Would Jesus turn water into wine at a same-sex wedding?

Marie Antoinette must be ghostwriting editorials and judicial opinions now, because all we hear from the bench or on the internet these days is let them eat cake. Yes, today’s pundits and jurists can think of no more dangerous threat to democracy than a few confectioners who don’t want to provide same-sex couples with the flavorless monument to conspicuous consumption that is every American couple’s dream.

The cake is a lie

Bone of contention
Bone of contention

The “cake” meme is largely a smokescreen to portray religious people as being hung up on something that’s not a big deal, since usually the person who makes a wedding cake does not need to attend the wedding. But the threat of compulsion also extends to other constituents of the wedding-industrial complex such as photographers, caterers, florists, jewelers, property owners, website creators, innkeepers, musicians, journalists for the Style section, and whoever else is involved in inaugurating a modern family. Does a person who offers a service has no right to refuse that service to anyone, even if it means participating in an event that mocks a religious rite he holds sacred?

Of course, one can get married without all of these trappings. Religious ministers and justices of the peace are quite happy to authenticate a lawful marriage, with or without cake.

What would Jesus bake?

"What would Jesus bake?" Dana Ellyn, 2009
“What would Jesus bake?” Dana Ellyn, 2009

But I bring you no manifesto for alternative weddings and simpler lifestyles. I think same-sex couples can use all the help they can get in concealing the essential vacuity of their nuptuals. What bothers me is all the speculation about who Jesus would or would not bake a cake for.

As far as we know, Jesus never baked anything, although he made a lot of bread on a couple of occasions. But Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding, and that was no accident. Let’s look at John 2 (my paraphrase), where Jesus first outs himself as a miracle worker by helping people get tight.

On the third day of Jesus’s ministry as a teacher, both he and his mother were invited to a wedding in the town of Cana, and his disciples attended with him. When the wine ran out, Jesus’s mother came to him and told him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, what does that have to do with me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” His mother told the servants who were standing there, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six large stone jars standing nearby which were used for the Jewish purification rites, each holding 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus said, “Fill them with water,” and the servants filled them each to the brim. “Now draw some out and take it to the master of ceremonies,” Jesus instructed them.

When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that had become wine (he did not know where it came from, although the servants knew) he called the bridegroom aside and chided him for a breach of etiquette. “Everyone serves the good wine first, then after the guests are tipsy they bring out the rougher stuff. But you have saved the good wine until now!”

Baptism of Christ Meister von DaphniThis story is doing a number of very symbolic things. First, in John’s gospel the story follows right after the story of Jesus’s baptism and calling his first disciples. It is his first miracle. Baptism is a Jewish purification ritual, and the prophet John was baptizing people who wanted to be cleansed from their sins and follow God. As Jesus comes up out of the water, God’s spirit descends on him. Thus, Jesus’s first miracle is a sort of self-referential pun. The waters of baptism are drawn out of the washbasins and become “spirits” through a mysterious action of grace.

Second, the master of ceremonies’ reaction upon tasting the wine shows that the bridegroom is the one responsible for the wine. This explains Jesus’s response to his mother informing him that there is no wine. On the face of it he seems to be saying “Not my party—not my problem.” But Jesus’s statement carries a double meaning. He doesn’t deny that he is a bridegroom, but he observes that the wedding has yet to take place. Mary’s response to Jesus is not to argue with him but to order the servants to do what he says. Mary and Jesus are communicating in a mutually understood language of symbolic riddles.

By turning the water into wine, Jesus shows who he is. He chooses a wedding for the scene of his first miracle, and puts the rituals of the Law of Moses to an unexpected and inebriating use.

Jesus is the bridegroom

The New Testament speaks of Jesus as a bridegroom, and his people, the Church, as a bride. It speaks of a wedding feast in the new Jerusalem at the end of days. In choosing a wedding as the scene of his first miracle, Jesus looks ahead to what he will accomplish through his life, death, and resurrection. When, at the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus tells them that he will not drink wine again until he sits down with them in his Father’s kingdom, he is thinking once more of that heavenly wedding on the eve of his most difficult trial.

Turning water into wine shows that Jesus has no problem with people having fun, and perhaps also shows that he was willing to help an embarrassed bridegroom save face. But the way the story is told shows that the real purpose of the miracle is to be a sign of who Jesus is and what he has come to do.

Would a same-sex wedding have been an equally significant setting for Jesus’s first miracle? Jesus expressed some clear opinions about marriage, such as when the religious teachers asked him about divorce: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). Whatever you may think of it from a practical or political standpoint, the theological definition of marriage involves one man and one woman (Jesus neatly excludes polygamy too, if you’re paying attention).

