As a follow up to my previous posts on the “wedding cake” debate regarding same-sex marriage (from April 3 and April 4), I want to respond to certain criticism I have seen suggesting that those who decline to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies (such as bakers refusing to make wedding cakes) are being un-Christian. The accusation is that people who make such decisions in the name of their faith are going against the teachings of Jesus.
It can be an effective argument. Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example in love. Christians are commanded not to judge others. Are those who refuse, on religious grounds, to bake wedding cakes for same-sex marriages hypocrites?
Many memes I have seen along these lines have the same basic message. Jesus ate with sinners; and you won’t even sell them a cake. Ouch. That can cut to the heart, especially if we are refusing to bake that wedding cake out of hatred or fear of association with people we deem to be unclean, like modern day lepers. And no doubt many people feel this way about homosexual couples. But is that necessarily the case?
Again, as I mentioned in the last two posts I made on this topic, there are important distinctions many are missing. There is a fundamental difference between associating with sinners and participating in their sin. Jesus associated with known sinners. Jesus never participated in their sin. Christ dined with prostitutes and tax collectors (who were viewed as little more than government-sanctioned thieves). Christ did not support or encourage them in their prostitution or thievery. Jesus associated with sinners in order to lift them out of their sin, not affirm them in it.
Consider the encounter between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11). The people were preparing to stone her for her sin. Jesus poignantly said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” The people walked away, because none of them were prideful enough to claim to be without sin. The message is that it is hypocritical of us to condemn a sinner because we are sinners ourselves. But the story does not end there. Jesus also does not condemn the woman but instructs her, “Go, and sin no more.” Christ forgives her in order to free her from her sins, not to allow her to continue sinning. Jesus’ message to the same-sex couple is the same: “Go, and sin no more.” (By the way, He has that same message for you and me).
Is the baker who refuses to make the wedding cake like the crowd wanting to stone the adulterous woman? Again, an important distinction needs to be made between condemning someone for their sin and choosing not to involve ourselves in their sin. Our faith teaches us not to judge others (Mt 7:1). But we are required to judge actions — chiefly our own actions. We are expected to do good and not evil. That’s what the Ten Commandments are all about. We are called to foster virtue and avoid vice. It is sinful for us to engage in immoral actions, and doubly sinful for us to lead others into sinful actions. A baker can refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage because he does not wish to involve himself in a sinful action. By so doing the baker is judging his own actions and making a decision about what is right or wrong for him to do. Now he may also be judging the same-sex couple in his heart, and that would be wrong. But we have no way of knowing that. To assume that the baker has hateful intentions would mean we ourselves are guilty of judging others.
One cartoon I recently came across showed an overweight man in line at a fast food restaurant. The young man behind the register is refusing to serve him because gluttony is a sin. The message is clear: if we say it is OK to refuse service to someone because we think they are sinning, where do we draw the line? This argument will no doubt convince a lot of people who do not make the distinction between associating with the sinner and participating in the sin. The cashier in the cartoon is being hypocritical because he, himself, is a sinner. But there is a difference between refusing to sell a cake to a same-sex couple because we think they are sinning, and declining to design and create a special cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding. There is a difference between a cake and a wedding cake, just like there is a difference between a dress and a wedding dress. The latter is specially meant to celebrate and honor the occasion. If we understand it to be an occasion of sin, we should be free not to involve ourselves in it.
So what would Jesus do? Jesus was a carpenter, not a baker. Would Jesus have made a table or a stool for a man who worshiped Baal? No doubt he would. Would Jesus have carved an altar to be used in making ritual sacrifices to the false God? Can anyone even imagine Him doing so? The question answers itself.
If we stop associating altogether with anyone we think is living a sinful lifestyle, then we are being judgmental and hypocritical. A just society must be able to tolerate sinners to a certain degree because we are all sinners. All of us fall; all of us need forgiveness. But a just society must also allow each individual to follow his or her conscience and not force anyone to engage in a sinful act or participate in the sinful action of another.