.,  guest post

Wedding cake, Christianity, and a bottle of port

Today I’m thrilled to be featuring Bonnie Engstrom from “A Knotted Life” with a sane, sensible and perfectly-suitable-to-social media conversation on that pesky concept of religious freedom and what it means to discriminate against a person (no good) versus a person’s actions (completely and utterly essential to daily living.) Bonnie writes from Central Illinois about life with her 5 small fries, one of whom is an honest-to-goodness alleged miracle whose story figures prominanantly in Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s cause for canonization.

Take it away, Bonnie.

For the record, I want to live in a country where there is a difference between an event and a person.

I believe people should be able to understand that saying “no” to an event is not the same as saying “no” to a person. Even more so, I wish our society understood that we can disagree about things – even incredibly large things like religion – and still be genuinely kind and respectful to one another.

I do not think it makes you a bad person or a good Christian if you turn down providing a service for an event you personally disagree with. I do think it is absolutely ludicrous that so many people in this nation think it does.

I have met bakers and photographers for whom their small business is a passion. It is a part of who they are and they pour themselves into that work. I get it when those people have a firm belief and conviction that marriage is between one man and one woman, forever and they don’t want to bake a cake for a polygamous marriage, a gay wedding, a divorce party…

What I don’t get is how people don’t see that the same law that protects those bakers and photographers (and so forth) is the exact same law that will allow:

– a photographer to say to a member of the KKK, “I will not photograph your upcoming rally.”

– a protestant to say to me, “I’m sorry, I don’t bake cakes for first communions. When you need a graduation cake, though, I’d be happy to help.”

– a gay event planner to say, “I do bar and bat mitzvahs, house-warming parties, bridal and baby showers, graduation parties, anniversary parties, and birthday parties. I’m sorry, I do not do anti-gay marriage rallies.”

Again, if you personally have no qualms about those things and will bake a cake for anyone or anything because it’s just a cake and it pays the bills – fine. I’ve got no problem with that. But why is it so wrong for a person to legally be protected so they can say ‘No’ to situations that they believe are truly wrong? I am sincerely confused about this and I’ve noticed that just asking questions or stating a differing opinion is enough to write someone off as a bigot.

I am not a bigot, I just have a different definition of sex, marriage, gender, and family than some. A really basic run-down of what I believe:

– Sex is for marriage only because sex is incredibly and specifically intimate, meaningful, communicative, and fun.

– Contraceptives (the pill, condoms, vasectomies, tubal ligations, withdrawl, etc) should not be used for birth control because God designed marriage and sex to create families because families, life, and love are awesome.

– If a couple needs to not get pregnant they can use natural family planning, because nfp does not prevent or destroy our bodies from doing what God fearfully and wonderfully made our bodies to do.

– Men and women are different but they have equal dignity, and this is true from the very moment of their conception all the way to their death.

– Marriage is for one man and one woman and the only thing that can end a valid marriage is death.

There was a time when I didn’t really believe these things, mostly because I didn’t really know these things, and I definitely didn’t know that the above list was what the Catholic Church taught.

In fact, as I learned more about my faith I was both elated and annoyed. Annoyed that I had never had these things explained to me. Elated that there was so much consistency from teaching to teaching, unlike pretty much every other denomination I knew. (If you want to learn more about these things, I encourage you to read the Catechism and this grouping of articles.)

The consistency, the beauty, and the truth of the Church’s teachings on sex, family, gender, and marriage does not mean that it’s always easy to live out. Of course individuals may find any and all of these teachings to be easy or difficult to embrace depending on their personal crosses, family influence, inclinations, virtues, and temptations. However, even if individuals struggle to embrace and live out these teachings it doesn’t mean the teachings are not true or that it’s okay to not try.

Christ is not a warm fuzzy, a fluffy bunny who exists to make us feel good and let us do whatever makes us happy because God is love and “religion should open your heart not close your mind.” Our hearts definitely should be open and ready to love but our minds should be closed on some things. There is a true right and wrong and if we don’t acknowledge that we are dooming ourselves and our children for Hell.

If you don’t believe that you are worshiping a god you have created.

