“You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” Matthew 5:43-45 NLT
Are there exceptions to this teaching of Jesus?
The Christian school that I serve as administrator has made a commitment to live up to the expectation of being “distinctively Christian.” That is one of the adjectives we use to promote our ministry. The first thing that most people think about when they hear that, in relation to a Christian education institution, is that we integrate Biblical truth into the curriculum, and teach from a Biblical worldview. And it does include those things. But one of the other commitments that we determined to make at the time that we adopted that adjective was that we must be consistent in the example we set for our students, parents, staff, and for the community, in everything we do. That means our conduct on the athletic field, and in the bleachers. It means the bus ride for students to and from school. It particularly means our financial policy, the conduct of our business, balancing consistency with grace, which required the discerning of God’s direction through the Holy Spirit.
It means being completely unselfish, thinking about the needs of others ahead of our own interests, understanding that what we do will be measured against our words, and that the example we set will have a direct impact on the impressionable minds of our students, and their spiritual formation. The school’s leadership must adopt the same servant attitude expected of pastors and church leaders, because this isn’t about us.
To be honest, I never really thought that the bakery business would become a focal point of controversy over constitutional rights, but it has. There are multiple instances around the country of Christian-owned bakeries refusing to provide wedding cakes for same-sex marriage ceremonies. On the one hand, there is the question of the extent of the religious freedom of the bakery owners. On the other hand, there is the issue of discrimination and the freedom of expression of those desiring to marry someone of the same gender. Of course, there has now been a court ruling, in Colorado, which sides against the bakery owner and with the same-sex couple. The court determined that the bakery owner’s religious freedom does not extend to his business in the public arena, and that the business is obligated to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The court, in essence, said that the owner’s religious freedom is not violated, since he can continue to be opposed to same-sex marriage, and can openly express his opinion to the customers, if he chooses. They determined that baking a cake doesn’t constitute an endorsement of anything for which it might be provided, and that the “endorsement”, if there is one, rests with the person who paid for the cake, and will serve it.
Let me make it clear that I don’t support same-sex marriage. I also don’t support a marriage in which the husband and wife will be “unequally yoked” in terms of their faith, either, meaning that one or the other isn’t a believer. And I don’t believe in divorce, unless it meets the criterion allowed by scripture.
Having said that, if I owned a bakery, and a same-sex couple came in and ordered a wedding cake, I’d provide them with the same quality and level of service that anyone else would get. I certainly wouldn’t consider that an endorsement of their marriage, any more than any other cake I’d ever baked constituted an endorsement of any other previous customer’s marriage, including those who got divorced later on, or those in which one partner wasn’t a Christian. As far as the business goes, I’m the believer. But the business isn’t a person, and as its owner, I am free to operate it under Christian practices and principles, including honesty, integrity, treating customers fairly and in setting a good example for Christ to the community that I serve.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:17-18, ESV
Think about that passage from the perspective of a Christian bakery owner. If you’ve determined that two people of the same gender who come into your business with plans to marry each other, and order a cake from you, are not believers, but are part of the world that is already condemned, refusing to serve them will only confirm their unbelief. What they will see, and experience, from a self-identified Christian, will look to them like bigotry and discrimination, judgment, and condemnation, and will serve to strengthen their already negative opinion of Christians and the Christian faith.
What they need to see is Jesus in you.
American Christians are really good with condemnation, criticism and judgment of the flaws and sins of others. Pastors preach sermons that point out why their congregation, or denomination, or perspective, is right, and why the churches down the street and around the corner, are wrong. We throw terms around like “conservative,” and “liberal,” and get angry at those who don’t readily agree with, or accept our premises and our list of “dont’s” to define Christianity. The passage I cited from John says that those who believe in the name of the only Son of God are not condemned. In light of that message, if I own a bakery, am I doing more to advance the Kingdom of God by refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex marriage, claiming that doing so violates my personal religious liberty, or do I provide the cake and my best service out of gratitude for the fact that I am not condemned because of the blood of Christ, and I don’t want to prevent someone else from seeing that in me?
Yeah, that’s a rhetorical question. But think about this. When we decide to move away from the church’s mission and purpose, and protect our own rights and entitlements while fighting the culture war, every “war” has an enemy. And what does Jesus say we are to do for our enemies?