Dear Christian baker,
After all the news out of Indiana and Arkansas recently, you may still wonder how to remain faithful to God (as you understand God's will) and obey the government's anti-discrimination laws. Maybe you see this as a moment for taking a stand, putting a stake in the ground, engaging in civil disobedience.
There might be a better way. It comes from a Bible story you don't hear in the debates over same-sex marriage. See if it works for you.
You probably know the story of the prophet Elisha and Naaman, the army commander from the land of Aram who suffered from leprosy (2 Kings 5). An Israeli slave girl in Naaman's household happens to mention Elisha's healing powers, and Naaman decides to pay him a visit. The story is rich in wisdom and beautifully told -- well worth a read.
For now, though, let's jump to the end. Naaman gets healed. He sees firsthand the power of God. So he returns to Elisha and says, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel... Your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord." It would be hard to script a better ending to the story.
Not so fast.
Naaman has a thorny ethical issue, and he wants Elisha's guidance. It involves his master (the king of Aram) and Aram's national god (Rimmon). "When my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count."
In other words, Naaman wants Elisha's blessing to break the first and most fundamental commandment of the God of Israel. "You shall have no other gods besides me. You shall not make for yourself an idol... You shall not bow down to them or worship them" (Exodus 20:3-5).
You'd think the answer would be obvious. Elisha needs to inform Naaman of this commandment and prohibit him from ever bowing down to Rimmon, ever again. Naaman needs to take a stand for the God of Israel, even at the cost of his life. I doubt anyone would be surprised to hear Elisha say exactly this.
Except he didn't. Instead, Elisha says the unthinkable: "Go in peace."
Here's what I draw from this story: Sometimes we humans get caught in impossible situations, or at least they seem that way to us. No matter how hard we try to follow our understanding of God's will, we get smacked with situations that make us profoundly uncomfortable. There's no good way through them.
And God gets that. Even better, God seems willing to accommodate that. Our calling is to navigate the impossibilities in the most faithful way we know how.
In running my own advertising business for 25 years, I've met a few people whose businesses or ways of life seemed antithetical to what I believed to be true and good. In a perfect world where I was king, I might have chosen not to serve them, yet I had an obligation to help put food on my family's table. In most cases, I swallowed hard and served them as clients -- with the same level of commitment I served the clients I loved.
Do you see yourself in these stories? Could this be your best way to move forward? Through the story of Naaman, can you bake your best cake for a same-sex couple and see it as being faithful to God?
Now there's a risk involved here. If you go this route, the interactions you have with same-sex couples may change you. You may start thinking about the issue in terms of the individuals behind it, with their individual stories and hopes and fears. This has happened to me in a different sphere of my life. In a way it's why I'm writing to you: because for years I'd written off my conservative sisters and brothers in Christ until I spent time with them and saw the humans behind the labels. It led me to empathize with them as people even if I didn't agree with them on issues.
That's a risk, to be sure. But it's a risk we take anyway, with every person we meet. Are we willing to jump in and trust that, just maybe, the person in front of us may be a sign of God's movement in our lives?
I think it's worth a try. What about you?