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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

The question looms

I haven’t yet heard a good answer to the baker’s challenge

The question looms


My, how you readers took me seriously just three issues back. Imagine, I challenged you in our May 16 edition to pretend that you are the owner/operator of a neighborhood bakery (see “Taking the baker’s challenge,” May 16). In walks a homosexual couple, asking you to prepare a cake for their wedding coming up a month from now.

Then I made my challenge very specific. I was interested, to be sure, to get a sense of how WORLD’s readers might line up into opposing camps on such a volatile issue. But that was secondary. My main goal was to discover whether we, as a group, might come up with some winsome rhetoric for delivering what was likely to be a negative message. I specifically asked you all to follow the pattern Jesus used so often in His public ministry. Make your point, I said, by asking a pertinent question designed to help clarify the issue. And I added: “No smart-aleck put-downs. No insults.”

By June 4, I received more than 200 replies to that invitation—the biggest response I’ve received to any column since WORLD’s first issue almost 30 years ago. About 165 of the replies came by email, the rest by traditional mail. They came from all over the United States. At least five came from readers who are imprisoned and apparently have a little extra time to devote to puzzlers of this kind.

You took me, I must tell you, somewhat too seriously—even while a great number of you ignored my most important assignment! I thought I suggested that brevity would be a virtue in framing such a question. But fully a third of you filled two or even three pages with your eloquent arguments on one side or the other of the baker’s choice. And typically, the question I’d asked for was either nowhere to be found, or buried so far in your prose that its force was totally lost.

Conservative evangelicals don’t by any means agree on what the baker’s basic response should be.

“Which of these three,” Jesus memorably summarized after telling the story of the good Samaritan, “proved to be a real neighbor?”

In that brief, pithy query—as at so many other times in His teaching—Jesus both surprised His listeners and stretched their understanding to brand-new levels. Again and again, He managed to go right to the heart of a matter by springing on His listeners an unexpected question that summarized the whole matter.

My goal three columns back was to explore together our aptitude to imitate Jesus’ remarkable rhetoric. Might we find some collective ability to speak the truth about homosexuals and marriage—and still to demonstrate at the very same time a winsome spirit?

When I tell you bluntly that you have so far flunked my test, I hope you’ll hear that judgment against the backdrop of my own prior failure. I’d been trying for several weeks myself to propose a model of a penetrating question that would dazzle and silence (and ultimately help) the would-be cake buyers. Only after puzzling unsuccessfully for some time over that self-inflicted assignment did I pass it on in my column to all of you.

So, after the fact, here’s my sense of things. I failed my own test repeatedly, unable to address the issue with something memorable, clever, or pointed. So I turned to you for help—but even with more than 200 submissions, you too missed the mark. You’d be embarrassed by some of what was suggested. The proposals were full of put-downs and self-defensiveness.

Part of the problem is that we conservative evangelicals don’t by any means agree on what the baker’s basic response should be. Should he make and sell the cake—or should he exercise his rights and say no? Should he, as a surprising number of you proposed, make the cake and hand it back to his customers as a gift?

Or is there, I can’t help wondering, still some way to summarize this whole dilemma in the form of a pointed, good-spirited, helpful question that we might all memorize and tuck away for use when we’re surprised by the events of some future day?



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  • Artrider66
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    I think Jesus may have asked if the person in that life style would be OK with their mother and father doing what they are doing. If their parents had followed that life style they would not exist.

    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    as a high school math teacher, i teach the Order of Operations (you have to multiply/divide before adding/subtracting, etc) and i always begin with a story of 2 people approaching a stoplight from different sees green and believes it to mean "Go" and the other sees red and believes it means "Go" as well.  students are always able to articulate that rules and order are necessary for a working (and safe) society...if i were in the baker's situation (which i assume i will someday as a public school teacher) i will approach it with a story like that.