Cake-eater Kristen Powers may be right in one sense: there’s not necessarily anything wrong with a Christian baker making a tall white cake for a same-sex couple. Maybe by doing so the baker is showing the love of Jesus. Maybe not. Right or wrong, it’s just a cake. But she misses the point about the wedding, and about Jesus. What Jesus did at the wedding in Cana was miraculous, gratuitous, and transformative. His love is a gift. He challenges us to be washed in the waters of baptism and filled with the new wine of the Spirit.

Just as the wedding feast is a significant symbol in Jesus’s ministry, the marriage rite holds a sacred place in the hearts of his followers, some of whom make a living by baking cakes or taking pictures. Compelling them to violate their religion by participating in a ceremonial mockery of this symbolic celebration is a form of religious persecution.

So would Jesus  turn water into wine at a same-sex wedding? Perhaps a better question to ask is this:

Would his mother have asked him to?

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THOMAS HOLGRAVE is a conservative but not necessarily a hipster. He is the publisher of The Hipster Conservative. He has never read a comic book he liked. He is an occasional theologian who has been known to become quite exercised over questions of Puritan doctrine and practice. Not much else is known about him.

7 thoughts on “Would Jesus turn water into wine at a same-sex wedding?”

  1. I think there is a bigger issue here. You can give all the arguments you want to validate a Christian’s belief that same-sex marriage is against their deeply held religious beliefs. And in that sense, you’d be right. It is indeed against many Christians’ deeply held religious beliefs.

    But, the question I would pose is should for-profit businesses be allowed to turn specific groups away because those people live a lifestyle contrary to their own faith? I don’t think they should.

    When looking at an issue like this, which is one that is indeed rather touchy and sensitive for so many people, one has to look at what is in the best interest of society as a whole. And I don’t think allowing people to decide to turn away certain customers over religious issues, no matter how sincerely held, is in the best interest of society as a whole.

    Some people deeply believe that black people should be separate from white people, and they sincerely and deeply believe God made things this way. They believe racial integration is against a deeply held belief. Now, you can say you don’t believe that, but that’s not the point. The point is that there are people that DO believe this. Should they then be allowed to tell all black people to take their business elsewhere?

    Do we really want to live in a society where businesses, especially essential businesses, can pick and choose whom to serve? What if the only gas station in town doesn’t want to sell gas to people in a certain group? What if late at night, exhausted travelers desperately need a hotel room, but the only hotel nearby refuses to let them stay there because there is something about them that goes against the hotel owner’s sincerely held beliefs? Do we want a society where people have to check in with a store to see if the store will service someone “like them.”

    I think it’s ok to say, “If you’re going to make money from the people in society, then, you have to do it in a way that doesn’t make society a less enjoyable place for people to live.”

    I’m surprised that Christians use the term “slippery slope” in reference to gay marriage, claiming that if we allow gay people to marry, it’s just a step away from people being allowed to marry animals or even young children. I mean, there are such vastly different gaps between two consenting adults making the willful and knowledgable decision to marry one another and pedophilia. To use the term slippery slope to connect such enormously different situations is rather silly.

    Yet, these same people do not see the slippery slope that denying services for same sex weddings would begin. Because there isn’t much difference between one business denying services to one group of people over religious beliefs and another business denying services to another group over religious beliefs. People hold all kinds of religious beliefs, and they can hold them quite sincerely. So, what you are proposing is that as long as a belief is held sacred by an individual, they should be allowed to refuse services to anyone because of that sacred belief. But this opens the door to so much that would be so, so harmful to society.

    We decided as a group that freedom of religion is good for society. So, churches get special protections no one else gets. Churches can legally turn away gay people, people of various ethnicities, and anyone else as long as they have a creed that states doing so is part of their beliefs. There is no where else in America where that is allowed, but we give churches that right so people can privately practice whatever religious beliefs they wish. And I do not have a problem with that.

    But, when those same people enter the market place, they’re out in society, and they need to make decisions that benefit society at large, not just themselves. Because we live in a community and that’s how living in a community works. We do what’s best for the group at large, even if it sometimes means making a sacrifice ourselves. No one is saying that the bakers must change their mind and believe gay marriage is not immoral or that their church must host the wedding or any other sort of violation of their religious rights. But they did have to make a decision that would be in the best interest of the community as a whole or they would no longer be allowed to conduct business in their community. And I don’t believe that is wrong.

