Most of us know the story. Last year, a Colorado baker was taken to court because he refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing that such an act would violate his “religious beliefs” against gay marriage.
You’d think that nearly a year after the ruling (in which the baker was found guilty of discrimination), that most people would have forgotten about it. But no. I still see articles and hear comments pop up on ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ and how it’s such a shame that our government doesn’t seem to care about protecting them these days. (Protecting them meaning that they can be exercised whenever, however, and with whatever consequences that result.) The phrase took center stage in the Hobby Lobby birth control case, and again when a photographer in New Mexico refused to photograph a gay wedding.
However, the more I hear the words ‘deeply held religious belief’ bandied about, the more uneasy I feel. I wasn’t sure why at first, until I had read through the umpteenth article on the subject. And that’s when I realized that the so-called “beliefs” being defended weren’t actually rooted in scripture.
I believe that if someone is going to make a case for a ‘deeply held religious belief,’ then said belief should be backed up with a clear biblical mandate. And those saying it is against their religion to sell wedding favors to gay couples don’t have a scriptural basis for that position.
I can prove it.
The scripture that all of these people cite in support of their behavior is Romans 1:32 – that God not only judges people who sin, but also those who simply approve of sin. First off, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that indicates that selling someone a product in the course of legal business implies tacit approval of the buyer’s lifestyle or behavior. Nothing. Second, that’s not what the scripture even says. Here it is, quoted in context:
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. ~ Romans 1:28-32 NKJV
So all the way through, the scripture is talking about the same group of people: Those who commit the sin are also the ones approving of the sin. I’ve looked up this scripture in the original King James and the NIV. It reads the same way in all versions. Here’s how it reads in The Message:
Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!
In this particular passage, Paul is describing how early humans degenerated into paganism. They saw that God existed (vs 21) but decided to worship idols instead (vs 23). They forgot morality and began indulging the lusts of their flesh. God’s response was to let them have their way (vs 24, 26, 28). They eventually began outdoing each other in evil, even abusing and exploiting their own flesh and blood and congratulating each other for it.
Even though the chapter ends with verse 32, that is not the end of the passage. Paul’s point continues through Romans 2:
Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds.” ~ Romans 2:1-6
I looked up some commentary on these passages, and here’s the deal: In these passages, Paul is addressing Jews in Rome. These Jews were claiming that their salvation was assured because they were Jews and had the revelation of the Law. As a result, they were passing judgment on their Gentile brothers, turning up their noses every time they stumbled. But Paul calls the Jews out, stating that their knowledge of the Law and their self-righteous attitude won’t save them since they are engaging in the exact same depravity that condemns the Gentiles. He shatters their preconceived notion of safety, revealing that God, though long-suffering, will eventually judge every person according to their deeds – without partiality (vs 11).
So these scriptures have to do with hypocritical judgment, not ‘passive approval.’
For those still inclined to argue, I point to Matthew 5, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. This is the same passage wherein Christ mandates love for enemies. But it’s the few preceding verses that really demand attention:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 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. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. ~ Matthew 5:38-42.
So, if giving someone something that they ask for shows approval for their sin, then Jesus just commanded his followers to approve of theft, abuse and kidnapping.
And this scripture goes much further than just selling someone a product for profit. Jesus is talking about giving freely to people whose actions we wouldn’t approve of – above and beyond what they ask for! Paul echoes Jesus’ sentiment:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” ~ Romans 12:20
But don’t take his picture or sell him a wedding cake. That’s a step too far. Said no Bible ever.
And where does it end? Can a furniture store refuse to sell a gay couple a bed because they might sleep together in it? Can a banker deny a gay couple a home loan because they’ll live together in the same house? Not to mention this kind of ‘religion’-based discrimination is hypocritical to the max. Tell me that baker never made a wedding cake for an adulterer who abandoned his or her spouse to marry an extra-marital lover.
My deeply held religious belief is that Jesus meant what he said. And if it’s not in the Bible, I don’t have to believe it.