In light of recent events in North Carolina, perhaps like me, you have been struggling with what seems to be a frustratingly uncomplicated series of observations.
Take for example the following.
In January of 2013, a baker in Oregon declined to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple with the stated reason being that her personal beliefs simply would not allow for her to participate in the event. That baker, as a business proprietor providing products and services to the public, was criminally charged, and after a rather tumultuous series of judicial episodes lasting well into 2015, was ultimately found guilty and subsequently fined $135,000.
In summary, the baker preferred not to perform or provide her product due to her beliefs.
In April of 2016, Bruce Springsteen cancelled his performance in Greensboro, North Carolina because he did not agree with the state legislature and executive offices’ passage of House Bill 2 (HB2), commonly referred to as the “Bathroom Bill,” which in short requires transgender people to use public restrooms according to their biological gender as opposed to the gender with which they identify. Bruce Springsteen, a proprietor of goods and services, was lauded in the national media, and yet to my knowledge, has not been prosecuted for his actions.
In summary, the rock star preferred not to perform or provide his product due to his beliefs.
So, what’s the difference? Well, to start, I see at least two.
The first noticeable difference is that the incident with the baker really only affected two people – the lesbian couple – and in the end, they were able to secure a different baker for their event. Because of his celebritous muscle, Springsteen’s actions affected tens of thousands, and perhaps many more when you consider the economic effects to the immediate communities.
The second difference? I’ll get to that in a moment because at this point I suppose that some might be thinking that in the end there’s only one real difference and it’s that the baker was acting in an openly discriminatory manner and Springsteen was not. But I’m less interested in that argument because anyone who analyzes what has happened in light of actual discrimination cases in history while sprinkling a little bit of rationality into the mix will know that such a train heaves along in tow the boxcars of “hatred” as well as what the perpetrator might consider as objectively true – which is that the person to whom he or she is aiming the deliberate discriminating action is indeed deserving of the alacrity because the target is of a lesser class of citizenry and is therefore undeserving of the same goods and services as others of the perpetrator’s class.
Neither of these applies to the circumstances before us.
With regard to the baker, she was very clear to say on many occasions that she did not hate gays or think that they were second-class citizens in any way, but rather she preferred not to be involved because of her moral and religious convictions. From all that I’ve read, seen, and heard, she made it clear that the couple had the right to the service, but that she just didn’t want to be the one doing it. This is no different than countless cases both before and after her event where people have refused to participate with groups or in events with which they were in disagreement. I think I remember reading somewhere that a Christian church would not have cause for bringing a lawsuit against a Muslim caterer who preferred not to serve the organization’s spring luncheon. The caterer has the right according to the First Amendment to decline. And I should point out that in order to elevate the baker’s point and plea for similar understanding, she baked and sent cakes to some high profile LGBT organizations around the country with a note included which read: “We’re the bakers who declined to create a cake for a same-sex wedding and were ordered to pay $135,000. We want you to know that our actions were not motivated by hatred, and we personally baked this cake as a small token of our love.” I’m not sure how anyone can interpret that as the action of someone desiring to be discriminatory as opposed to simply abiding by a tenet of one’s faith.
In a sense, I would say the same of Springsteen. Whether he is religious or not (although he has expressed himself as an avowed agnostic), he is exercising a moral conviction which is protected by the First Amendment. Steven Van Zant, Springsteen’s lead guitarist, said as much when he spoke for Springsteen and his fellow band mates, saying, “You gotta hurt people economically to have them do the right thing morally.”
Neither the baker nor Springsteen is guilty of discrimination, and yet right here is where we see the second of the differences between these two cases.
Springsteen and his E Street Band had in mind to cause hurt, and not just by way of legitimate protest – that is, to hold the line to make a point or to stand immovable in a personal conviction – but to hold the line and then advance in attack through defamation and more in order to force someone else into their mode of thinking. No sooner than announcing that the concert was cancelled did folks directly and indirectly associated with the band proceed to publicly malign the elected officials in North Carolina who authored and successfully shepherded it through and into law. These words and actions incited others to take up the mantle of hurt and do the same, and in due time it devolved into the miry depths of death threats.
Still, I won’t say that Springsteen is being discriminatory, but I will say that he is being a bully, and bullying left unchecked is destined to follow a similar line and perhaps end in the same way as discrimination – which is that hatred produces the desire to hurt which in turn follows toward violence and quite possibly death. Now forgive me if I missed it, but I’ve not read anything about the baker calling the lesbian couple and leaving death threats. Nope. But she did make cakes and sent messages of kindness to the enemies actively seeking to utterly crush her livelihood and maul her reputation beyond repair.
And so, again, what’s the difference between the two? Well, the Christian baker, now has a debt to society of $135,000. Springsteen, the rock-n-roll icon, is a hero and will probably win some sort of an award for cultural bravery.
With that, there is a third distinction, isn’t there? Christ has pretty much already explained it for us in John 15:18-21 when He said:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”