The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: May One Choose Service Providers based on Politics?

If a business owner on moral grounds can refuse to provide a service such as baking a cake for or catering a same-sex wedding, should consumers then have the right to know the moral and political belief of the business owner, before the consumer does business with them?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Jim V, asks, “If a business owner on moral grounds can refuse to provide a service such as baking a cake for or catering a same-sex wedding, should consumers then have the right to know the moral and political belief of the business owner, before the consumer does business with them?”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“This is a very ugly and dangerous slippery slope of judgement and othering. I do not agree with the premise of this question that is okay for business owners to have discriminatory practices when serving the general public. Our nation has a very long and horrible history of refusing service based on a person skin color. I see recent actions of refusal of service as no different and morally and ethically wrong. We must stop building walls of division and continue to build a wider and longer welcome table.

“I would turn to the Christian teachings of Jesus, Matthew 25 - ‘for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’ The faith commands us to love our neighbor, we are not to judge or forget or turn away from our neighbor.”

The consumer has always had the right to decide where they spend their money.

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“It is a shame that we are still talking about this, but I have every hope that in years to come the subject will be moot. For the record, I do believe a baker should not be able to refuse service to anyone, but should not be required to decorate a cake in a way that is offensive him or her. For example, if a self described Nazi asks for a regular birthday cake, I would not refuse. But if he requested a likeness of Hitler surrounded by angels and hearts I should be able to pass. I know that is quite extreme, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the white supremacist movement attempted to test the waters with cases like this as they further attempt to mainstream their movement. So it’s important that we look for consistency in our laws.

“What is frustrating about the florists, caterers, etc. who might refuse business on the grounds of sexual orientation is that in a secular society we must coexist with those who hold values different from our own. Remember that many in the South held that their efforts in holding to segregation were based on their reading of the Bible. I would sincerely hope that we needn’t not concern ourselves with the beliefs of all the vendors with whom we do business.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“I am old enough to remember when many Christians claimed it was their duty under God to refuse service to persons of color in restaurants and other businesses. Today most Christians know that race-based discrimination is a sin against God’s law. Presbyterianism teaches that the eighth commandment (“Thou shalt not steal”) requires ‘truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man’ (Larger Catechism, Q. 141). To deny to some the services we cheerfully (and profitably!) render to others is unlawful, unfaithful, and unjust.

“The Bible word for such discrimination is ‘respect of persons.’ James commands those who profess faith in Christ not to practice such discrimination: ‘Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons’ (James 2:1). James cites a common practice of welcoming and fawning over those whose ‘gay clothing’ (KJV) proclaims​ they are people of wealth and influence, while treating the poor with disdain. This is sin against ‘the royal law according to the Scriptures, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ (James 2:8; Leviticus 19:18), a command which makes no exceptions for neighbors we dislike or disapprove of.

“The proposed form of retaliation by turning the tables on merchants and tradespeople would only compound the problem by adding sin to sin. More fuel for the fires of conflict in our community!”

“Christians are called to make peace, not carry on quarrels. ‘If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, leave peaceably with all men’ (Romans 12:18).”

My response:

The Talmud prohibits doing business with idolators three days prior to their festivals on the assumption that your money will go towards their idolatrous offerings. So if a business owner brought their politics to my attention (such as displaying a KKK membership certificate), then I would decline to spend my money there on the assumption that a certain amount of my money would be going towards a cause offensive to me. However, I would not make a practice of interrogating owners before I did business with them.

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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