How To Bake A Gay Cake

Today in Northern Ireland, a civil court found in favour of a gay rights activist who brought a case charging a prominent bakery – Asher’s – with discrimination. Last year Gareth Lee had ordered a cake with Bert and Ernie on it and a slogan supporting gay marriage. Asher’s initially accepted the order but then two days later reneged on the deal, citing their Christian faith as the motivation for turning down the work.

I think this ruling is best described as asinine. The great risk of identity politics is that it will be reduced to the freedom to purchase our identity and in this instance, that seems to quite literally be at play. Whatever about the reaction of the people who brought this case and the people who defended this case, Mammon is delighted about the verdict.

But the over-riding impression that I have following this case is the sense I have had from the beginning. Something is very amiss about what Irish Christians seem to think is a public voice. The freedom to not make cakes is not a promising start for trying to enact a New Testament social witness. There are legitimate reasons to stress about how deep our concept of free speech is in such cases, but there are deeper concerns about how deep our concept of mission is (as well as legitimate concerns about cross-sectional discrimination against gay people!).

I am a reasonably skilled baker. I am a wizard with old bananas or a few carrots or a half finished box of malteasers. So let me share with you and any potential Christian bakers out there my recipe for Gay Cake.

    1. Take Mark 12:30-31 and reflect on the nature of neighbour love. Think how outraged many Christians would be if a prominent secular family of bakers outright refused to make Easter-themed cakes anymore. What does it now mean to love your neighbour as yourself?
    2. Add in Matthew 5:41 and consider how Jesus used the example of a genuine enemy to describe the social engagement of his followers. The audience of the Sermon on the Mount were Hebrews, oppressed in their homeland by the undefeatable and pyschopathic might of the pagan Roman Empire. The backstory to “walk a mile in their shoes” is the legal blank cheque that Roman soldiers had to humiliate and denigrate the local population. Even to chief enemies – the rapists of your women, the murderers of your sons, the thieves of your land, the insulters of your God – even to these should compassion be shown.
    3. Fold in Matthew 5:44 which tells you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Don’t go overboard here with whisking because the idea is so similar in texture to the previous one that it will just flow right into the mix. After all, if Christians in Ireland did have some genuine persecuting enemies, the clear and unavoidable teaching is that we should love them and pray for them. Loving them means contact with them and praying for them creates some sense of openeness and empathy for them.
    4. With these three ingredients ready to go, you now need to bake it for an hour in a kitchen. Consider the kitchen of Simon the Pharisee, or Zacchaeus the tax collector or the numerous places where Jesus engages in table fellowship with people whom he ought to stay clear of. The Pharisee is a particularly good case because on the surface, he is the kind of guy you want to have marry your daughter, so to speak. He is fine and decent and upstanding. But he judges Jesus for the way he welcomes the attentions of a disreuptable woman. Commentators down through the centuries have speculated that the woman was a prostitute. It seems the upstanding religious impulse has wanted to distance dinner parties from sexual immorality even before Belfast bakers said no to Ernie.

The New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg has a wonderful little book called “Contagious Holiness” about the way that Jesus used meals to both instruct his followers in his Way and to initiate the reality of that Way in his followers. If the ingredients of this gay cake are clear teachings of Jesus, the oven it is baked in are the many cases where Jesus transgressed both societal norms and the internal coherence of his own movement if he was just another religious guru selling enlightenment. He issues teachings with Godlike authority and then interprets them with Godlike audacity. He has no fear of contamination. He acts as if he is the one who is a contagion. The saltiness and the light that he represents gets passed around along with the bread-basket. He eats with anyone and everyone.

Christians should be the same way. The Ashers are sincere and obviously very committed to Christianity. They have the stamina and the cojones to back up what they say they believe. They are not bigots. They are not worthy of scorn. But I do think they missed an opportunity when they didn’t bake the Ernie and Bert cake. As one Christian to other Christians, I suggest there was a better way.

Our voice in the public square is no longer going to be about power. Our voice in the public square can no longer be about having friends in high places. Our voice in the public square should not be about how we have special rules for conducting our business affairs. Based on the specification of electoral politics, Christians will therefore be increasingly silent in the public square. This is very good news. When we stop speaking the language of power, people will finally get a chance to listen in on us as we worship the one who, forsaking power, triumphed over power, and killed death. He was hospitable even to death, he went as far as hell, he did this to set the captives free.

We can bake cakes for gay people, for capitalist people, even for Baptists. Jesus wants to welcome them all. We should too.

Your Correspondent, Has your cake and will eat it too

8 Replies to “How To Bake A Gay Cake”

  1. Kevin: Thanks for this post, and there’s a chance I might not be able to see any reply because websites get randomly blocked by the computers here in Afghanistan, so maybe we can email. The legal trend in the United States is that wedding industry-related businesses who refuse to participate in gay nuptials are being fined by courts and shut down through social stigmatization by gay “community organizing.” I have to confess that I have trouble not using the word “Fascism” for situations like this. One insane case out of Colorado saw a court use the legal theory of specific performance to literally force a Christian bakery to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

    I mostly agree with you in situations not involving religious or quasi-religious ceremonies, but let me give you a more close-to-home scenario: I play at weddings occasionally. Let’s ignore the fact that I do them on a volunteer basis and don’t ask people–usually friends and family–to pay me. Let’s say I charge for them and have a part-time business from playing them. My repertoire is about fifty percent evangelical hymns and fifty percent 19th Century composers. And let’s say a lesbian couple asked me to play at their wedding, the invitation of which I politely refused for religious reasons. They sue.

