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An Open Letter to Christian Bakers in Indiana

Dear Bakers,
You have been getting a lot of attention recently, especially since the new law passed that would likely allow you to refuse to make cakes for gay weddings. It’s certainly worth asking how to interpret the First Amendment on this issue, but perhaps first we should ask what the gospels say.

As you may remember, Jesus’s first miracle was at a wedding party. He provided wine for a bunch of people who were already drunk. Not exactly where you’d expect a Messiah begin, but His mom told him to, and it’s not wise to argue with a Jewish mother.

Did Jesus grow out of this partygoing phase? By all accounts, no. At every stage in the gospels we find him with prostitutes, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, and anarchists. I know what you’re thinking—Jesus didn’t approve of their lifestyles. And you’re right. But that didn’t stop Him from spending time with them and caring for them. Jesus never let the fact that people are sinners keep Him from meeting them where they are, sharing food with them, laughing and crying with them. His “No” to people’s self-destructive behaviors and the lies they trapped themselves in always came from within a full-blooded “Yes” to their identity as beloved children of God. It’s one note of condemnation within a grand symphony of compassion.

If we see it this way, Jesus’s bringing the booze to the wedding party fits in perfectly with the rest of His life. This is the same Jesus who taught us to give our cloaks to those who steal our tunics. The same Jesus who healed the ear of one of his captors. The same Jesus who got down on his knees and washed Judas’s feet the night He was betrayed.

God doesn’t have to approve of our lifestyles in order to go out of His way to serve us. That’s not just a footnote in the gospels—it’s the whole good news. And I am thankful for it every day because God does not fully approve of my lifestyle—my pride, my apathy, my hardheartedness—but He stays with me. He supports me. And He loves me. We have a God who wanders with those who are wandering… and parties with those who are partying.

So what about gay people asking you to make their wedding cake? I’m not saying you have to condone their behavior, nor that you have to pretend to. But you have to serve them with the same messy, humble, all-forgiving love that Jesus shows you. My advice: regardless of the laws, bake the cake. Bake the biggest, tastiest, gayest cake you can, and do it for the glory of God. Because Jesus’s first miracle was at a wedding, and according to Revelation 19, His last miracle will be at a wedding too. He will look at a mess of sinners like us and once again say, “It is good.” As we live between those two weddings, we should take every opportunity to celebrate. We can rejoice with those who rejoice, because we know God is bringing new wine to the reception.

Peace,
Russell


Russell Johnson is a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago. He holds a M.Div. from Duke Divinity School and a B.A. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

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  • Rocky Chambers

    What the author fails to recall is Jesus also cursed a fig tree because it had the appearance of producing fruit as well as took a whip to those who were profiting from selling the required sacrifice at the temple.

    Turning water into wine and being at a party with tax collectors is a false moral equivalence and does not fit the essence of gosples (which means good news for those who accept Christ not do whatever you want and accept any and every behavior). If we take this equivalency to its logical extreme we should then be assiting rapists, murderers, in fact EVERY criminal in their criminal acts. The scrptures clearly tells us to resist evil not to comply! So the premise is a false one and the argument fails. I am a witness to gays even being kind and genrous to them without poking at their homosexual behavior, but when you force me to provide service at their ungodly marriage you have asked me to eat food that is unclean. See the story of Daniel and the three young men who refused the kings order. IF ANYTHING, that is the story that is the moral equivalent here!

    I would suggest what gays are after here isn’t service, there are plenty who are willing to bake their cakes. No, they are after justification as they want to force others to accept their behavior, indeed they want to flant it! It belies their childishness as in essence they seem to be syaing…nah, na, nah, na boo boo I can make you do what I want to do accept my gay lifestyle! Otherwise, why is this even an issue?

    I’ll tell you why? Because marriage is a godly and religious institution and this is the only way gays can force themselves to be accepted. FOR THAT REASON ALONE forcing the acceptance of the behavior of another the whole argument falls on its face! Jesus did not accept the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, nor do I accept gay marriage because of its hypocrisy.

    The world will try to lure you in with its principles and clever sounding arguments, a warning from Paul that applies here to this article.

