A bakery in Colorado would make wedding cakes only for “traditional” couples. The bakery had done a wedding cake for dogs, which seems a bit untraditional. After learning that a recent wedding cake order was for a gay couple, the owner said, “No can do.” The bakery had in the past turned down other gay couples, even though Colorado has a law prohibiting discrimination against people based on sexual identity.
This couple made an order in good faith, put down a deposit and were refused service after it was initially provided. They decided to sue the bakery. The bakery lost. Now, if any other same-sex couple wanders into this bakery like they did they will not face the same discriminatory treatment.
It used to be legal in this country to discriminate based on race. The Bible was used to justify slavery and segregation both. People claimed it was a matter of their faith, their religious beliefs.
The recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is precedent setting for those who want to challenge discrimination based on sexual identity. A County Clerk in Kentucky continues to refuse to do her part of her job, issue marriage licenses, because she believes to do so violates her religious rights.
She was asked, “By what authority are you doing this?” Her response, “By God’s authority.” God did not employ her. God doesn’t sign her paycheck. Claiming God’s authority is not something any of us should do lightly or cavalierly.
Christians of sincere belief continue to disagree on this issue and probably will for some time. Discerning “God’s authority” on any matter requires significant openness and deliberation and prayer within the community of faith. Resorting to, “It’s in the Bible,” is the lazy person’s approach. “God’s authority” is discerned through reflection on scripture in light of experience and reason.
Scripture should not be read literally, but contextually with an understanding of the history and language out of which it was written. Experience and reason are companions in the reading and understanding of sacred text. Experience is teaching us that people who are not heterosexual have significant contributions to make to the building of community. Reason reminds us that we need to allow our inquiry to be informed by recent knowledge and new understandings. Homosexuality was once considered a mental illness; we now know people are born with a sexual orientation, whatever it is.
“New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth.” These words from the hymn, “To Us All, to Every Nation” by James Lowell are a reminder that even religious practices can and must change to meet present day challenges with the compassion of God and the kindness of Christ.