Christ has asked us to pick up our crosses and to follow Him. This is not about comfort and being happy – this is about redemptive suffering and everlasting joy.

Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy.’ I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

I would go a step further and say I especially don’t recommend Catholicism.

Please do not misunderstand: I am not saying “shape up or ship out.” The Catholic faith is true and beautiful and for everyone.

I want you to be Catholic and I want you to fully embrace and live out its teachings and culture. I want you to know and love and serve not fluffy bunny Jesus but God as He truly is: Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, who cares for and loves you deeply, fully, and passionately. I am certain that if you do, though you will certainly still have burdens, you will also have immeasurable joy.

CS Port


  • Emily Cihlar

    Oh, Bonnie. Love, Love, Love This. Good On You, Girl. (I Don’t Know Why, But My Phone Will Only Start Words With Capital Letters. Weird.)

  • Kathleen Patz

    This definitely made me think. I suppose that being a cradle Catholic made me a little lax in my knowledge of the Catechism of the Church. Perhaps I am sensitive to view that marriage is for forming a family with children. I didn’t get married until I was 49, a little late to bear children. Under the established definition, my marriage isn’t legitimate as my husband and I were not going to start a family, nor did we have children from previous relationships. Her explanations are valid, but the application only works if the reason is legitimate and not just because bigoted hatred is easier than trying to understand the other side. I’m sorry to be so long, but this has opened a conundrum for me.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Kathleen, totally valid question and concern. The big caveat being (and this is always the case in Christian marriage): you and your husband, no matter your age, had no intention of deliberately frustrating the procreative process or of saying “no” to children, should God decide to send them along. That’s a critically important distinction between the condition of infertility (whether through disease or age) and the willful act of contracepting. You didn’t enter into your marriage planning to have any children, sure, because you were 49 years old, but neither did you enter into marriage planning to willfully reject your fertility, as would be the case with a contracepting or artificially sterilized couple. And finally, gay couples…well they’re sterile by the very essence of their makeup; two same sex partners can never bring forth new life, their bodies and souls are fundamentally incapable of coming together in that capacity.

      And that’s the essence of the Church’s opposition to gay “marriage;” not that it “shouldn’t” exist, but that it physically/emotionally/spiritually can’t exist. It isn’t possible.

    • Ari

      Kathleen – You bring up the matter of “order” as it is understood in marriage and the Church. Even if you are past childbearing years, you and your husband’s bodies are still “ordered” toward pro-creation with one another by their very nature, whereas some unions, no matter what are not “ordered” toward procreation, they are inherently disordered. It doesn’t mean your marriage isn’t legitimate. You have done nothing to thwart the order of your union. As someone explained it to me once, it’s the difference between an apple tree saying it can’t produce oranges and and orange tree saying it can’t produce oranges. One is rightfully “ordered” to do so, and cannot for some reason (whether legitimate or illegitimate). One is not at all “ordered” to produce oranges, and never will be. Hopefully this won’t be a conundrum for you, as it sounds like your marriage is valid. In Catholic marriages, when asked if the couple is open to life, I have heard it said that when they are past child-bearing years, they can still be open to life that God brings them in the form of students, grand-children, friends, neighbors, etc.

    • Caroline

      A marriage is valid under the Catholic Church so long as the man and woman are able to have intercourse; otherwise any marriages that end in infertility (without fault of the couple by contraception), would not be valid. If the two are able to have the marital act (sex), then it’s valid.

  • Loveline

    Very proud to be catholic and I’ve learnt a lot from this article. The idea of separating the idea from a person and that of following your heart and taking the mind along. Thanks for keeping and making the faith known.

  • Remi

    Jenny and Bonnie,
    This article is spot-on.
    I would qualify one thing, though.
    While Catholicism is not designed to make us ‘happy’, in a modern superficial sense, it is certainly intended to make us joyful and joyfully aware of the happiness that God intends for us. In fact eudemonia is perhaps a Christian imperative, while sadness is a sin (i.e. prolonged, self-indulgent sadness).

