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The Gayest Wedding Cake

A Response to “An Open Letter to Christian Bakers in Indiana”

I recently read “An Open Letter to Christian Bakers in Indiana” by Russell Johnson. I appreciated it for several reasons, not least of which was its emphasis on showing Christ’s love to our gay friends, neighbors, and relatives. Christ did not shy away from engaging sinners in conversation, sharing meals with them, and allowing them personal access. I have seen signs in the past several years that more and more Christians are seeing the importance of developing and investing in personal friendships with those who are living outside of the bounds of God’s law, and I am so happy to see this trend.

Yet, how to love in practice is where my disagreement with the article begins. Mr. Johnson stated in his second paragraph, “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 to begin, but His mom told him to, and it’s not wise to argue with a Jewish mother.” From this account of the wedding in Cana, I would begin to wonder whether Jesus, my sinless Savior, was (for some strange reason) facilitating sin. After all, the same God who turned water into wine also inspired these words, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) That seems slightly contradictory. I do not believe that Jesus facilitated sin, though. Simply put, the text does not indicate that anyone was drunk at that wedding, and we really do not have license to add creative detail to Scripture.

I do applaud the author for making it clear that we do not have to condone a sinful lifestyle to love sinners. I couldn’t agree more. Still, for Christ to provide more booze to a crowd of drunks would be like him finishing up his conversation with the woman at the well with a cheerful “You’ve had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband. You need to know that you are living a sinful lifestyle. But since you haven’t come to that realization yet, here’s some condoms so you don’t catch anything nasty, or God forbid, a baby.” Yes, Christ loved sinners in their mess and didn’t back away from them in disgust. But is baking the “biggest, tastiest, gayest” wedding cake for the glory of God really an expression of love? I have my doubts. You see, I did that once.

Several years ago, I worked at a small family-owned bakery, which had a stellar reputation in the area. Our work was excellent, and people came from hours away just to buy our cakes, fine European pastries, and all manner of fattening things. I worked there from 2003 to 2011, and I learned incredible life lessons as a store clerk, cleaning lady, dishwasher, mopper, and wedding cake consultant. The experience I am about to relate is one of them.

One day, a couple of guys came into the bakery for a wedding cake consultation. I bustled around, got them some samples of cake, and began with the first two questions.

“Who is the groom?”

One of the gentlemen gave me his name.

“And the bride?”

There was a slight pause and then one of them explained, “This is a somewhat unconventional wedding. There are two grooms.”

Calmly, I took their names down while I pondered this new piece of information.

“So, it has finally happened,” I thought to myself.

Mind you, though I was relatively young and inexperienced, I had not spent the last several years living in a cloister. In fact, same-sex couples abounded in my neighborhood. There were the two lesbians across the street. When they moved in, it was passion city in the front yard and I beheld necking, the likes of which I had not seen in heterosexual couples unless you count the silver screen. (Admittedly, there are some pretty good arguments to avoid watching such things on the silver screen, heterosexual or not. But I do not have time to chase that rabbit trail.) It was what it was, and it was quite an education. There was a lesbian couple to our left, a couple that walked their dogs past our house nearly every day and stopped in to chat with us. There was the little girl whose two moms faithfully brought her to our house for piano lessons with my dad. And there was also my lesbian great aunt in the family.  I point all of this out to show you that I hadn’t been living in a bubble, and that, though this experience gave me reason to pause, these two gentlemen weren’t triggering my gag reflex.

Foremost in my mind was the fact that the Scriptures clearly indicate that marriage is to be a living, breathing illustration of Christ and the church. The Scriptures also clearly indicate that only one man and one woman are to play the parts of Christ and his church, respectively within each marriage. These gentlemen, whether they realized it or not, were trying to enter into that illustration, and it would prove to be an illusion. Was I, by helping them order that cake, facilitating them in furthering that illusion?

My mind spinning with questions, I talked to my boss, who was also a Christian. His conclusion was that it was a business transaction. We didn’t have to agree with what they believed to make the cake. I nodded, went back to the table, and proceeded to be the most polite, respectful, and solicitous wedding cake consultant the world has ever seen. I bent over backwards to customize their cake. And it wasn’t just an act. I genuinely liked them and wanted them to like me. I mean, who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I hope people, especially gay people,  really can’t stand me today?” The guys thought I was great.

