The Supreme Court has decided to take up an important public accommodations case next term in which the justices will wrestle with whether or not it was legal for a Christian Colorado baker to refuse, on religious grounds, to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple’s reception.
Like every other person alive, I’m complex. It’s hard to put me in a little box. And since I’m a small business owner, and gay, and (gasp!) a Christian (the “three me’s”), people want to know what I think or how I feel. My answer is it’s both complicated and sad.
Me the small business person gets irritated when someone tries to tell me how to run my shop. Most people are well-meaning, expressing some non-binding advice. But when any level of government offers me their opinion, it’s never advice. It always ends with “... or else.” Ask any business owner and they’ll tell you how annoying an often one-size-fits-all “solution” from government can be. Score one for the pious baker.
Me the gay man feels conflicted. I don’t want to spend one dime of my hard-earned money with a bigot, a bad business person or a confused Christian. But a baker is probably a bad example of how to frame this issue. I mean, couldn’t the couple just walk out and find someone else to bake their cake? Or for that matter, shouldn’t they?
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What if the question involved something like a tow truck service or even an urgent care facility as a true test? I suspect for the Court that is more the question. The thought of my husband and me left standing broken down on a remote road or struggling to get badly needed medical care because of someone’s religious objection gives me chills.
I definitely don’t want to do business with someone who doesn’t want to do business with me. But life’s not that tidy. Sometimes we have very few options or no choice at all. While some are certainly offended by gay marriage, no one is harmed. We don’t have a right that I’m aware to not to be offended, based upon religion or not. And like it or not, the word “public” in public accommodation includes me and my family. So let’s score this one for the happy couple.
Me the Christian is sad. I’ve come to accept that my faith has no shortage of confused people. And Christianity isn’t alone. The Old and New Testaments are full of pleadings to show hospitality, love and kindness. Jesus himself role-modeled this in no uncertain terms, not just through his death and resurrection for disobedient sinners like me, but how he lived his life. Time and again he chose the company of sinners, strangers and the sick to that of the pious.
So hospitality and kindness were good enough for Jesus but not the cake man. That would be no big deal if the baker wasn’t using Jesus as an excuse to discriminate. But Christians believe Christ already paid our debt on the cross. The God of Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad calls us to show kindness and love, especially to those who we think don’t deserve it. So score one for Jesus.
Law books will refer to this as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. It should be Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Jesus. And since the case is, at its core, about religion in the public square and the obligation we have (or don’t) to one another in that same public square, there’s really no question about what I think. Yes, it’s complicated, but it’s not hard. The law is clearly on the side of public accommodation and hospitality. And so is Jesus. I just hope he wins.