Jack Phillips, owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, was back in the news againrecently. This time, Phillips is upset about a Colorado Commission ruling against him after he refused to make a cake for a transgender person celebrating their transition. While I could get into the legal weeds about the prospects for his case, his new crusade reminded me of a conversation I had with a former classmate regarding national morality. After a long discussion on religious liberty in which my friend said he understood my position on freedom of conscience for the individual, he asked, “Are we [as Christians] ever judged collectively as a nation? Are we ever held accountable for permitting an environment of moral decline?”
It’s a good question. In my estimation there are two ways to answer it. First, I don’t see any evidence for the proposition biblically. Now many people will cite a lot of Old Testament texts about what God will do for a “nation.” However, those who would apply those texts to the modern context as some sort of rationale for a Christian America (or anywhere else for that matter) seem to ignore the particulars of the situation. In the Old Testament God is speaking to a nation that is in covenant with Him. America, so far as I know, has not had a Sinai experiencewith God, where He accepts us and we accept Him as our leader. It is not our acceptance of God and His law that would make us a Christian nation. God must first offer favored nation status. How presumptuous of us to think that if we as a nation followed God’s laws then we would automatically become God’s nation. I do not think there is any collective responsibility as a nation to follow God’s laws.
Second, I have to admit that from a judgment perspective, my friend is right to a certain extent. There are several times when God says that he will judge the nations. (Here are some examples, despite the fact that they are all from the Old Testament.) But what does that mean? It means that Christians should have an effect on society. I would not argue that Christians should lock themselves in their churches and keep their opinions to themselves. (An overstatement of that position, but I think you understand.) What I have been arguing about is the means to the end, not the end itself. I want Christians to have an influence in society. I do not think that religion should be silent in the public square. I long for a nation where people choose to do what God has prescribed.However, we have become so politically oriented that we seem to forget that we do not need the power (and force) of government to accomplish these ends. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I still believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to create a change in the way people live. And I don’t think the Holy Spirit needs the help of some human law to make sure people live right. So I think it is important for Christians to live and act according to their ethos, as a living example to others of what God can do. I think it is important for Christians to share their faith at every available opportunity (availability determined by the leading of the Holy Spirit). I would prefer to see that faith shared not in an I’m-better-than-you-and-this-is-why, or If-you-don’t-get-down-with-this-you’ll-burn-in-Hell kind of way, but in the way that shows the love and care that Jesus has for each and every one of us. I think if we were serious about that (and not so serious about trying to use politics to force change), we would see the change that we say we want. If anything, I think God will judge us as Christians for not using our lives as a witness to Him, and what befell our society as a result, but not specifically because we did not pass laws to make our nation “better.”
In short, I actually think the Supreme Court’s decision in his previous case can work against him. That is, unless the Court is now willing to take up the question they punted on in the first case, which is whether your religious beliefs allow you to refuse service in a publicly accommodating business. Now with the potential advent of a more conservative Court, they might decide to take up the question. But then they will be a logjam in the conservative legal ethos. They would obviously want to protect religiosity (especially Christian religiosity), but should this federal court being telling the state how to administer its own laws?
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
I can understand the bakers position, if the cake is considered a part of the ceremony then he has the right to object. but if it is merely a celebration of an act completed then it should be treated as any other “gay”occasion. There are a lot of bakeries. Why pick on this guy. Seems some just want to push the envelope. As for me, I would just bake the cake and thank them for the payment. What happens to the cake is not my affair.
Good, fair article. After the Supreme court “vague” ruling against the Colorado Commission in favor of Phillips, which stated they obviously had animus against Phillips religious beliefs in their “wording”, it didn’t take long for him to be pestered again. Likely they, the commission, will change the wording and try again. There are many shops, as Tom says, but they are on a mission that “all” must see things as they do.
So instead of the “spirit of the ruling” accepted they are likely to challenge him and merely not make known their true feelings in the language they use to charge him. Sick thinking/techniques indeed.
PS. >>but should this federal court being telling the state how to administer its own laws?<<
I think you should think this through Jason. Are you saying the SCOTUS doesn’t have the responsibility to protect the religious beliefs of a Colorado citizen seeking relief through the legal system regarding the 1st. & 14th amendments.
Thanks for reading. I think it is important to note from a factual perspective that this happened last year, and the commission’s ruling came out a couple of months ago. So it isn’t like this person heard about Masterpiece’s reputation and then went in there looking to start trouble.Though the person is a lawyer so may be they did.
Thanks for reading. No I am not saying that SCOTUS does not have that responsibility. I’m arguing that it has been a part of the conservative legal framework that states should have the right to adjudicate their own laws. When the courts have stepped in, conservatives have talked a lot about “activist judges.” I find it ironically funny that the same people making that argument are now asking the Court to do what they chastised when the LGBT community and people of color made the same requests.
PS- See my earlier comment to Tom. I don’t think it’s clear chronologically that this latest case was someone looking to pester this shop.
My belief as a “political conservative/classical liberalism” and I suggest most others is what the Constitution says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Scotus enforcing the Bill of rights and Amendments are within the scope of delegation of the federal government.
PS. As to your response to Tom. If this person simply walked into the store and asked for a cake not dedicated to his lifestyle choice, I dare say he would have gotten his cake. I suspect, though not there, an issue was made for the intent of litigation! But, that’s just my horse sense suspicion.
I have people close to me in the LGBT community who are turned off by this type of provocation.
According to Alliance for Defending Freedom.(ADF),
“The attorney wanted a cake that would be blue on the outside and pink on the inside in order to celebrate that attorney’s transition from male to female.”
