The Gay Wedding Cake: Should Christian Bakers Be Allowed to Refuse Service?

You probably clicked on this link because you thought to yourself, “Gee, I wonder what controversial thing Amy is going to say now? Which side will she take? Is there a chance for me to leave an angry rant in the comments section?”

Gay wedding cake

Well, surprise! Instead of answering the question I posed in the title, I am instead going to…ask more questions!

(What? It’s my blog. I get to do what I want.)

In an effort to offer up the best arguments from both sides, I’m dividing this post into two parts, and most of you only need to read half of it. To know which part you should read, let me introduce you to our special guest…The Great and Powerful Whiteboard of Theology! He’s probably going to show up every now and then when I need to add some badly drawn text and visuals to my blog. Please, click to see the whiteboard in its full glory.

Did I sort of mess up how flow charts are supposed to work? Yes. I did. I’ll get better with time, I promise.

Did I sort of mess up how flow charts are supposed to work? Yes. I did. I’ll get better with time, I promise.

For Everyone

The Issue: Arizona’s governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to gay couples if that service would violate their religious beliefs. A Kansas bill along the same lines focused more specifically on businesses providing services for the wedding ceremony itself (but also included a provision for individuals simply refusing to recognize gay marriages as legitimate).

(I read the actual bills so I would kinda know what I was talking about, but good heavens, so many terms. But here are the Arizona and Kansas bills in case you want some light reading or distrust both my summaries and those of any news outlet.)

The Secular Perspective I Found Most Interesting: This award goes to Conor Friedersdorf in his article in The Atlantic. I don’t agree with everything, but it made me think.

Section One

If you think the obvious answer to “Should Christian bakers be allowed to refuse to make a gay wedding cake?” is “No,” here are some things to think about:

  • Would you change your answer to this question if the baker in question was a loving, non-angry-fundamentalist guy who was completely open to making a birthday cake for a gay man, just not a cake for a gay wedding service?
  • You are now a Christian baker. Let’s further say you are a Christian baker who believes that homosexual marriage is wrong. If you believe that the work you do is for the glory of God, how would you explain your choice to make a cake for a gay wedding?
  • Jesus shows up at your door. He wants to know what you think he’d do in this situation if he had been a year 2014 baker instead of a year 30 carpenter. (Also, if you guess wrong, you have to buy dinner.) What would you say, and what evidence would you use to justify your claim?
I think it would be best if the Duck Dynasty patriarch isn't the predominant Christian voice on this issue.

I think it would be best if the Duck Dynasty patriarch isn’t the predominant Christian voice on this issue. Can we agree on that?

Section Two

If you think the obvious answer to “Should Christian bakers be allowed to refuse to make a gay wedding cake?” is “Yes,” here are some things to think about:

  • Would you change your answer if the question was about a Christian baker serving a bag of muffins to a gay couple on a normal Tuesday morning? If so, why?
  • You are now a Christian baker. (Feel free to bring me cookies anytime.) What if you were asked to make a wedding cake for the mayor, who divorced his wife and married his lover in a nice, dramatic scandal? Would you say yes? If so, what’s different about that situation than making a cake for a gay wedding? If not, would you make a cake for only two Christians getting married?
  • Martin Luther King Jr. shows up at your door. He’s heard about these laws and wants you to explain how they’re different from the discrimination he fought against. (He also wants to know what a blog is.) What would you say to him?

Parting Thoughts

I’m not saying you shouldn’t come to a conclusion about this, or that you should change your mind on whatever position you already hold. I just want to point out that this issue is much, much more complicated than a question of baking cakes…and even that is complicated. I think it’s what happens when we take something sacred—marriage—and make it profane.

And here I’m not just talking about laws that allow gay marriage. It’s so much more than that. It’s divorce and abuse and excess…and movies that portray love in the wrong ways, and the lie that we can “marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow,” and every tiny act of petty selfishness that prepares us for treating our husband or wife as a means to one all-important end: our own happiness.

(That last one. That last one was me. Ouch.)

And marriage isn’t the only sacred things we make profane. We do it to music and laughter and entertainment and service and order and justice and every single good thing that has ever existed.

