeless theological/philosophical cull de sac when we allow merchants in the open marketplace to discriminate based on their religious views?
I sense that Mr. Philips is a fine Christian brother. I do not wish to judge his way of doing things. Yet…I’m wondering if such actions do more harm than good for the sake of the Gospel. After all, he is willing to make a cake for their wedding but not write on it? He argued that the latter would compromise his creative talents in accordance with his First Amendment rights. He does not wish to communicate his “approval” of the gay union. But when it becomes known that the cake is from his bakeshop…and it will be known by the wedding guests…. does that not suggest he is “approves” of the wedding? This whole thing is confusing.
It would be nice, as we said earlier, if the gay couple would simply go to another bakeshop and not try to force their will on the baker. As Charles Krauthammer once observed the gay movement has gained every significant policy change it sought in America but they are “sore winners.” It is never enough for some of them. So, this couple was obviously looking for a fight over the issue of their wedding and their homosexual lifestyle.
In short, I sense that our witness as Christians is not enhanced by such a hassle with the gay community. Yet, we are living in a time when the “Darkness can be felt!” How to shine the light of Christ into it? But perhaps the larger point….is the baker’s right to respect himself. Interesting. I don’t envy him. Your thoughts?
Blessings! Pastor Alberta