Thank you Jason for a well-written and provocative piece. And I think you have hit on an important issue. I hear this all the time…well meaning SDA’s think our job as a church, is to work to create (through legislation, if necessary) a more moral environment. And they have a list of the moral issues which they consider to be particularly heinous, such as abortions, LGBTQ rights, etc. Once, I had a man in Sabbath School class ask me if we didn’t need to stand up for something…he was particularly interested in stopping abortions. And by the way, this is not limited to SDA’s…it is fundamentally what the religious right is focused on, and has been for some time.
They mistakenly substitute this mentality for the gospel commission, which is a polar opposite. Jesus commissioned his disciples (and us) to be witnesses, meaning being able to testify to what he has done in our lives…He did not tell them to be the moral police.
I find it interesting that my religious, conservative friends hate abortions, but are opposed to ready access to birth control for poor or working women and are usually also big adherents of capital punishment. Go figure?
Just how far with this be carried out if the courts use stare decisis? I cannot sell you a home if you are a Jehovah’s Witness? I will not sell you a prescription because my religious beliefs include homeopathic remedies? I will not pack your groceries because you purchased items with caffeine? I can’t sell you a cake for your wedding because you keep Saturday and I don’t believe in that?
We’ve already gone down this road with birth control and pharmacies…How will a conservative court take us further?
This a collision where all sides have exchanged basic civility for demanding that others comply with their concept of what is correct. The Colorado Commission that took the baker to court took a case that was setup specifically to vilify the baker and added their obviously bigotry by trying to force him to surrender to their demands. The Supreme Court slapped their hands for their bigotry. At the same time, Jesus told us to be like salt, mixing with the community in ways that gently change the world around us. The baker may have thought he was standing-up for his beliefs, but the confrontation gave him an opportunity to instead make friends for God where there was opposition. It appears his position in the most recent issue is another lost opportunity to minister God’s love.
So sorry, I cannot sell you this coffee, I am a Mormon, but try that guy at cash register number six, but oh he is Jehovah’s Witness and he cannot sell you that birthday card, and the lady at register two is Catholic, she cannot sell you those birth control pills, and do not go to register eight with that wine, he is Islamic.
But the checkout guy at register one is gay and he will sell you anything because he does not use his religion to foster bigotry.
Noel, don’t agree. If he feels this is best and consistent with his witness I can respect him. It’s the kind of “God’s love” that doesn’t give a crying demanding baby candy at the check out stand. Human nature just doesn’t want to be said no to. Sometime it is a witness for God to say no…but it will be met with resistance. If he and Bruce Jenner want this to be their path that is their right. Does this specialized boutique baker have to comply. I don’t think so.
This isn’t an essential public life service like housing, food, job or medical care being denied.
God’s command to us is simply to proclaim salvation. I can’t find where Jesus ever told us to pursue the errors in others. I’ve seen God make some pretty dramatic changes in people and I know He has changed me, so I am confident in His power to correct and instruct all who love Him without the help of General Conference committees whose results will be promoting dissension, creating division and distracting us away from proclaiming the good news of salvation by a loving God.
Liberalism has been teaching us that every interest group has the right to force everyone else to not just tolerate, but endorse and support their views and practices when the Conservative viewpoint is that you do not have the right to force me to be complicit in what my faith teaches me is sinful and abhorrent to God. This is essentially the same conflict that led tens of thousands, if not millions, of believers to be willing to die rather than worship Caesar as a deity. The only real difference is the severity of the penalty.
Let’s not overlook that the Colorado baker was targeted by gay activists whose intent was to make an example of him. The same with the photographers in New Mexico and numerous other cases where activists for a particular social agenda were seeking to force not just tolerance, but endorsement of their lifestyle. Such attacks are pure bigotry. The challenge for us as Christians is to respond with love so they will be drawn to salvation.
Very well said. This a “liberal/progressive” form of secular inclusivism that I oppose. It not only demands one acknowledge pluralism BUT ALSO embrace all kinds as equal value. Religious/theological “inclusiveness” blurs the lines of uniqueness for commonness. Christians in ancient Rome were considered “atheist” because they wouldn’t embrace all Romes God’s. They were “exclusive Christian’s” … as were the worthy’s Hebrews that were “exclusive” and would not bow to the statue but would only worship “the only true God.”
but why set up a time of trouble beforehand…why not just serve LGBT people as people…serving people can’t possibly mean endorsing what they believe, or how they choose to live…jesus served judas…was he endorsing what he knew would be judas’ traitorous choices…
my string quartet has played for several gay weddings…in one case, the couple explained to me that they were lesbians…i think they thought i wouldn’t be able to figure that out…i didn’t take this mean that they were asking me to endorse anything…i have a few adventist violinists in my studio, but the vast majority are in other denominations, or in no denomination…i’m not sure why doing business with someone who disagrees with you, or whom you disagree with, has to be such an issue…
Thanks Jeremy. What you or I would do Isn’t the point in the rights of “the one and many.” He chooses not to and I believe he has the right. My understanding of the man is he has made the marriage cakes and other celebrations a genuine part of his personal Christian faith and service.
So society tells him how he MUST conduct his service? It has obviously been a provoking set up in both challenges. Harpa warns of dominoes. Why not a domino demanding all pastors honor LGBT rights to marry them? Again this is not an essential service not easily available in other places.
Medical/dental care is an essential need. Wedding cakes aren’t. When I practiced I have treated all. Sometimes knowingly and many times I am sure unknowingly. I had a transvestite patient and friend that was also my mechanic on a car I had.
I never made it an issue and neither did they.
As to ability to pay, if one chooses to stay in business and serve symbiotically others there is a limited amount of charity that can be performed. I also did this.
I will say this, I have never not bristled when society or government tells me I must do something which I feel has no rational basis.