Craftsmanship, Worldview & Coercion

One upon a time, yours truly thought he might want to become a professional photographer. It didn’t hurt that I was in some demand on campus by comely co-eds who wanted to send glamorous photos to their current boyfriends (soon to be replaced by me, I fancied) in Vietnam.

“Glamorous,” by the way, isn’t a euphemism for nude. Sexting hadn’t been invented yet, and in any event, these campuses were pretty conservative.

Still, if some guy had wanted me to do glamorous photos for his girlfriend, the W.A.C. Nurse in ‘Nam, I’d have been at a bit of a loss for a photographic vocabulary. I probably could have learned in time how to photograph a guy so as to fill women with at least vague admiration or longing, but I never decided actually to go pro. I’d be a poor photographer of football, or NASCAR racing, too, as I have no enthusiasm of them and don’t feel obliged to learn how to fake it.

Coincidentally, but in a similar vein, I turned down this week a professional engagement by a desperately needy human being with a real problem – several of them. Our initial failure to mesh expectations warned me that an attorney/client relationship would end up disappointing both of us.

So I sympathize particularly with the photographer who declines engagement for an event that he cannot imagine portraying in a way that would both meet his artistic standards and please the event organizer. I’ve watched the Food Channel just enough to recognize the expressive element in custom cakes, too. And I’ve heard a florist vehemently assert that there is a real artistic element in floral arranging, though on my own, I can’t fathom it.

For a number of craftsmen, though, the first thing that pops out of their mouth (and so, presumably, the first thing that came to mind) when asked to contribute to a same-sex “marriage,” is something like “I can’t do that. It would violate God’s commandments.

The legalism of that baffles me (though it just occurred to me that “legalism” in this context is really Nominalism, in contrast to the Realism of what follow).

How better, it seems to me, if they said (and if this truthfully were in their hearts) something more like this:

I’ve thought about what to do when this day came. You’ve been my customer for years, and I value you as a human being as well as a customer.

But, like you and everyone else, I have a worldview. It’s not something I superimpose on reality, but is simply how I perceive reality, how I see things interrelating. That I see things differently than others would, in most situations, be celebrated as “diversity.”

But in my worldview, two people of the same sex can’t marry each other. Not “must not,” but “cannot.” It’s not in the nature of “marriage” as a natural institution, however much that institution may have varied over the millennia. I know that “diversity” today seems to have little room for the consequences of my view.

My worldview is certainly shaped, though not dictated, by my religious tradition. It’s not dictate partly because the Scriptures I revere say nothing about same-sex “marriage,” as such a thing was not even imaginable. And it’s not dictated because, believe it or not, when my clergy preach about sin, as they sometimes do (though they preach of grace more), they tend to focus on sins that affect all of us, like pride, rather than maybe 2% of us.

But back to my being shaped by the Christian scriptures. There are no “child-free” couples in those pages – only (1) parents and (2) barren couples who were grieved by their barrenness – grieved sometimes to tears. Our wedding rite is chock-full of blessings for fertility, even for marriages between aging folks, as it is unequivocally assumed as one end of marriage. And we haven’t forgotten Abram and Sarai.

Even in my former tradition, it was a given that married couples made babies if possible. They might delay a few years for various reasons (I wasn’t Roman Catholic), but sooner or later they threw caution to the wind, expecting the blessing of baby burbles in due course.

These “religious” things inform my worldview along with – let me be frank – an incoherent jumble of enlightenment rationalism, “Right Liberalism,” Natural Law thinking, philosophical Realism (versus Nominalism), years of public school homogenization, mass media transgressivism for titillation and heightened viewership, a bit of libertarianism that’s suspicious of government dictating to us or handing out goodies for the sake of votes rather than for any enduring public good, and the kind of secularism that James K.A. Smith writes about, whereby I see my tradition as but one option.

The tradition of the Church in which you’re holding your ceremony apparently is otherwise. Civility is one of my secular sacraments. So is tolerance for a religious tradition that baffles me. But there are limits to what I can do.

My profession involves expression, and I’ve had no epiphany that enables me to express joy and delight in the “marriage” you’re entering, which will never produce baby burbles and looks nothing like one that ever could have. You’d be better served by someone who’s had such an epiphany or is willing to give it a shot anyway.

I’m flattered you asked, and I’d like to think you asked because you admire my work. But I’m going to have to decline this commission. I don’t think I’d be happy with the result if I tried, and I doubt that you would be, either.

Yes, that’s too long and preachy. It could use some distilling. But the distiller should be the religious (probably Christian) photographer, baker or florist to whom I’m primarily writing:

  • If you couldn’t say something like what I wrote without being disingenuous;
  • if you’d feel as if you were just positioning yourself more sympathetically for a Court or Human Relations Commission hearing;
  • if the real, bedrock basis of your refusal is that you think it would violate God’s commandments to photograph a same-sex wedding (or to bake a cake for the reception or to make floral arrangements for the affair) but it would not interfere with your artistry in celebrating a SSM to believe that;
  • if you’re really and truly thinking “I could do a wonderful job of this, and you’d be thrilled at the result, but I’m scared of hellfire if I do;”

then I’m still rooting for you in the Court or Human Relations Commission, but I do not understand you, and I support you mostly to avoid bad precedent.

And if you’re really and truly thinking

  • “I won’t sell you that cake from my ready-made bakery case;” or
  • “I won’t sell you this bouquet in the refrigerator;” or
  • “I won’t sell you this picture frame on display;

because you’re going to misuse it,” then you’ll have to muddle through without my support at all.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

These remarks are an expression of decades of reflection, and more than a bit of legal and religious knowledge, about religious freedom, free speech, expressive speech, protected class status, and the distinction between discrimination simpliciter (i.e., discernment) and invidious discrimination. I may be wrong – I was wrong once before – but not because I’m shooting from the hip..

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

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