A Christian Case for Gay Wedding Cakes – REVISITED

Back in December I wrote “A Christian Case for Gay Wedding Cakes.” Little did I know that laws proposed in both Kansas and Arizona would make the issue of gay rights versus religious liberty ground zero of the culture war. Many conservative Christians have come to believe that business owners should have the right to deny products or services to those they disagree with based on religious convictions. (Thankfully the poorly conceived and written Arizona law was vetoed by the state’s governor.)

Amid the flurry of tweets, posts, and articles for and against these laws, my piece about the Colorado wedding cake ruling has gotten caught up in the whirlwind. Unfortunately some have either misunderstood or misconstrued my position. I’ve been accused of throwing my Christian brothers and sisters “under the bus” and pledging allegiance to Caesar rather than Christ. Someone even tweeted that I’m a Judas willing to handover Christians for execution. Ouch.

I’ve decided not to respond to these mischaracterizations of my views because one must consider the source. That changed yesterday when I was mentioned on the Breakpoint radio program by my friend, John Stonestreet. I respect John greatly, so when I heard my view similarly misrepresented on his broadcast I was alarmed. Clearly my original article left room for misunderstanding. I take responsibility for that and will seek to clarify matters here.

Our soundbite culture wants to reduce these very complicated legal, ethical, and moral questions to a simple yes or no, pro or con. My refusal to conform to that expectation puts me at a higher risk of being misunderstood. Still, as Christian leaders we owe the church and our LGBT neighbors careful reporting and thoughtful deliberation on these matters. Too much is at stake. Christians should be leading the effort to think lovingly and wisely about the questions our society is facing rather than adding to the confusion, conjecture, and fear. With that in mind, I appreciate your willingness to take the time to read this follow-up post.

Issue 1: There is a difference between freedom of speech and non-discrimination.

Yesterday I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant for lunch. I really wanted panang curry but, surprise, it wasn’t on the menu because Thai food isn’t often served at Mexican restaurants. What if I tried to order curry anyway? The server might have said, “I’m sorry, sir, we don’t serve curry.” Would I have been justified in suing the restaurant owner for discriminating against me for liking Thai food? Of course not.

A restaurant owner is free to decide what food she makes and does not make. This is a case of free expression. Similarly, a Jewish singer cannot be required to sing a Christian aria. A Muslim actor cannot be forced to accept a part in a film that denigrates Muhammad. A painter cannot be required to paint a portrait of Donald Trump. And a Christian baker cannot be required to make a rainbow cake adorned with two grooms.

In John Stonestreet’s Breakpoint commentary yesterday he said:

“If [a Christian baker] refused to serve a gay person a cupcake, he’s sinning. However, that’s not the same as baking a rainbow cake to celebrate gay marriage. It just isn’t.”

I absolutely agree with John. The government cannot and should not force a baker to create a rainbow cake, or any cake, he doesn’t want to make. This would be a violation of his First Amendment freedom of expression. And yet the Breakpoint article incorrectly said, “Jethani concludes that any religious objections to doing business are illegitimate.” I made no such statement in my previous article and do not know how this conclusion was reached by John Stonestreet. I do not believe anyone should be required by the government to create, produce, or say anything that violates their conscience or religious beliefs. Period.

In the Colorado cake maker case the judge ruled that Mr. Phillips’ freedom of speech rights were not violated because the cake he was asked to make did not include text supporting gay marriage. In other words, the ruling did not say he had to make whatever cake a customer requests. If a customer asks him to bake a rainbow cake with two grooms and icing that says “Hooray For Gay Marriage,” the baker still retains every legal right to say, “No, I don’t make that kind of cake.” And I believe his freedom of speech, like that of all Americans, must be protected.

This is a matter of free speech, not religious liberty.

The court simply ruled that the baker could not refuse to make and sell a cake to a same sex couple that he would make and sell to an opposite sex couple. Or, put more simply, the baker may discriminate when it comes to what kind of cakes he will make, but may not discriminate when it comes to who he will sell his cakes to. The Mexican restaurant can refuse to sell me curry, but it cannot refuse to sell me tacos because I am bald even if the owner is a devout Hairy Ballerina and believes baldness is a sin. I trust you can see the difference.

In addition, the court said baking a cake is not the same as participating in the wedding ceremony. I agree. This is why I wrote my previous article and gave a theological and biblical justification for the distinction between serving a neighbor and affirming the neighbor’s beliefs or behaviors. No where in my previous article did I state that Mr. Phillips should be required to bake whatever kind of cake the gay couple requested. Unfortunately that’s what some have incorrectly assumed I believe.

Issue 2: Photographing a wedding is not the same as baking a cake.

Recognizing the difference between free speech and non-discrimination becomes critical when we consider other pending court cases. For example, later this month the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of the New Mexico wedding photographer who refused to shoot a same sex ceremony. Unlike the Colorado cake maker, the photographer’s attorneys have a much stronger case that photographing a same sex wedding is a form of expression that inherently affirms gay marriage. A baker can make a wedding cake that does not explicitly affirm gay weddings. However, a wedding photographer cannot photograph a gay wedding without a gay couple. Photography is protected under free speech laws. The photographer’s attorneys are arguing that the government cannot and should not force her to create art she disagrees with–including photos that celebrate a same sex wedding. In this case I completely agree with the Christian photographer and I trust the court will rule in her favor.

