Across The Divide

Recently the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. As I’ve read a few articles across the political spectrum it seems clear to me that this decision is not definitive regarding issues related to Freedom of Religion and LGBT rights. Instead, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of this particular man and the particular circumstances surrounding his decision, as well as decisions made in the lower court. There are still a number of battles before us that will hopefully force our nation to think deeply about a whole host of interrelated issues.

In reading these articles, I was reminded of similar case wherein a lady baker was sued by a gay couple for likewise refusing to do their wedding cake. In that instance this lady had an ongoing relationship with the couple, and made them cakes for various occasions, but she could not in good conscience do their wedding cake because of her religious convictions regarding the nature of marriage. In that instance, it seemed to me that this lady did not have animus toward the couple, was genuinely friends with them, or at lest genuinely friendly, and was willing to affirm them as individuals, having made cakes for birthdays and other events that celebrated accomplishments. However, her affirmation fell short of contributing to their wedding, which for many Christians is a religious rite, even a sacrament. It seemed to me that this lady embodied a gospel tension in that she apparently had a genuine relationship with the couple, affirmed them as persons, but she did not affirm their understanding of marriage, nor did she affirm their identity as centrally and primarily determined by their same-sex orientation. As I look at this lady’s case I see an example about how we might process this issue of prejudice and civil rights.

If this lady had refused service to this couple merely because they were gay, it would seem quite clear that this lady is violating civil rights and thus civil action against her is warranted. However, this lady did not refuse such service. Instead, she specifically refused to make a cake for their wedding for although she did not reject them as persons, she does reject their understanding of the nature of marriage. Of course, one could argue that her response is a form of prejudice, but likewise, one could argue that her response is not about refusing to acknowledge the full personhood of another, but rather about how certain institutions in our culture are shaped and defined. As I indicated above, how we understand her response is going to be determined by underlying presuppositions that rarely surface in our cultural debate about this matter.

I presented the above lady’s actions as exemplary, as well as a case that can help us draw a line between civil rights abuse and free exercise of religion. Of course my assessment of this lady’s case is shaped by a set of presuppositions that a number of my readers don’t subscribe to. I make this point, because as I have mulled over this issue, and what the recent Supreme Court decision indicates, it seems to me that we, as a nation, are going to have to engage in some serious thinking about the following issues: the nature of persons, the nature of sexuality, the foundation of human dignity, and the nature of rights and how seemingly competing rights can be coordinated for the ordering of society. In this thinking endeavor, we are going to have to likewise address the nature of legitimate authority as this hits upon what sources we can draw upon to answer questions related to the different areas of inquiry I just mentioned. And guess what, the issue of legitimate authority is foundational and presuppositional. It is deep, in fact all of this is deep and complex, and it doesn’t readily lend itself to being processed through media soundbites, social media memes, and the limited format of the evening news. Yes, there are people across the spectrum who are thinking deeply, and with appropriate complexity, but I don’t think they dominate our culture’s discourse about this issue.

Of course, we can always just continue on our current general course of flattening what is deep, narrowing what is wide, creating a caricature of our interlocutors, and slinging sh*t across the divide.

One Response to “Across The Divide”

  1. Simon  

    I’d be interested in knowing the outcome of the case you mentioned (where the lady was already known to the couple).

    As you know from our past conversations, I feel that we should perhaps look at marriage in a broader social construct insomuch as it’s not merely an exclusively Christian undertaking, but one that sits within the wider framework of modern society.

    If the couple involved were Christian does this change anything? Should it? One could argue that if they were then perhaps their union should be looked at through a more Christian lens (even then I’m not sure about this). People from across all cultures and religions have been getting married in a ceremony of their commitment to one another for a very long time, and therefore while it could be argued that marriage has its roots in religion, it’s surely not unfair to suggest that it has branched out beyond that meaning for many.

    I wonder. If the lady who refused to bake the cake would have done the same if a polygamist had asked her to make one to celebrate him taking a second wife, something that was common and legal in biblical times.

    Do those who object to gay people getting married have any obligation to think about how marriage itself has changed from its transactional roots in alliances, business, and ownership, to its modern dynamic of love and romance?

    I’m not sure, but does the bible have a similar strict outline for parenting that would then lead us to conclude that gay people should not be allowed to adopt but instead leave those children in whatever perilous positions they’re in?

    If marriage had not moved far beyond its religious beginnings and was perhaps viewed in the same way as the communion ceremony is, then I could understand it being protected in religious terms. However, it seems clear to me that secular society, for whatever reason, has embraced marriage and therefore because the church did not object to non-Christians getting married, it’s standing on shaky ground when it seeks to define marriage in purely religious terms.