Cakes, weddings and Jesus

I’d like to raise a question I haven’t raised before anywhere. I’m thinking aloud, so this isn’t a ‘position’ in any sense. More an exploratory question …

To date I’ve shared common Christian concerns for Christian bakers, photographers, etc as we anticipate an altered social and legislative landscape with ‘same-sex marriage’. And I do want to see religious freedom appropriately enshrined in our democracy. Among other things, I want our’s to be a society where the bakers and the rest are able, should they so choose, to make socially unpopular decisions according to religious conscience, without fear of prosecution.

But all that said I’m just wondering whether our approach to the matter needs a rethink, at least in part. It’s one thing to want the protections I’ve just referred to, to be in place. It’s another to recommend that such stands as those taken by the now proverbial bakers, necessarily be taken.

I’m thinking about where we are now socially, versus maybe 50 years ago, re de facto marriages and single parenting. Back then (ok, so I was only 7) it wasn’t uncommon for clergy to insist that a non-church couple living together separate and/or cease intimate relations as a condition of a ‘church wedding’. Likewise some would refuse (politely or otherwise) to consider baptising a child whose parents weren’t married. People living in de facto relationships and unwed mothers had good reason to feel uncomfortable in churches. They commonly felt they were being gossiped about and judged; and they were probably right very often. Similar observations could have been made in the wider community among professionals such as teachers, doctors or even shopkeepers; the more so if the service providers were evangelical Christians, but not them only.

To relate the matter more closely to the subject at hand, I’m wondering how a Christian baker in 1950 might have taken a request for a ‘Christening’ cake for a child whose parents weren’t married. Yes, it’s a hypothetical; people didn’t have parties and cut work-of-art cakes every 5 minutes back then. But if such a thing did happen, my guess is an awkward transaction at the very least, and maybe even a decline.

The picture nowadays is I think rather different. It’s not that evangelical pastors, churches or people have watered down our moral convictions about godly living according to Scripture. We still teach and disciple our church members by the same standards as our forebears did. But what has happened, as I perceive it, is a realisation that we ain’t living in Christendom. We don’t expect regenerate lives and behaviour from unregenerate people. We haven’t decided that de facto marriages and single parenting are perfectly ‘ok’ now. But at a pastoral level we’re inclined to live with some moral ambiguities, even if only as means to the end of people being among us long enough to see Jesus’ lovely character in us, and of us having an opportunity to invite them to receive salvation in him.

So my question is for the Christian community generally, as we anticipate the altered landscape that’s likely ahead – and that won’t be a passing phase. I ask it of Christian providers of goods or services to the general public, and I ask it of my fellow pastors – we who will counsel, disciple and encourage the former among us. Will it be biblical and best serve the cause of the Gospel, for Christian providers of goods and services, particularly but not only in the ‘wedding industry’, to decline service to same-sex couples or families on grounds of conscience? Or might we rather serve graciously and generously, regardless of our vastly differing moral convictions, so as to be able to serve the Gospel? I submit that we’ve largely adopted the latter perspective with de facto couples and single parents, and rightly, in my view. Is it not likely that the same will become our approach to same-sex couples and the children they raise, in a world where – failing an extraordinary work of revival – we will be increasingly peripheral?

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