    One question I would ask though, as perhaps you are better positioned to address this than I.
    Following CNA articles on this subject I have frequently tried to point to the incoherence of banning freedom of conscience regarding services while allowing and imposing freedom of sexual expression (in a confectioner’s for example) – as when a gay couple who could ask anyone to bake their cake, will insist that those who object to doing so have to do it.
    These posts are always deleted by the moderators while some quite vile and aggressive anti-Catholic posts are allowed.
    While I appreciate CNA giving you voice to express a rational Catholic position, surely the rest of us ought also to be able to promote and defend our faith in respectful terms.
    I have tried emailing CNA in case they are unaware of the moderators’ bias and censorship but have received no response.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      I’m not sure I understand, are you saying that previous posts you have made stating that “it is incoherent to allow freedom of sexual expression without similarly allowing for freedom of conscience” have been deleted by CNA? I’ll certainly look into that with our social media moderator, but it seems very odd that those would have gotten deleted.

      I do know that we get a ton of social media interaction very day, so they don’t always catch all the trolls or vile comments right away, but it’s a work in progress.

    • Remi

      Hello Jenny,
      I do not know whether CNA do the moderation of the Facebook comments (it is apparently the moderators that do the deleting) and I am loath to darken the tone of this excellent piece with a complaint. I have kept a sample of the posts I made which were deleted. I am happy to send them to you should you wish.
      I do not even ask that anti-Catholic comments on Facebook be disallowed- after all we grow in opposition and difficulty, as your article points out.
      – Only that if they are allowed, there should also be an open right of reply so that waverers may see that there is a reply (with proper regard to respectful language), especially on a Catholic website.

      In the meantime, please keep your articles coming. I was also moved by your conversion experience on the death of John Paul II.

  • Brandon Moreau

    As a Roman Catholic myself I sympathize with this argument but discrimination is wrong doing the wrong thing for a “right reason” doesn’t make it right. Yes the law would provide everybody the right to discriminate equally. But where is the line drawn is it at all? Personally If someone did not want to provide me a service especially food because of my faith or orientation I wouldn’t want to force them to serve me anyway but where do we draw the line, food, lodging, transportation?

    We Catholics were discriminated against for a very long time in this country, there is still plenty of resentment towards us even today. It is taught in every history class about all the “dark things” the Catholic Church as done over the years. Discrimination cuts us off from the rest of the community no matter whom is doing the discriminating. The very community we should be trying to spread the good news to.

    • Remi

      Jesus did not reach out to the adulterous woman by cooperating with her adultery, or to the Samaritan woman by telling her it was ok to have had 5 husbands.
      His reaching out is in announcing forgiveness for their sins, and yours and mine. But his mercy needs sin to be called by its proper name. We cannot compromise with it.
      We all discriminate all the time – we would not cooperate with paedophiles for example, or as Bonnie points out with a Klan rally.
      This discrimination is simply called deciding what is right and wrong.
      The question is, which discrimination should be legal and which not.
      There are movements of influence who think that religious education of children, being irrational and superstitious, should not be allowed; in England, Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close because they would not place children with gay couples; there are people listening to Christian radio and who make a complaint to the police about hate-crime whenever the Bible’s stance on homosexuality is quoted; I could go on.
      These people have no interest in you reaching out. They want to stop you reaching out in any way they can.
      Mercy requires truth.

      • Brandon Moreau

        Christ also said “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus was without sin he by all rights could have been the only one there to throw a stone. Yet he did not. Jesus our Lord did not offer mercy to us once unconditionally he is always with us waiting and pleading for us to return to him and his will. Did the father make the prodigal son repay him before he could be forgiven. No.

        As for the KKK list their rallies be televised so that all may know their wicked bigotry for what it is.

        Perhaps then all people will then come to know that it is wrong.

        My point is that despite our sinful nature Christ loves us. So much he endured crucifixion for us, and assumed human form. We should try to emulate Christ’s constant and unceasing love for all people. I must sleep for around 1/3rd of my life.

        I have no time to waste on discrimination when I could be using that time to love my neighbors and proclaim the good news.

        • Jenny Uebbing

          Brandon, be sure that you’re loving them authentically, as Christ did, by refusing to leave them in their soul crushing and life damaging sin. He meets us where we are – as we must do for one another – but never, never to leave us there.

          Critical distinction.

