By now, everyone’s aware of the latest culture war click-frenzy, which we can all officially dub Arizona Cakegate, regarding a bill in the Grand Canyon State that gives business owners (especially those of the wedding cake or crappy DJ variety) the overt right to deny service to gay couples.
And we’re all aware of the predictable response from conservative Christian culture warriors, to the tune of chalking up wins for religious freedom if the bill should survive veto (despite sensible counterpoints from moderate Christian voices).
But I have some questions, you guys.
First, who is discriminating against who? While on the surface it appears reasonable at first to see all kinds of freedom from discrimination for conservative Christians who refuse to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, doesn’t this come dangerously close to fostering the same old discrimination of pre-civil rights era America? In other words, are we free to discriminate on the basis of identity alone when doing business in the secular for-profit sector? To be sure, by their very nature a nonprofit church or synagogue or mosque is dedicated to particular religious work that upholds spiritual and moral principles not accepted by everyone – thus they inherently are not mandated to serve everyone. This is why the nonprofit category exists in the law code. But where would you draw the line with a for-profit business that claims to be owned and operated by Christians? Can Chik-Fil-A refuse to sell sandwiches to guys who appear gay in the ordering line? Can a local diner declare itself to be a gay-free zone without engendering hostility in the community that would endanger honest, good citizens only on the basis of their identity and orientation? Isn’t that the same as the old “separate but equal” principle?
Second, does the logic really work? There have been no shortage of scenarios and slippery slopes offered up by conservatives about where “mandatory service” to gay people will logically lead us. But does it all really make sense? My personal favorite was a pastor who argued on Twitter that a Jewish shop owner should not have to bake a cake for a Klan rally. The comparison of a gay person to to a member of the KKK is obviously offensive, but it is even more ironic: if anything, the roles should be reversed. The question would be, can a KKK member run a cake shop that refuses to serve gay people, black people, Jewish people, minority allies, etc., without at least bringing issues of discrimination, fair business, and safety to the forefront of the community’s attention? If the issue is that we just don’t want the law to get involved and let the free market sort it all out, is that really a world we want to live in (e.g., Russia? Uganda?), where it’s legal to discriminate in a for-profit business on the basis of identity alone, creating a hostile atmosphere in the community? Didn’t conservatives praise Rudy Giuliani when he zoned out all the sex shops in Times Square? I know I did. Sometimes superficial libertarian logic results in hostility, danger, and oppression toward real people, as it certainly did under separate but equal doctrine in the old days. And the law needs to line up with what’s actually fair.
Third, how is any of this actually Christian? I recently read in Exodus (of all places) how the ancient Israelites were commanded – commanded! – to treat foreigners well. Now, sure, if an Israelite worshiped a foreign god they should be killed on the spot. But God through Moses specifically said, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Boom. Simple. Don’t do anything to oppress or deny fair treatment to those whose worship, lifestyle, custom, and creed is foreign to you. Jesus of course took this way further – his whole ministry was about flipping the idea of who is welcome at God’s table (where the cake is, usually), so that the outsiders were in and the insiders were out. For this reason, we are to love our neighbor, and our neighbor is anyone in need (or who may be requiring our service). Don’t mistreat or oppress the foreigner, the culturally different, the neighbor from that other tribe, the outsider. Do not. It’s a command.
I might have answered that last question myself!
But really, what do you think about all this? What are your answers to these questions?
Because the more I think about it, the more I realize that if I was the one on the outside, walking into a shop to be served (or maybe laying half dead on the side of the road), I would want my gay brother or sister to help me…like a good Samaritan should.