TRANSCRIPT: Should Christians bake wedding cakes for weddings about which they disagree?

February 24, 2014

Hello, I’m Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and this is Questions & Ethics, the program where we take an issue that you are struggling with, something that you have sent in, and we look at it through the lens of the kingdom of Christ. And today I want to take up an issue that one of you hasn’t asked about, at least not this time, but something that is in the news right now; and that’s the question of should a Christian baker bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding?

Now this is very similar to a question that I addressed a while back about a Christian photographer. We had a Christian who is in the wedding photography business who said, “Look, I’ve been asked to photograph a same-sex wedding. Should I do it or not?” I think it is a very similar situation in this case. And the reason why it has come up is because there was an article by Kirsten Powers in USA Today this week that talked about laws in places such as Tennessee and Kansas seeking to protect people who are not wanting to participate in same-sex weddings in terms of their religious liberty. And in the article she talks about such laws as being sort of like Jim Crow segregation laws for gay people. And she quotes Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church saying look, you need to just serve people you don’t agree with, and bake the cake. And if you don’t want to bake the cake, don’t bake the cake, but don’t put Jesus in it, because Jesus, of course, was with tax collectors and sinners.

Look, Kirsten Powers and Andy Stanley, I know both of them. I love both of them. I respect both of them. I don’t have any desire to bash them at all. I think they are good people. But I disagree with them on this, and here’s why. Because I think that if you are saying to me—first of all let’s bracket for a minute the legal reality here, because that is the question. When we are dealing with these laws in Kansas and Tennessee and in other places, what it is attempting to do is to protect, legally, the religious liberty of people from having their consciences violated by the government. And that is going on in New Mexico. It’s going on in Washington State. It’s going on in all sorts of other places, where people are saying, I can’t participate in this wedding, because it violates my religious beliefs and the exercise of my religious convictions, and so somebody else should do this. And the government is coming in and saying, no, we are going to force you to do it. Let’s bracket that for just a moment. I think, clearly, we do need legal and religious liberty protections or those people.

But then let’s address the question that Kirsten and Andy both are saying is really what they are wanting to address, which is the question of whether a Christian should be a vendor, to use the language used in many of these articles, in such a wedding. So if a baker said to me, “Should I bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, when I disagree with same-sex weddings and with homosexuality as being immoral as defined by the scriptures?” Here’s my answer to that. I think first of all, what I am not saying is that vendors shouldn’t be involved in same-sex weddings, generally and across the board. I think if you have a—you know, the other day was Valentine’s Day. I was going to get my wife flowers. I walked into Kroger on the way home, and there were flowers everywhere, flower arrangements you can have, they are selling it; I go and get those flowers, and I go through the checkout line. I don’t think that the checkout person ought to be saying, now wait a minute, who are those flowers going to? Is this an extramarital affair? Is this a homosexual relationship? Is this going to result in fornication, or is this for your wife? No, this is a vendor just providing these floral arrangements that are out there. They are generally for everybody. In the same way, if you are running a Chick-fil-A restaurant, and you have these packages and platters of food that you are selling to people, I don’t think you need to go and interrogate; Wait a minute! Is this for a Super Bowl party, or is this for a bachelor party for a gay wedding, or is this? I don’t think you have a moral obligation to interrogate those sorts of things. You sell your stuff, and you have it already prepared, and it’s out there, and you are just providing it to people to use.

I think where the difference comes in is when you have people who are being asked to become creative participants in an event that has, for Christians and for other religious traditions, sacred implications. So, if you have somebody who is selling material to be used for a wedding dress, well, that person isn’t involved in the wedding. But somebody who is, for instance, a photographer is somebody who is participating in the wedding, somebody who is using artistic gifts in order to create a narrative about this wedding. That is something that the conscience, in the case of the person who wrote to me earlier a couple of years ago about this, wouldn’t allow to happen. So if you are a baker, and you say, “Should I provide a wedding cake for this?” If you have a bakery, and you just have wedding cakes that you are making, and they are out there—and there are bakeries like this; people can come in and just say, “I want that cake.” They pick it out—well, don’t interrogate. You don’t need to interrogate who this is for or what they are going to use it for, because you are not participating in the event. You are just selling your product to whoever is there.

But a lot of cake decorators and bakers, and in fact, I would say most of them, are involved instead in actually participating with the couple and trying to say how do we tell the story of this wedding? How do we make this wedding unique, make this wedding beautiful? And they are putting their creative abilities and their creative talents into that event and into that wedding. I think it would be kind of similar, if you talk about the diversity of gifts, it would be kind of similar to someone saying to me, “Look, I am a liberal Episcopalian pastor. I am going to be marrying a same-sex couple, and I would like you to write the sermon for me. You don’t need to do the wedding, but I want you just to craft a sermon for me that I would be able to preach at this same-sex wedding.” Or a fundamentalist Mormon pastor saying to me, “Can you help me to write a beautiful wedding sermon for this wedding that I am doing for this man and this woman and this woman and this woman?” I would have to be able to say, “You know, I can’t do that. I can’t use my creative gifts in that way in order to participate in this wedding.” And I think the same thing is true here.