We have broken things, guys. I have a hard time having political opinions because I feel like we’re arguing about whether to use glue or masking tape to put the Titanic back together. So please look at this entire post as a way to start a conversation, not end it with a definitive word of wisdom.

If you want to write out a thought about one of these questions or add another, I’d love to hear it. Of course, if you rather just sit here and be overwhelmed by how complicated things are, that’s fine too. That’s what I’ll be doing for a while until I come to an actual opinion.

Should have put that option on the flow chart.

21 comments

  1. Well thought out, Amy. I agree with both of your points. I think the most important thing is that however we approach a situation we should do so in love. Not only will love help homosexuals and other outside people groups to feel our love understand where we’re coming from, but love will put our minds and hearts in the right perspective when we do think about issues such as this.

  2. Very good thoughts. I think I’ve concluded that Christian’s shouldn’t be FORCED to sell to customers they don’t want to (think Seinfeld ‘No Soup for You’ guy) as it’s a legal question.
    But I totally think Christians should sell their wares to anyone for any reason and any occasion anyway as a way to make money that can further the kingdom along with fostering relationships with customers for kingdom purposes.

    1. Good distinction, Lee. I think if I was a Christian baker I’d be fine with providing a cake to a gay wedding, because I don’t think a cake is an endorsement. The key, as you said, is how you treat people who you sell the product to. However, I’m not sure what I’d do as a Christian wedding photographer, because photography is an art and tells a story of a couple’s relationship. Because of that, it feels much more like approving of gay marriage. It’s like the difference between DJ-ing for a gay wedding and writing the gay couple personalized love songs to dance to. Just more thoughts to complicate things.

  3. “I have a hard time having political opinions because I feel like we’re arguing about whether to use glue or masking tape to put the Titanic back together.” Agreed. And in the end, I’m not so sure our opinion on this (or many other frequently argued topics) are moving the world around us any closer to truth. Perhaps we are looking at it all from the wrong perspective. Maybe the question should not be “should a Christian be allowed (or forced) to…” but, “what should we do as Christians if…”

    Thanks for a great post Amy!

    1. I like that perspective, Lydia. It’s so much harder for me to know what I think about things like this on an impersonal legal level. Fortunately, the most important thing is knowing what I think on the highly personal level of what I actually encounter.

  4. First off, best flow chart EVER! Secondly, there were definitely some angles presented that makes this issue less black and white. After mulling it over, I think there is a big difference between muffins and a wedding cake. A wedding cake is a symbol, not a snack.

    The problem is, anything symbolic (read: traditional) is being torn down, redefined, and/or mocked into oblivion. You know, tolerate EVERYTHING except strong moral and religious convictions.

    It becomes a violation of conscience to knowingly contribute to something you feel God has commanded you to take no part of. On the other hand, if I innocently sell, say, a knife to a customer and they have horrible plans to go murder someone with it, God isn’t going to hold me accountable.

    However, he does tell us to love and value everyone because they are created in His image and have dignity and worth.
    I can serve people who’s lifestyle I do not agree with–and I should do so with love and friendliness. But I wouldn’t FORCE a vegetarian to eat a steak, any more than I would force a baker to bake a cake for a gay couple. And the government shouldn’t make the baker or the vegetarian do otherwise!

    Sorry for the rant!

    1. Glad you liked the flow chart…I had fun with it!

      I think I’d be quick to agree with you if it was an individual doing the baking, just like it’s an individual vegetarian eating the steak. But since it’s a business, that makes things more complicated, both legally and ethically. Maybe it’s something like forcing a Jewish caterer to serve pork?

      I was once part of a debate about Christians working for military weaponry programs–the question there being that if you’re designing something intended to kill others (especially if the war isn’t a clear-cut good vs. evil type of thing), how can that be glorifying to God? I actually think that debate has more in common with this one than debates about whether gay marriage should be legal. It’s more complicated than we’d think.

      Thanks for your thoughts…I’m always encouraged when Christians are thinking deeply about this and being careful to emphasize grace.

