CHRISTIAN LIVING | Tess Holgate
Friday 1 May 2015
When two conservative states in the US passed religious freedom legislation, they got hit with a massive backlash. The laws passed in Arkansas and Indiana, which attempted to allow businesses to not serve gay customers, have been labelled “anti-gay” and watered down after pressure from big business (Apple, Wal-Mart) and lobbyists.
The most cited case study in this debate is whether a Christian baker should be forced to bake a cake for a gay wedding.
Christian bakers in North America and the United Kingdom are being taken to court over their refusal to bake and decorate a cake for a gay wedding, being accused of discriminating against the client on the basis of their sexuality.
In Australia we are not in the same position. Currently, gay marriage is not legal in Australia, so our own national conversation about religious freedom is centred elsewhere.
Nevertheless, watching the legal battle play out on the global stage forces a little introspection upon us. We ask ourselves, “What would we do?”
At Eternity, we polled a number of Australian Christians on their response to this question: “If gay marriage was legal in Australia, and if you were a baker, would you bake a cake for a gay wedding if asked by the couple in question?”
We have not asked people about whether or not Australia should legalise gay marriage. Rather, we have sought to ask what Christians would do if they found themselves in the situation that is unfolding at present in the US and UK.
Of those who responded, thirteen said yes. Only four said no. Here is a selection of the answers we received.
Andrew Cameron (Director, St Mark’s Theological Centre, Canberra)
My initial impulse was not to bake the cake, for the same reason as I’d not perform the ceremony. No real surprises: I hold to the usual conservative argument that we receive marriage in recognition of different genders coming together to be open to welcoming new life. Every social drift from this practice lessens us, and there might be other kinds of pairings (like, say, a man onto his eighth marriage) that I’d abstain from assisting.
But my saying that isn’t the same thing as being a baker in the gay couple’s street. A baker is differently embedded into a community, and isn’t charged to say tough things in fraught fights about whose love gets the recognition we call “marriage”. A baker might have to greet and serve these people in the years following this ceremony, and feed any children they adopt. A Christian baker loves gay neighbors, by serving good bread.
So maybe I’d ask if they’d consider hearing me out, over a coffee and a cinnamon bun, as to why I’d find it hard. But if they just didn’t get it, and only knew how to be angry at my reasoning, I may well go ahead and bake the cake.
If, however, the law presumed to give me no choice or say in the matter, then that’s a whole other story. I hope I’d be brave enough never to bake for any authoritarian cause, including clumsy attempts by the State to enforce social harmony and silence honest disagreement.
Kara Martin (Associate Dean, Marketplace Institute, Melbourne)
Would you only bake cakes for virgin men and women getting married? Would you not bake cakes for people who are greedy? Why don’t we turn this around? After all, Jesus hung out with sinners and prostitutes, and Paul made tents in the marketplace. We have such a hard time attracting people to our churches, why don’t we use such workplaces as the frontlines to initiate conversations, develop relationships, to demonstrate love and grace without compromising our own values? We do not have to apologise for our faith, or the values we live by, but give people a glimpse of what the resurrected life looks like.
Anthony Venn-Brown (Gay Rights Ambassador)
Even if gay marriage wasn’t legalised I would still bake the cake for the couple should they be having a self styled commitment ceremony. Like any straight couple on that special day, the gay couple loves each other and are making a commitment to each other for life. Why would I not wish them every blessing and success in life together?
Mike Bird (Theology Lecturer, Melbourne)
Yes, I would bake one. If you are going to live in a secular and diverse society you have to be able to get along with other people even if you don’t agree with their lifestyle. If you want to live in a Christian bubble and only work with and serve Christians, fine. But you can’t work in the world and then complain that people are worldly. I think it is hypocritical for Christians to bake cakes for co-habiting couples, divorce parties, a Hindu wedding, but refuse to bake for a gay wedding, since it implies that their sin somehow justifies making them pariahs. I very much doubt that the Apostle Paul, an itinerant tent maker, would refuse to make tents for people if he knew that those tents were going to be used for religious and ethical activities that he disagreed with.
Michael Jensen (Rector, St Mark’s Darling Point, Sydney)
As I understand it, the cake-related controversies have been direct and deliberate targeting by same-sex marriage groups with the aim of creating a situation in which they will look like the victims of discrimination. I don’t want to step back from supporting those bakers who have been trapped and then bullied to go against their consciences on this.
