In a recent Huffington Post article, Christianity Today’s Skye Jethani joined Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt to condemn conservative Christian appeals to religious liberty in declining such services as photography and cake baking to same-sex wedding ceremonies. Jethani, of course, entitled his piece “An Evangelical Case for Gay Wedding Cakes.” No doubt his word processor inquired, “You typed ‘evangelical.’ Did you mean to write ‘Mainline Protestant liberal’ instead?” One must wonder if Merritt & Co.’s conception of “A Faith of Our Own Beyond the Culture Wars” will encompass outright conversion to cultural nostrums regarding sexuality. Because, as we all know, Jesus asked His disciples to participate in and propagate the disorders of the age.
But I digress. While social media users are expressing their sense of betrayal, “traitor” is an erroneous label for this triumvirate. However, “Protestant liberal” does not seem out of the question.
For Skye Jethani, work—especially art and craftsmanship—is a morally neutral thing. In this view, the creations from small businesses are like so many other products and services today: uniform hunks of matter or a collection of digital bits that are simply sent out into the wider world and available for purchase with the universal of money. There is merit to this outlook when discussing systems of tremendous scale. Some simply get their hands dirty by participating in the wider world. The Catholic cashier at a corporate pharmacy is going to probably have to sell artificial birth control to a customer; a Pentecostal at a department store is going to sell clothing made in unsettling work conditions overseas. There are efforts to correct some systematic injustices, but in all honesty, washing one’s hands of such moral disorders in a globalist world tends to be a luxury for the rich.
But the craftsman has a different issue to consider: proximity. Immediately before him stands a couple, about to engage in a social evil, asking him to bless and sanctify the very event of cultural degeneracy with his talents and gifts. “Bless?” “Sanctify?” Yes! For every man’s work is an act of worship to God. While sacred ministry in a wedding liturgy is indeed quite different, there is an element within the Genesis mandate where humanity is responsible to make the wider creation glorify its Maker. In some sense, the product of a human being’s creation can be seen as an offering to God, which can also be a means of loving one’s neighbor.
In this perspective, using one’s gifts to directly further moral evil is a sacrilege of sorts. Should the photographer lay down his photographic offering before the feet of Eros? If he or she can legitimately refuse to engage in pornography, why not homosexual activity? One wonders if Jethani and others of the evangelical left—who are so eager to act “prophetically”—would be enthusiastic about bakers and photographers who see it as their prophetic duty to call out the rebellion against God that is same-sex marriage. This would spring out of a love of neighbor, but a very difficult kind of love. Napp Nazworth offered a fantastic question on this issue: “Should a baker be required to bake a Westboro Baptist ‘God Hates F**s’ cake if it’s against his religious beliefs?”
There are going to be different borders for diverse people. Some have stricter moral sensibilities or may receive differing guidance from their spiritual counselors on various matters. Nevertheless, it should be they, not the state, that decide where to draw the line. It’s not as if the world suffers a dearth of photographers or bakers. In fact, cultural pressures may steer the market to drive out Christian businesses and create a new glass ceiling based on faith.
But we haven’t reached that point yet—that is the burden for brethren overseas and not American Christians at the moment. Sadly, though, American evangelicals seem to have a new cohort of thought-leaders who believe that art doesn’t matter, or at least lacks a moral dimension. Despite all the talk to the contrary, maybe this group fails to escape a common charge leveled against evangelicals: being aesthetic Philistines. “Don’t protect the artists and their craft,” this cadre argues, “What really matters are wedding vows themselves.”
No, art matters, and the local artist merits our loyal protection and support.