  5. A couple of Biblical examples worth considering as we go back to the fundamentals of wrangling with this issue:

    – John the Baptist called out Herod’s immoral (although legal) marriage to his 1/2 brother Philip’s ex-wife. (Bear in mind that Herod was neither Jew nor Christian. Also, we know from Josephus that Herodias, the woman in question, had a legal divorce from Philip before she married Herod.) How many of us today would publicly call out a man who married someone else’s ex-wife? Especially if that man had the power to throw us in jail and behead us?
    Read more: Matt 14:1-12

    – Jesus refused to make (more) bread and fish for people who refused to eat His doctrine.
    “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ ” (John 6:26-27)
    Read more: John 6:1-71

    Most Christians I know these days would never do what John and Jesus did. One wonders why.

    ..and then we punt around issues like baking cakes for gays. Smart money says it’s not likely we’ll arrive at the same answer that John and Jesus would have.

    1. Thanks, Tim! I agree that there are times when Christians need to be radically counter-cultural. Whenever I think of Biblical parallels to this situation, I remember the story of Obadiah and Elijah in 1 Kings 18. Elijah was called by God to confront, speaking God’s truth to people who didn’t want to listen. Obadiah was called to protect, working within the government and using his position of power to save God’s prophets. (And if I know anything about people and their personalities, I bet they didn’t get along. It might be reading into things, but Obadiah seems a bit wimpy in his words to Elijah…and yet the Bible still records him as one who “feared the Lord greatly.”)

      I don’t think these two correspond to the two sides of this argument, but I do think it illustrates that there may be more than one way for a Christian to approach even a serious problem like corruption and idolatry. The key is holding to both a radical love for others, and, as you said, a courageous love of truth as well.

  6. This is not a complicated question. Simply answering “it’s not for sale” is an acceptable answer with most products, if it is not for sale. Responding to a prospective client with “I do not want your business” is just as reasonable as choosing not to sell a display model. The reason for turning down business is irrelevant. If local societal sanctions therefore mean that the business owner goes broke, great, but forcing them to accept clients that they do not wish to accept is absurd.

    To answer the questions posed in section two (at least, those which I can answer without getting angry):
    A business owner can refuse to serve anyone they choose. Full stop. Muffins, cake, car tires, home renovation… whatever.

    If I were a baker, I’d serve anyone who asked for one of my products. Although I can see why you argue that baking a wedding cake can be seen as approving of that particular wedding, one of the things that a business owner must anticipate is whether there are circumstances where conducting normal business would require them to violate their personal ethics. If they feel that they can survive (from a business perspective) while turning down business, great. Otherwise, they need to choose a different line of work.

    I think from my earlier arguments it should be obvious what I would say to Dr. King. To wit – Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was (and is) an unconscionable overreach of Federal power, and that by fighting the way he did, he helped set the stage for a series of further such overreaches.

    1. That was my first thought too. Except, because of discrimination laws, you’re actually not legally allowed to only serve whichever customers you want. If I own a bakery or a restaurant, I can decide that I hate minorities and won’t serve any of them. Same thing with a gay couple. As a business owner I can’t legally say, “Sorry, I don’t serve your kind.” And I think things could get ugly if business owners were allowed to do that.

      However, businesses owners are allowed to say that they don’t serve a particular product. So, if you are a baker and don’t want to make a rainbow cake with “Gay Pride” written on it in icing, you can just say, “I’ll make you a chocolate cake that you can go write whatever you want on it, but I don’t make rainbow cakes”…as long as you actually don’t. (Same thing with a swastika cake or something similar.)

      All these thoughts I’m stealing from the Phil Vischer podcast, which I watched after I wrote this post. It’s really interesting–you should check it out: http://philvischer.com/the-phil-vischer-podcast/episode-92-religious-liberty-and-artistic-freedom/

  7. Which is relevant to my point about what I’d say to MLK Jr. The fundamental issue is not one of “should Christian bakers be allowed to refuse service..”, because of course they should. The question that should be asked (and quite legitimately) is “should Christian bakers refuse service…”

    For the record, I come down on “no” on that second question.

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