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Bake the cake—for good vibes?

Jack Phillips’ refusal offers a more compelling witness than what progressive Christians demand


Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips Associated Press/Photo by Brennan Linsley, file

Bake the cake—for good vibes?
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There’s a T-shirt for sale on Amazon right now that reads, “I believe Jesus would make the dang cake.” The letter “a” in “cake” is a multi-tiered rainbow wedding cake.

It’s a reference, of course, to Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who declined to bake a cake for a same-sex “wedding” 12 years ago and was back in court defending himself, yet again, a few weeks ago.

When the Masterpiece Cakeshop case began, the common sentiment among the progressive Christian left was the T-shirt slogan: Jack should just “bake the dang cake.” The argument wasn’t so much about logic as it was about vibes. Christians are supposed to be “nice” and “neighborly,” and refusing to bake a cake just felt pointlessly rude and prudish. Hadn’t Jack read the Sermon on the Mount?

We have heard all this before. In 2017, when the Masterpiece case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, progressive Christian author Julie Rodgers spoke at an American Civil Liberties Union–sponsored rally on the court steps. “My hope for fellow Christians is that they would use their freedoms not just to protect themselves, but to serve others,” she said, “because LGBTQ people are your neighbors.”

In 2014, Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt wrote a column for the Daily Beast accusing Christian artists who wouldn’t participate in same-sex “weddings” of hypocrisy, suggesting people like Phillips don’t have a legitimate objection to “gay marriage” but just really, really want to discriminate against gay people. They just love discriminating so much, they can’t help it.

And in 2013, Skye Jethani, host of The Holy Post podcast, wrote “An evangelical case for gay wedding cakes,” in which he argued that “Christians should not merely interpret the wedding cake case through the lens of the culture wars. … We must consider how Scripture and Christian values would have us live beside our LGBT neighbors.” The implication, of course, is that “living beside our LGBT neighbors” means, well, baking the dang cake.

Maybe we can disagree about the best way to do the right thing, but there is no right way to do the wrong thing.

It’s worth revisiting these takes because a very high-profile recent convert to Christianity gave a profoundly different testimony about the way the Masterpiece case “witnessed” to her. Ayaan Hirsi Ali escaped radical Islam to become an internationally respected defender of the New Atheism movement, in which she was firmly planted when the same-sex couple first took Phillips to court.

But a few months ago, Ali said she met Christ. Speaking recently at a Heritage Foundation lecture, Ali said, “Let me give you an anecdote of when I was here in America that made me wake up to the intolerance of some of the secular movement. It was the cake-baking story. … Now why did you have to look in the most obscure place for the most obscure baker and force him to do something against his conscience? That wasn’t seeking equality, that was a kind of triumphalism that made me think, these people are actually more intolerant, or just as intolerant, as the Islamists that I was condemning.”

Ali didn’t realize that the woman she was sitting next to on this panel, Kristen Waggoner, was one of the lawyers defending Phillips. After Waggoner revealed that point, Ali continued, “Thank you for telling me his name. … I think what Jack has done is make an example of them, because people like me would not have woken up to the reality that it is these activists who are intolerant … and the right response is to stand up to them.”

One glaring issue with the Christians-should-bake-the-cake-to-maintain-the-Church’s-witness argument is that it never reckons with to whom the Church is presumed to be witnessing, or even what the verb “to witness” practicably means in any given situation. I’m far from the first to point this out. In the progressive mind, the only people we seem to want to “witness to” are people who identify with a letter in the acronym. And the “how,” as far as I can tell, is basically defined as “whatever they want us to do”—never considering, of course, that their wishes might directly contradict what another unreached person wants us to do.

Well, here we have a deeply intellectual, doggedly secular woman who was profoundly “witnessed to” by Phillips’ refusal to bake the cake. (And we can rest assured there are many others like her.) Now what?

The “maintaining our witness” argument is a red herring anyway. Maybe we can disagree about the best way to do the right thing, but there is no right way to do the wrong thing. Jack Phillips refused to tell a lie—specifically, that a man and another man can create a “marriage” and that their sexual union is healthy, normative, and good. And while most of us probably won’t be called to take Phillips’ precise path, all of us who claim Christ are definitely commanded not to lie. Our witness is first to the Truth. And while it’s regrettable that the Truth is condemned to “bad vibes” in our age, that’s OK. If we don’t tell the Truth, we have nothing meaningful left to “witness” about anyway.


Maria Baer

Maria Baer is a freelance reporter who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She contributes regularly to Christianity Today and other outlets and co-hosts the Breakpoint podcast with The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.


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