Recently, many friends have shared a blog Bake for them two. The post seems to have struck a chord with folks from across the theological and political spectrum. According to the blog’s homepage, it has garnered over 300,000 views since April 1. The author, Jessica Kantrowitz, admits that she does not consider gay marriage immoral, but aims her words at Christians whose understanding conforms to orthodox biblical teaching on the subject. Invoking primarily a verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:41), with references to a few others, she exhorts Christians to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.
If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two. Christians, our Jesus said to not only follow the law, but to rise to a higher standard of love. Christians should be the FIRST people baking cakes – for everyone who asks us. We should be known for our cake baking. People should be saying, “There go those crazy Christians again, baking cakes for everyone. They just won’t quit!” Then, when we share the reasons for our wild, all-inclusive love, people will want to hear it. “Let your light shine before others,” said Jesus, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
There is much to be said about this argument, but I must admit to being a bit stunned by the popularity of this post. In the fallout over Indiana’s RFRA law Kantrowitz, a free-lance editor and part-time nanny, penned a blog that went viral, competing with the reach of those of us who do religious liberty for a living. That’s noteworthy for two reasons:
First, and foremost, it tells me Christians are desperate to communicate love to LGBT people. Indeed, many Christians are willing to ignore biblical principles they know to be true to avoid the appearance of judgment or rejection. This reality stands in stark contrast to the popular misconception of Christians as ignorant bigots. As influential activists in the LGBT movement further this misconception, Christians grow more fearful of embodying the caricature. The result is a spiral of silence among Christians, and historic gains for LGBT activists.
The spiral of silence is evidence of the second lesson: the widespread failure of pastors and other church leaders to properly equip everyday Christians to respond to the culture wars. Christians don’t know what the Bible says, and lack heroes who model both grace and truth. No doubt, some of this is the fault of leadership in previous generations that mistook the platform of the GOP for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A great deal of the problem results from the contemporary approach to ministry that commodifies the Gospel, repackaging it and changing the ingredients to maximize its appeal in target demographics. Whomever is to blame, the time is come to rediscover the integrity of the Gospel and apply it as salve to the wounds of the world.
So what of Kantrowitz’ argument? Is it true that Jesus would command a baker and, presumably, florist, photographer, caterer, musician and pastor to participate in a same-sex wedding?
Of course not.
The lynchpin in Kantrowitz’ argument is the assumption that homosexuality, and therefore same-sex marriage, is not immoral.
If you believe gay marriage is immoral (I don’t, myself) and a gay couple comes into your shop and asks you to bake a cake for their wedding, what should you do? If God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the wedding days of straight and gay couples, then what is our responsibility? If it is against the law to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, but you believe strongly that their lifestyle is immoral, what should you do? Christians, our Jesus said, “Go with them two.”
Kantrowitz skips over this point as if it is a minor footnote, and moves on as if standing in the shoes of one who holds the orthodox Christian position on sexuality. But whether or not homosexuality is immoral makes all the difference in deciding the most loving response to same-sex attracted persons and requests to participate in same-sex weddings.
Let there be no confusion: there is no place for discrimination in Christianity. Discrimination erases the inherent dignity of individuals as creatures made in the Image of God, replacing it with hatred or fear of a group based on some characteristic like race, sex, or sexual preference. Jesus came to earth to surround himself with sinners, and his radical embrace of “others” and “outsiders” is our model. Since it is our model we should understand it. The best way to do that is to look at what Jesus said and did.
Luke 5 tells the story of Jesus and a great feast hosted by the tax collector named Levi.
And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Jesus does not hesitate to remark on the sinfulness of those with whom he is enjoying a meal, and explains his mission to lead the the “sick” to repentance. This same pattern of proximity and preaching is repeated over and over throughout the Gospels.
Luke 19 recalls the interaction between Jesus and the chief tax collector Zacchaeus. After inviting himself over to Zacchaeus’ home, Jesus tells him “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” What led to this proclamation? Zacchaeus had admitted his sins, and made restitution.
In Luke 7, Jesus forgives the sins of a prostitute at the home of Simon the Pharisee. She demonstrated her faith in him through worship.