          • Brandon Moreau

            One thing I’ve come to know is that discrimination of any form is often enough the first step towards separation. By refusing service we are literally leaving them there, but we are also refusing to engage them, and hardening their hearts even further. I hope in my heart that those who would use this law would believe they are doing so out of love of god. But there are many many more who will do so out of bigotry.
            We are all sinners. Baking a cake or taking pictures doesn’t enable sin, but providing the service gives us a chance to talk to them and proclaim the good news.

        • Remi

          It is not to throw stones to refuse to be coerced into approving the harm they do to themselves and each other.
          Neither is it a waste of time that would be better spent sleeping. Why would Christ have bothered ‘convincing the world of the truth about sin,’ if all he had to do was collude with it in the false name of mercy.
          It is not to throw stones to announce Christ’s mercy for the sinful state in which they and we all are, for whatever reason. But to announce this mercy it is necessary to be clear about what sin is, when asked.
          NB, these confectioners and photographers did not go looking for trouble by advertising their refusal at a Pride rally. Trouble came looking for them, mischievously in many cases, since their services could be sought elsewhere.
          All they did was take a stand. when they felt they had to.
          And also note, that it is not the Christian’s job to go moralising. It is our job to love the enemy, and the enemy comes as a result of our announcing Christ.
          Difficult though it is for these businesses, their refusal makes them a witness and gives the rest of us opportunity to witness to Christ’s incredible forgiveness for the sinners.
          Nevertheless, we have to be serious about the seriousness of sin. Otherwise, why would God have bothered to incarnate and put Himself in a position where he would suffer such persecution?
          With whom do you stand?

          • Brandon Moreau

            “With whom do I stand?” The Holy Roman Catholic Church.
            “Forgiveness for the sinners?” As if all of us are not sinners?
            If Christ could dine with sinners then who are we not to even serve them?
            Christ came for us sinners, for the lost sheep he did not collude with sin but forgave the sinner.
            As for approval have you disinherited the divorced in your family or friends? Are we to bring condemnation upon all people for such failings. Or are we to greet them with feelings of warmth love compassion and understanding?

          • Remi

            The Catholic Church is pretty clear in this and on the necessity to protect freedom of conscience.
            Again, it is not condemnation to stand against sin. It is truthfulness. Tough love.
            We can serve these people as Christians in any way besides servicing their sin. I have been a public servant for years, in schools and in the police and I have always done so, with love, if I may say.
            How do you see your reaching out working? “Here is your cake, but God forgives you.” ? Is that feasible? Do you think they will ever let you announce his forgiveness?
            What makes you view clarity as condemnation?

  • Brandon Moreau

    The location of ones profession carries certain responsibilities. And when one is called to be a baker their vocation is to bake not to withhold the product of ones labor based on the sin of a purchaser. When one puts themselves into the private market they do so to make a profit. God makes all things to serve his purpose. For example one of my cousin’s wedding cake cost around $700. It did not officiate the wedding its absence would not have prevented the wedding, but $700 goes really far in Africa imagine all the families that will feed if given to the Catholic Relief Services. Now if one were to be asked to officiate the wedding in a civil capacity it would be a different matter.

    • Caroline

      I can see your point in the bakery question; however, what about a photographer who is asked to be at the wedding, and photograph the reception etc.,? I can see baking the cake, and putting it in a box and sending it along, but what about having to catch every moment of the event? (I won’t say wedding, because you can’t call an apple an orange and make it become an orange). People shouldn’t have to lose their business to satisfy someone’s demands. It seems in many cases, there is trouble caused on purpose for these businesses.

      • Brandon Moreau

        Caroline you, perhaps inadvertently, stumbled on to the source of my logic, their civil secular ceremony, that affects their property and co-habitation is not equivalent to our sacrament, and because of that I have little umbrage towards them on this matter.