All the while, though, I kept thinking to myself, “Is this right? Should I be doing this? Should I say something? But what, on earth, could I say at this point?”

As I sit here writing, a thought comes to me about what I might have said, if I’d had the presence of mind to say it.

I could have said, “I know I’m very young and you guys have been around a lot longer and have more experience than me, so I hope you won’t think I’m presumptuous. But I think God would like me to say something to you. It’s this: I’m not a very good person. Actually, if you could see some of the thoughts that float into my head and rest there, they might make your hair curl. But in spite of all that, God has given me a great gift. He has given me his love and his forgiveness. And I just wanted you to know that you can have it, too. If you’re like me, you’ve probably looked inside yourself and realized there’s something really wrong that you cannot fix. It’s called sin. But Jesus came to die for us, so that we could be healed and live denying that sin and doing right instead. I just wanted to tell you that.”

But I didn’t say that. Instead, I sent them out the door with the understanding that at the appointed time, we would deliver the biggest, tastiest, gayest wedding cake to their reception, resplendent in pink inverted triangles. I left them right where they were, satisfied and comfortable, with not one mention of the Person who could give them rest for their souls–rest that no marriage, real or imagined, could ever provide. Contrary to what some of the readers commented underneath Mr. Johnson’s article, taking that cake order was not inconvenient or uncomfortable. It was quite the opposite. I didn’t once have to sacrifice my comfort or convenience for their good. I didn’t sacrifice anything for them because what I did was not love. It was self-love, and it saved me a whole lot of grief and hassle.

You will have to wrestle with this. You will have to decide whether capitulating to a loved one’s wants and desires is actually loving them. You will have to decide where you have crossed the line between Christ’s love and helping your loved ones build a thicker, stronger wall between themselves and God. We may all come to different conclusions on the matter, but trite, easy, sloppy answers to hard conundrums will not do.

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Amanda Hill

Amanda Hill

Author of "The Pursuit of Elizabeth Millhouse" and screen writer for "The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club." Singer, pianist, and violinist. Teacher of music.

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  • curiousasalways

    I’d like to question Amanda’s statement, “Simply put, the text does not indicate that anyone was drunk at that wedding, and we really do not have license to add creative detail to Scripture.”

    Jesus is asked to ‘do something’ at the wedding after John 2:3 says “when the wine ran out…” meaning the guests drank ALL of the wine which is further emphasized in v. 10. Jesus then provides “twenty or thirty gallons” (v.6) of additional wine for the wedding party. This volume of wine seems excessive, which might actually be part of the point (the abundance of Christ). I highlight these verses for two reasons.

    First, the author’s wants to make the point that Mr. Johnson’s article took too much creative license in his interpretation, however, I contend that the opposite is true. To read John’s account of the wedding at Cana and then to suggest that NO ONE was drunk even though there was an ADDITIONAL 20-30 gallons of wine is the only creative license being employed. I agree that this is a creative detail on Mr. Johnson’s part, but it is one that is quite evident in the text. I would contend that readers of the Bible regularly add creative details necessary to understand Scripture. Such as reading Christologically (we put Christ into the OT), or interpreting Scripture on the basis of trinitarian theology (since the word “trinity” is not in the Bible). We add those ideas on the basis that they are supported by the text either by context, literary trajectory, or inter-textual interpretation etc.

    Second, if I am to follow the advice of Amanda’s claim that “we really do not have license to add creative detail to Scripture” then I would have to reject nearly every sermon I have ever heard or preached. It should be noted that biblical authors add a lot of creative detail as well! Matthew and Luke add loads of details to stories from Mark, and John (where the story of the wedding comes from) is so different from the synoptics that biblical scholars speak of it operating in its own category of “theological narrative.” In other word, creative details are part of Scripture, necessary for interpretation, and essential for keeping an ancient text relevant in a modern world.

    The idea that Scripture is dynamic is one of the most difficult aspects of Christianity. However, it is also one of the most necessary. I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that any/all creative details are welcome, rather there are certain bounds in which they must operate. But do you really want to contend that zero people were drunk at a wedding with tons of wine? For that is the contention that demands creative details for it is contrary to the implications of the story.

