Absence of Grace in the Culture Wars

February 3, 2015

Abstract Rainbow Birthday Cake

There has to be some way to better go about this.  The Washington Post reported last week of a man in Colorado, Bill Jack, who in attempt to demonstrate the hypocrisy of recent court rulings related to the Traditional Marriage vs. Gay Marriage debates, requested two cakes that together expressed clear anti-gay sentiments.  Jack seems to have chosen his target bakery knowing the owner supports LGBT positions.  Whether Marjorie Silva, the owner of Denver’s Azucar Bakery, is herself lesbian, none of the articles I read seemed to say.  But it really does not matter.

I too have been disappointed by some of the recent court rulings related to this issue – whether it is the bakers forced to close down their bakery for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding; the photographers who were legally penalized for declining an invitation to photograph a gay wedding; or the New York couple who have rented their barn to couples wanting rustic weddings, but  who have been fined so heavily that they may now have to sell their farm because they declined to acceopt a gay couples request to rent it for their wedding.  While the issues may be somewhat complex, and I have not kept up with the details of these incidents, the principles at stake, to my mind, are simple.  There is enough free commerce in this country that these folks – Azucar included – should not be required to accept business that violates their moral standards.  In a free market system, if these folks demonstrate egregious business practices, it is likely they will suffer the consequences at the hands of the public – i.e.  they will go bankrupt from lack of business.

Of course there are other issues at stake. High among them is whether these instances fall under the authority civil rights discrimination protection. But it is not the question of actual business practices that is no my mind at the moment. As disappointed as I am about some court rulings, I think I may be even more disappointed in the tactic employed by Bill Jack. (BTW, is that a real name? It sounds like the name of a morning D.J.?)

Sympathetic as I am to the frustration that led Mr. Jack to act, I find his tactic and, even worse, his stated motive to be dubious and misguided.  Acording to the Washington Post article:

“[Mr. Jack] believes Azucar Bakery ‘discriminated’ against him ‘based on my creed,’ which is Christian.”

Here is where I have my biggest problem.  While some may find reason to applaud Mr. Jack’s tactic in this culture war issue, I am deeply chagrined that he makes the suggestion that his action was compelled because he is a Christian.  Even if it can be argued that Mr. Jack did not say he acted because he was a Christian, he at the very least says he was discriminated against because Azcur Bakery refused to make his cake because of the “Christian” message. Either way, it seems quite evident that Mr. Jack is equating Christianity with his actions.  And for me, that is the rub – or that’s what rubs me the wrong way.

I am deeply disturbed when those who call themselves Christians conflate the culture wars with the only thing that makes any of us Christians – the gospel.  And however you slice this cake, neither Mr Jack’s action nor his message are distinctly “Christian”. In other words, while they may be in line with traditional biblical values, they have absolutely nothing to do with the gospel.

There does seem to be some disagreement about what Mr. Jack wanted on his cakes.

The Washington Times, quoting the owner of Azcur Bakery, says:

 Anti-gay phrases including “God hates gays” and an image of two men holding hands, covered in a big, red “X.”

To World Magaize Mr. Jack says:

[H]e requested two cakes in the shape of an open Bible. He asked that the first cake show on one page, “God hates sin – Psalm 45.7,” and on the facing page, “Homosexuality is a detestable sin – Leviticus 18.22.” He requested that the second cake have on one page, “God loves sinners,” and on the facing page, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us – Romans 5.8.”

I tend to believe Mr. Jack in this. He is clear and intentional with his message. But I still maintain that, despite his use of Bible verses, there is nothing distinctly “Christian” in his message.  Further, his motive is certainly not driven by the gospel, but rather by the culture war.

I am not suggesting that Mr. Jack is not a Christian. Nor am I suggesting that Mr. Jack’s act is inherently wrong.  I am simply saying that while he may be free to act this way, and his values may be shaped by his faith, the action itself should not be viewed as Christian.

Jesus’ instruction to his followers is: “Be as shrewd as a serpent, and as innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10.16) Mr Jack seems to me to have the serpents shrewdness down, but there seems to me to be no moral innocence here.  I stand on the same side as Mr. Jack in this cultural issue, but I do not stand with him.  I believe his actions – and actions like these – have actually served to distort the gospel, which will make it all the more difficult for critics of Christianity to hear the gospel and understand what followers of Jesus actually stand for.

I do not consider Mr. Jack to have been wronged, at least not for his faith.  As it stands, nothing in Mr. Jack’s actions, nor in the actions of similar cultural activists, communicates anything about the substitutionary death of Christ for sinners – i.e. the gospel.  So if there is nothing inherently Christian in his message, motives, or behavior to be discriminated against, it stands to reason that he was not discriminated against – at least not for the reasons he claims.

Bill Jack offers just another expression of a Christ-less culture warrior, under the guise of Christianity – just another one driven by values, but devoid of grace.

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