John 8 tells the story of the woman caught in adultery, to whom Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Not once does Jesus ignore or condone sin, and he certainly never participated in it (2 Corinthians 5:21). To the contrary, in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus raises standard of holiness to which we will be held accountable. In fact, just a few verses before instructing “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:41), Jesus teaches on sexual sin. These are his words in Matthew 5:27-30:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Complete holiness is the divine standard, and mere abstention from sinful behavior is insufficient to achieve it. Jesus uses strong imagery to convey the cost of sin as he prepares to die to pay its price on our behalf. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”It is hard to imagine the same Jesus who equates a lustful glance with adultery would smile upon the use of one’s God-given talents to participate in the celebration of a sinful homosexual relationship.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that baking a cake, providing flowers, photographing, singing, or officiating a same-sex wedding is not necessarily a violation of Christ’s standard of holiness. Let us put it on the level of eating and drinking with tax collectors. What then is a Christian’s obligation?
First, as has already been made clear from the examples of Jesus, such interaction is a context for evangelism. Engaging with sinners without the goal of bringing them to a place of repentance is meaningless. The Apostle Paul in Galatians 6 writes, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” James teaches, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20) Perhaps I am cynical, but I find it highly unlikely that most of those who argue Christians ought to provide services for same-sex weddings are eager to use such circumstances – or any other circumstance – to evangelize homosexuals about their sin. Kantrowitz, who doesn’t believe homosexuality is immoral, certainly isn’t!
Second, Christians who participate in such conduct must heed the admonition to avoid causing weaker Christians to stumble. In 1 Corinthians 8:9 Paul warns, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encourages, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.” Is there any doubt that the willingness of some Christians to participate in the celebration of sin while personally maintaining a biblical position on homosexuality has caused confusion in the Body? The minimum standard here is clear: if in the specific context of an interpersonal relationship of evangelism a Christian can in good conscience provide a service for a same-sex wedding they must keep their mouth shut about doing so.
Now, finally, we come to Matthew 5: 41. Does this section apply to the current clash over religious freedom and LGBT rights, and, if so, how?
Here is the section in full:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)
It is easy to see how such an upside-down approach to our inherent, sinful tendency to preserve for ourselves what is ours is misapplied to the current debate over religious freedom. Jesus is calling for a full surrender of all personal rights. But that is not the end of the lesson. At the time of Jesus, Roman citizens held immense power over Jews, who had few rights. Jesus is instructing believers how to respond to coercive acts in an systemically unjust system. He is not affirming that system. This is similar to the instruction Paul offers slaves to obey their earthly masters (Ephesians 6). Such an admonition is not an endorsement of the slavery system, but a guide to faithful living in the midst of a broken cultural reality.
For over two hundred years, Americans have been engaged in a project to maximize rights for all, based on the radical notion that all are created equal. This has been messy, and filled with failures with regard to blacks, women, Native Americans and others that are a permanent stain on our history. Opposing RFRA legislation because it provides a specific level of legal protection for Christians in some circumstances betrays the broader pursuit of freedom. Yes, RFRA protects us, but it also protects many others. Ought we restrict their fundamental rights in acts of self-flagellation?
Furthermore, Jesus’ instruction is a means to preserve one’s dignity in a situation where humanity is being denied. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, to turn to him the other also is a display of power. If someone sues you for your tunic, to willingly offer your cloak also relocates the false pretense of power embodied in an unjust system to the shoulders of the one whose dignity is grounded in something else entirely.
Matthew 5 is a subversive text. It is the reason those who held power and privilege in the system of his era had to kill Jesus.
Finally, a plain reading of Matthew 5 reveals that none of the deferential acts required participating in sin. While scripture is clear that Christians have an obligation to obey the civil authorities placed over them (Romans 13), the laws of Heaven preempt the laws of man. From the story of the birth of Moses, to Daniel and his friends in Babylon, to the apostles of Acts we see civil disobedience displayed in obedience to divine mandates. These courageous acts of faith square perfectly with Jesus’ teaching in Mark 12:27:
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
Standing firm for biblical truth is never at odds with the biblical commandment to love our neighbor; they are one in the same. To share the truth is an act of love. It is not often easy to do both, but the same Sermon on the Mount tells us something about that too: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow, and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)