    • We heterosexual Christians have done just as much, if not more, damage to the institution of marriage than gay marriage ever will. Nearly two-thirds of all men view porn monthly, roughly half of all marriages end in divorce and Christians divorce at about the same rate as non-Christians, atheists, and secularist. Adultery is rampant. So it’s hard for me to take seriously the argument that gays are gonna somehow bring down the “godly” institution of marriage. The rest of us have done a pretty good job of that. While I adamantly stand by the baker’s right to not bake the cake, my personal opinion is that if he/she isn’t going to ask straight couples to pledge their fidelity to one another, I have a hard time taking their conviction seriously. We are all sinners, gay or not. We must be careful not to elevate bakers to some sort of status as arbiters of righteousness in the realm of marriage.

  • David

    Wow there is so much wrong with this article I’m not quite sure where to start. First off , the author assumes that Jesus would have attended a wedding of a man to a man or a woman to a woman. Of course that’s radically taking the Scriptures out of context. Let’s consider what Jesus actually said about marriage. He said that in the beginning God made a man and a woman. It is because people have hardened their hearts to what God intended that we have all the perversiona that we have today.

  • abarber01

    I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with you. Rather than writing a lengthy comment to explain why, I may just write an article about it as gentle push back and to express my personal experiences on this matter. Having worked at a bakery for seven years, which specialized in wedding cakes, I have several experiences to write from.

    • I think that would be a great idea! Look forward to it.

  • St.MichaelPrayforUS

    Pretty weak argument. What does Jesus do when he is with prostitutes, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, and anarchists? Just as with the woman at the well he tells her to “go and sin no more”. He didn’t hang out with these type of people to be accepting of their behavior but to tell them to repent of their sins. So if your argument is for the baker to be forced to bake a cake for a so-called “marriage” (which it isn’t) so to be a witness of Christ and tell them to repent of their sins and sin no more then… okay… again I think that’s weak, because then the union wouldn’t actually happen, but fine. But that’s not my understanding of your position.

  • D’mitri Sobol

    How clever and profound at the same time! A beautiful piece.
    Of course, serving others — saying ‘yes’ — is a lot less convenient. And may even be dangerous. See what happened to Jesus’ disciples, many of them, anyway? And to Jesus himself on the cross and directly beforehand? Or John the Baptist? It is easier to say ‘No,’ and it is very human to want to defend yourself and your rational and irrational fears; but at least, let’s be honest about *whose* values you are upholding, when you are saying ‘no.’

  • James Snapp, Jr.

    Dear Russell,

    The RFRA here in Indiana does not give bakers the right to decline to make cakes for gay weddings — because they already have that right, just like they have the right to decline to bake cakes on Sunday. The RFRA, as explained cogently in Weekly Standard by John McCormack — http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/indianas-religious-freedom-restoration-act-explained_900641.html — codifies in Indiana law the idea that a person’s free exercise of religion — which by definition includes the right to decline to participate in activities that he deems immoral — cannot be restricted by the state unless there is a compelling governmental interest.

    Russell, in other states, LGBTQ activists have asked Christian business-owners to do things that the business-owners consider morally objectionable — just to force the issue. So suppose someone forced the issue in the opposite direction: a Christian visits a bakery run by a gay businessperson, and says, “Bake me a cake. I want it to have this inscription: “Gay marriage is an abomination.”

    Should the gay baker proceed to bake the biggest, tallest, anti-sodomy cake that he can? Should the state legally obligate him to do so? Or should he be allowed to decline, without running the risk of being sued?

    Now, about that illustration you used. Yes, Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding party. But, no, there’s nothing in the text of the relevant passage in John that says that the guests were “already drunk.” You just threw that in there; it’s a sheer assumption on your part, isn’t it. Also, Jesus’ mother did not tell him to make wine; she just pointed out the situation. Why can’t you just read the text without embellishing it? The reason is that without embellishment, that particular text does not support the particular point you are trying to make. Not even a little.

    In the Gospels, we do indeed find Jesus with prostitutes, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, and anarchists. And we also see him telling them, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (in Luke 13:5, for example). We hear him telling the adulteress, “Go and sin no more.” The Gospels never depict Jesus as complicit in sin, and the Gospels never depict Jesus facilitating sin, and the Gospels never depict Jesus approving any sin. Jesus, friend of sinners, is the Good Shepherd — loving the lost sheep enough to seek them out and take them back to the safety of the flock, instead of silently letting the lost sheep stay lost. He never helped the lost sheep get more lost. Right?

