The Supreme Court is hearing the case of the Colorado bakery artist who refused to create one of his masterpiece wedding cakes for a gay couple because doing so would violate his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. His refusal was a slap in the face to the gay couple; their love was unworthy. Here’s the problem: does the baker’s religion also condone demeaning other people? Or is this a question we forget to ask when sticking up for our religious beliefs?
The baker argues that the Constitution guarantees the right to freely exercise his religion. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” He exercised his belief. Were the gay couple able to exercise their belief that their marriage was valid?
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are major monotheistic religions. We all have one God, but we evidently don’t share the same rules about how God wants us to behave. So when we stick up for our religious beliefs, we’re like children on a playground taunting, “My God is righter than your God.” I picture God, the Father, looking down and shaking his head in dismay, “Oh dear, the children are fighting again.”
We sing hymns: “With God on our side.” But do we really want God to takes sides? Religious beliefs pit Shiite against Sunni, Evangelical against Episcopalian, but it’s hard to picture God cheering, “Go Sunnis! Get those Shiites!” Or “Homosexuality’s here to stay, Evangelicals go away!” If, as we say we believe, God created heaven and earth and all its creatures, would He take sides among His own children?
The problem with justifying a position based on religion is similar to that of the Supreme Court when deciding how to interpret the Constitution. Some Justices look to the Founding Fathers for their interpretation; other Justices take into account today’s reality. Who is more right? Thankfully, the Constitution is a paper document. God, however, is supposed to be God.
Perhaps instead of concentrating on what religions tell us not to do, we should rely on what they tell us to do. Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” The same words appear in Judaism, Leviticus 19:18, and are sometimes called the central commandment of the Torah. I’m no expert on Islam, but I’ve read a quotation from the Prophet Muhammad, “None of you have faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.”
I have to give the bakery artist credit for fairness because he stopped making signature wedding cakes, even though he lost money. But what if, instead, he had whispered to God, “I’m sure You don’t approve of this marriage, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings and, after all, it’s up to You to deal with homosexuality,” and then had smiled at the gay couple and asked what decorations they wanted on their cake?
Righteousness—sticking up for one’s beliefs—feels good, but it doesn’t lead to peace. And with conflicts raging almost everywhere—for power, property, and profit—I want peace. “Peace” is stenciled on my Christmas cards and extolled in the carols I’ve sung since childhood. So for this Christmas season, I’ll stick to the Golden Rule and try to respect rather than demean other people.