  • Elaine Atwell

    i would like you to consider what would have happened had you given those men the speech you felt god would have wanted. do you think it is more likely that they would have felt embraced by god’s love, that the? would have turned to each other and said “you know, we really ought to call this “wedding off?” or do you think it more likely that your words would merely have made them deeply sad, angry, and more likely than ever to consider christianity as a religion which rejects, rather than includes?

    you cannot talk someone out of being gay. you cannot even love someone out of it. what you can do is make someone push this very central part of themselves down so hard that they learn to hate themselves. you cannot help because there is nothing to help. there is no crime. so i’d like to thank you, on behalf of the gays, for keeping your mouth shut and letting them have their cake. i hope it was delicious.

  • Lila Fair

    Thank you for a thoughtful, humble, and challenging piece. I, too, read Russell Johnson’s “Open Letter..” and thought it was good, but missing part of the point. (Someone commented on his assumption that the wedding guests were already drunk, and Mr. Johnson did address that he took some liberties in his description.) As you said, the difficulty for most Christians is not that baking the cake or providing a specific service is inconvenient, uncomfortable, or repugnant, as is often portrayed. Jesus gave us stunning examples of trampling on the cultural conventions to interact and love people who were shunned and marginalized by their society– adulterous women, lepers, tax collectors, the disabled, the poor, the demon-possessed, and self-admitted sinners. Nowhere does scripture paint a picture of Jesus being repelled or uncomfortable with any of these people…those who repelled him were those steeped in their own importance, their own prejudices, and their own self-interest.
    The great difficulty in wrestling with our current society is that people want to see Jesus as the lamb of God, but not the Lion of Judah–Jesus embraced sinners, but He NEVER condoned sin. He never gave someone a pass because they had good intentions or a great personality. He talked and ate with sinners, but he was found to be without sin. He was harsh in his criticism of the Pharisees and their traditions, but he wasn’t the rebel, anti-hero, free love guru he’s been made out to be in much of modern literature.
    In following Christ, then, we are left with a much more complex example than Mr. Johnson’s article presents. Jesus DID turn the water into wine, but he ONLY did it in obedience to his MOTHER’s request. (John 2:1-11) He provided wine, not whiskey or absinthe or magic ‘shrooms so the party could be a huge blowout. In another passage, He healed a paralytic, but his concern was not so much for his physical infirmity as with the man’s need for forgiveness (Mark 2:1-12) The healing was done to show that He had the authority to forgive sins. Jesus was comfortable around sinners, but in several instances, THEY were NOT comfortable around Him!
    An additional difficulty for the Christian is that we are NOT Christ, but merely followers. When I interact with customers in my business, I have no reason to ask if they are straight or gay, American citizens or illegal aliens, Christians, Hindus, Atheists, etc. It is my job (and my mission as an ambassador of Christ) to give them honest, courteous, and good service. Nor do I ask if they understand the Bible, or marriage in the same way that I do. I cannot see into the hearts of my customers, to know if a wedding cake (or bouquet, gift, etc.) would be used in a way that honors a Biblical understanding of marriage. While a same-sex marriage may clearly violate the Biblical pattern of marriage you speak of, so do many hetero marriages. Frankly, I have been to several Christian weddings that had almost nothing to do with the Biblical pattern of marriage and held almost no chance of surviving even six months.
    All the talk about Christians being judgmental and discriminatory misses one very basic point. Everyone exercises judgment and discrimination in their interactions with others. We judge some people to be honest, safe, personable, smart, wealthy, “good”…We judge others to be dishonest, dangerous, unlikable, stupid, poor, “bad”, “weird”, unworthy of our respect, or “judgmental and discriminatory”… You can’t call someone else judgmental without being judgmental yourself. That being said, Christians need to be careful to use WISE judgment. We should practice judgment and discrimination in our actions and words, but we should avoid the kind of judgment that condemns and excludes others from knowing or accepting the Grace of God. Jesus told us not to judge others (Matt. 7:1) lest we be judged. Moreover, He said that no one is “good”, except God (Luke 18:19).
    There are no easy or standard answers for issues like this, but one thing I know– God is not honored by hatred and condemnation on our part, nor is He honored by easy compromise.
    Thanks again, Amanda, for pointing out that Love is not measured in convenience (or lack thereof), but in obedience to the One who is Love.

  • C.T. Casberg

    This is a good piece. Thank you.