  • musicalam
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    think if I were the baker I would say something like this:  "Thank you for choosing me above all the
    other bakers in town.  I am honored.  You will be pleased to know that by shopping
    here, 50% of the cost of your cake will be directly donated to Focus On The
    Family to support their work in support of healthy marriage."

    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    I tried twice. I don't think it worked.

    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    I posted & it seemed to have disappeared, so here it is again. Maybe a little altered. I would consider any of these questions reasonably possible, noting that you can tell someone just about anything, no matter how offensive, with expression (tempo, rhythme, intonations, volume level and modulation and, to cheat, "spirit") that removes the sting from the meaning. Genuine humility, gentleness and honesty are probably necessary while speaking. The meaning remains, but the pain is perhaps sorrowing instead of stinging.Would you first promise me that I only have to do it if I feel right about it?Would you work on a project you believed was wrong-headed?Would you work on a project you believed was wrong?Would you work on a project you believed was deplorable?Would you work on a project you believed was evil?Would you work on a project you believed was an abomination?Is there anything one should refuse to make a cake for?Is there anything you would refuse to make a cake for?Do you realize I charge exorbitantly for work that stresses me out?Do you realize I charge exorbitantly for work I hate?Do you realize I charge extra for unpleasant work and my values would make this the most[or other modifier] unpleasant job I've ever done?Since I believe I would be contributing to an abomination, would you want me to?I love making cake, but I would hate to make a cake for that; knowing that, would you want me to?"Context is everything."

    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    I'm brainstornming. I note that you can tell someone just about anything, no matter how offensive, with expressiveness (tempo, meter, intonation, volume, and, to cheat, spirit) that removes the sting from the meaning. In my experience, your manner of expression will only succeed with genuine humility, gentleness, and honesty. The meaning need not be compromised, but the pain is perhaps more sorrowing than offending. Here are my ideas:Would you first promise me that I only have to do it if I feel right about it? Would you work on a project you believed was wrong-headed?Would you work on a project you believed was wrong?Would you work on a project you believed was deplorable?Would you work on a project you believed was evil?Would you work on a project you believed was an abomination?Do you think there is anything one should refuse to make a cake for?Is there anything you would refuse to make a cake for?Do you realize I charge exorbitantly for work that stresses me out?Do you realize I charge exorbitantly for work I hate?Do you realize I charge extra for unpleasant work and what I believe would make this the most unpleasant job I've ever been offered?Since I believe I would be contributing to an abomination, would you want me to?I love making cake, but I would hate to make a cake for that; under the circumstances, would you want me to?"Context is everything."

  • ransomed47
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    This is tough.  I have been struggling all afternoon to come up with the one question challenge.  Can't think of anything.  If I owned a bakery - you would know I was a Christian by the posters and signs on my walls.  And I hope by my character.  I would bake them the cake they requested and pray for wisdom in how I speak and respond and behave.  My best friend from college is a lesbian - she has been for about four years.  She would tell you she always has been she just didn't know it.  I would tell you she finally met someone who treated her the way she should be treated - happened to be a woman.  I love my friend and have let her know that her life choices in no way change my love for her.  We have mutual respect for one another's beliefs.  Sadly she doesn't believe in anything.  I am disappointed.  I pray for her.  I ask God to guide me.  I pray I don't ignore opportunities to share Christ's love and forgiveness.  This will only get tougher and more 'dangerous' - the world says to do what ever feels right for you.  Each generation fewer and fewer are looking to the true God.  How can we be surprised when friends, family, and customers think we are the bad guy for sticking to what we believe.

  • Mshahidi
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    Assuming I was legally required to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding I would ask the customer:  "In celebration of family, we will be donating the proceeds to one of two charities.  What is your preference between the Family Research Council and the American Family Association?  An acknowledgement will be given on the bakery's advertisement included with the cake."

  • Janice G's picture
    Janice G
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    My question: Do you want the new modern version upside down wedding cake or the old-fashioned traditional wedding cake?