In addition, unlike baking a cake, photographing a wedding requires attending and actively participating in the ceremony. The government should not require a Jewish singer to attend my wedding and sing a Christian hymn. I do not believe the government should require a Muslim florist to attend a Hindu wedding and create flower arrangements around an idol of Ganesh. I do not believe the government should tell any citizen that they have to attend or participate in any ceremony contrary to their religious beliefs or create any art that violates their conscience.

Again, the Breakpoint article stating, “Jethani concludes that any religious objections to doing business are illegitimate,” is absolutely incorrect.




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17 Comments

  • March 5, 2014

    Wayne Stocks

    I’ll have to check my Bible, but I’m pretty sure Judas didn’t hand over any Christians…just sayin’ 🙂

    Nice article and well articulated position.

  • March 5, 2014

    John Stonestreet

    Skye,

    You are correct that the statement you quoted twice doesn’t accurately describe your views, especially as you clarified them here. I am happy to retract that line, and apologize for making such a broad, sweeping generalization. Thank you for pointing that out.

    I think that Mr. Phillips on Masterpiece Bakery would see his job much in the same way as the photographer sees theirs, as participation. And, since a NM judge ruled against the photographer already, and another judge wrote incredibly dangerous language in his concurring opinion (Bosson), I don’t see Huegenin getting off the hook either. But, like you, I hope that a court eventually will rule in her favor.

    Where I think your analogy in “issue 1” fails is that most wedding cakes are custom orders, as was this one, which implies more involvement than typical orders. I don’t see the real difference between baking a cake with rainbow icing, as was requested, and baking a cake with rainbow icing, two grooms on top, and writing endorsing SSM. Certainly the cake in your example is more of an explicit endorsement of SSM, but it’s pretty clear that the rainbow is understood as a form of speech in certain settings, and it’s not selected for a same-sex wedding ceremony for flavor purposes. The difference between the actual and the hypothetical seems to be more of a difference in style than substance. The cupcakes Phillips did offer to serve the couple seem to me to be closer to the tacos of this story, not the custom wedding cake.

    Maybe Phillips could have offered a standard cake instead of refusing the business. I’m happy to allow other Christian bakers to come to a different decision. Either way, I would much rather leave it to their conscience than to a judge’s.

    Thanks Skye. These are all the sort of discussions needed to help us get around the hyped-up language which, in the case of the statement that you quoted from my commentary, I was guilty of. I hope the rest of the commentary can still be useful to provide clarity.

    John

  • March 5, 2014

    John Albrektson

    Well said, Sky. I find it inexplicable that your very well-reasoned article in December was so widely misunderstood and suspect that you were the victim of a modern form of the “telephone game.”

  • March 5, 2014

    Phil

    Skye, I appreciate your calm rational discussion, and found the example of Naman instructive – I hadn’t considered that before and it is challenging my perspective and understanding.
    I disagree with you that baking a custom cake for an event is not participating in that event. I think it is. Buying a cake “off the shelf” is not participating.
    I agree that blanket permission to deny service to people based on religious convictions is open to wide abuse. I have been distinguishing between serving an event and a person. (I’m ignoring the legal questions: IANAL). I can’t deny serving a person, but serving at an event that goes against my moral sensibilities seems troublesome. Are there times when you think it would be right to refuse service? Assuming the event is legal – say, catering a lunch at the nudist church or some group’s orgy. (yes, I’m making these up, and they aren’t likely to actually happen) Or, say a nurse works for a temp agency that sends them to different medical facilities and he/she gets sent to an abortion doctor’s office and they want her to participate? (Again, I made that up, and don’t think it would happen, but I’m trying to understand your position).
    I’ve listened to the latest podcast and read the articles, and it seems like you stop short of answering the questions in my head (I’m bald too, can’t you read my mind? :-).
    Is it that providing a service to an event is not participating?
    Those opposed seem to be distinguishing providing goods/services for an event (ok to refuse) and providing them for a person (not ok), while those in favor don’t distinguish.
    How do Paul’s comments about eating meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8?) relate to this situation?
    And clearly, if we are to provide these services, we must do the best job we can (Col 3:23).
    Thanks!

  • March 5, 2014

    Ross

    Does the owner of any establishment have the right to refuse service to whomever they please? Why does there need to be a reason given to refuse service? – There are plenty of other service providers. Right or wrong I think the owner should have that power, but that is where I tend to lean politically, but not my theological convictions. I believe the owner should have the power, but out of LOVE, to decide whether or not to provide the service; there shouldn’t have to be a law to enforce this. The issue, in my opinion, is not theological in nature ; rather it is a political issue wrapped in religious convictions.

    Laws cannot and do not change the heart, God given or otherwise. This whole situation is a great reminder that our morality/ conforming to law/ political ideologies do not and cannot save us. In and of themselves they do not possess the power to change hearts. Only the Good News, the gospel, of Jesus can do that.