    Now back to the immediate question of the RFRA: of course we don’t have to approve of someone’s lifestyle in order to serve them. Does anyone seriously think that a Christian food pantry would turn away a hungry gay person? Or that Christians who believe that same-sex intimacy is morally wrong would not help a sick gay person recover? If they would refuse to serve the needy person because he is gay, then shame on them. But the Christian responsibility to express mercy and charity is not a responsibility to facilitate sinful activities. Rather, the two things are diametrically opposed. The person who loves the lost sheep will not help him get even more lost (even if the sheep offers to pay him to do so.)

    You wrote, “So what about gay people asking you to make their wedding cake? I’m not saying you have to condone their behavior, nor that you have to pretend to.”

    If you don’t think Christians should have to bake a cake if they think it would go against their conscience — be it for a gay wedding, or for whatever — then it sounds like you’re in favor of the RFRA, then. Because, make no mistake, the opposite of what you described is what the Fascism Indiana folks want to see happen, so that anyone claiming to be BGLTQ can receive special protected legal status and cry “Discrimination” when a Christian declines to indirectly approve of their immoral activity — and then the bakers *will* have to bake the cake, or else face a lawsuit or fine. It’s one thing or the other, Russell.

    • I believe it is worth noting that Russell did not seem to mention the Indiana law specifically. From what I’ve heard from my conservative friends, you seem to be correct about that particular law. It doesn’t seem to do anything new and liberals seem to be over-reacting, at least according to my current understanding. Setting that aside, we must look at Russell seems to be saying in his post. He is simply making an argument for Christians showing love towards their gay neighbors and making the case that Christians can indeed bake the cake without sacrificing their religious convictions. I think that is a fair case. He did not condemn Christians who choose not to do so nor argue that they shouldn’t have that right. I’m with you – religious freedom is paramount. Christians must remain free to act according to their convictions. I am vehemently opposed to any gay couple having to right to sue a baker or photographer or church for discrimination in the event that they refuse services to a same-sex marriage.

    • juanjo54

      Mr. Snapp – you are correct that bakers in Indiana can at present refuse to do business with gay people for ANY “sincerely held” religious reason. This includes baking a wedding cake, serving a bowl of soup or selling a pair of socks. But this law is different from the federal law and virtually all state laws protecting religious beliefs.

      1. The law extends protections to private, for profit businesses in all aspects of their activities NOT just their interaction with governmental agencies.

      2. The Indianan law also set up the defense for any so-called sincerely held religious belief to any action started by anyone for any reasons. It also allows the so-called religious person to obtain attorneys fees and costs if they prevail. So yes it does allow discrimination because if a person is sued for discrimination, they can assert that their religious beliefs forbid them serving that person.

      3. The law is not restricted to gay people or any other group of pariahs currently disliked by the majority. So it is possible for a person to use this law to defend themselves if they refuse service to Blacks, Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics, Latinos, Irish, Italians or whatever specific group they have some bias towards.

      4. In those states which have enacted laws forbidding discrimination against people based upon sexual orientation, then these laws were found by the legislatures to be a compelling state interest so the religious dense would not apply. That does not keep religious nut from trying to use those laws in other states as a defense to lawsuits for discrimination. For example a police officer in Michigan who was assigned to attend a meeting in an area where the majority of the community was Muslim. He refused to do so because it was against his religious principles. You also mentioned the baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a wedding reception.

      5. Ignoring the entire issue of the absurdity of selling a cake somehow is a religious action violating someone’s conscious, the simple fact is that there is a specific passage in Christian Scripture which is on point. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 specifically says that buying and selling to non-believers, including sexual sinners is okay.

      6. This law has its basis in animus against a very specific group of people – gay men and women. That is obvious when one looks at the people pushing it in Indiana and elsewhere, the statements made by various politicians and people like you who constantly refer to the horror of a baker being sued for not making a cake. It sets up a system of special privileges for “religious” people to mistreat their fellow citizens. It is nothing more than a fundamentalist Christian form of Sharia law. It violates the very fabric of our society and our way of life.

  • CoffeeH

    Overall, I agree. We are to do our best to love and not separate ourselves from those who need God’s love. But, where should the bakers draw the line at what their cakes will depict? Two man toppers standing next to each other? Holding hands? Kissing? Having sex (for those really outgoing weddings)? Where would you allow that baker to draw his own line and say what he won’t do? Where would you draw your own line according to your beliefs?

  • Excellent! Thank you for this!