The adaptability of beliefs: Christians taught to love, not judge

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By Claire Ballor 

Commentary Editor

 

 

 

The Christian bakers in Oregon who were recently faced with a fine for discriminating against a lesbian couple are old news, but the core of the issue is not. In fact, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Whether or not the court finds the bakery guilty of discrimination, and whether or not the law recognizes the couple’s decision to refuse service that they believed would have supported a same-sex marriage as an illegal action, the core of this issue runs deeper than a court decision.

Those upset with the court decision argue that these bakers and likeminded Christians should not be reprimanded for living according to their faith and conducting their businesses likewise, and they are right. However, I think the question that is central to this issue is how Christian businesses are supposed to conduct their business in light of their beliefs.

Society is changing; that is nothing new. But it is changing in a way that is challenging Christians to enter uncharted territory. Same-sex marriages are becoming more common and that is not going to change.  Does this mean Christians should compromise their beliefs in order to be compatible with a changing society? No, but it does mean that they are going to have to adapt.

The most foundational outward extension of Christian faith is love, and this does not change, regardless of the direction society is moving. What kind of messages are Christians relaying if they refuse service to a same-sex couple?

Would the bakery in Oregon have refused service to a heterosexual couple that they knew was engaging in premarital sex? Would it have been right for them to refuse this couple as well because they knew their relationship was being conducted in a way that is against Christian beliefs? That too would be denying service so as not to promote a wedding that goes against Christian doctrine. What about providing a wedding cake for a couple of a different religion that the bakers do not believe in? Where do Christians draw the line with their judgments?

It is one thing to officiate a same-sex marriage, but it is another to simply bake a cake or alter a dress. No one can argue, at least not based on Christian teachings, that providing a cake, dance lessons, flowers, place settings or photography for a same-sex couple is a compromise of Christian beliefs.

Christians are not taught to judge, but to love, and in the world rapidly changing before us, Christians have to make a choice whether or not to live accordingly. It is more in line with Christian teaching to bake a cake for a same-sex couple than to turn them away. Irrespective of the legal stance on the issue, Christians should demonstrate the unconditional love that we are called to show to everyone regardless of sexuality, religious affiliation or morality.

8 COMMENTS

  1. “It is one thing to officiate a same-sex marriage, but it is another to simply bake a cake or alter a dress. No one can argue, at least not based on Christian teachings, that providing a cake, dance lessons, flowers, place settings or photography for a same-sex couple is a compromise of Christian beliefs.”

    This is a completely unsubstantiated claim. Many Christians DO believe that exerting their artistic expression in support of a same-sex “marriage” violates their conscience. They exert their moral agency by refusing to bake cakes, provide flowers, etc. The law should not coerce these Christians to violate their conscience.

    Marriage is a comprehensive union of one man and one woman of the kind that is naturally fulfilled by (that is ordered to) the bearing and raising of children. The Catholic Church (and most Christian churches until the early 2000s) accepts this natural, conjugal definition of marriage. If you take this definition and apply some analytic pressure, the argument for same-sex marriage collapses (see “What is Marriage?” by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George). Conjugal marriage is the only real marriage.

    Based on this conjugal understanding of marriage, the analogy of a Christian baker refusing to bake a cake for a man-woman, sexually active couple fails. Both the Western legal tradition and Catholic teaching assert that premarital sex is no material impediment to forging a marriage bond, based on what marriage IS. Claiming a sexually active heterosexual couple cannot marry, on principle, is akin to claiming that an interracial couple cannot marry. Neither the couple’s ongoing sexual activity or skin color have anything to do with their ability to unite comprehensively. This is not the case with same-sex wedding ceremonies, where marriage is impossible in principle (100% of the time) because two men or two women cannot unite comprehensively, and thus maritally. The two situations are not the same.

