My latest for Sojourners
A cake shop has been in the news lately. Sweet Cakes in Oregon made national headlines when a same-sex couple levied a lawsuit against it for refusal of service.
This is where the story gets interesting.
In the state of Oregon, same-sex marriages are legal. The couple went to the cake shop to order a wedding cake for their upcoming union. The cake shop said no on the ground of their religious beliefs — or as they put it, “standing on the word of God.”
This sparked raging debates on whether a business has the legal right to discriminate solely based on their religious beliefs. Investigations have been held, feelings have been hurt, Scripture has been quoted and misquoted, and Facebook rants have been posted.
Franklin Graham has now added his two cents, starting an online donation campaign to help with the bakery’s looming legal fines — its actions violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which states that persons cannot be denied service based on their sexual orientation.
In Graham’s plea he stated that the shop owners were being “persecuted” for their religious beliefs. But this is not called persecution — this is called being held to a standard of decency, tolerance, and love. These are tenants Christ wanted his followers to imitate.
Most Christians would throw a fit if a bakery, store, or other business denied them service because of the owner’s religious beliefs. There would be lawyers on the phone, news crews outside the establishment, and more Facebook rants about how our society is slowing losing its “Christian heritage.”
Isn’t interesting that some Christians are ok with denial of service to this same-sex couple in the name of business/religious liberty, but wouldn’t want to the tables to be turned on them?
Just because 78 percent of Americans identify as Christian does not mean we all see eye to eye. But is Christianity truly “persecuted” if it comprises more than three out of every four people in a society?
What people are mad about is that their version of Christianity is not the norm or the most accepted one anymore. Many Christians see same-sex marriage as a nonissue. Many church denominations have had intense and productive conversations about homosexuality in the church. Some are still divided. Many people, churches, and denominations need to hold more conversations, prayer, and discernment. The United States and the Church have a long way to go until full equality is achieved.
The issue with regards to this bakery is not their religious liberty, Christian persecution, or even the right to practice one’s faith. It is the notion that discrimination is wrong.
In this war of words many are not seeing the real issue, which is this — discrimination, even under the guise of religion, is still discrimination, and it is against the most basic and fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ.
I understand that these are the bakery owners’ deeply held religious beliefs, but they are not applying this theological hermeneutic equally. Do they sell cakes to people who are going to be remarried? Jesus actually spoke about this as a sin in the Gospels. Do we turn a blind eye to this because the remarriage might be a heterosexual couple? What about people of other religions? Jesus said that no one comes to God but through him — this would lead one to believe that all other religious expressions could be wrong and thus if this bakery made a cake for a Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist wedding, wouldn’t they be ‘endorsing’ the religion?
Do we ignore this command from Christ completely, or do we pick and choose the commands and teachings we want to fit our own theological worldview?
In the end, the fact remains that Christ’s love was not shown to the couple wanting the wedding cake. Can we learn from hymnody, and be reminded that they will know we are Christians by our love?
Can you love someone and disagree with them? Sure, this is evident at most family get-togethers. Can you show the love of Christ and still bake a cake? You bet you can. And this bakery should have.
The couple wanted a cake to celebrate their life together, not to be turned away and be told they have to go somewhere else. One would think in a society such as ours that this would not be an issue in 2015 — but alas, it is. We have come a long way, and we still have more to do.
Christ said, “Come all who are heavy burdened and I will given you rest.” All means all. Jesus the Christ decided that he wanted to be with people and did not turn anyone way. He did, however, take issue with people who put their own religiosity over the needs of others.
At the heart of the Gospel is the notion of loving God and loving each other. Love cannot have conditions attached to it — First John reminds us that we love because God first loved us. If unconditional love is given to us and we do not give it others, then we are squandering a free gift and that is akin to blasphemy. If we claim that all of humanity is created in the Image of God, then we better start treating each other like it.
All means all.