The blogosphere has been abuzz over the recent case of the Oregon couple whose bakery closed after they refused to make a cake for a lesbian couple's wedding. But that case isn't the only one of its kind. There are a number of cases right now which have lasting implications for issues where religious freedom intersects with civil rights.
Christians have offered differing responses to such cases...even on the same website. For instance, Os Hillman wrote an op-ed piece for Charisma News which argued that the bakery should have made the cake and in doing so, showed the love of Jesus to this couple. Many Christians applauded Hill's piece and have shared it online.
In response, Michael Brown wrote a piece pointing out the way Hillman's piece failed to take into account the religious freedom implications and the way cases like this are a danger to genuine freedom of conscience for any religious person. It likewise received much applause and many shares.
My own network of friends and readers have weighed in on both sides and it seems that Christians have strong disagreements regarding how to approach the same-sex "culture war" that America currently finds itself embroiled in.*
This is not unexpected, of course. Unity in Christ has never required uniformity in thought when it comes to controversial ethical issues. But for most who find themselves somewhere in the middle, the culture warriors--whether flying a rainbow flag and labeling anyone who disagrees as "hateful bigots", or rallying their people to "take back America for God" through bullhorns and dismissing any show of love to the gay community as "capitulating" to the gay agenda--don't seem to represent the fullness of the Gospel.
Should a business owned by Christians serve those with whom they have moral disagreements with? If so, would this include a Christian bakery that refuses to make a cake that will be used at a celebration of the Ku Klux Klan, complete with cross-burning? Where does the line get drawn between civil rights and freedom of conscience?
The photographer in New Mexico who refused to shoot a gay wedding lost in court. Does this mean that a gay photographer must now legally be required to shoot a wedding at Westboro Baptist Church if they are asked to do so?
Should a vegan catering company be required to cater a luncheon at the dedication of a new factory-farm slaughterhouse? If one responds by saying "Why would a slaughterhouse knowingly hire a vegan caterer??" it can easily be asked "Why would a gay couple knowingly hire a conservative Christian photographer??"
It seems that unlike the infamous Jim Crow laws of a generation ago (which sought to segregate society as much as possible and deny basic services such as food and housing to a specific race), the refusal by a person or business to participate in a public ceremony with innate religious implications which go against their religious convictions is does not necessarily entail a violation of genuine civil rights.
Furthermore, the New Testament DOES give ample warning to Christians not to participate in actions or celebrations which violate their conscience due to their spiritual implications (i.e. Christians in Corinth eating foods that have been publicly dedicated to the Roman gods or Christian tradesmen in Asia Minor offering a pinch of incense to the Emperor as a part of their expected economical transactions).
Does this mean that a Christian MUST abstain from doing business in a way that can be seen as celebrating or condoning a lifestyle or action that they believe is ultimately sinful and spiritually harmful to all involved? Perhaps not. Perhaps there are times when the "Jesus ate with sinners" approach should be taken over the "come out from Babylon" approach.
But for either side to dismiss the other and assign motives which may not actually be present is irresponsible at best. We owe it to ourselves and to a watching world to be both loving AND discerning. To uphold both grace AND truth. What that looks like in individual communities and settings will likely vary. So it shouldn't come as a surprise if responses by various Christians do too.
[*However, in light of the potential military action Congress is contemplating in Syria, talk of culture "war" seems a bit petty and overly-dramatic.]