The following is excerpted and adapted from The Cost of My Faith: How a Decision in My Cake Shop Took Me to the Supreme Court, released this week. Jack is the owner and artist of Masterpiece Cakeshop who was sued for acting on his convictions—and for not baking a cake for a same-sex couple.
My decision in the cake shop that summer afternoon in July 2012—and my continuing decision to stand by it ever since—has cost me at least tens of thousands of dollars in revenue and eight years and counting of physical threats to my family, insults to my character, and untold hours tied up in legal action of one form or another. Given this, I’m sure there’s an excellent chance that you’re wondering, “What on earth is this guy’s thing about marriage? Is it really that big a deal? Is it really worth all of this pain and aggravation?” Or, as many people have put it, “Why not just bake the cake?”
My hesitation was not with the men making the request. My objection is never to the person, the customer, asking me to create a cake with a particular message. My objection—in this case—is to the message itself. I can and cheerfully will serve anyone. I cannot and won’t communicate every message.
I have demurred from creating a lot of non-wedding cakes. I don’t do Halloween cakes, for instance. I personally cannot see Jesus celebrating that day, or encouraging me to do so, especially if the motivation is to glorify things the Bible so explicitly condemns.
Early on in my cake design career, someone close to me came in asking for a cake with a specific design. Flipping through a reference book for a picture to base the design on, I found out the symbol was occultic. Across the page from the requested emblem was a drawing of an elephant. I’d rather do anything else—even the elephant on that page—than the occult design on this one, I thought. Soon after, the person requesting the cake dropped by, and I gently explained why I couldn’t create anything with the symbol she’d asked for. She shrugged, said she certainly understood, and then thought for a second.
“Well—how ’bout an elephant?” she said. Another time that God proved to me that he was in control of every aspect of my life.
So from the beginning, the message has been important to me. I think that’s true of any artist. No one who takes craftsmanship seriously does his work on the assumption that no one else will really notice or pay any attention to it. Why work and discipline yourself to become the best you can possibly be at a skill or talent if no one cares about the result?
I have no illusions of being in the same league as Michelangelo, Shakespeare, or even Norman Rockwell. But I do have this much in common with each of those guys, and with every other craftsman who ever lived or worked, whatever his medium. Number One, I take my art seriously. Number Two, I want others to appreciate it. And Number Three, I want that work to communicate a clear message to those who do take time to appreciate it.
If I succeed at Number Two, then there’s no way I fail at Number Three. No one takes time to really appreciate the work of an artist, only to say, “Yep. There’s something that doesn’t mean anything at all.” They may not understand what the art means. They may not like what it means. They may not agree with what it means. But they’ll know that the person who assembled that creation had a definite idea in mind, and have at least some sense of what that idea is all about.
“Jack,” you’re still saying. “It’s just a cake. Nobody’s thinking anything other than ‘That looks tasty,’ or ‘I hope it’s red velvet.’” But that’s just not true. Especially of a wedding cake.
Everybody knows a wedding cake when they see one. And most can tell, upon closer examination, whether this cake was custom-made especially for this bride and groom. They can see how much artistry went into the creation. They’ll sense the celebration, and perhaps see in the design something exceedingly personal, something beautifully reflecting the unique love and relationship between these two people. If it’s done well enough, they may even invite someone else to come up and see it, too. Many will ask, “Who made the cake?”
But whatever their thoughts on the cake itself, two messages are instantly, invariably communicated when people look at a wedding cake. A marriage has taken place. And that marriage should be celebrated.
As a cake designer, I want to do both of those things. I want to create the cake my customers have requested: something delightful, something delicious, something that celebrates this wonderful coming together of these two unique souls. But to communicate that, I have to believe in the message: that this is a marriage that should take place and that should be celebrated. And that goes directly to what I believe about marriage itself.
For one thing, I believe marriage was ordained by God. The Bible teaches that God is the one who came up with the marriage idea—early on, in the Garden of Eden—and he had some very specific intentions in mind when he did so. Genesis 2:24 tells us: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus himself affirms this:
And he answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Those passages tell me several crucial things about marriage. First, this union was God’s idea, and he takes it seriously. Marriage is a sacred thing. Two, that he intended it to be a one-of-a-kind relationship—the physical, emotional, and spiritual union of one man to one woman. (There is no biblical passage that mentions or allows for same-sex marriage.) Three, that he designed marriage to be a pure and permanent commitment. That doesn’t mean divorce is impossible, but it shouldn’t be so easy, so common, that people end up taking marriage lightly.
All those ideas are magnified and illuminated in Ephesians 5:22–23, which says:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies . . . let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Whole books have been written on that passage, and this is not the place for me to explore all the theology of the Bible, or even to explain all the thoughtful elements of these verses. But the main point, I believe, is pretty clear: Marriage is not some casual thing, nor is it simply a convenient institution for any two people who happen to love each other. God designed marriage for his own specific purposes, and directs the behavior of a husband and wife within marriage to illustrate his own relationship with those who commit their lives to him.
When we mess up marriage—by treating it as less than sacred, by treating our spouse in unkind and unloving ways, or by twisting the relationship itself into something it isn’t—we’re not just destroying our own happiness. We’re misrepresenting God to those around us. We’re painting an inaccurate and unflattering portrait of what his love for each of us looks like.
And that’s just not a message I’m willing to help communicate. There are too many people out there already who have a hard enough time understanding God or believing his love for them. I’m not willing to use my talents to make it that much harder for them to believe.
My beliefs don’t have to be your beliefs. But my beliefs are what make me who I am. My commitment to God and to the truth of a book I believe to be his holy Word is the defining premise of my life, the focus of my faith, and the guiding directive for my actions. If you ask me to separate all of that from my work, from my decisions, from my art . . . I simply can’t do that. Not just won’t—can’t. It’s like asking a contractor to build a great building, but first remove the foundation.
Where do we think artistic creativity comes from? Something outside of ourselves? Of course not. It’s water from the fountain of our soul. It comes from that deep-down place inside each of us where our experiences, our understanding, our intuitions, and our deepest beliefs and convictions about life all stir together. Those can’t be separated from each other any more than you can sift out the various ingredients from a cake after it’s baked.
That’s why I say that I’ll serve any person, but I won’t communicate all messages. Serving people is merely about recognizing each individual as a person worthy of respect, made in the image of God. I’m not trying to force any person to see the world the way I do, or to embrace my beliefs about God and the Bible. If you want to reject Jesus and purchase a cupcake, go ahead. I’ll gladly sell you that cupcake, and a cup of coffee to go with it, maybe even engage in a conversation about our differences.
But asking me to draw on my creativity to communicate a message I believe is wrong? That’s asking me to stop being me. To change my own relationship with the Lord. To deny the deepest convictions of my heart, and pretend I haven’t learned the most difficult lessons of my life, or that they don’t matter. That’s not something any person has the right to ask of another. Or a command any government has the right to force one of its citizens to obey.
Jack Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado.
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