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A Pharisee Takes the Cake Away

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As the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, I get my father’s church’s newsletter, which is wrapped around The Baptist Messenger, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s weekly newspaper. My father writes a weekly column for his church called “Rejoice!,” something he has been doing for over thirty years. Dad usually writes a story about his dog and then applies a biblical principle to Freckles. I enjoy Dad’s columns.

As a queer Christian (gay, to be specific), I usually read with dread and sometimes anger the weekly column “Conventional Thinking” in The Baptist Messenger by the editor, Brian Hobbs. Like me, Brian is a man in his thirties, and I used to attend the same church he did. I never talked to him, but I recognized him from his picture in the newspaper. I sat alone in the balcony, and Brian sat with his wife and children. Brian usually writes about a current cultural event like the recent medical marijuana bill or the #MeToo movement in the Southern Baptist Convention.

This week, Brian returned to one of his favorite topics: homosexuals. Southern Baptists are entrenched in their view that homosexuality is a sin. They use a handful of verses from the Bible to condemn a group of people and then move along with their spiritual lives.

But I want to slow down for a second. When I was raised as an evangelical / Southern Baptist, I was taught that the Bible was 100% true, so I could trust anything that is said. Things got complicated as I grew older and realized I was gay. I still viewed myself as a Christian, but I felt I couldn’t exist as a gay man at the same time because the Bible said homosexuality was a sin. However, in 2018, we know and accept some things that the writers of the Bible do not. The sun, not the Earth, is the center of our solar system. The Bible concludes without ever condemning slavery, but we all take it for granted now that slavery is wrong. And people’s sexual orientation cannot be changed. That’s why groups like Exodus International no longer exist. That’s why many states have started to ban ex-gay therapy. Not only does it not work, it can be very harmful. Some Christians have even attempted or committed suicide because of their queer / LGBT orientation.

Which leads me to this question for Brian Hobbs: What should queer people do? Live in celibacy for their entire lives? Praying away the gay doesn’t work. Trying to date someone of the opposite sex doesn’t work. (Although I know of some people who have tried this and ended up in mixed-orientation marriages. Some stay. Some leave.) It seems to me that queer people should be able to pursue a relationship with someone. Otherwise, you are sentencing a person to a lifetime of solitude simply for existing with a sexual orientation that emerged and cannot be changed. It’s easy for a straight man like Brian to celebrate gays not getting to buy a wedding cake, but I would really like to know how he expects actual gay people to navigate the world. Has Mr. Hobbs ever met a gay person? A gay couple? A gay Christian? A gay Christian couple? Would he approve of a celibate gay relationship, those who follow Side B of the gay Christian debate?

In Brian’s article, he praises the Supreme Court for siding with the “devout Christian” cake artist who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. I wonder if the cake artist interviews all of his customers to find out if they have sinned before he bakes them a cake. If someone is remarrying after a divorce, will he still make them a cake? [Matthew 5:32] I have a hunch he only targets same-sex couples. Everyone else is free from his judgment as long as they are an opposite-sex couple. (Does he ask all his customers if they are bisexual? An opposite-sex couple may actually include one or both members having a bisexual orientation, but because they have the appearance of looking straight, that’s probably enough for the cake artist.) This Supreme Court decision makes it seem like discrimination against queer people is okay. “You should tolerate my intolerance,” the baker argues, and America’s Supreme Court said, “Okay.” How disappointing.

It would be one thing if a gay couple sued a church for refusing to marry them. I get that. A church is a religious institution, and they should get to abide by their beliefs. Religious liberty should apply then. But cake? Wedding cake is not religious. A bakery is not religious. Church services are not held in bakeries. Last I checked, Jesus never spoke about the mystical properties of wedding cake. Nothing magical or religious happens when a couple shares or eats their wedding cake. It is flour and sugar and eggs. Wedding cake is not a sacrament. It should not be covered by religious liberty, which in some cases seems more like bigotry.

Brian Hobbs claims that the Masterpiece Cake Shop decision was “right, for [cake artist] Phillips and for all Americans” [emphasis added]. Clearly, this isn’t true. A segment of society exists that is queer that now has the right to marry. Queer people / LGBT people / Homosexuals exist. Treating us like second-class citizens will not make us disappear. Condemning this group of people sounds like something a Pharisee would do, not Jesus. In my heart of hearts, I believe Jesus would make a cake for a same-sex couple. He would attend a same-sex wedding. The Pharisees were caught up in the minutiae of laws. Jesus applied the spirit of the law, and He did so with love.

Brian Hobbs titled his column “Liberty takes the cake.” By doing so, he makes a joke, a pun out of the fact that the religious liberty argument was held up in the Supreme Court and is therefore something to be celebrated, but also quite literally, the cake artist got to take a wedding cake away from a gay couple who just wanted the standard dessert used by thousands of Americans to celebrate a momentous day. That Hobbs would mock this gay couple reveals his view that queer people are less-than, that they are not deserving of kindness, that God is on the side of the cake artist and not the queer couple. Brian Hobbs is a Southern Baptist, and he is also a Pharisee.

A column like Hobbs’s affirms my decision to leave the Southern Baptist church for the United Church of Christ, a progressive and affirming denomination welcoming of all people, including queer ones. If you live in the Oklahoma City area, you should check out Mayflower Congregational UCC, where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

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