Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Cost of Resistance

All of the focus on religious freedom legislation and the Supreme Court hearing arguments on gay marriage has refocused the nation’s attention on an Oregon case where the proprietors of a family-owned bakery may be forced to pay up to $135,000 in damages for refusing to make a cake for a lesbian wedding. Aaron and Melissa Klein are Christians who owned and operated Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon. Back in 2013, the Kleins were approached to make a wedding cake for two brides, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. The Kleins refused, citing religious reasons, and Rachel Cryer filed a complaint with the state of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries. Now two-years later, following four days of testimony, the bureau has ruled in favor of the brides, recommending $75,000 in damages to Rachel and $60,000 to Laurel.

The fact of the matter seems to be that the Kleins did violate Oregon law when they refused to provide services based on the couples sexual orientation. The Kleins claim that participating in a same-sex wedding would violate their religious beliefs and that compelling them to do so violates their First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Unfortunately, for them, case after case has shown the courts do not agree that commercial activities such as baking cakes have anything to do with one's religious practices.

Regardless of how anyone interprets the First Amendment, the Kleins could have easily avoided this situation and still have a thriving business if they would have realized one thing. Their understanding of religion was betraying them. 

Jesus would have told them to make the cake.

Jesus’ cake-making command was given in what is probably his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. The words spoken by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 5:38-48 apply perfectly to this and similar scenarios. Here, Jesus describes how we should approach situations where we are being compelled to do something against our will. It’s where the famous “turn the other cheek” phrase comes from. Jesus says, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (v 39). He further goes on to say, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (v 41). 

In those days, Roman soldiers were allowed to conscript able-bodied men to carry their gear for one mile. If the soldier picked you out, you went with them for that mile, against your will if necessary. I can only imagine that many of the chosen did their duty with a great amount of anger and malice in their hearts. The Jews were not terribly fond of their occupiers. Jesus tells us that going one mile is not enough! We should go two! How many people would go above-and-beyond when they were already being pressed into service against their will? Few, if any, but this is what Jesus is asking us to do! Furthermore, he tells us in verse 44 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Think about what all this means in context of Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion. Even after asking his Father to spare him, Jesus handed himself over to the temple guards. When he faced a kangaroo court staged by evil, jealous and power-hungry men, he did’t say a word in his own defense. He did not resist. When he was beaten and a crown of thorns was forced onto his head, he did not speak a word against his oppressors. He turned the other cheek. In the midst of suffering a long and agonizing death at the hands of the Romans, he prayed for their forgiveness. He loved his enemies. Jesus showed his love for the world by paying the ultimate sacrifice. The Kleins were asked to bake a cake.

Rather than stubbornly holding fast to their mistaken religious views, the Kleins should have jumped at the chance to make a cake for this wedding. They should have put their hearts and souls into creating the best wedding cake in their company’s history. They should not have resisted. They missed a huge opportunity to show love. We are called to love all of God’s children and we’re ALL God’s children, even those who refuse to acknowledge Him. Even those who claim to honor God and love Jesus, yet persist in sinful lifestyles. They should have prayed for the couple, for the couple’s friends and families. They should have done everything they could, in the window provided them, to make a positive impact in the couple’s lives and then thanked the Lord for the opportunity to represent Jesus to someone who may not otherwise come into contact with him. They should have gone the extra mile. Would it have made an impact? We will never know.

The religious freedom debate currently taking place in our country represents a choice between resisting evil or going the extra mile. The Kleins could have followed Christ’s teaching and gone the extra mile. They chose to resist. What is the net result of their choice? Anger, bitterness and resentment on both sides of the debate. Add to that the loss of their livelihood. The opposite choice would have resulted in none of those things and would have even provided the possibility of a Heavenly reward. Given the outcome, the correct choice seems pretty clear.