One day, the master and his disciples were walking through the vales of South Wales and came upon a group gathered around an artist in one of the small towns. The artist was creating a portrait of someone famous out of coal. On display were other portraits made from tomato catsup, chocolate, lipstick and so forth. There was even a picture made from marmite on toast! His incredible and creative talent was evident to all the bystanders. As the disciples moved on, they heard someone mention that the artist was homosexual and that he supported a charity opposed to bullying, since he himself had at one time been bullied for his sexuality.
Later that day, the disciples began to discuss an American legal case that was in the news. An artistic cake designer was being sued for not making a cake for a homosexual wedding. The disciples discussed the similarities between the two men. Like the artist that the disciples had seen that day, he was a ‘food artist.’ The customers for whom he baked and decorated cakes were not persons buying some necessary food items from the grocers, they literally were commissioning him to create art for a celebration. Both artists chose their commissions, were sought after for their creativity, and made statements, negative or positive, through their art. Both were opposed to something and expressed their convictions through their art: one was opposed to the bullying of homosexuals and created art to make this statement, the other was opposed to homosexuality and refused to accept commissions to create wedding cakes for homosexuals. While both used food in their art, neither of them were engaged in providing food for sustenance.
The disciples then discussed differences between the food artists. One difference between the two food artists was that one actively created art for his cause whereas the other more quietly declined to produce art for causes he did not support, not only homosexuality but also such things as witchcraft. The disciples agreed that the other artist would no doubt also refuse to produce art against his convictions if the matter ever arose. Another difference was that people actually ate the cake artist’s creations. A third difference was that the cake artist’s creations typically had the function of supporting a celebration, and therefore he, too, was drawn into the celebration of his clients. That gave him the greater reason to refuse commissions for celebrations that were against his convictions. Perhaps the major difference—the real difference that angered people—was that he refused to support the culture’s recently adopted social agenda of promoting same-sex marriage. In the cake maker’s father’s or grandfather’s generation, or any other previous generation in human history until, perhaps, one gets all the way back to the era of Sodom, the cake maker would not have been told by law to make cakes for homosexuals.
The disciples concluded their discussion by agreeing that the court’s forcing the American cake maker to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding would be like forcing the Welsh food artist to create a portrait of a choir boy for a known pedophile priest. As one of the disciples put it, ‘Governments have no right to make people use their artistic gifts against their consciences.’ The master, who had been listening to this intriguing discussion, spoke up.
‘You are right to mention conscience. This is not just a matter of rights or of artistic freedom. True, the cake maker’s rights are suppressed. True, the West has a long history of fighting for freedom of expression, especially when it comes to artistic expression, for in the suppression of what we find offensive lurks the power to suppress everything not according to our liking. Ultimately, however, this is a matter of conscience. In societies where people are constrained to do what their consciences forbid, the government has become god in a way that not even God cares to behave. If God were coercive, He would bring an end to sin here and now. But He is, instead, loving and patient, wooing rather than whipping people to Himself. And God loved the world in this way, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. There is no place for love or belief in coercion. But evil systems have no place for love or faith and instead use the law and punishment to squash any dissent from others’ consciences. Not only must one do what the totalitarian state says, but one must also desire whatever the totalitarian state says is good.’
The disciples’ weighed the master’s words. Then the master said, ‘This matter is like the farm boy who believed that the weather vane was a compass. His father had placed a weather vane in the shape of a cock on top of the barn, and it swung one way or the other, depending on which way the wind was blowing. The cock always faced into the wind. His little boy, however, had it in mind that the cock always pointed north. One blustery autumn day, a big wind blew from the west, and the farm boy went down to the pond to tell the ducks it was time to fly south for the winter. He pointed in the opposite direction that the weathercock was facing—east. ‘You must fly that way,’ he stated firmly. The ducks pointed with their wings to the south. ‘You naughty ducks,’ said the farm boy, and he caught the ducks one by one until he had them all penned inside the barn. ‘Now,’ said the boy, ‘will you fly in the direction I tell you to fly, for I am the farm boy, and I know where you should fly?’ The ducks refused. They said that, deep inside themselves, they knew the right direction to fly, no matter which way the wind was blowing. So, the farm boy was mad at the ducks, and he took a hedge clippers and clipped their wings so that they would obey him. But the ducks could not now fly at all.’
Then the master asked his disciples, ‘When the farmer comes to the barn and sees what his boy has done to the ducks, what do you think he will do?’ The disciples contemplated the scene for a little while. Then Peter spoke up, ‘I suppose,’ he said, ‘that the farmer will explain to his little boy that ducks are not very smart and can’t tell directions by wind compasses as well as he can!’ To his fellow disciples he added, ‘In any case, surely it is always easier to fly with the wind to your back. Obstinate ducks!’ Then he winked at the master, who grabbed his head in his hands and just shook it left to right, groaning.