July 14, 2017 § 2 Comments
Toward the end of a bike trail in Colorado Springs, I came upon an unexpected hill. During the exhausting climb, I noticed two women had set up a table displaying free Jehovah’s Witness material partway up the hill. I took the opportunity to stop and have a wonderful, Gospel-centered conversation with them—in my head 2 minutes after I rode past. I have also had great evangelical encounters with various atheists and agnostics, unfortunately many more in my head than in real life.
I’m not an extrovert, so a witnessing encounter (and robust social engagement in general) is not always easy for me. I recently have defended the deity of Christ in real-life conversation with some JWs at my house, so I had no particular fear of the two ladies on the hill—I just wasn’t about to stop in the middle of a hill (note to evangelists in public parks: set up at the top), and on top of that I had been-there-done-that with Watchtower propaganda. Maybe I should have at least stopped and said hello.
Have you ever had great talks with non-believers about Jesus in your head after you part company? Whether it’s because of nerves, or fear of rejection, or lack of confidence in your own knowledge of your faith, I think it’s probably a pretty common thing to pass up on these opportunities.
While we (and I mean ‘I’) need to set aside fear and rely on the Spirit of God to help in such situations, the mental conversations later (often occurring in the shower, for some odd reason) can serve as valuable training ground for the next real-life opportunity.
Here’s another conversation you didn’t have, but Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop near Denver, CO, did have with hosts on The View recently. On the spot, Jack actually did a very good job of defending his much-maligned decision not to design and create a wedding cake for a gay couple, a case that the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear. Jack says that everyone is welcome in his store, but he won’t make a cake for every event. He calmly and consistently defended the Biblical view of marriage and his Constitutional right to live out his faith in the public square. He was joined by his lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, who also does a great job of clarifying the case and its implications for every American.
Since we can learn from this conversation, imagine if you were in that hotseat surrounded by liberal talkshow hosts-turned-theologians, under the lights and cameras and studio audience cued to applaud after each progressive talking point. If you could freeze frame life for a few minutes to think about your answer (in lieu of thinking about it after the show), how would you respond to these questions?
Relax, you’re not in Jack’s spotlight, but one day you may be in a different one with your family, neighbor, boss, or a judge. Take some time to watch the segment yourself here. Below are the main questions thrown at Jack, and while his answers were good for on-the-spot responses, I’ll offer answers from an apologetic perspective, being safely out of the spotlight with plenty of time to process.
WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?
The theologian on the far right (her chair, not her political position) asked Jack: “If it violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple… do you then, when a straight couple comes in, do you ask them if they’ve had a child out of wedlock, if they’ve had premarital sex? Where do you draw the line, because those all could be deemed ‘sinful’ (she throws up her air quotes) to someone who’s religious as well.”
The only reason anyone talks about Jesus was because “sin” is a real thing and the whole reason He came. Jesus died to redeem us from sin by sacrificing Himself on the cross.
But the issue here is not the sins of the couple, but that Jack is being forced to in effect join in the artistic celebration of something against his religious beliefs and stamp his name on the entire project. The line is drawn exactly where he drew it. Jack’s concern is not over whether a couple is sinning in some way, but the consequences of compromising his beliefs by his participation in a same-sex wedding ceremony. If anything, the marriage of a man and woman who are already having sex has a redemptive aspect to it in that the couple would no longer be sinning sexually, and would be providing a stronger foundation for any child that resulted. But the reason Jack refused is because he objects to the event in question.
WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE?
The theologian in the chair to the left (our left) of the first theologian: “One thing that’s always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it, and I was raised in the church, and it says, you know, ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,’ but also says, ‘Don’t judge others.’ We’re not the final judgment. It also says ‘love thy neighbor.’ There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality, which ones to go with? Because in my mind, whether you believe it or not, and you should definitely not marry a man… but if someone else does, it’s not my place to judge them because God will…”
“The Bible says not to judge” is a frequent declaration by cherry-pickers. It’s found in Matthew 7:1-5: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NIV)
In context, Jesus is condemning hypocrisy (don’t point the finger of judgment at others if you’re doing the same thing yourself), not the discernment between right and wrong behavior. We know there is a correct way to judge, because Jesus tells a group of Pharisees in John 7:24 to “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
So to the question, “How do you reconcile which message to ‘go with’?”, the answer is study. Approach the Bible as you would any other book you want to understand and practice sound exegesis rather than pulling bits of verses out of context. Read, rather than read into. When we do, well see that Jesus was both love and truth, and there is no contradiction between “judge rightly” and “love your neighbor.”
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
The theologian to Jack’s right says, “I know that you’re a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low and the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think Jesus would have said, ‘I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway?’ Do you think that would have had a more powerful testimony?” To which the theologian on the far left adds with conviction, “Jesus would have baked the cake!”
Jack rightly responds that Jesus would not bake the cake. We don’t have to guess what Jesus would say and do when we can read what He said and did. We know Jesus’ view of marriage from Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6, where He affirms God’s design for marriage from Genesis 1:27: “‘Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'” (Mat. 19:4-6)
Supposing Jesus would have said, “I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway” assumes that love doesn’t mean we tell others the truth. We, made in God’s image, often try to remake Jesus in our own image and imagine God as love but not truth (at least the truth we find inconvenient). But as Jesus displayed, He is both. Jesus indeed did share a table with sinners, and as Jack proves, you can sit at a table with those who believe very differently without them hating or suing each other. But by compromising our beliefs and joining in the celebration of an event that defies God’s design for marriage, we are not loving anyone, but rather propagating a lie. That is actually hateful.
JUST BAKE THE CAKE!
The conversation turns from theological to legal at this point, with Kristen politely shooting down a slippery slope argument and clarifying that an assault on Jack’s religious liberty affects everyone regardless of their belief. But not before the theologian 2nd from the left puts this challenge to Jack: “Lower courts have found that you’ve discriminated against this couple, but you’re taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just bake the cake?”
It’s always easier for those without a certain deeply held conviction to suggest those who do simply give it up when the going gets rough. But that’s not how Christianity has ever worked. Still, it’s an appropriate question to consider while we aren’t on the spot, can we compromise on this front while loving God and neighbor? Are we prepared to answer, while we can have the conversation safely in our heads, before we will eventually be asked, “Why not just bake the cake?”
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…” (Hebrews 10:23)