    In the U.S., the most likely civil punishment will be a fine–a recent Oregon case for a bakery was about $135,000 USD. But there would also be the option of specific performance, in which a court forces me to participate in a religious service that according to my (and your) religious faith is not a Christian ceremony at all. I think we’d agree that either result is not representative of a liberal democracy.

    I respectfully disagree that I would be missing missional opportunity in refusing to play at a gay wedding. I wouldn’t play a Mormon or Hindu or Muslim wedding (or funeral) either. So this makes me ask a few questions, if you’ll permit me. Is a Christian therapist/counselor obligated to perform pre-marital counseling on a gay couple as a form of missional ministry? Would you as a minister of the Gospel? Would you perform the marriage as an opportunity for mission? Is it missionally ideal that I as a Christian attorney agree to represent a gay couple in adoption proceedings, or for that matter, in suing Christian businesses who refuse to use their creative abilities to bake cakes/decorate/act as musicians/preside as ministers of over their weddings?

    I understand that people can agree to draw the line differently here, but there has to be a line between “missional” and “loving man over God.” Let me go ad absurdum: would you pray with a woman having an abortion, just before the act occurs, without pleading with her to stop? No you wouldn’t, but the clinics in the United States have chaplains who do just that.

    This is not about fear of contamination. The Pharisees were not converted. Mary Magdalene was. I think it’s unfair to lump conscientious Christians in with the pseudo-religious “God and Country” therapeutic moral deism and accuse both groups of having the same pharisaic motives. But my greater question– since we’ve reached the gay tipping-point culturally: who are the real Pharisees now? The ones claiming to be Christians who actively support the marginalization and hatred of those they deem to be less moral, or the ones claiming to be Christians who actively support the marginalization and hatred of those who refuse to actively affirm their lifestyles in every respect? I’m not so sure I know the answer.


  2. Good letters both, however, LGBT is a lifestyle choice and forcing their views and changing the laws of the land for the sake of their 3% maximum of the population is a step too far.

  3. Hi Kevin – thanks for your post (and others) which I have found really stimulating. If I recall right, we met years ago at an IFES weekend in Kilkenny and possibly again with a Ballygilbert / Maynooth link – I was assistant minister at Ballygilbert. Again, if I’m right, your supervisor in Aberdeen is a fantastic man who I met at University and who I shamefully should have been (and should be) in touch with after many years.

    I read your post in reflecting on many different views “post-Ashers” and I think “asinine” and the delight of Mammon are two key notes to strike. I imagine, to, if the Ashers folks are as you describe them – and I have every reason to believe their sincerity – they must have reflected on whether there could have been a “better way” – though hindsight tends to come too late.
    I’m struggling, however, (and probably with some of the same reasons as Jeff above) with your gay cake recipe

    The first ingredient is loving our neighbour – Mk 12:30-31. It’s clearly vital. Though as I reflect on your question about the rescinding of Easter themed cakes I wonder – would I really care? Perhaps I might be disappointed that someone didn’t share that joy of Easter? I might decide not to bother shopping there again. I might think I’d go in there and buy a plain cake and decorate it myself (or just bake one myself). I wouldn’t however, recourse to the law courts to force that secular family to bake the cake I wanted. Do I love my neighbour? Probably nowhere near the way I should. But I hope enough not to want to advance a society in which she was obliged by law to go against her conscience to bake a cake for me. I realise I can’t change everything about society; that laws don’t change people, but grace does. But they do help restrain some wrong and add some measure of protection. Not protection for me against not getting my Easter cake – who rightly cares about that? I don’t want to protect any power-tripped idea of Christendom, especially not by getting my cake and eating it. But protection for the secular baker against being obliged to act against her conscience. I wonder how “missional”, how compassionate towards each person made in the image of God, it would be just to let that one go. I remain unclear as to whether it has gone or not…

    The second two ingredients are Matthew 5:41 and 44; clearly crucial that we learn to love (through being in contact with) and pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. Radical, revolutionary, what the church needs to hear and heed. But I’ve heard these verses before in this Ashers context and they sit uneasily with me. I think there is a category confusion with how they are used in this regard. Jesus’ illustrations are set up with no particular issue with the act per se, but with the person it is done for. Walking a mile, giving something to someone, praying for someone are not in any way morally difficult, conscience-breaking acts in and of themselves. It was who they were being done for that made them such an issue to Jesus- hearers. The “moral disturbance” lay not with the act in itself but with the person for whom it was done. The challenge clearly is in our compassionate attitude to people who we view as our enemies.

