The Christian Post reports that a Christian cake-making business in Oregon was forced to shut down after they denied service to a lesbian couple. Right up front, we need a few comments. Firstly, it is sad and unfortunate that they were forced to close their business (though they are continuing to make cakes through an in-home business). It is also unfortunate that the lesbian couple behaved so poorly and tried to destroy their business after being turned down.
But we also have to think about what it means to operate a business.
Many Christians I know are outraged at this, which they see as flagrant persecution. But is this really what is going on? I don’t think it is.
It is unfortunate it came down to losing their shop over the conflict, but this Christian family business essentially destroyed itself for no particularly compelling reason. Some readers will now understandably bristle, but it remains true that if they had simply made a cake the issue wouldn’t have even arisen.
So the question we now must ask is: is it lawful for Christians who disagree with same-sex activity and civil unions to provide services to the gay couples who want to hire them?
I believe it is lawful. And here’s why.
Homosexuality does not occupy center stage in Christian sexual ethics, and the issue has been so politicized that we can’t even seem to have a sane discussion of the issue any more. Our heightened and intense response to everything having to do with the issue is not really due to Christian sexual teachings, and comes more from the fact that we have elevated the conflict in our own minds and rhetoric. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, and the verses that address it are few and far between and never singled out for attention. This should cue us into the fact that our ethical compass has extremely different emphases than Jesus’s had.
The objection I hear most often is “I don’t want to support what they’re doing,” or “I don’t want to seem like I’m supporting them.” But this raises the question of what a business is. When someone comes to you to contract your business for the provision of certain services for which you will be fairly compensated, can your acceptance of that business constitute “support”? No. Can a Christian mechanic start deciding whether or not to fix the car of the Baptist that came into his shop because he himself supports infant baptism? Should a Christian doctor start deciding not to help patients of other religions? Should Christian airline pilots refuse to transport homosexual passengers? More to the point, should a Christian car mechanic refuse the business of a gay couple that brought their car in for repairs? Can that be taken as “support” for their lifestyle?
So why does the situation magically change when we talk about Christian wedding photographers and cake-makers? How many heterosexual couples do they agree with? How many are addicted to porn? How many have fits of rage? How many are non-Christians? The point is simple: if you’re going to turn away business by people you don’t agree with, then you should turn away everyone you don’t agree with.
This is why Christians will lose this particular argument. Because when you say you are turning away people you don’t agree with but only turn away certain people you don’t agree with, you are behaving like a hypocrite. This form of public hypocrisy is also called discrimination. This is not an issue of “standing up for the truth.” It is not a matter of “religious freedom” or “persecution.” It is, however, a matter of Christians playing the victim card. It is an issue of Christians being upset at losing their privileged status.
These Christians don’t want to be seen supporting same-sex marriage. They don’t want to seem like they’re supporting it. These same Christians probably wouldn’t want to seem to support prostitution by eating and hang out with prostitutes either. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Jesus did. The question “What would Jesus do” looms uncomfortably large over this whole discussion. The Kingdom belongs to the ugly and the broken and the unworthy, not for the powerful and respectable. Over and over Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Paul goes so far as to say that acceptance comes first; acceptance and mercy are designed to lead to repentance, not the other way around (Rom. 2:5).