How Baking Cakes Became Controversial

By Richard Nelson

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February 21, 2014

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This week, no small amount of energy and tweeting was spent addressing an article by USA Today columnist and self-professed evangelical Christian Kirsten Powers who suggested that when it comes to Christians deciding on whether to bake cakes for gay weddings, "Jesus would bake the cake." The article comes in the context of legislation in Kansas that many thought was a reincarnation of Jim Crow laws, except this time for homosexuals.

At a time where religious liberty is facing much headwinds, Powers' article was a surprise to many.

Several responses were raised, one from Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, that addressed the civil sphere; and another from Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, that addressed the ecclesial (church) sphere. According to Anderson

But the Kansas bill and similar bills that protect liberty are about preventing the kind of coercion that happened under Jim Crow. They protect what should be already protected: basic civil liberties such as freedom of association, freedom of contract, and freedom of religion.

Jim Crow and segregation did the exact opposite. Those wicked regimes legally coerced people to keep them separated, to prevent them from associating or contracting. Yet today, we see liberals of various stripes saying the law should coerce people into associating and contracting.

According to Walker,

The problem Stanley and Powers overlook, though, is that objections to lending one’s creative talents for practices the Bible condemns is about obedience to Jesus. We “can’t leave Jesus out of it” in how we live out the fullness of our Christian faith. Moreover, because Jesus affirms the creational structure of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6), for Christians, weddings aren’t just a service, but a profoundly significant symbol for the Christ-Church union (Ephesians 5). Getting marriage right means also getting wedding ceremonies right.

Religious liberty exists in the first place to allow someone to discharge what he or she perceives as a duty. As Cardinal Newman famously said, “conscience has rights because it has duties.”

The instances of cake bakers, florists, and wedding photographers being asked to lend their services to same-sex unions seems harmless enough. But they have a duty to obey what their conscience tells them is true. But also consider: If Christians can be compelled to lend a craft to something their conscience objects to, what can’t they be compelled to participate in? We’re talking about precedent; and the cases before us are bellwether test cases about whether private actors can be forcibly mandated to go against their conscience.

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center