Since I didn’t write myself into clarity last week, I have continued thinking about situations where personal religious beliefs come up against legally granted civic rights.
I. Between You and I:
Using the situation that has been in the news recently of the baker who refused to bake a cake for a same sex wedding, last week I wondered if a group existed for which I would not (if I were a baker) bake a cake for. I can say with certainty there are groups I would be reluctant to bake a cake for. But on further reflection, as a Christian, I don’t think there are any groups I should not bake a cake for. Although if I am honest, there may need to be some negotiation about decorations.
Christians are called to love our enemies. If we are to love our enemies, surely we are also called to love those with whom we disagree. And love is not merely thinking loving thoughts. Love requires action. Jesus does not ask us to condone our “enemies” actions or beliefs. Jesus also does not ask us to give our opinion to someone else about their actions or beliefs. Jesus does require us to love the people. Part of loving someone means that we are in some sort of relationship with them. This relationship may be serious and substantial, or it may be superficial or short term- like baking a cake. Essential to loving others is our ability to recognize them as beloved children of God. God loves all people and wants to be in relationship with them. “We love because God first loved us.”
It is not repent and then God loves us. It is God loves us, while we were yet sinners. Jesus spent time with the confused and the unloved and the reviled and the excluded and even the intentionally bad. There is no getting around that. If I am serious about being a disciple of Jesus, I need to do that also.
So I must bake the cake and act graciously. Perhaps at some point, there will be conversation. Perhaps the customer will tell me that is was difficult to find someone to bake a cake for them. Perhaps they will ask me why I did bake their cake. And then I have the opportunity to tell them, I baked the cake because they are children of God.
Truthfully, I’m not particularly happy about that. I’m not particularly comfortable with that. But my unhappiness and my discomfort are my problems, my sin.
There is no one, let me repeat, no one beyond redemption. No one beyond God’s love. And we, for better or worse, are to incarnate, embody, demonstrate, live the love that God has for people.
II. But what about “us”, our society?
It is all well and good for me to declare that as a Christian I must act in accordance with my beliefs. The problem, as always, is when your beliefs and my beliefs about what a Christian ought to do are different. The the problem for society is when certain religious positions are in conflict with the law and with another’s civil rights.
It seems to me that as a society we should be as inclusive as possible extending civil rights. All of us should be able to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Of course my life, liberty and happiness need to respect your life, liberty and happiness. Just not liking what I do is not sufficient reason to prevent me from doing it. Even thinking what I do is wrong is not sufficient reason to prevent me from doing it. If my action materially, physically affects you then we may have to set some limits. As the old saying goes, my right to swing my fist stops just before your nose. And I don’t get to shout “fire” in a crowded theater, if there is no fire.
Weighing these matters of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and so on is difficult.
For most of us, it is a deeply ingrained value to obey the law. That’s why we stop at stoplights in the middle of the night when there is no traffic. Because it is the law and we respect the authority of the law. On the other hand, sometimes we might believe a law is morally wrong. Then we need to decide, as individuals whether to obey the law or our conscience. If we follow our conscience and break the law we need to be prepared to accept the consequences. That’s the grand American tradition of civil disobedience.
So to bakers whose particular religious belief precludes them from baking cakes for certain people- you need to decide. Obey the law or obey your conscience. If your conscience tells you the law is wrong, break the law. But suffering the consequences of breaking the law is not an infringement of your freedom of speech or your freedom of religion. You are still able to say the law is wrong. You are still able to tell the customer you are baking the cake under protest. You can write a letter to the editor, write a blog, preach a sermon saying what you believe. And you can go to church, any church you wish, without interference from the state every single day.
By granting a group of people protected civil rights, your rights have not been significantly diminished or hindered. Notice I said significantly. The case can be made that your religious expression has been restricted in a particular way, in a particular situation. But part of living in a civil society means that we don’t always get our own way. Sometimes we compromise, sometimes the other party compromises. It’s not a perfect system, but gradually ( and often with a lot of grumbling and arguing) we figure out a way to life together work.
I think I have finally typed my way to some little bit of clarity. What about you?