“Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can.”
Well, not so fast, actually.
What is that distant thunder we hear in the heartland of America?
It is the collective voice of conscience. It is the cry of faith.
It is the bugle blast of courage.
The State of Indiana set off a firestorm of controversy in recent weeks when its legislature passed – and its governor signed – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Christians who supported it drew a line in the cultural sand of our new morality and said, “No further.” It would now be illegal to force any person to deny his or her religious beliefs.
That declaration was met by other cries:
“Bigotry!” “Discrimination!” “Jim Crow!” “Intolerance!”
People were getting hoarse.
The new law was over-broad, flawed in its wording, awkwardly explained and often sheepishly defended. Corporate interests, fearing the vindictive wrath of an articulate and wealthy constituency, lined up to threaten Indiana’s political leadership (ironically Republican) with economic sanctions were the law not immediately repealed or, in the nomenclature de jure, “fixed.”
We’ve seen all this before.
Homosexual activists and their liberal allies invoke the weary shibboleth of racist comparisons. Business cowers and politicians either grandstand or temporize, depending. And the envelope is once again pushed forward, a victory for the forces of correctness.
But this time may have signaled a difference.
Despite its legal weaknesses, Indiana’s new law was as morally sound as a dollar. In seeking to protect the sincerely-held religious convictions of all its citizens, the law sought to balance the need to prohibit discrimination with the need to guard an inviolate constitutional right.
One wouldn’t have concluded much thoughtful nuance from the hyperventilated debate, but the reality is that this issue is about competing and yet equally valid rights and protections.
Discrimination is wrong.
Religious freedom is sacred.
Most Americans agree with both these propositions.
The government’s job is to balance these interests when they come into conflict.
The Christian’s duty is to place obedience to God above allegiance to the state.
While refusal to serve gay people at a place of public accommodation – a restaurant for example – was the unsavory and unrealistic illustration invariably cited by the law’s opponents, the protections sought were of a quite different nature.
If a baker who is a Christian is asked to bake a cake for a gay wedding and he is religiously opposed to homosexuality, as most Christians are and will remain, is he being asked to deny his faith by participating in the wedding? Would he be disobeying his conscience before God if he joined in an activity which he believes is sin? The same may be asked of a Christian florist.
Should civil authority force him to do this? Should the law have the right to punish him if he refuses? With anti – religion and especially anti-Christian sentiment growing, these questions will become increasing relevant and paramount.
This concern is the result of the legal triumph of gay marriage. It prompted the Indiana law.
The state will need to decide. And so will the church.
So too will the individual believer.
Where will the line be drawn? Where should it be drawn?
And in a sea change of morality, what will come next?
Will the law and the courts now be used to force people to forsake their moral convictions – to coerce under threat an approval of behavior against conscience itself? Could churches eventually be targeted? In Houston, led by a lesbian mayor, they already have been.
This is not “live and let live.” This is becoming, “renounce your beliefs or else.”
Followers of Christ must continue to display respect and charity toward all people.
No thoughtful Christian believes we should return to the days when homosexuality was illegal. Nor do most believe a gay citizen should lose his or her job because of sexual orientation or be refused public accommodations or service. In this sense, we have, as a society, advanced along the course of a reasonable justice. Christians in this country have accepted gay people as fellow citizens entitled to the equal protections of the law.
In the Old Testament book that bears his name, Daniel, living in captive exile in a land that rejected his Jewish faith, offered the king an accommodation on the rule about the food he and the other captives could legally eat. Let them eat as they wished and then see who was more physically fit at the end of ten days (Daniel1). Daniel prevailed and he and the other young men passed the test.
In making this offer, Daniel displayed both discernment and decisiveness; diplomacy but also determination. He showed respect to the authorities without compromising his righteousness.
But later, when the law insisted that the king alone be worshiped over God, Daniel refused to bow to anyone except the Lord who reigned supreme over all civil authority. He knew the price for his unwavering loyalty. He was willing to pay it.
Christians must remain conscientious objectors to all sin, whether in the guise of “rights” or not.
“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31, NLT).
Even if it’s baking a cake – or not.
May God bless you and your family.