February 23, 2014 by J. Truett Glen
Should black Christians who own bakeshops be forced to bake cakes for KKK rallies, because to not do so would marginalize a group of people? Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt are convinced that it would be inconceivable to assume that “society” (as if society has ever been the axis of Christian morality) would think it unconscionable for the black baker to bake such a cake. They write:
“This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic. If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.”
It appears as if Jonathan Merritt and Kirsten Powers have identified the boundaries of the Christian conscience. Thank goodness! It’s just too bad that we cannot email the Apostle Paul in order to tell him that he (and apparently Russell Moore) was being a hypocrite when he said:
“Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; 26 for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.27 If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Christians have always been led by the Holy Spirit to discriminate against participating in what their conscience informs them is wrong. The problem is not with the conscience of the venders; the problem is with a faulty logic that suggests to withhold service from a person because of clearly perceived sinful activity is to withhold service from them because of who they are. This simply is not the case. Jonathan is right in suggesting that society would think this illogical. Society, which is driven by both Christians and atheists from time to time, has claimed that black people were less than fully human. Society at one point thought Christians ate babies in special ceremonies. Society has thought a lot of things, so I’m not quite sure when a Christian’s subscription to the prominent moral norms of culture was ever a viable means for authenticating the Spirit’s leading in their life.
As far as Jesus goes, we have no biblical proof of Jesus offering a service to anyone in direct cooperation with a sinful act they were committing. If anything, we have Jesus loving them through an admonishment to stop participating in sin after he healed or saved them from immanent death (John 5:14; John 8:1-11). However, we do have biblical narratives that command Christians to resist partaking in eating with someone because the eating of the food would be a symbolic participation in the demonic lie of idol worship. The passage then goes on to say, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God!” So, are Jonathan and Kirsten suggesting that the only actions necessary to bring in line with glorifying God are those outside the business realm? It seems a bit odd to me that you have the same Christians saying that every skill one has should be submitting to the glory of God, and then in the next breath saying that using that skill in business really has nothing to do with Christian morals at all. What it sounds like to me is that Jonathan and Kirsten are simply interpreting scripture and the Christian conscience through the lens of socialism and the social justice movement. Not that I am completely opposed to many tenets of socialism or the social justice movement, but those things should not provide the scruples by which I morally engage with society or by which I seek to glorify my God.
The inconsistencies held to by Christians on various moral and cultural topics is an important thing to bring up, and I appreciate Powers and Merritt for doing so. I can stand with Powers and Merritt and wholeheartedly say that it is biblically wrong to resist serving someone in the pluralistic marketplace because of who they believe themselves to be. If that is what Arizona or any other state is doing, then I stand against it. However, there is no biblical basis that I know of for suggesting that it is immoral to resist participating, in any way, with what is perceived by the Christian to be dishonoring to God. I realize that a time is probably coming when many more Christians throughout America will be forced to make a choice as to where their boundary of conscience lies, and when to refrain from involvement in the marketplace. That said, it sure would be nice to have more firm Christian voices, engaged with culture, seeking to empower Christians with more flexibility to use their God given skills within the marketplace without violating their conscience.
Would Jesus ask the black Christian man to use his God given skills, meant to glorify God, to bake the cake for the KKK rally where they celebrate hate? That may be an easy yes to Powers and Merritt, but not to me. My conscience would say, NO! But Jesus would probably have me offer them a piece of cake to eat unrelated to the rally, because we love them.
(All scripture quoted from NASB version)