The Supreme Court recently listened to oral arguments on the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. As someone who has friends on both the Left and the Right, my social media feed blew up: Conservatives accused progressives of anti-Christian bullying; Progressives accused conservatives of bigotry. In my personal experience, I don’t find either caricature accurate, although I’ve certainly witnessed my fair share of homophobia and bullying in political discourse.
Instead of reflecting on the legal question of religious liberty, I wanted to ask a different question: Can a Christian hold to a traditional sexual ethic (that marriage is between one man and one woman; sex is reserved for that union alone), yet also bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple? I take the position that they can.
A few caveats: I’m not arguing for the traditional sexual ethic in this post. If you hold to a liberal sexual ethic (Marriage is between two people of any gender), then most of this post will be lost on you. I’m also not taking any legal position on refusal of service in this reflection. One can believe that legally, bakers can refuse service, while also believing that morally, that people should say yes to providing the service.
I don’t claim to know all the answers for each Christian church and individual. I am wrong about plenty of things, and this might be one of them.
It’s possible to take disagreement seriously on matters of theology, morality, and doctrine, while acknowledging Truth when we see it. For example, an acquaintance was recently baptized in a non-denominational church. Her church does not believe in baptismal regeneration (i.e. baptism has a real effect on your salvation by absolving sin and conferring grace). Rather, her church holds to a belief that baptism is a public ceremony for the local church that symbolically highlights personal commitment to Christ and the reality that He washes away our sins.
As someone who belongs to a Christian tradition that believes in infant baptism and baptismal regeneration, this makes me very uncomfortable. In my view, baptism is the basis of Christian spiritual life. However, that didn’t stop me from noticing my acquaintance’s personal commitment to Christ and sending her a nice note that said “congratulations”. I’m not signing on to her baptismal theology by signing the congratulatory note.
We can draw a similar parallel for Christians who believe in a traditional sexual ethic. To what aspects of same-sex marriage does the traditional sexual ethic object? It objects to calling a same-sex union “marriage” and it objects to sexual arousal/intercourse between those of the same-sex. The sin is not in two people of the same-sex living together, sharing life together, loving each other, and committing care for one another in sickness and in health. Baking a cake can celebrate the act of commitment between the same-sex just as my congratulatory note celebrated my friend’s commitment to Christ. It does not mean I’m approving of deviation from correct theology in either case.
There are fears from Christians that if they were to bake a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding, then it might be perceived as them “supporting a sinful lifestyle”. I’ve discussed why language about LGBT lifestyles is confusing and unclear. Every person and relationship (marital or non-marital) contains sin. Like everyone else, LGBT people have a mix of sin and virtue in their lives. No relationship is 100% wicked or 100% saintly.
If I’m able to overlook the errors in other Christians’ baptismal theology, then conservative Christians can overlook the errors in same-sex couples’ marriage theology. We do this all the time with straight people without thinking twice:
- We tell married friends congratulations on their anniversaries, even though we acknowledge that they sin privately and publicly against one another.
- We send cards for our nieces’ and nephews’ First Communions, even if their church’s eucharistic theology is theologically erroneous.
- We feed an excess of food to people on special occasions, even if we know that some of them in our midst have a gluttony problem.
It’s possible to hold tightly to our theology while embracing the aspects of beauty and goodness where we can find it. Baking a cake for a same-sex couple doesn’t mean you’re endorsing what you assume is going on in their bedroom (Why are you even thinking about that?) or that you support calling their relationship a “marriage”. Just as me telling my friend “Congratulations!” on her baptism wasn’t an endorsement of her church’s view of baptism, neither is baking a wedding cake for a same-sex couple an endorsement of their view on marriage.
No matter what the Supreme Court decides, I hope Christians can focus less on what they can legally say “no” to, and find more ways to say “yes” in loving their LGBT neighbor.