    The analogy still fails even if we assume the baker could care less about philosophy and simply believe that a same-sex wedding celebrates gravely immoral behavior; and his participation, via his artistic expression, constitutes remote or proximate formal cooperation in a grave evil, and thus a violation of his conscience (he could, of course, make the same claim about a fornicating couple). Two points: a) this is not an unreasonable claim and b) one cannot assert moral equivalency between the fornicating couple and the homosexual couple. Certainly Christian teaching prohibits proximate and remote formal cooperation with evil. The fornicating couple does something which by its nature is blessed, but wicked in their case because of circumstances (pre-marital). The homosexual couple does something which by its nature is wicked, period (non-marital). Certainly both are deeply immoral from a Catholic perspective, but they’re not analogous (see Lit Trad II). And the law should not coerce the baker into treating either as a good.

    (And for the record, nothing in Catholic teaching prohibits a baker from participating in a wedding between a sexually-active man and woman because the matter and form for the sacrament remain present, and the natural reality of marriage is maintained. The degree to which any participation would be immoral depends on whether the activity is formal or material, proximate or remote cooperation with evil, in this case the sin of fornication. This would have to be judged on a case by case basis.)

    I’m not saying that prudential considerations don’t also apply to same-sex wedding scenarios; a baker must carefully assess whether morality and prudence require his refusal in a particular case. What I am saying is that faithful Catholics may, for good reason and without violating any demands of charity, refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding. The law should protect their right to do this. And rather than castigate those who choose this route, the University News should praise such courage and present better arguments about what marriage is and why it matters.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You’re a man of many words so I will try to address yours points as best I can.

    1. “Many Christians DO believe that exerting their artistic expression in support of a same-sex “marriage” violates their conscience. They exert their moral agency by refusing to bake cakes, provide flowers, etc. The law should not coerce these Christians to violate their conscience.” – First, I made no claims about the laws involvement; that is besides my point. Second, if selling someone a baked good is supporting same-sex marriage, then someone is clearly mistaken as to what makes a wedding. In no society that I’m aware of do cakes and other “artistic expressions’ hold that much weight in a wedding ceremony.

    2. “Both the Western legal tradition and Catholic teaching assert that premarital sex is no material impediment to forging a marriage bond, based on what marriage IS. Claiming a sexually active heterosexual couple cannot marry, on principle, is akin to claiming that an interracial couple cannot marry.” — Again, I think you missed the point. The point is not which one is a marriage and which one is not or who can marry and who cannot, the point is that neither deserve one man’s moral judgement over the other. Also, I think you missed the point even further. I used a heterosexual couple engaging in pre-marital sex as an example of a couple participating in a different sin according to Christian teaching. Your argument that my example is akin to an interracial couple is just incorrect.

    3. “…his participation, via his artistic expression, constitutes remote or proximate formal cooperation in a grave evil” — Give your cakes to Catholics, give them to Muslims, give them to sinners, give them to the poor, give them out for free – the person that you give your cakes to does not assign you your intent. Selling a cake to an “evil” person does not compromise your spirituality.

    4. “The degree to which any participation would be immoral depends on whether the activity is formal or material, proximate or remote cooperation with evil, in this case the sin of fornication. This would have to be judged on a case by case basis.” –No one should think they can judge who is morally worthy of a cake and who isn’t.

    5. “And rather than castigate those who choose this route, the University News should praise such courage and present better arguments about what marriage is and why it matters.” – This article did not “castigate” Christians for making business choices based on their faith, but rather aimed to generate discussion on the issue and to call to light that Christians are first and foremost called to love, not to judge others’ morality. The purpose of the University News and the Commentary section is to share diverse perspectives and opinions, even if people respond with essays of disagreement.

    .

  3. Sorry Claire, but while you keep insisting that this article has missed the point, it seems you yourself have missed the point of refraining from baking a cake. It is to refrain from participating in something that you believe mars their soul in a very deep way. Alcohol is not in and of itself wrong, but I could not in good conscience hand alcohol over to an alcoholic. And my refraining from handing over the bottle would not be out of spite of either the alcoholic or alcohol, but out of love for a person whom I fear is deeply hurting both himself and his family.

    • Z, your analogy between homosexuals and alcoholics fails to convey your point and is based upon a logical fallacy. One ought to refuse to give an alcoholic alcohol because alcohol is the source of their illness. Cake does not make people gay. Refusing to bake a cake for a homosexual couple will not (in any way) make them less gay. If cakes make people gay, then we’re all batting for the other team.

