Editors Note: This story was written and submitted before the US Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case mentioned. The ruling was handed down on June 4, 2018.
Evangelicals awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission are in an unusual position: they’re looking to a secular court to give them an excuse to avoid the sacred duty that gives them their name.
“ … go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
That’s called the Great Commission, and, after John 3:16, it’s the verse most likely to be cited in explaining the urgency of winning souls to Christ. It’s an imperative that has driven believers to leave family and friends, forsake the comforts and familiarity of home to take on the altruistic task of ensuring that everyone on earth has the opportunity to receive eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Indigenous people responded to these missionaries in different ways. Some welcomed the newcomers, others were curious. At times, the natives would be downright hostile. Sometimes missionaries would be invited to feasts, usually as guests, but sometimes as entrees. All the danger and discomfort was deemed less important than the urgent work of spreading the Good News.
Animating this missionary work then and now is the proposition that a life with Christ in it is better than one without. Christians should demonstrate qualities such as love, kindness, goodness and patience. These qualities, along with joy, peace, long suffering, faithfulness and self-control –- all gifts imparted to all believers through the imparting of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” — Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
For first century Christians, this assortment of traits would serve to bring believers together to form faith communities. Members of other oppressed minorities could find refuge in, and draw strength from, people very like themselves. Even today, these traits help missionaries make a compelling case for Christianity.
But something odd has happened in the past few years. Despite living in a country where more than two-thirds of the population identifies as Christian, and 45 percent of those are evangelicals, these believers have bought into a narrative that they are part of an improbable persecuted plurality. They fret about secular laws compelling them to act in ways inimical.
In the Masterpiece case, Lakewood, Colo., baker Jack Phillips ran afoul of his state’s Civil Rights Commission when he declined to create a wedding cake for a gay couple. Phillips told the couple that a cake baked to commemorate the vows of a couple whose union he considered sinful would violate his religious beliefs. He offered to direct the couple to a rival baker who’d have no qualms about fulfilling their request, but the commission found him in violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws, and levied a fine against him.
The argument that interacting with sinners is itself sinful is hard to defend when Christians, by definition, follow the teachings of a Savior who didn’t run screaming into the night when encountering some of society’s most reviled individuals. Today there are people in the LGTB community who are every bit as marginalized as the souls previous generations traveled thousands of miles to save.
Today, there are plenty of souls that can be saved without extensive travel or learning a foreign language. Instead of living up to their self-proclaimed mission, many of today’s evangelicals are looking to the nation’s highest court to give them an excuse not to witness to those who engage in acts of physical intimacy they deem “icky.”
There might be a valid reason for evangelicals to shun members of the LGBT community. But evangelists sure make it hard to differentiate that reason from unvarnished bigotry.
Monsignor David Jennings is the Vicar General for the International Old Catholic Churches. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.