Biblically speaking, the issue that is relevant comes down to most particularly what the Apostle Paul is talking about in I Corinthians, chapter 8, where there is a controversy that comes up in the church at Corinth over the question of meat offered to idols. And what does the Apostle Paul say? He says a number of things. He says first of all, you don’t need to interrogate, when you are buying meat, where this meat came from. You don’t need to go and find an investigator to say what is this? Was it ever offered to idols? Because he says we know that an idol is not really anything in the world anyway. But he says if someone says to you come and eat this because it has been offered to idols, now you have a situation where your participating in this can do violence perhaps to your conscience, but more importantly it could do violence to someone else’s conscience. It could become a stumbling block and a scandal to someone else. I think that is very relevant to this question of what we are to do as we are participating in something that we don’t believe in.

The same thing is true with Romans, chapters 12 through 14, talking about the difference of levels of conscience, that people sometimes have differences about issues of conscience that aren’t clearly defined in scripture. And what does Paul say? He says you don’t bind one another’s consciences. He also says that you don’t judge one another’s conscience. And he says someone who is sinning against his own conscience is someone who is sinning. To do anything that is not from faith, the Apostle Paul says, is sin. That’s one of the reasons why I am so concerned about the religious liberty implications here. Some people will say well, what difference does it make? Somebody who is a florist, somebody who is a baker, it’s not the same thing as requiring someone to actually officiate at a wedding or to host a wedding inside a church. Yeah, but if you are coming in and saying to someone whose conscience says my being involved in this, using these creative gifts that God has given to me in order to tell this story in this way, is something that I feel like is rebellion against God, and I am going to have to stand before God in judgment, I do not think that the state ought to come in and pave over the conscience of that person.

And frankly, I don’t think that is in anybody’s interest, including in the interest of gay and lesbian people, our neighbors, and our friends, for a state to be powerful enough to do that. When it comes to the question of you, Baker, should you provide the cake, I think you have to ask am I simply just selling cakes to people, or am I actually participating and being involved in that wedding, in something that I believe, and I think the Bible does teach, isn’t of the Lord? It’s something we disagree with a lot of people in our culture about, but it’s something that the Bible speaks to, and the Bible speaks to our consciences about. So I think, in that case, when you are being asked to use your creative gifts in order to participate in something that you don’t believe in, I think you need to say, “I can’t do that. You need to find somebody else who can.”

Having said that, as I said to the photographer, you don’t be mean. Sometimes you have activists who are coming in and they are trying to catch you in something. A lot of times though, that is not the case. You have people who, made in the image of God, they are loved by God, they ought to be loved by us, and they think that this is the right way for them to go. “There’s a way that seems right,” the scripture says, “to a man.” They think this is going to lead them to the kind of happiness that they are looking for. We disagree with them, but that’s what they think. And they are coming and saying we want you to participate. There’s no reason for us to scowl. There’s no reason for us to rage. These aren’t our enemies. Ephesians 6:13 tells us that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. I think you just need to say, “I would love to be able to help you in all sorts of things, but I can’t in this, because I have beliefs about marriage. I have beliefs about sexuality that I am happy to talk about if you want to talk about it or not talk about it if you don’t want to talk about it, but they are informed by the gospel. They are informed by what Jesus says is the way that God designed the universe from the beginning, and that it points to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it won’t allow my conscience to participate in this way. So I thank you for asking me, but you are going to have to get someone else to participate in this wedding, because I can’t do it according to my conscience.”

And I think we need to be very diligent about making sure that we wind up with the kind of public square that allows the sort of pluralism where people can disagree on these sorts of issues without having the state coming in and saying you can have your cake and eat it too, because you have to be forced to bake and to use your creative talents; you have to be forced to arrange those flowers; you have to be forced to photograph; you have to be forced to write the script. That’s not the sort of republic that many people fought and bled for. And more importantly, the scripture tells us that’s not what God created in the image of God when he created the conscience to be free.

What’s your question? Do you have something that you are thinking about, you are wrestling with? Maybe you are reading the Bible, and you’ve got a question about something that you are reading there. Maybe you are having a conversation with a neighbor or with a family member. Or maybe there is something happening in your family or in your marriage or in your church or in your workplace, and you are saying I just can’t figure out what’s the right thing to do in this situation. Well, shoot me an email at [email protected] or by Twitter at the hashtag #askrdm. And we will take up your question here at Questions & Ethics. Until next time, seek the kingdom, and walk the line. This is Russell Moore.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the Year. … Read More