      • You’re right. Change alcohol for a gift of a flask or decorative shot class on the 21st birthday of a heavy alcoholic. A wedding cake has become a symbolic piece of celebrating a new marriage. Both are things that celebrate the harmful behavior of another human being and it is anything but loving to support that.

  4. “if selling someone a baked good is supporting same-sex marriage, then someone is clearly mistaken as to what makes a wedding. In no society that I’m aware of do cakes and other “artistic expressions’ hold that much weight in a wedding ceremony.”

    Tell that to the Colorado cake baker, Jack Philips, asked by a gay couple to bake them a wedding cake. Phillips declined to create the cake, citing his faith: “I don’t feel like I should participate in their wedding, and when I do a cake, I feel like I am participating in the ceremony or the event or the celebration that the cake is for.” The couple obtained a wedding cake with rainbow-colored filling (illustrating the expressive nature of event cake-baking) from another bakery.

    Tell that to Oregon cake bakers, Melissa and Aaron Klein, who faced threats of violent protest, vicious telephone calls, and boycotting simply for declining to facilitate and celebrate a same-sex relationship through providing a wedding cake—violating their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. They were under so much pressure that they had to close down their small business.

    Tell that to the New Mexico wedding photographer, Elane Huguenin, who was penalized for declining to use her artistic and expressive skills to communicate what was said and what occurred at same-sex ceremony. Per the owner, “the message a same-sex commitment ceremony communicates is not one I believe.” The photographer did not refuse to take pictures of gay and lesbian individuals; they declined to photograph a ceremony that ran counter to the owners’ belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

    Tell that to Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts owner Barronelle Stutzman who refused to creat floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding. Stutzman stated she could not accept the job because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ” and her belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. A court order is now pending forcing Stutzman to violate her conscience by using her artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex relationship.

    Tell that to Betty and Dick Odgaard, a devout Mennonite couple in Iowa, who run an art gallery in an old church building, where they host weddings among other things. Betty and Dick work with the couples who wed there on everything from flowers, food, and decorations to the wedding ceremony itself. On the day of every wedding, they oversee all of these details. In 2013, the Odgaards declined a request to organize, facilitate, and host a same-sex ceremony because they believed that it conflicted with “the religious message they seek to convey through the Gallery, a message which includes the importance of living one’s faith in all aspects of life.” They now face punitive action before the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

    Tell these people to “adapt” to the new cultural landscape and stop “judging.” But who are you to judge their motives? This article assumes that animus towards homosexual persons is the only explanation for their actions. But that assumption presupposes that these individuals are lying about their reasons: that marriage is the union of a man and a woman ordered to procreation and family life, and facilitating a same-sex ceremony violates this belief. Brushing off this reason as “clearly mistaken” is not an argument; a sneer is not an objection.

    If we don’t defend these people, their beliefs about marriage (100% in line with Christianity and with virtually every human society until recently) will be increasingly characterized as an irrational prejudice that ought to be driven to the margins of our culture.

    May that disaster be averted.

  5. Claire has done an EXCELLENT job at generating conversation.

    Often in my work place (outside the bubble) people parrot back the common media’s mantra.

    Claire has reasoned through the question and not merely state the “Its a civil right that you are denying” or “Doesn’t every one have a right to marriage?” trite talking points. She should be thanked and congratulated.

    Chris states many relevant examples of Christian business owners refusing to compromise their beliefs to fall in line with common cultural dictates.

    The interesting thing with each example? The owners do not explicitly state that are going to Hell for their homosexual behavior. That is the type of judgment that Jesus warns against in Matthew 7:1-2. Judgment as in condemning others for their behavior.
    Luke 6:37-38 makes this clear in Jesus’s own words.

    For a well explained and reasoned explanation of the implications of Matthew 7:1-2 please read:
    http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/what-did-jesus-mean-when-he-said-not-to-judge-others-10-things-to-know-and

    Jesus tells us not to sit in judgment on other sinners, but he does not prohibit us from forming an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises. Thus many business owners are ‘judging’ that their participation in same-sex weddings would be sinful would be them using their judgment on themselves and their behavior.

    Christians ARE taught to love and use their judgment.

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