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    Dr Paul Kengor has recently published  Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage.  I haven't read it yet but the description of the book provides the background and history for the gay marriage movement (know your enemy) and our application of scripture (know yourself).  This should give us the upper hand with relating to gay couples about the truths of scripture and the lies of the world. 

  • Yokefellow
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    I recently did a paper on sexual integrity and gave thought
    to how Christians might interact with the world in matters such as the baker
    scenario.  In Romans 12:2 we are
    commanded to not be conformed to the world, and in John 17:14-23 Jesus prays
    for believers, recognizing the world will hate them, but having said that he
    doesn't ask that believers be taken out of the world, but rather that the
    Father would protect believers from the evil one, sanctify them through the
    Word, and use them to testify to the Father's love for unbelievers through the
    unity they display in Christ.  So how can
    Christian business owners do that and still work with the same sex
    community.  Unify around Genesis 2:24,
    which clearly proclaims God's design for sexual integrity is found within a
    male-female marriage.  All business
    owners include a small reference to Genesis 2:24 on their business cards and
    brochures.  Have a statement that says
    something like, "We affirm God's design for sexual integrity."  Then indicate that for any event the patron
    has contracted the business for that their brochure must be displayed in a
    public place for attendees to see who has provided the cake, the flowers, the
    invitation, or the catered food.  Do so
    in a respectful, courteous way, and let the Word of God do the rest.  Who knows, maybe there will be a Genesis 2:24 movement among all Christian business owners! 

  • ShyToSpeak
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    Steve SoCal: my thoughts exactly. I sent an email to Joel Belz with a very similar proposal. Bake the cake, in exchange for telling them about Jesus, The Bridegroom. (This quite possibly could require multiple meetings). They need the Gospel Truth of Jesus' Righteousness for sinners more than anything else. What better opportunity to share Jesus? They may still opt out. That is not the point, rather, our willingness to share of Jesus.

    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

           Hey now!  In defense of the readership's failure, Jesus's pithy question did not stand alone as a question!  First he told an analogous story that framed the issue very clearly!   And remember, his hearers did not fail to see the truth...but  they were not pleased to hear it!    Maybe what believers first need is a parable with the ring of truth, followed by that wise question.                  And to jpc7581, I commend you for living out obedience to the Lord as you understand it.  Your relatives doubtless keep their distance now, not because you wouldn't play for them,  but because you could not bless their decision.       And to those who would bake a free cake, be prepared to bake a lot of them!  A population that will sue and sink a person's business for refusing to bake a cake will not hesitate to send  'round his fellows to your door.

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    A possible Christian baker's answer:  "There is a huge wedding I've been invited to... and I'm planning to be there... where the groom (really the most perfect guy anyone has ever met) is actually going to marry all the invitees together at once, whether male or female or of any race.  Can I offer you a deal?  If I make a cake for you, will you let me tell you how you can get in on that wonderful wedding... the most beautiful, perfect and love-filled wedding anyone will ever see?"

  •  klpowers's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    Jesus' parables grab your attention, unleashing comments of "blasphemy" from the most righteous.  So when approaching this scenario what would catch the attention of both the couple asking for the wedding cake but also bring cries of blasphemy from believers? It brought to mind the passage in "Little Men" when Professor Friedrich takes young Nat into the shed to receive what will presumably be his punishment for wrong he had done.   The usual punishment would be a couple of smacks on the hand with a ruler and Nat was prepared to receive them.  The Professor could see the torment in the boy but then did something shocking, because he loved the boy.  He took the punishment himself that young Nat deserved.  Nat was undone by this sacrifice and it proved to be the impetus for him to give up his naughty ways.  So maybe we, as Christians, need to consider assuming the punishment that others ought justly receive.  In the case of the wedding cake for same sex couples, instead of charging them for the cake, we bake the cake accepting no payment.  The point being that we will bake their cakes and take their pictures and we Christians will suffer the loss of doing so and refuse payment.  This will catch everyone off guard.(I can hardly believe I am suggesting this, but there it is.)