    • Remi

      They are not withholding the product based on the sin of the purchaser.
      They would bake them birthday cakes, bar mitvah cakes, or any other cake, even knowing that they were gay, and so they should – with love and humility and as much or more sense of service as they would for any other customer.
      They are withholding the product that would celebrate the sin – the wedding cake. They are refusing to actively cooperate with the sin and encourage it. The photographer is doing the same.
      I am not sure what you mean about the cost of the cake. I am in business – I teach martial arts. Though I want to make a profit it is my prerogative to refuse to make that profit under certain circumstances. For example, if a known gangster came to my class I would kindly advise him that I could not teach him a skill set that I had reasonable cause to suspect he would use to harm people. I would, if I taught him, be encouraging his sinful tendencies to the likely detriment of others. It is imperative that I refuse to teach such a person, even if my refusal is based on his sin.
      There are certain public officials that cause such anger and frustration that I might also refuse to teach them – London parking attendants are little more than municipal racketeers, for example.

      Ultimately, it is the same as refusing to officiate at a wedding. For example, in England a civil wedding registrar was sacked for asking that someone else officiate at the gay ‘wedding’. The reasoning, like yours, was that as a public servant he should not pick and choose whom to serve.

      • Brandon Moreau

        As a martial artist myself I can see where you are coming from in respect to the gangster. But if you could teach the gangster the code of honor that we martial artists subscribe to you could turn his life around. Personally I find the secular ceremony that they may partake in to co-habitate and share assets not equivalent to sacramental marriage. Its why I don’t care as much as others do. Their civil secular union can never detract from our sacrament.

        • Remi

          Yes, if I could teach him the code of honour I would or might engage with him, but that would only happen if he requested it, and undertook to renounce his lifestyle. And I would pick and choose very carefully what I taught him until I could trust him. If he was requesting it on his own terms – that I teach what he wanted, how he wanted and when he wanted – which is more analogous to this marriage situation, then I would not.

          In England we did for a while, have what was called a civil partnership. It gave gay couples all the rights of married couple, the tax status, right to adopt, etc. If I remember correctly, that was when Catholic adoption agencies had to close because they would nor refer children to gay couples. Note – there is a paucity of children to adopt even for heterosexual couples, since the advent of abortion rights.
          In France, similar laws were passed (called ‘le pacs’ – Pacte Civile de Solidarité – , pronounced PAX and even brothers and sisters and best buddies were forming civil partnerships because of the tax breaks! – tax breaks originally intended to encourage couples to found a family, by the way.
          I was uneasy about it because I could see where the logic of it was going, but it did not carry the name of wedding and their relationship was not an official marriage. Elton John was one of the first to take advantage of the change when gay marriage was allowed.
          The trouble is that the use of the word ‘marriage’ for this kind of union does not leave a specific word to describe that union of a man and a woman, committed to each other for life and open to the possibility of the fruitfulness of procreation. This usage of the word actively seeks to equate a gay commitment for life with a heterosexual commitment for life as though one were equivalent to the other and leaves no space in language and common understanding for the Christian meaning – and Jewish, and Muslim, and Hindu, and Sikh, and Buddhist – which is that marriage is the permanent union of people of the opposite sex for the building and continuation of society. This was even true in societies that encouraged homosexuality such as among the ancient Greeks – men could have their male lovers, but you also needed to get married in order to perpetuate the line, the family, the nation, society.
          This loss of meaning is not particularly surprising in societies like ours that have already lost sight the meaning of marriage with facility of divorce (thereby undermining the understanding of permanence) and contraception whereby the necessary openness to fecundity is also lost.

          But apart from this, and whether we can agree on whether gay marriage is objectively something with which Christians should have nothing to do or should tolerate to the extent of servicing, is the question of whether they should be forced to tolerate against their conscience.
          Bonnie makes the point that she would not force a protestant baker to provide her with a First Communion cake. Clearly a first communion cake is not a sin before God and we, as Catholics, would think that a protestant’s objections are misplaced. But we still would have NO RIGHT to force them to bake it against their conscience. Even if their objection amounts to unjustified discrimination against us, forcing people to do things against their conscience is deeply perverse.
          A society that purports to respect individual freedoms and yet is willing to do this is in danger of loosing it’s way.

      • Christine C

        I guess the crux of the matter for me is that I don’t see the act of baking a wedding cake as being an endorsement of the couple’s marriage. Neither is photographing a wedding. Or decorating a hall. Unless you’re an invited guest, you’re not celebrating the wedding at all. You’re providing a service.

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