“It’s my business! I’ll serve whoever the hell I want to!” And that’s really the core of the argument, cakes and all. It has been, too, at least since the early days of the Civil Rights movement. And the argument was really very clear, simple and straightforward:
Jim Bo owns the Flea Bucket Motel. His daddy and granddaddy built it and passed it on to him. He owns the building and the land it’s on, clear and free, so he asks, “Why the hell should I rent a room to someone I don’t wanna rent to? It’s my damn business, not Washington’s. This here motel belongs to me, Jim Bo, not Bobby Kennedy!” It makes sense, doesn’t it? Well … it does to Jim Bo. “The government’s not gonna tell me who I’ve gotta to let in my house! And the government’s not gonna tell me who I’ve gotta let in my motel!” And that’s it, period.
Sally owns the Downhome Country Diner. She started scraping and saving when she was 16-years-old. Twenty years later, she bought the old, abandoned Catfish Bar & Grill. She and her girlfriends washed and scrubbed every inch of the place, inside and out, top to bottom and from side to side. Her ‘Bo’ and some of his buddies did some plumbing work and rewiring, while Sally and crew repainted and refinished, ending it all with her brand-new sign: Sally’s Downhome Country Diner… But it didn’t say, “Everyone welcome.” Not everyone was welcome, but so what?
Sally asks basically the same question as Jim Bo – who’s really a good ole boy, all in all – and that is: “Why should I have to serve someone I don’t wanna serve? Hell, it’s my diner! I own this place! I worked my ass off for this here restaurant! This is my dream, my place, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna have someone tell me who I have to serve!” Fists on hips and Sally’s bent slightly forward, mind you. “I don’t have to serve nobody I don’t wanna serve!” Sally’s got a point, doesn’t she? Well, she certainly thinks so, and so do her friends and regular customers, too. And that’s it, period.
Ah, but in Oak Level, population around 500, there’s only one grocery, owned by Mr. Philpot. The next closest grocery to Oak Level is about 10 miles down the road, which would be a 20 mile round trip … or maybe I should say is a 20 mile roundtrip for all the blacks (African-Americans, properly speaking, of course) who live in Oak Level … or on the edge of Oak Level in their part of town. You see, Mr. Philpot – another good ole boy, who got saved at the First Baptist Church when he was eight-years-old – hates “niﺀﺀers.” It’s o.k. though, because Mr. Philpot knows they have no souls, so there’s no sin in hating them. Right?
So now we come to the crux of the matter: “Colored folk” have to drive 20 miles round trip to buy groceries, but most of them can’t afford to do this even once every two weeks because they’re poor. And they’re poor because, of course, they’re not paid well. And they’re not paid well because, of course, they’re just niﺀﺀers. So most of them carpool – and most don’t own a car – and make the 20 mile roundtrip every two to three weeks to buy staple items only, if they can even afford that much … all because the owner of the only grocery store in Oak Level is a bigot, who “won’t serve no damn niﺀﺀers!” And this kind of creates an unnecessary problem for black folk.
Then there’s Dr. Hackshaw, the only doctor in Oak Level, and he won’t take on any niﺀﺀers, even though he likes them well enough (at least according to Mizzes Hackshaw, who lets her maid take home left-overs at least once a week.) You see, Dr. Hackshaw has a reputation to guard, and the good folks of Oak Level just wouldn’t understand his taking on black folk as patients. Oh no! Besides, everyone knows “Aunty Bee” takes care of her own; she’s who all the colored people go to when they’re sick or hurt or both. (And, really, Aunty Bee’s at least as good as any nurse practitioner, thank God; except she can’t get the medicines and supplies she needs, but oh well…)
Now, Stan the Man’s smart. He owns the local feed store and doesn’t mind doing business with black farmers; no, not at all … especially when he can charge them ½ as much as he charges his white customers. After all, they’d have to drive about … well, two to three miles past that grocery store, and that’d not only take extra gas but valuable time that farmers just don’t have to waste. So Stan does pretty good business with his colored customers. And you begin to get the picture, don’t you? But, of course, medicine and groceries and feed are not cakes.
No. No, cakes are cakes are cakes, but somewhere along the line we as a society decided that if you were going to own and operate a business, then you would have to serve anyone able to pay for the services and/or product(s) you offered, and do so at the same price for everyone across-the-board, without regard to racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, etc. differences. We came to realize (and none too soon) that refusing to serve or sell to members of an entire group of people is not simply and only mean-spirited, but also potentially (as it often was) dangerous and detrimental to those people being slighted, denied, taken advantage of and mistreated.