  •  Peter Allen's picture
    Peter Allen
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    Jesus called out the sin of the woman at the well in a way that was actually extremely respectful to her as a person, especially considering the culture.  As she tried to distract Him from the real issue, He simply re-directed.  He did not refuse to draw water for an awful sinner, he instead asked her to draw for him!  Jesus simply pointed out the way of salvation while creating connection.  What would you do in fact if you knew that a Christian heterosexual marriage you were asked to attend was a second marriage after a divorce that did not meet scriptural guidelines?   Attend with a gift?  John the baptist was beheaded for taking such a stance.  Would you take such a stance, or attend?  Our hypocrisy is unfortunately what they point out.  Let our light shine in such a way that they want what we have...  Incidentally I might possibly attend without a gift.  Not so easy of a decision after all....

  • DaleDe
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    "Which of the two of you, together (by yourselves), can procreate and bear a child?"  To which they respond: "We can not."  I then say "neither can I therefore create a wedding cake that will symbolize this marriage."

    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    As a freelance trumpet player who does many weddings, this issue is HUGE for my family. I honestly am expecting to get sued at some point in my life.I have told relatives of mine that I cannot perform for their wedding. Because of my beliefs that the entire Bible is the literal word of God, and that homosexual relations of any type are not just not mentioned - but are prohibited. Repeatedly. My relatives were hurt, but gracious. That said, despite my efforts, there is now no relationship between us.Laws like the former-Indiana's RFRA are DESPERATELY needed.

  • MTJanet
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    My question - Are you getting married legally or before the Lord according to the Scriptures or do you consider it to be both?" If they are merely legally inclined, I would bake the cake.  If another answer, I would then be able to share what the Scriptures say about marriage in Eph. 5 and would proceed from there.    

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    The question is: How do you love the sinner but hate the sin in this instance?  Start by building relationships.I just came across this piece this morning from the Denison Forum: "Jesus met felt needs so he could meet spiritual needs.  Paul quoted Greek philosophers when he spoke with Greeks, Jewish Scriptures when he spoke with Jews.  If you want to help people follow Jesus, begin by discovering who they're following now.....Start where people are, building relationships on common ground.  Then lead them where they need to go by demonstrating God's compassion in yours.  When people know you love them, they will wonder why.  And they are likely to want what you have.Matthew 7:12 (ESV) 12  "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Conclusion:  If we would desire that others treat us with respect and courtesy regardless of our Christian walk then should we not do the same for them and therefore reflect the love of Christ in hope that they would ask us for the reason of our hope per 1 Peter 3:15?  Be the good neighbor per the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Go and do likewise.

  •  Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    The main reason Jesus always had the perfectly provocative questions was because He was always in perfect relation to both the Father and the people He was addressing.  (Not to mention His Perfect wisdom.)I don't believe that looking for the perfect questions is as important as eagerly and faithfully cultivating our personal relationship with both God and other people.  One is much easier than the other.  I tend to care more about being "right" than I care about the individuals I engage in conversation.  It is no wonder my questions are generally ineffective.

  • Janet S
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    Jesus brought people to the point of seeing and admitting their own sin and then said go and sin no more.  We cannot influence our culture for Jesus if we totally alienate them.  Be honest with them about their choices they are making, how it is displeasing to God and breaks His law(that is what sin is).  If they still want you to bake their cake, bake it.  Take their money and then use it to change our culture for Jesus.

  •  Timothy H's picture
    Timothy H
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:15 pm

    "Which is better, for a person to be true to himself or to give in to the pressures of society? Is it better to bake a cake and deny who you are, or to be true to who you are and not bake a cake?While the question is not explicitly evangelistic it at least turns the table so the customer is encouraged to sympathize with the difficult position of the bakers.