The world is a confusing place to live. It’s hard to be a Christian, not just because following Jesus requires a transformation of the heart, but because the life Jesus calls us to live is founded upon values that seem upside down in our world. In our world it is hard to see how the poor are blessed. Being a peacemaker seems to bring more conflict. Doing good to your enemies seems so naive that we constantly try and figure out when not to, or when to stop loving them. Living out the ethics of Jesus is difficult. And it is time to admit that things are not as black and white as we would like them to be.
Which makes the current conversation about the Arizona law and a businesses right to selectively serve patrons based on sexual orientation difficult.
If I’m honest, I really struggle with this issue: as a pastor, as a Jesus follower, and as an American.
Each of those identities harbor their own tension, and when you combine them (because in America our politics and our religion are more entwined than we like to admit), it is downright difficult. Especially in our current context of polarizing voices and lack of dialogue. This is an issue that has few middle ground voices. The loudest voices are people who are extremely supportive of the bill in Arizona and against same-sex marriage, or equally loud and supportive of same-sex marriage. Personally, I feel trapped in a somewhere-in-the-middle position, and with the loud voices on either side, afraid to say anything because I will get caught in the crossfire of both sides.
But maybe there are many who share my position and need a safe voice to dialogue with; and so let me be a voice whispering into the fray.
If I were a baker, and two men came into my bakery asking for a cake to celebrate their wedding, I would probably bake it. I would not feel that I was being complicit in their sin, or enabling them to commit a sin. Some people may, but it would not rest on my conscience. Regardless of one’s conscience on this issue, one has to admit that we can’t know what every cake is being used for, and along the way we may have sold a cake to a guy who then took it to his mistress for her birthday. Acting as the morality police to ensure every cake is being used in a way that does not compromise Christian morality is exhausting and impossible.
If friends of mine who were gay decided to get married and have a party, I would probably go and celebrate with them. Not because I support their lifestyle, but because they are my friends and I would want to celebrate their joy and I support them as people.
But, and here’s where it gets sticky, if they asked me to officiate the wedding, I would have to say “no.” I do not believe that same-sex marriage is a part of God’s intended design. I believe marriage is a covenantal relationship intended for a man and woman. On the basis of religious conviction I would not perform a marriage ceremony.
Which then leads me to, “If I wouldn’t officiate the ceremony, why would I celebrate or bake a cake? Isn’t that hypocritical?”
Honestly? I don’t know. Maybe it is, but when I pray and think and check my spirit, this where I land. I could not officiate the wedding.
I know many will jump as say, “How can you say that and say that bakers should bake the cake?” For me, and I believe this deeply, there is a vast difference between providing goods and services and presiding over a religious ceremony that is covenantal in nature. I really don’t have profound arguments to expand on that, so I will leave it at that.
Many of the current issues, like same-sex marriage, are so overly politicized that the pastoral questions at hand get lost in the conversation about what laws should be enacted. Which I hate. For the most part I am theologically conservative and pastorally progressive. This makes it difficult to talk about the pastoral implications of friendship, celebration, sin, loving broken people, supporting without condoning, and all the other issues that are not as black and white as we would like them to be. The minute you start talking about those issues and trying to nuance it, follow the spirit, raise questions, and dialogue you get lumped in with some political agenda.
“So you’d bake the cake and think that might be the Christian thing to do? Why do you hate marriage?” Seriously, that kind of faux conversation is what is frustrating a large, moderate group in America who are desperate for honest dialogue to enable us to ethically navigate our way through the current cultural context while holding to religious beliefs. But when we are treated like straw men rather than an actual person, we just remain silent because that fight is exhausting.
But these are actual people. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, LGBT are real people who deserve real conversation. They deserve more than our silence.
So I’d bake a cake. I’d celebrate with them. I wouldn’t officiate. And I don’t know if that means I’m trying to avoid a hard decision either way, but I just can’t shake the feeling that the whole thing is more grey than we like think.
I’m hoping there are a few like me who are looking for good conversation. Who are interested in figuring out how to love our neighbors well, follow Jesus, and not feel like it is dangerous to do so.
In hopes of that, I’m starting this conversation.