    1. Hmm… If Jesus truly is God and the Bible is His word, then marriage as He states it WOULD be sacred, and same-sex “marriage” WOULD be mockery. Mockery aimed at God. This would also be, regardless of what beliefs or laws any man possesses! So, there would be a much larger issue here indeed. An issue much larger than the previous post suggests! Also, I believe then that the question is not, as the previous post suggests, whether or not we should rightly deny services based on any religious beliefs. The questions to ask are:
      Is the Bible actually true?
      Is Jesus truly God?
      If so, then, ought I participate in such mockery, not because of any beliefs I possess, but lest I become an enemy of God?
      If I am found as God’s enemy, how might I be reconciled to Him?

    2. >>But, when those same people enter the market place, they’re out in society, and they need to make decisions that benefit society at large, not just themselves. Because we live in a community and that’s how living in a community works. We do what’s best for the group at large, even if it sometimes means making a sacrifice ourselves.

      I find this ironic. So baking a wedding cake for a gay couple is necessary for “what’s best for the group at large”?

      1. To chime in to John’s concern: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s, say those who would violate another’s conscience for the sake of the marketplace. So, you let Caesar tell you what God really wants?

  2. Thanks to the above commenters for participating in discussion.

    Both arguments advanced above are interesting and worth including as part of a discussion, but both rest their case on different propositions.

    Ex-fundie is concerned that allowing a worker to turn away custom—to refuse to participate in economic transactions that the worker regards as immoral or sacrilegious—is a threat to the liberal capitalist democracy in which we live. The market, and the regime of laws which supposedly reflect majority opinion, must not be opposed by the individual conscience.

    Pluralism contains an inescapable contradiction, in that it attempts to allow people whose views are opposed to one another to live in peace regardless. This means creating neutral spaces and implicit non-transgression agreements. The market is one such neutral space.

    The neutrality of the market, though, is a bit of an illusion, because it cannot ever be entirely free. We think that everyone believes that some things—human beings, to give an extreme example—ought not to be traded like consumable goods. But the thing is, not everyone actually believes this. So legitimate markets must be to a certain degree intolerant of certain transactions and those who would transact them.

    Non-transgression is another area where the principle is more clear than its real-life application. In a pluralistic society, we try to respect people’s convictions and make room for differences in religion, culture, and custom. In my ideal non-transgressive environment, the same-sex couple would be sympathetic to the photographer whose religious convictions prevent her from photographing their wedding ceremony. Similarly, the photographer would, in good faith, attempt to refer the refused client to another trustworthy service provider who does not share that particular scruple.

    However, most of us wouldn’t apply the principle of non-transgression in our interactions with, say, people who believe that women or people of color are property and should not be allowed to participate equally in public life. We enthusiastically oppose and marginalize these views. Why?

    Our opposition stems not from a calculation that “most people in our society disagree with this view” but an active moral sense that the view is completely wrong. Otherwise, we could by the same logic accept hatred of women or Jews in Islamic countries because “most people in those societies agree” that they are in some way evil.

    We can’t get away from the way our moral sense influences what we tolerate, and although we should be allowed to discuss it strenuously and encourage people to change it where necessary, discussion and persuasion are not the same thing as persecution.

    Reducing to involuntary servitude or taking away the livelihood of a person with whose moral views we disagree is very different from opposing that person’s views politically. That is what is happening in the wedding industry.

  3. Also, while I agree that there is a cosmic dimension to this debate—i.e., God is real and he probably has an opinion we should pay attention to—Stephen’s comment doesn’t really address ex-fundie’s argument, as I have attempted to do.

  4. Once upon a time, Larry the Burka Guy opened a store called Burkas R Us. I hate burkas. I think they’re evil. I think people who like burkas are deluded, or maybe even evil, too. So, just to mess with Larry, um, I mean to help “educate” him, I march into Burkas R Us and demand that he sell me a bikini. Larry responds that they sell only burkas, and offers to sell me one. I tell him to sell me a bikini or I’ll sue. I do sue, and the judge laughs me out of court.

    So, how come a bakery that is not in the business of making same-sex marriage cakes (i.e. they don’t even stock the necessary cake toppers) can be forced to offer a product that is not within the mission of their store? Sweet Cakes in Oregon, for instance, makes it very clear that they’re a Christian store, and that they were happy to sell people who identify themselves as homosexual any of the products they do produce, i.e. birthday cakes, or cakes for heterosexual couples. Yet, now, they’re facing a $150,000 fine for not producing a product they have never produced in the history of their store, because not producing that product is somehow “discrimination.” Is it then discrimination if Larry the burka guy doesn’t sell bikinis? Or dog sweaters? Or edible underwear? Or SCUBA gear. Etc.

    The world’s gone nuts.

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