Friday, June 29, 2018

Let Them Bake Cake (4/4): Third Unresolved Question

Part Four will address this unresolved question: Is the argument of those who decline to participate for religious reasons a biblically solid argument? Are they actually complicit in sin by offering material aid to an event which they believe promotes and celebrates a moral ethic to which they are opposed?

I offer my thoughts not as a definitive answer, but as a reflection of where I am on this issue based on a lot of reading I have done and conversations I have had with other Christians who are at times significantly at odds with each other on how to respond. I welcome thoughtful critiques.

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1. I was raised Mennonite, so I was a born into pacifism. I remember asking a trusted mentor once what we do about taxes. Our taxes support the military; how can we pay them in good conscience? His reply: we give to Caesar what is Caesar's (a reference to Matthew 22:21). The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, after stressing the importance of honoring the political authorities in their lives:
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:6-7)
In other words, Caesar will give an answer for what he does with our money. Governmental authority is part of God's plan for order in the world (that's why even Caesar was God's servant) and we are to give to them what we rightly owe them - as long as we don't give to Caesar what we should be giving to God (Matthew 22:21). That's the tricky part, of course. It's not always easy to know what to do when that line gets blurry.

I wonder if it's not worth applying the principle or "giving to authorities what we owe them" here. When Christians offer goods and services in the public sphere, we are playing on Caesar's field. If Caesar will demand taxes revenue, respect and honor - and maybe even a cake - Caesar will answer for what is done with it.

2. Assuming the church in a secular culture is the modern equivalent of Israel in a pagan world, here are a few other observations about how Israel did life with those around them.
  • Ancient Israel did not have a problem doing commerce with nations whose worship and practice was remarkably at odds with theirs. The Queen of Sheba gave  gold, spices and precious stones to Solomon, who reciprocated “out of his royal bounty” (1 Kings 10:10-13).  
  • The eight century Samaria Ostraca reveals that “aged wine” and “fine oil” were delivered near Samaria, which may well reflect "a systemized gift giving by the Israelite king, working to buttress political support through social alliances." Ezekiel records, "Judah and Israel gave [Tyre] their finest wheat, fancy figs, honey, olive oil, and spices in exchange for your merchandise" (Ezekiel 27:17). 
  • When the Hebrews were in Palestine, "Merchants were almost exclusively Canaanites, probably Philistines. Hence, when the goodwife sells her wool (Prov. xxxi. 24) she disposes of it to the Canaanites". 
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia notes, "Solomon was himself a large exporter of wheat and oil, which he paid to Hiram, King of Tyre, for timber and the use of skilled workmen (I Kings v. 25 [Hebr.]; I Kings vii.). He doubtless obtained horses and chariots from Egypt (I Kings x. 28, 29) by similar payments. It is even recorded of Solomon that he sent ships of Tharshish every three years from Ezion-geber to Ophir, whence the fleet brought back gold, silver, iron, apes, and peacocks (I Kings x. 22). Solomon's example evidently led to a general development of trading (I Kings x. 15), but it was not followed up by his successors. Jehoshaphat tried in vain to revive the voyages to Ophir (I Kings xxii. 48), and the Prophets when speaking of merchants identify them with Canaanites or Philistines (Hosea xii. 7; Isaiah xxiii. 11; Zeph. i. 11; compare Job xli. 6)."
Commerce was apparently not an issue at a time when every nation around them worshipped gods that appalled the Jewish people, and at times violently attacked them. (It's worth noting, of course, that none of the commerce recorded shows Israelites making idols or building temples to other gods. That kind of clear promotion of idolatry was wrong.)

