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The question looms

I haven’t yet heard a good answer to the baker’s challenge

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My, how you readers took me seriously just three issues back. Imagine, I challenged you in our May 16 edition to pretend that you are the owner/operator of a neighborhood bakery (see “Taking the baker’s challenge,” May 16). In walks a homosexual couple, asking you to prepare a cake for their wedding coming up a month from now.

Then I made my challenge very specific. I was interested, to be sure, to get a sense of how WORLD’s readers might line up into opposing camps on such a volatile issue. But that was secondary. My main goal was to discover whether we, as a group, might come up with some winsome rhetoric for delivering what was likely to be a negative message. I specifically asked you all to follow the pattern Jesus used so often in His public ministry. Make your point, I said, by asking a pertinent question designed to help clarify the issue. And I added: “No smart-aleck put-downs. No insults.”

By June 4, I received more than 200 replies to that invitation—the biggest response I’ve received to any column since WORLD’s first issue almost 30 years ago. About 165 of the replies came by email, the rest by traditional mail. They came from all over the United States. At least five came from readers who are imprisoned and apparently have a little extra time to devote to puzzlers of this kind.

You took me, I must tell you, somewhat too seriously—even while a great number of you ignored my most important assignment! I thought I suggested that brevity would be a virtue in framing such a question. But fully a third of you filled two or even three pages with your eloquent arguments on one side or the other of the baker’s choice. And typically, the question I’d asked for was either nowhere to be found, or buried so far in your prose that its force was totally lost.

Conservative evangelicals don’t by any means agree on what the baker’s basic response should be.

“Which of these three,” Jesus memorably summarized after telling the story of the good Samaritan, “proved to be a real neighbor?”

In that brief, pithy query—as at so many other times in His teaching—Jesus both surprised His listeners and stretched their understanding to brand-new levels. Again and again, He managed to go right to the heart of a matter by springing on His listeners an unexpected question that summarized the whole matter.

My goal three columns back was to explore together our aptitude to imitate Jesus’ remarkable rhetoric. Might we find some collective ability to speak the truth about homosexuals and marriage—and still to demonstrate at the very same time a winsome spirit?

When I tell you bluntly that you have so far flunked my test, I hope you’ll hear that judgment against the backdrop of my own prior failure. I’d been trying for several weeks myself to propose a model of a penetrating question that would dazzle and silence (and ultimately help) the would-be cake buyers. Only after puzzling unsuccessfully for some time over that self-inflicted assignment did I pass it on in my column to all of you.

So, after the fact, here’s my sense of things. I failed my own test repeatedly, unable to address the issue with something memorable, clever, or pointed. So I turned to you for help—but even with more than 200 submissions, you too missed the mark. You’d be embarrassed by some of what was suggested. The proposals were full of put-downs and self-defensiveness.

Part of the problem is that we conservative evangelicals don’t by any means agree on what the baker’s basic response should be. Should he make and sell the cake—or should he exercise his rights and say no? Should he, as a surprising number of you proposed, make the cake and hand it back to his customers as a gift?

Or is there, I can’t help wondering, still some way to summarize this whole dilemma in the form of a pointed, good-spirited, helpful question that we might all memorize and tuck away for use when we’re surprised by the events of some future day?


Joel Belz

Joel Belz (1941–2024) was WORLD’s founder and a regular contributor of commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. He served as editor, publisher, and CEO for more than three decades at WORLD and was the author of Consider These Things. Visit WORLD’s memorial tribute page.


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