In ordinary circumstances, however, I think I would make the cake, much as I would disagree with its use. My job is to make the cake to the order of the customer. I am not officiating at the wedding. I am not called upon, in the making of cakes, to make statements about whether I think the purpose to which the cake is to be put is a valid one or not. If that were the case, then to be consistent, a cake-maker should inquire as to the validity and wisdom of any and all weddings for which he or she is invited to make a cake. Perhaps He is a well-known philanderer, and She is marrying him despite his intention never to give up womanizing. Perhaps a scrupulous cake maker shouldn’t make thatcake, either. And since we are being scrupulous about who we are doing business with: were the ingredients of the cake made by happy cows, and justly paid farmers? Was the chocolate fair trade? It isn’t wrong to consider the ethical implications of what we do with our work, our investments, and our consumer choices, but it is important not to single out a specific issue for special ethical purity, and be blind to the demands of others.
Shane Rogerson (Minister, St. Matt’s Prahran, Melbourne)
Yes I would bake a cake for my gay neighbour whom I am called to love and serve. I would also build roads for her to drive on, collect his rubbish, treat her cancer, and sell him goods and financial services just like I would my greedy heterosexual neighbour who regularly denies his workers their wages and dodges taxes.
I would not be able to call their marriage it holy, but last time I checked that wasn’t a baker’s job! Bakers should stick to the business of baking cakes and loving their neighbour with all their idolatries.
Ben Myers (Lecturer, United Theological College)
Yes. Christian bakers can and should have their own moral convictions, but they shouldn’t try to enforce these on the public. Otherwise, to be consistent, they would have to start refusing their services to all kinds of customers. Before long you would have to fill out a theological questionnaire before you would be allowed to buy a loaf of bread. Christians should engage with society not in narrow fault-finding spirit, but in the joyous and generous spirit of the gospel. After all, the kingdom of God isn’t a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).
Claire Smith (Author)
I would say ‘no’. I understand the sticking point in the cases in the US and UK has not been baking the cake, per se (flour, eggs, etc) but decorating the cake, which involves a creative activity of celebrating the marriage and relationship. It is this creative celebration that would be my sticking point too. There would be other cakes that I would also choose not to decorate, for example, if a buck’s party wanted a lewd image of a woman. I’m not sure there is necessarily a right and wrong answer to this question, and even then, it might come down to particular circumstances – even, for example, the type of decoration the couple wanted.
Karl Faase (CEO, Olive Tree Media)
No, I would not bake the cake. The problem in the current combative culture of the west is that the gay lobby has an agenda in approaching service providers. They are not seeking a service or a product but rather they have the motivation of entrapment. Many in the gay lobby are trying to make “examples” of people who refuse them service due to what they believe are bigoted and intolerant worldviews. In this environment it is more than reasonable to make a stand on your personal values to refuse to endorse a concept or moral position (gay marriage) that runs contrary to your deeply held religious or Biblical views.
Everyone in our community has the right to their beliefs, it is important that a Christian world view which underpins personal values are just as valid as someone with a strongly held liberal view of sexual expression. In a free country, with freedom of religion and belief, it is as reasonable to refuse service to a gathering that you passionately disagree with as it is for a doctor to refuse to carry out an abortion or a website hosting company to refuse to host pornographic sites or for a vegan restaurant to refuse to cater for the local butchers picnic.
The refusal to provide the service of baking the cake for the gay wedding is a statement that all people ought to be free to chose how and when their services and skills are made available to another individual or group. If the provider feels that giving a service is in effect legitimising behaviour they strongly oppose then refusing the service is a reasonable expression of free speech.
Lyle Shelton (National Director, Australian Christian Lobby)
I would respectfully decline. Professionally aiding the celebration of a gay wedding would mean setting aside Biblical teaching on marriage and endorsing a sexual union contrary to God’s specific instructions. It also means abandoning Biblical teaching on the nature of what it means to be human creatures made male and female in the image of God. From a social justice perspective, it means endorsing a family structure which deliberately requires a voiceless child to miss out on their mother or father.
David Ould (Minister, Glenquarrie Anglican Church)
No – I don’t want to participate in such a clear public approval of something I think is wrong and harmful. I’d be happy to provide any other cakes for general use. Mind you, I wouldn’t expect a gay baker to provide something against their conscience either. These basic freedoms are important for our whole society and if they’re eroded then we’re in a very dangerous place. And, of course, the freedom to express our opinions and act according to conscience is ultimately the freedom to tell people about Jesus and for them to respond.