July 19, 2012, began like an ordinary Thursday for Jack Phillips at his Masterpiece Cakeshop, in Lakewood, Colorado.
It didn’t end that way.
By that evening, Jack was fielding hateful, profanity-laden phone calls after declining to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. That Thursday thrust Jack into the public eye, made him the target of death threats and lawsuits, and showed millions what it can cost to stand for Christ in a culture that has rejected God and His Word.
Nine years later, even after a 7-2 victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, Jack is still fighting for the right to use his artistic talent freely, without the government forcing him to create messages celebrating things that go against his Christian beliefs.
This time, he is being sued by an attorney who asked for a custom cake to celebrate a gender transition. In June, a state district court ruled against Jack, but he has appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Jack has no doubts about the rightness of his cause. Following his Aug. 21 book signing at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, he told Decision how God has sustained him and his family over the past nine years:
“God gave me 2 Timothy 1:7, which says, ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’ The part about a sound mind made sense, but also, God was letting me know that He is in control of everything. And from that moment until this, I’ve never had any doubts. … He’s in absolute control of everything, everywhere, all the time.”
In court, Jack’s attorneys, from Alliance Defending Freedom, have consistently presented a key distinction: Jack serves all customers, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or anything else. But he cannot express all messages.
Indeed, before Jack and his wife, Debi, opened Masterpiece Cakeshop in 1993, they knew there would be requests for messages they could not communicate.
“We decided from the beginning that we wouldn’t make cakes that celebrated Halloween, that would be anti-American or racist or that would insult or denigrate anybody,” Jack said. “We even said we wouldn’t create cakes for same-sex weddings, and back then it was not on anybody’s radar.”
Jack and Debi didn’t realize then that their decision would someday be recognized as an important legal distinction. “I just thought it was a moral/spiritual decision,” Jack said. “God tells us to love everybody, but that does not mean we can express things that go against His truth.”
So over the years, especially as Halloween would approach, Jack gained plenty of experience in saying, “I’m sorry, that’s a cake we can’t create,” although he would gladly provide them with any pre-made item or custom cake that he would create for others. Even the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which was the opposing party in his original case about the same-sex wedding cake, allowed other bakers to decline requests for messages they disagreed with, although the commission sought to punish Jack for doing the same—a bit of hypocrisy that was not lost on the Supreme Court in its 2018 decision.
Often, when Jack would decline to express a certain message, a polite discussion would follow in which he would explain his reasons. But turning down the same-sex wedding and gender transition cakes brought threats from the community and legal action from the state of Colorado. In fact, the lawyer who is suing Jack about the gender transition cake has made his motives crystal clear. Jack explained that during mediation and again during the district court trial, “This attorney told me that if I were to win the case or if it were to be dismissed for any reason, I would get a phone call the very next day with another cake request, and we’d start all over again.”
Such unrelenting hostility might have driven some people to reverse course or give up altogether. Not Jack.
“We’ve had so much support from believers all across the country, and even foreign countries,” he said. “The first year or so that we were going through this, I got a phone call in the middle of the day at work, and a man said, ‘My wife and I were just about to pray for you. What can we pray for?’ I don’t know who this person was. But I’ve never taken it for granted that there are people out there who are aware of our situation and are praying for us.”
Asked how his nine-year struggle has affected his prayer and Bible reading, Jack said: “A lot of my Bible time will be focused on a single passage for an extended period and memorizing it, internalizing it, so that it gives me strength, rather than just reading broad sections and not really paying attention to it.
“My prayers are not much about asking God for things. They are more prayers of thanksgiving: ‘Thank You for all the different things You’ve done. Thank You for Alliance Defending Freedom. Thank You for the strength that this has brought my family. Thank You that my grandkids are seeing this and are growing up aware of these things.’”
For now, as he awaits the next step in his appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals, Jack says he has no doubt that God will continue to give him strength. But he hopes people will recognize the importance of his case.
“I think that Christians and all Americans need to be aware that these fundamental freedoms are in jeopardy,” he said. “If they go away, they won’t come back.”
The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Above: Jack Phillips at the Billy Graham Library
Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2021 BGEA