  • March 5, 2014

    Phil

    Some wedding cakes are more art than cake. At least, they taste more like art than cake. 🙂

  • […] A Christian Case for Gay Wedding Cakes – Revisited: The court simply ruled that the baker could not refuse to make and sell a cake to a same sex couple that he would make and sell to an opposite sex couple. Or, put more simply, the baker may discriminate when it comes to what kind of cakes he will make, but may not discriminate when it comes to who he will sell his cakes to. (Skye Jethani) […]

  • March 7, 2014

    Micheal

    Wayne,
    I am pretty sure Judas handed over the ultimate Christian, the one whom Christianity is named after…Jesus Christ! Keep checking that Bible though.

  • March 7, 2014

    Rebecca

    Just out of curiosity, do any of these bakers/photographers refuse to shoot couples who have been living together before the marriage or marriages where a divorcee is getting remarried? I’d have a very difficult time upholding their “convictions against their religion” if they regularly provide services for those who are living in fornication.

  • March 7, 2014

    Adam Shields

    I am still a bit uncomfortable with splitting the world into art and non-art vocations.

    But I think Skye’s point is not that bakers aren’t artists, but that the art they are creating is not specifically different for Same sex marriages than it is for heterosexual marriages. That doesn’t deny the ‘artness’ of the baker, but does talk about the type of art that is being created. That being said, photographers, especially wedding photographers have standard shots that they do. So in some ways I think the same argument about bakers can be made about photographers.

    In the end it comes down to whether the art of a photograph is the subject of the photo, or the art of the image. If it is the art of the image, then it would seem that the art is in the taking, not the subjects being taken.

    Another example would be a custom motorcycle shop. The shop does work that can be called art, and it is customizable. But can (or should) the owner deny selling a motorcycle to customer because the customer is gay? The work itself has nothing to do with with the gayness of the customer. But it is art.

    All of this makes me very concerned that in trying to protect ourselves from discrimination we are expanding legal discrimination in a way that will come back and hurt Christians later.

  • March 7, 2014

    Michael

    The reality is beyond the issue at hand. The culture is going to continue to demand ever more of our consciences in pursuits of its goals and ends (celebrate what we celebrate) . Until we will be allowed no conscience at all. The question really becomes at what point do we say this far and no further.

  • March 7, 2014

    David

    I think part of the issue is the distinction between the “gayness” of the customer and the event that the customers is purchasing the product or service for. The articles I’ve read about the photographers, cake bakers, etc. have indicated that the business owners have had no problem providing their service to people that are homosexual as such. The problem is when the business owner knows that his/her service is being used in celebration of something he finds morally wrong. So, if a homosexual wants to buy a birthday cake, no problem. If that same homosexual wants to buy a wedding cake for his wedding to his same-sex partner, that is a different thing.

    I’ve not faced this yet, but I might. I’m a classical musician in a string quartet, and I sometimes play for weddings. Unlike the Jewish singer asked to sing a Christian aria (in Skye’s example), our music, by nature, typically has no overt religious themes; it is almost all classical music. But I can tell you that I would feel very uncomfortable (to put it lightly) and I would be going against my conscience if I were to play for a same-sex wedding ceremony. While my art wouldn’t be any different (same music, etc.), the fact that I was doing it for a same-sex wedding would be a line I could not cross in good conscience.

    Skye, I first heard your comments about the distinction about art on Phil Vischer’s podcast, and I’ve been thinking about it since. I’m curious what your thoughts are about my situation. Would you see that in the same way as the florist asked to create a floral arrangement around an idol? In a real sense, the output my service is no different than what I might do for a heterosexual wedding, but it makes a big difference to me.

  • March 8, 2014

    Phil

    Art/Non-art split: I’m with Adam. Seems a bit arbitrary.

    And I don’t think we can deny based on the person – we are all sinners.

    But serving at the wedding feels like I’m helping them sin. (Or would feel that way if I were employed that way). I think that’s the difference. It’s the *event* not the person. “I don’t do those sorts of events”

  • March 12, 2014

    mark

    I wonder if we would make a better and more effective impact if we spent as much effort promoting the practice of virtue as we do condemning those who practice a vice?

  • December 11, 2014

    Torie Amza

    Hello, I read another of your articles with a similar concept and while I can understand some points in the argument you are making here, I cannot agree with your comparing someone refusing services for a homosexual wedding to refusing services to an interracial couple, or to blacks in general. I’m tired of people constantly comparing being black to being homosexual. A homosexual is identified that way through same sex attraction or lifestyle practices. Being black is not sinful while the practice of homosexuality is. A black person is just black because God truly made us that way. It’s in our genetic makeup and there’s no changing it.

    • December 31, 2014

      Joseph Young

      I was kind of thinking the same thing and I completely agree that the race issue is not an equal comparison to the homosexual issue. We have to ask ourselves, though: Would we be just as supportive of a wedding cake designer who refused to make a cake for a couple who one or both had been previously married and divorced (which is also a sin) or to a young couple who had been living together and sexually active before marriage (again…sin). I think either of those would be a better comparison than race and the premise of the article remains valid.

      • January 13, 2015

        Torie Amza

        My sentiments EXACTLY!