    But, as has been the defence in the Ashers case as I understand it, the issue is not with the person but with the act itself. It is no issue to serve the person, but it is a conscience-breaker to enact the cake decoration – whoever the person asking for it is. The “moral disturbance” lies not with the person but with the act itself. (I understand, though I have not read it myself so may be wrong, that the judge suggests that “support for gay marriage” is “indissociable from sexual orientation” – which seems fallacious) That seems to me to be the opposite of the examples Jesus gives – and leaves this application of them redundant.

    The issue is not who we bake the cake for – as you say, it should be for anyone – our worst enemies. And therein lies a huge challenge. But I don’t necessarily think it is either good news or the better way to serve up any cake that is asked for.


  4. Thanks for these last few posts. They’ve been brilliant.

    One observation/question. The owners of Asher’s bakery, it seems to me, do not see themselves as being asked to give their cloak or go the extra mile. They see themselves, in some sense at least, as being asked to bow down to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, or to offer sacrifices to the genius of Caesar. Clearly for them, then, this is not a chance for fellowship. It is a test of their faith and so they must stand firm and not compromise. I’m asking you to speculate a little here, but why do they (and others) see things this way, and what are the underlying differences between your perspective and theirs?

  5. Thanks for the comments chaps. I hope you understand that I am limiting my answers because I have a PhD to work on, not because I am not interested! 🙂

    Jeff: I especially appreciate you coming in because you have an international perspective and a legal perspective. And I think that the detail of your answer displays the ways in which these cases do actually open up troubling issues not just about liberal democracies (freedom of speech, the role of the market, the boundaries of tolerance etc) but about being Christians – being resident aliens in the world.

    But I do think that the situation in Ireland is wildly different from Oregon. If we were to approach this movement without fear and constructively engage in the way I am pointing, we can avoid the acrimony and stress that has resulted elsewhere. This is a theological good not because we are conflict avoiders, but because being peacable is a Christian virtue. The soldier’s instinct is to say that if you want peace, prepare for war. To quote Barth, “a wiser version would be: if you do not want war, prepare for peace.”

    Don: There is a common misconception about democracy that holds since it is the majority that rules, the minority doesn’t. That seems to be behind your basic claim about having no warrant to legislate for the LGBTQ community. In the same way that Jeff’s argument about fascism is flawed on political grounds, so too is your claim about minorities having to reach a threshold before being accounted for.

    More basically, it is flawed on theological grounds. Christians see through the worldly rhetoric of percentages, statistics, and polls. Of course they serve a purpose in terms of framing an idea, but the substance of the discussion is never “3% of the population” but an actual crowd of people. So even if your basic claim is right (I don’t think it is), the way you are making might need to be sharpened.

    Apologies for the density of those sentences!

    Ben: Of course I remember you. Good to hear from you and I hope Knock is treating you well.

    I think there are three things to say. Firstly, you are much more confident of the depth of our discipleship than I am. I think if there was a blatant anti-Christian policy from a company, Facebook, Twitter and the newspaper op-eds would be full of inflamed rhetoric about our rights being transgressed.

    Secondly, I don’t think you have properly accounted for the context in which the walk the mile section of the Sermon on the Mount engages with structural realities. Think of being a Christian in contemporary Palestine (not suggesting that Israel is as bad as Rome!). If you go to the aid of the ailing IDF soldier, are you not betraying your people? Of course you are! Pressing deeper, what does it mean to carry the soldiers pack? It itself was a form of ritualised humiliation that the soldiers used to assert imperial supremacy. You can’t seperate “act” and “person” as cleanly as you think you can. Ethics always breaks down to the act towards a concrete person in front of us – I strongly agree with you there. But the act factors more than I think you have suggested.

    Thirdly, as someone familiar with Aberdeen, you probably got a lot of Bonhoeffer foisted on you! Conscience is itself a very dubious category. I’m showing you all my workings here! This is the real muscle of my theological argument. “Protecting a conscience” is both langauge and a habit of the church that we need to much more fiercely interrogate.

    Dec: You always bring such damn fine questions. This answer might be easily mistaken for facetiousness, but is in earnest, is that we are talking about eggs and flour. Food is not a boundary marker. Gareth Lee is not Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Bert and Ernie is not the abomination of desolation.

    I think that you are exactly right when you suggest the basic impulse behind what we might call “Christian Institute” or “Iona Institute” faith is the sense that we are living in dark times. We are, of course! But we have misidentified the darkness. It is much more in us than outwith us. The role of Mammon in this entire case is instructive – the rights to consume, the rights to sell, rights itself – these are all ideas that Christians should have an instinctive wariness of that far exceeds any animus we have for Sesame Street characters! 🙂

    Ok. It is 9.08. I am 8 minutes late for starting back into the Dogmatics. Thanks for the comments gents.

  6. On that last point Declan, I just read in III.4, Para. 55, Part 2 (The Protection of Life), p. 455:

    “If there is a fall of Christianity, then this is to be sought at a deeper level, and theolgoically we shall find it in the degeneration of ecclesiastical eschatology and the resultant overestimation and misinterpretation of the events and laws of the present world.”

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