Jewish history contains a record of vigorous discussion on how to balance what I will call general vs.  specific commerce. I found this fascinating discussion on jerusalem.stackexchange in response to the question, "May Jews sell wine to Christians for them to use in their religious ceremonies?":
"The Talmud says it's prohibited to sell frankincense in small, retail amounts to pagans that they will use in their pagan worship. However you can sell it in bulk as wholesale, and what the retailer does with it is not your concern. I may not enable a non-Jew to worship idols, but I may enable the enabler. (That's indirect enough.) 
It then tells the story of a rabbi who sold firewood to a pagan temple, and was challenged by a colleague about this. He replied that most firewood consumed by that temple would simply be used to heat the building, not in any pagan ritual.
The Shulchan Aruch quotes this law, and then adds -- "and therefore, don't sell water to a church that will use it for baptisms." We see that generally, the rule of "don't sell pagan supplies" was applied to churches as well (well at least Orthodox and Catholic churches -- Protestants is a different question entirely). (Though there may have been leniencies about this as well.) 
However, it's then observed that there is a very strong opinion that the only problem is enabling when I am the only supplier around. If instead of buying from me, the pagan could buy from some other frankincense supplier, then I'm not truly "enabling", and it would be permissible. 
In todays' markets, it's virtually unheard-of that my refusal to sell a product will actually prevent them from acquiring it from someone else. Hence selling it would be "facilitating", but not "enabling." Most rabbis conclude that "facilitating" is not ideal, but it's allowable. Thus -- as long as there's some other wine they could buy, I'm not prohibited from selling it to them. 
(I once witnessed a Catholic woman enter a candy store and say she needed any sort of candy so long as it was red, it was "for the saints." I asked a rabbi about this -- he said firstly, we don't necessarily know what "for the saints" means; and secondly, we can rely on the opinion that it's allowable if there's some other place in town to buy red candy.)"
There is a lot of tiptoeing going on there, to be sure, but I appreciate the attempt to distinguish between what is allowable (though not demanded) vs. what is prohibited.

3. Paul wrote the to the church in Corinth about how to live with integrity in Corinth. Here is a portion of what he included (1 Corinthians 5:10-13):
I’m not telling you to hole up and hunker down from the rest of the world. That’s impossible. The world is filled with immoral people consumed by their desire for more; they steal from one another without hesitation and will worship man-made idols with no shame at all. If you attempted to avoid these people, you would have to leave the world itself. What I was saying is that you should not associate with someone who calls himself a brother or sister but lives contrary to all we stand for... Why would I ever attempt to judge those outside the church? Aren’t we called to judge those within the church? God judges the outsiders...
Christians aren't called to demand everyone in culture agree with the Bible on every issue before they will do business with them or associate with them. Christians are not to "leave the world" and avoid people outside the church who makes choices Christians believe to be outside of God's plan and design. As Paul writes here and Peter writes elsewhere, a particular standard of moral commitment is raised in the community of the church, among those who have  mutually committed to abiding by the biblical covenant that we freely allow to direct our hearts and hands.

This is not the same as saying Christians shouldn't be engaged with the moral issues our nation faces by advocating for both justice and mercy (immigration, abortion, just economic practices, prison reform, racial equality, human trafficking...the list goes on). The challenge Christians have here is balancing how to simultaneously promote certain policies we believe are just and righteous while honoring and loving everyone around us, especially those whom we might be inclined to think of (or who have positioned themselves) as 'enemies' in some sense (Matthew 5:44).

"Honor all people," wrote Peter (1 Peter 2:17), "and love the brotherhood of believers. Fear God, and honor the king." Matthew records Jesus saying that God "causes the sun to rise and shine on evil and good alike. He causes the rain to water the fields of the righteous and the fields of the sinner" (Matthew 5).  It's almost certain that portions of the harvest from the "fields of the sinner" was sacrificed to idols. Are we to think that God enabled idolatry by sending rain?

If I can take any cues from the first century church - which lived in a remarkably different kind of nation, to be sure - they left their mark on their culture by striving personally to be the best followers of Christ they could be. Rome had its king; they had theirs. Their job was to follow their King in such a way that they could not rightly be reproached (1 Peter 2:11-16), and to live as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) who made their King and life in His Kingdom compelling by their example.

* * * * *

You may never hear this phrase from me again, but it's worth noting what Sotomayor wrote in her dissent on the Masterpiece ruling:
"Justice Thomas acknowledges that for conduct to constitute protected expression, the conduct must be reasonably understood by an observer to be communicative.... But Phillips submitted no evidence showing that an objective observer understands a wedding cake to convey a message, much less that the observer understands the message to be the baker's, rather than the marrying couple's."
I've been to and officiated in a lot of weddings. I never assumed anyone involved in the goods part of it were somehow endorsing the wedding. In fact, I've been to several weddings where I know the caterer's worldview was sharply at odds with the worldview of the family getting married (this was when the wedding was deeply religious and the caterers were not). I did not reach the conclusion that the caterers were endorsing the ceremony or the people by serving food.