Now, even in the 21st century, there are still people – and likely far more than I’d like to know – who would still say that at least Jim Bo and Sally have a point. They would, and do, offer a kind of modified argument – modified, that is, from the one offered in the early Civil Rights days – and it hinges on the difference between what is necessary, or essential, and what is not so necessary, or basically inessential. They would say, for example, that it’s not absolutely necessary for some Latino family to eat at Sally’s Downhome Country Diner, so Sally should have a choice – really, in their opinion, the Constitutional right – to determine who she will and will not serve.
They would, perhaps, advance the argument for Jim Bo but back off on the grocery store example. Certainly they would admit that medical care is an essential, at least in truly dire situations, and would probably even site the Hippocratic Oath. So thinking along these lines, what are we left with? Well, here is precisely the problem with this modified argument: Defining what is essential and necessary as opposed to what is not gets kind of fuzzy and grayish the closer you approach the middle, so to speak. It’s rather problematic to make firm and clear distinctions; besides, that Latino family may be transient, extremely hungry, and Sally’s is the only place to stop before they all literally collapse.
This family just happened to be able to work for some cash that afternoon, and now they want and truly need a meal … and this family includes three children under the age of ten years. Now with this in mind, is Sally’s Diner and the food she has to offer paying customers a necessity? This Latino family would probably say, “Si! Muy necesario!” They’re extremely tired, hungry and thirsty, and Sally’s Diner is the only restaurant in town.
Proponents of the modified argument might counter, “They could go to the grocery store and buy food to eat.” Well, yes, but of course it would have to be food requiring no cooking … but that’s a possibility. The question we’ve asked ourselves as a society is, though, “Is this a possibility we really want to live with? Do we really want to put members of an entire group in such an awkward and inconvenient position?” We’ve collectively answered, “No. No we do not … at all.”
So now come the cakes. First, selling cakes, whether for weddings or birthdays or anniversaries, is still selling cakes. What does it really matter who is buying the cake and for what purpose? If one claims the purpose does in fact matter, then s/he is obliged to ask each customer more about the purpose of the cake than is readily obvious “on the surface,” so to speak. In other words, if the cake shop owners are evangelical Christians, who want to faithfully live out their convictions in and through their business, then they might have to ask the little old lady buying a birthday cake for her grandson something like, “Ma’am, is your grandson homosexual? O.k. Is he Hindu, or Buddhist, or an atheist? Has he ever smoked marijuana?”
Second, if the customer is paying the full (and fair) price, then there is no logical argument for tacitly supporting something that counters one’s conviction by making the sale. This is only an updated version of the old barter system; money is being traded for goods. Nothing is being given away in support of anything at all. A cake is being sold at a certain preset (or pre-arranged), agreed-to price. The customer pays the cake shop money; the cake shop clerk (or baker, or owner) gives the man his cake. How much simpler could this be?
Besides, evangelical Christians might do well to recall that the Apostle St. Paul basically addressed this issue in the case of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. He noted, of course, that this bothered some believers … but it didn’t bother him. Yes, he did say, “if food makes a believer sin, I will never eat meat again, so as not to make a believer fall into sin,” but he obviously meant he was willing to give up something not really so vital for the sake of his sisters and brothers, who might not understand and, thus, “fall into sin.” Actually eating the meat was not the point; he makes that clear when he says, “Food will not improve our relation with God; we shall not lose anything if we do not eat, nor shall we gain anything if we do eat.”
Which leads to a third point, and that is one of where emphasis ought to be placed. Is the refusal to sell wedding cakes to homosexuals really an appropriate Christian emphasis? Surely, the Church has the right – some would certainly say responsibility – to emphasize the traditional, Judeo-Christian understanding and practice of marriage and family, which is what the current Pontiff, His Holiness Francis I, is doing even now … but not selling cakes? To ask again basically the same question above, but now in this context, do evangelical Christian cake shop owners sell cakes to Hindus, agnostics, hedonists, ruffians, porn addicts…? The point is clear, I’m sure. (Of course, I don’t believe fining someone hundreds of thousands of dollars for refusing to sell a cake is at all just, but that points more to just how convoluted jurisprudence is in our country now.)
In the end, if ever there is an end, there will doubtless still be those who argue that Jim Bo and Sally ought to have the right to serve whomever they please, and refuse to serve whomever they happen to despise, for whatever reason, solely based upon the libertarian philosophy of property rights and individual self-governance. This is not how we have decided to conduct ourselves as a society, though, and more importantly, this is certainly not how Jesus of Nazareth conducted himself nor how he taught his followers to conduct themselves. If the Christ accomplished anything, he broke down the barriers between humans and God, and between humans and humans.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The walls of division have already been torn down. Why are professing Christians constantly building them up again?
(Note: Article inspired by reading “To Unrelenting Opponents of the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling,” by Reject Reality.)