There is a scene in the movie What’s Love Got to Do with It? where Ike tries to force Tina (Anna Mae is her ‘real’ name) to eat a piece of cake that she doesn’t want. Here’s a quick run-down of the scene courtesy of Hollie McNish of the Mirror:
Tina Turner, real name Anna Mae Bullock, has just released her own music single and two kids come up to her at a diner asking for her autograph. Not her husband Ike’s. Ike is jealous. He tells her to “eat the cake” so they can celebrate her new and independent success. She doesn’t want any. He says “Eat the cake, Anna Mae” and when she refuses, he stands up, shoves it in her mouth and across her face. Her friend and backing vocalist tries to stop him. Ike threatens her, beats her and she runs away shouting to Tina Turner, “You are dead if you stay with him.”
The scene has become iconic because of its vivid portrayal of the humiliation of domestic abuse. (That the phrase has now become fodder for a Beyonce song is problematic in itself, which is McNish’s point, and beyond the scope of my current concern.)
Well, it seems we have now have progressed to a kind of ‘eat the cake’ scenario in American society. Well, more like bake the cake. As everybody who pays attention to these kinds of things knows, there have been lawsuits about bakers who refuse, because of their tender Christian consciences, to bake cakes for same-sex nuptials. There have been laws passed, vetoed, hysterics, etc. all around but for many it seems to be a totally irrelevant issue. After all it is just cake right?
Of course we are fortunate to have author and social commentator Rachel Evans to elucidate for us just the exact nature of the problem. In a recent post, Walking the Second Mile: Jesus, Discrimination and ‘Religious Freedom’, she informs her readers and the listening public:
We have become known as a group of people who sees themselves perpetually under attack, perpetually victimized, and perpetually entitled, a group who, ironically, often responds to these imagined disadvantages by advancing legislation that restricts the civil liberties of other people.
Leaving for a moment any consideration of whether Evans can plausibly include herself in the ‘We’ of evangelicalism, we note that she advances this statement partially in relation to the supposed rally of evangelicals in favour of ‘injustices in Russia and Uganda’. ( Of course, it cannot possibly be that Russians and Ugandans have ideas of their own about how to order their societies; it must be because of ‘evangelicals’ that they have chosen to advance such legislation.) More importantly though, and more central to her thesis is her suggestion that evangelicals are advancing legislation that restricts civil liberties of other people.
This statement betrays a lack of understanding of both the recent legislation and the very notion of what constitutes a ‘civil liberty’ – which doesn’t, last I checked, include the right to have someone bake you a cake.
But the heart of her argument is this:
As Christians, our most “deeply held religious belief” is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinful people, and that in imitation of that, we are called to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love even our enemies to the point of death.
So I think we can handle making pastries for gay people.
Interesting. But it isn’t just Evans that has this view. And it comes up whether we’re talking about insurance mandates under the Affordable Care Act, or Hobby Lobby, or Chik-Fil-A or whatever. I have seen it elsewhere as people have likened the issue of meat sacrificed to idols in the New Testament, or of washing the feet in service to our neighbors, or of Jesus serving Judas who he knew was going to betray him, or, or, or…
Just eat bake the damn cake! It’s really not a big deal and I don’t understand why you’re making a big deal of it.
My thoughts on this turn rather to our forebears in the faith who lived in the sprawling multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural empire of Rome. An Empire that was actually quite tolerant of different religious and who had, because of the oddness of their customs, even created a carve-out for the Jews. All that was required of a subject of Rome was a simple acknowledgment of the supremacy of Caesar. The Romans did not ask you to forsake your religious worship, they did not ask you to stop your sacrifices to your own gods. In fact they did not even ask you to believe in the divinity of the Roman Emperor. Heck most of them didn’t likely believe in it, least of all the emperors themselves!
They didn’t want or need your belief. They needed your compliance.
And Christians, the ones who would go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give water and food to their enemies, render to Caesar what was his, willingly, painfully, horrifically died rather than perform a simple, likely meaningless, ceremony.
Just like eating cake at a party.
What Evans is advocating is exactly what was portrayed in the film. Anna Mae is perceived as being disrespectful because she doesn’t want to eat the cake. It is taken by Ike to be a personal affront, something no ‘good woman’ would do. If Anna Mae really wanted to serve and be like Jesus she would simply shut-up and eat the damn cake already!
And according to Evans if these objectors were really Christian they would just go ahead and bake it. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do?
At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether the martyr dies for their faith or is merely driven out of business, or shamed, or simply derided as an ignorant bigot – the substantive issue is the same and no amount of clever internet snark can change that. Simply put, it isn’t about just baking pastries for gay people. It isn’t just questioning whether to eat meat sacrificed to idols. It is requiring people under force of law to supply goods for and participate in something they view as abhorrent and intrinsically immoral.