I would argue that serving a neighbor is not necessarily the same as affirming everything about that neighbor's choices, just as God blessing someone's crop with rain is not the same as blessing what they do with that crop.  Assuming Phillips was not forced to write, "I support same-sex marriage" or something along those lines (which is now clearly the coercion of speech), I would see his custom made cakes as simply a good or service, devoid of a moral message, that can be offered freely.

We offer goods and services in a world in which we will be sharply at odds with those around us in terms of our moral vision of the world, but... here we are. People may take the means we offer and dedicate it toward all kinds of ends of which we do not approve. That happens with cars, homes, degrees, clothes, computers, phones, money....and cakes and calligraphy.


I also agree with Justice Grouch, who had some clear words that were sharply at odds with Sotomayor's words:
 “It is no more appropriate for the United States Supreme Court to tell Mr. Phillips that a wedding cake is just like any other—without regard to the religious significance his faith may attach to it—than it would be for the Court to suggest that for all persons sacramental bread is just bread or a kippah is just a cap.”
Yeah, I'm really, really uncomfortable with a court that would tell religious practitioners what kind of religious significance they are allowed to attach to things. In this case, Mr. Phillips' stance taps into long-standing practices in Judeo-Christian history. In addition, Sotomayor focuses on the constitutional issues surrounding expression. That's important, but the constitutional protection of conscience is also at stake here. Our rights exist in a balanced matrix with other rights; we isolate them at our peril.

 My Jewish Learning notes that, for Jews, "It was forbidden to sell articles to pagans before their festivals which they might use in idolatrous worship, for example, fir‑cones, white figs, frankincense, or a white cock (1:5)." In other words, Christianity comes from a tradition that believes there were times when the items themselves mattered. The Jewish merchant might sell frankincense to Bob all year long, and Bob might have walked right out of the store and burned it in a pagan temple. The Jewish merchant didn't have to worry about that. But on the days when he knew what ends would be achieved, the merchant had a moral responsibility he did not have the rest of the time. [1]

Now, I don't think baking a cake for a same-sex marriage is the same as selling frankincense for idol worship in a temple. The cake does not enable idolatry. By way of comparison, I believe there is a spiritual difference between Christians helping to rebuild a mosque and Christians supplying goods and services for virtually every other area of a Muslim's life. The former supplies materials and presence in support of worship Christians consider false, and is thus a breach of conscience; the latter supplies materials and presence for a human being created in God's image, and is thus the fulfillment of conscience.

As a citizen of the kingdom of the United States, I hope Phillips' right to attach religious significance as his conscience leads him remains protected. I dread a day when a secular court decides for all of the religiously inclined what is holy and what is not. I hope the court protects speech or expression in all its forms as much as possible under our constitution.

As a citizen of the kingdom of Heaven, I hope that all Christians are committed to honoring, serving and loving all of their neighbors without compromise as we "give everyone what is owed them."

In my opinion, Christians are not commanded not to bake the cake, and are in fact free to bake the cake if they so choose (check out Skye Jethani's differentiation between bakers and photographers, an argument I believe would apply to calligraphers as well but probably not florists). I firmly believe the government should not coerce speech, art, or the breaking of sincerely held religious beliefs for all the reasons listed in this series of posts, but I think I can simultaneously support the right of conscientious objection and religious freedom while challenging whether or not this is a cultural battle line that Christians really want to - or should - draw.

I cannot be the judge of the conscience of others. If they believe that their participation in a particular event compromises their commitment to the moral vision of Christ, far be it from me to insist that they must agree with me. We might draw the line different places, but I don't want to draw the line for them.

[1] As a friend pointed out, one aspect of cake making (or photography) that is often left undiscussed is presence. Perhaps a baker has no problem with making the cake, and a photographer has no problem developing pictures, but they feel like their presence is the thing that implies "enabling" (going back to the language in the stackexchange conversation). Should the freedom of business owners to control their own presence be a factor? I would think it should.