The Herald Weekly Vol XVII : 37


Recently, I read a fascinating leaflet produced by The Christian Institute (UK). It presented “The Ashers Case’ that was won by the Ashers Baking Company (“ABC”). I gained better understanding of important issues from this case. I was especially encouraged by how ABC’s owner – the McArthur family – stood firm on biblical principles despite opposition. In this article I share brief facts of the case and some lessons learnt.

In Oct 2018, the UK Supreme Court unanimously decided that the ABC has the right to refuse to bake a cake with the message “Support Gay Marriage” because no one should be compelled to express a view to which one disagrees. This decision overturned two lower court rulings that the baker had discriminated against her gay customer’s sexual orientation.

The issue is not about the cake, but the message on the cake. The Supreme Court decision upheld the right of every person not to be compelled to promote a message that contradicts one’s belief. The judges cited the McArthurs’ religious belief that ‘the only form of full sexual expression which is consistent with Biblical teaching… is that between a man and a woman within marriage.’ Therefore, ABC could not be compelled to produce a cake with a message that goes against its Biblical beliefs.

Timeline & Brief Facts

May 2014: A gay activist, Mr. L., ordered a cake from ABC with the message “Support Gay Marriage”. Karen McArthur who took the order did not reject the order because she needed time to consider how to explain her objection in a way that will not embarrass the customer.

The McArthur family too time to discuss, to pray, and to seek the advice of faithful Christians. They had to decline the order as it was against their conscience to produce a cake with that slogan. Daniel McArthur, General Manager of ABC explains: “we took issue with the message on the cake, not the customer and as a family we believe we should retain the freedom to decline business that would force us to promote a cause with which we disagree.”

But how should they tell the customer? Two days later, Karen telephoned Mr L. that they could not fulfil his order: as a Christian baker, they could not print the requested message as it contradicts their Christian belief. She apologized to him for the inconvenience caused and gave a full refund. The customer thanked her for her gracious and polite explanation.

June 2004: Still, the customer sued ABC for discrimination.
May 2015: The Belfast County Court found ABC in breach of discrimination law.
Oct 2016: The Belfast Court of Appeal agreed with the earlier court’s decision. ABC then decided to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Oct 2018: The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favour of ABC on all grounds.

Here are quotes from the Supreme Court ruling:

“Nobody should be forced to have or express a political opinion in which he does not believe.” (para. 52)

“… the bakery was required, on pain of liability in damages, to supply a product which actively promoted the cause, a cause in which many believe, but a cause in which the owners most definitely and sincerely did not.” (para. 54)

“The objection was to being required to promote the message on the cake. The less favourable treatment was afforded to the message not to the man… they were quite prepared to serve him in other ways.” (para. 47)

“The bakery could not refuse to provide a cake – or any other of their products – to Mr L. because he was a gay man or because he supported gay marriage. But that important fact does not amount to a justification for something completely different – obliging them to supply a cake with a message which they profoundly disagreed. In my view they would be entitled to refuse to do whatever the message conveyed by the icing on the cake – support for living in sin, support for a particular political party, support for a particular religious denominations.” (para 55)

“The bakery would have refused to supply this particular cake to anyone, whatever their personal characteristics. So there was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.” (para 62)

Why is this case important?

For centuries Christians have been persecuted for refusing to express views contrary to the Bible. The court ruling now affords some protection to Christian businesses. While the Ashers case my not be directly relevant to Singapore due to different jurisdictions and statute laws, the Singapore courts may refer to the legal precedents set by relevant English cases in deciding a similar local case.

Believers sometimes feel ‘pressured’ by their employer to say things that are contrary to their Biblical convictions. “The Ashers’ judgment is one of the most important in the world on the limits of discrimination law, and the way human rights protect people from compelled speech. It enshrines freedom to disagree.” – The Christian Institute. For example, teachers and pupils in schools should not be compelled to express views that are against their beliefs. A Christian pupil should not be forced to support the Pink Dot movement, any more than a gay teacher should be required to oppose it.

The McArthur family demonstrates how a Christian can still be a good testimony by resisting pressures to conform to the world.

The Testimony of the McArthur family

The McArthur family was gracious and gentle in communicating their stand. Here are some lessons for us when faced with similar trails:

a) Speak truth with love (Eph 4:15). Let our moderation (i.e. gentleness, courtesy) be known to all (Phil 4:5). We should speak to every person (imprinted with the image of God) with respect and courtesy (1 Pet 2:17). Paul instructed Timothy to be patient, humble and gentle when dealing with those opposing him (2 Tim 2:25). In this regard, the judge noted that Karen did not overreact, but gave the customer a wise response in a difficult situation. Her objection was not to the customer, but to the message she was asked to promote. Hence, Christians should conduct their business with professionalism, wisdom and courtesy even in sensitive circumstances.

b) What should we say? Say politely. “As a Christian, I cannot do this with a clear conscience. I an sorry for any inconvenience caused.”

c) Expect and endure persecution. For years, the McArthur family received hate mails. Nevertheless, Jesus promised blessings to those who endure persecution for His sake: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” (Mt 5:10-11).

d) Be patient. The McArthur family patiently endured four and a half years of negative publicity, two court decisions against them, while awaiting the outcome of their final appeal. Waiting is hard. Hence the Psalmist exhorts us to trust God: “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (Ps 27:14). I am reminded of the many heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11 who did not receive vindication in their earthly life, yet remained faithful to God to the end.

Was it wort it – taking this stand?

Daniel McArthur replied this question in a YouTube recording, “Absolutely yes, it was worth it, when we knew what God wanted us to do… At first, we were unsure as some Christians advised us not to appeal to the courts. But we also received support from nay churches. Hundreds of customers come to our shop to encourage us. Many people were praying for us. … I say to other Christians, don’t be afraid to take a stand for God’s Word because God is with you. God will provide everything you need. You are not alone. God sustained us; by His grace He saw us through. And we give God all the glory.”

His wife, Ruth, added, “The past four and a half years strengthened my faith in God as I’ve experienced His comfort, His strength and His peace. That alone was worth it. The most difficult part was… we received many emails of lies… I learnt to trust God and believe in God’s promise, that He is working through this, and His way is perfect.”

Rev Lee Hock Chin
Life B-P Church, Weekly 18 Aug 2019

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