Using “Jesus Ate with Prostitutes” Argument to Shame Supporters of Religious Freedom

Jesus regularly ate dinner with thieves and prostitutes, but you’re telling me it’s against your religion to bake a cake for a gay person?

I’ve seen this meme all over Facebook recently due in large part to the state of Indiana passing a “Religious Freedom Restoration” law. There are numerous other states that have similar laws on the books, but Indiana’s seems to be getting incredible scrutiny. I’ve seen and heard the ubiquitous words “bigoted,” “backwards,” and “anti-gay” thrown around frequently because of this law, but the majority of those opposing it don’t seem to understand a) what the bill actually means, and b) that religious freedom is protected under the law, even in spite of “general applicability.”

jesus ate with sinners

According to Supremecourt.gov:

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the ‘Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of General applicability.'”

Additionally:

“Business practices compels or limited by the tenets of a religious doctrine fall comfortably within the understanding of the exercise religion that this court set out in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 877. Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law. States, including those in which the plaintiff corporations were incorporated, authorize corporations to pursue any lawful purpose or business, including the pursuit of profit in conformity with the owners religious principles.”

Religious freedom is protected under the law in spite of General applicability. These laws apply to the government, rather than to cases in which one citizen sues another, but the reasoning is similar. Just as the Government should not be able to impose upon religious freedom, citizens should not be able to do so to one another.

However, in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Indiana Governor Mike Pence writes:

“[the law] only provides a mechanism to address claims, not a license for private parties to deny services. Even a claim involving private individuals. . .must show that one’s religious beliefs were ‘substantially burdened’ and not in service to a broader government interest–which preventing discrimination certainly is.”

Certain businesses are participatory in nature. Wedding photographers, bakers, florists, etc, take part in the activities for which their services have been rendered. And if these activities stand in contradiction to a business owner’s moral beliefs, they should not be legally punished for refusing to participate.

If a gay baker were asked to make a wedding cake for two members of the Westboro Baptist church (outside of all the vile acts they’ve committed—simply two members getting married), would that gay baker be within his rights to deny those customers his services? If we extend the logic being used against the Indiana law, the gay baker would not be exempt from participating in a ceremony to which he was morally opposed. Does that seem reasonable? If you are against the law in Indiana, but you think the previous situation is unfair, then you might want to reevaluate your perspective.

Another example. If a black photographer was asked to photograph a wedding for members of the KKK, would it be within their right to refuse to do so? I’d say yes. It’s an absurd example, but it makes the point.

Now, onto the meme itself. This type of pseudo-religious propaganda is used all the time–especially on social media. People see it and think “So profound…Jesus was like, love, right?” Then it gets shared thousands of times, and ignorance is spread like a disease. Jesus did indeed sit with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners, but that act cannot be conflated with acceptance of their behavior. Jesus himself said in Mark 2: 15-17:

“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”

Jesus ate with sinners so that he could show them his divine glory. However, he called them sick, by which he meant “sinners.” Jesus was not condoning behavior that was sinful, rather he was proselytizing to the sinners he hoped to save.

The New Testament makes quite clear what is labeled as sinful behavior. In 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10, the scripture reads:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Though some may argue that this scripture is open to interpretation (those people would be insane), or that the bible is false in its entirety, that doesn’t change peoples’ belief in it, and their right to hold that belief.

If a man opens a wedding photography business, and his faith tells him that certain behaviors are immoral, such as homosexual conduct, should he be forced to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony which he believes is morally objectionable?

The photographer doesn’t have to scream at the gay couple, telling them that they’re going to burn in hell for all eternity, he can kindly tell them that due to his strongly held religious beliefs, participating in their wedding would constitute a violation of his faith. This would be a Christ-like form of proselytizing. Being around those whom you believe are sinning, but kindly telling them your beliefs on the matter.

In a parting bid, it has also been argued at me (I say “at me” because I don’t believe the other person was really listening to my side) that the same religious objection could be used against blacks, or interracial relationships. It was argued at me that people have used the bible to do such things many times before. And I agreed. People have. However, there’s a difference between the two cases. The bible doesn’t condone racism, but it does specifically and on numerous occasions condemn homosexual activity. Those who used the bible as a means to be racist were not using scripture; they can’t point to chapter and verse. In fact, in Acts 10: 9-23, Peter was instructed to bring the gospel to those unlike him–the Gentiles. However, those who believe that homosexual behavior is a sin can point to chapter and verse.

Regardless of your opinion on the bible—whether it be disdainful or reverent—one must have the right to not participate in activities their faith tells them are morally objectionable.

This is a contentious issue, and one that makes my blood boil due to the thick wall of willful and deliberate ignorance surrounding it. If a friend posts this meme on their Facebook wall, just know that it’s absolute nonsense.

This isn’t about it being “against my religion to bake a cake for a gay person,” it’s about my moral obligation not to participate in something my faith tells me is sinful. To make the “Jesus ate with prostitutes” comparison is infantile, and frankly, I wish more people could see that.