The Real Lessons In Indiana.
First, we must be honest. The original version of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act really was about protecting Christian business owners either from being compelled to act against their conscience, or being compelled to pay exorbitant fines for refusing to do so.
To cite a famous example of the latter, we have the owners of a bakery in Oregon which, after declining to bake a lesbian wedding cake, faced $150,000 in fines. Protection from just such government bullying was the goal of the bill. And this was understood by Memories Pizza Parlor in Indiana, whose owners are now famous for declaring that, in accordance with the Indiana RFRA, it is shielded from having to serve pizza for a gay wedding.
They were viciously attacked via the internet, threatened, and closed down—even though they never actually were approached by a gay couple about anything, only a local TV reporter, Alyssa Marino, asking whether they would serve pizza for a gay wedding. Merely stating that they would not publicly was enough to release a tide of vicious attacks (including a flood of fake reviews of their restaurant on the internet by people who had never been there, e.g., “Food is just terrible and the restaurant is a mess. Dust everywhere and the kitchen appears to be disgusting. Would not eat here, not to mention their disgusting bigoted views.”
The truth is that the local TV reporter sought out a Christian business, and then published their response on the internet with the bold-faced title, “RFRA: Michiana business won’t cater a gay wedding.” That set-up was enough to release a media-driven splenetic venting to drive them out of business. Memories Pizza didn’t even have to be approached by a gay couple or sued in court. The mere public statement of their Christian convictions was enough. So yes, to be honest, that is the very kind of thing that Christians feared, and wanted to be protected from through Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. And it really is about targeting Christians. Do you remember what happened when a Muslim bakery was asked to cater a gay wedding? Of course not. (Well, actually a comedian has done it as a kind of instructive spoof, and you’ll want to see what happened on his hilarious and insightful video.)
But actual gays have not demanded wedding cakes from Muslim bakeries, because gay activists know what the result would be. How about a Jewish caterer being forced to make pork for a wedding? Christians are under special attack, and need special protection. But as long as we are being honest, those who howled against the RFRA ought to take their turn at telling the truth. It really is about religious freedom.
This was brought home in a refreshingly honest way in a recent New York Times op-ed by Frank Bruni, “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana.” According to Bruni, “our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.”
We soon find out what “freeing religions and religious people from prejudices” means in practice. Bruni approvingly quotes gay activist Mitchel Gold, who states that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”
As gay activists understand, the ultimate and obvious source of Christianity’s rejection of same-sex sex is that it is identified as something that might be tolerated, but never approved or celebrated. But gay activists don’t just want to be tolerated; they demand that their sexual behavior be approved. That is the only reason for two men or two women to choose a particular bakery to demand a wedding cake: they are going to pick a fight, not to pick a cake. To state the obvious, there are too many other bakeries that would gladly bake a cake for anyone and any reason. But gay activists don’t just want any cake; they want Christianity to take same-sex sex off the “sin list” by endorsing it, and are very happy to use the power of the state to do it.
A sign of the Christian-targeting is that no bakery has ever been reported as refusing to bake a cake for a gay client, only a wedding cake. Serving a lesbian a donut or a cookie or a brownie does not involve the Christian in a moral dilemma, because there is no moral issue at stake. Asking a Christian to bake a wedding cake is involving her in the very act of celebrating that which Christianity defines as immoral, like asking her to cater a pro-abortion rally or the Hunky Jesus Contestcelebrated at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Easter.
Are Christians guilty of discrimination? Absolutely, and all the time—again, we are being honest. The Christian moral code discriminates—in the original sense of the term, “to distinguish between”—between the good and moral use of sexuality, and the immoral use, and it has done so from the very beginning. Orthodox Christians hold that exclusive, life-long heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman defines the moral good of sexuality. Thus, from the very beginning, Christians rejected not just the rampant same-sex sex in the Roman Empire, but also pedophilia, adultery, divorce for reasons other than sexual betrayal by their spouse, fornication, polygamy, and concubinage.
The boundaries on these expressions of human sexual behavior have defined Christianity from the very beginning because it rejected the notion, all too pervasive in pagan Rome, that sexual desire should be indiscriminate, that there were no sexual sins. Anything goes and everything did among the pagan Romans. The Christian discrimination about sex was what set them apart. They rejected the indiscriminate sex of the pagans as part of a God given vision of human flourishing.
NYT columnist, Ross Douthat, recently shed light on what is at issue for orthodox Christians in the RFRA debate when he subjected himself to an interview by an “imaginary but representative” member of the press in his recent article “Interview of a Christian”:
“…My closest gay friends are fairly secular. But I would be uncomfortable attending same-sex vows in the style of a Catholic mass — or being hired to photograph such a ceremony. I don’t think that discomfort should be grounds for shutting down a business.
Well, that discomfort may seem religious, but segregationissts felt justified by scripture too. They got over it; their churches got over it; so will yours.
It ‘s not that simple. The debate about race was very specific to America, modernity, the South. (Bans on interracial marriage were generally a white supremacist innovation, not an inheritance from Christendom or common law.) The slave owners and segregationists had scriptural arguments, certainly. But they were also up against one of the Bible’s major meta-narratives — from the Israelites in Egypt to Saint Paul’s “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.”
“That’s not the case with sex and marriage. The only clear biblical meta-narrative is about male and female. Sex is an area of Jewish law that Jesus explicitly makes stricter. What we now call the “traditional” view of sexuality was a then-radicalidea separating the early church from Roman culture, and it’s remained basic in every branch of Christianity until very recently. Jettisoning it requires repudiating scripture, history and tradition in a way the end of Jim Crow did not.”
To demand now that Christians ignore these boundaries on sexual behavior, or “jettison them” as Bruni and Gold would have is, to say the very least, a violation of their religious liberty, and Christians should defend that liberty.
So, a Christian baker should discriminate, and not only about a request to participate in celebration that implies approval of same-sex sex. If asked, she will not bake a cake celebrating divorce (with a man and woman climbing down opposite sides of the cake), or celebrating one night hook-ups, cohabitation, man-boy love, or any polyamorous combination in marriage, or the joys of adultery. She realizes that to be indiscriminate about one is to be indiscriminate about them all. And that also means that she will soon be forced to put everything and anything on wedding cakes.
Lest you think I’m being frivolous, then you haven’t being paying attention to the news. Polyamorous advocates are now lining up for their affirmation of civil rights, and hence very soon, civil unions. Have you read the gushing, “He and He and He,” New York Magazine article, celebrating the joy of being a gay threesome? Or the lesbian throuple in Massachusetts. Did you know about the advocacy group pushing for marital rights for any combination of adults? Did you see how many have signed their petition? Did you know that advocates of pedophiliaare gaining more and more respectability, and that the American Psychiatric Associationis pushing to remove the moral stigma from pedophilia—just as they did from homosexual behavior in the early 1970s? Did you know that a woman in Britain married her dog? And another woman married her two cats?
Here’s my challenge to those who believe we should be using federal power to compel Christians not to merely “tolerate”, which leaves room for conversation about acknowledged differences, but to endorse and celebrate sexual behavior that violates the God given boundaries for sexual behavior and human flourishing. What reason can you give that a Christian baker should be forced to bake a cake for two men getting married, but shouldn’t be forced to bake a wedding cake for a polyamorous threesome or foursome or five-some? Or a man-boy wedding cake? Or a woman-dog wedding cake?
Or to take if from another angle, since gay rights advocates frequently position themselves historically as following in the righteous train of the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, what reason can you give why advocates of polyamory and pedophilia can’t legitimately claim that they too are the next car on the civil rights train? Because that is what they are claiming.