Word from the Center Digest: Friday, June 7, 2019


by Gregory Seltz

A year ago, I wrote you about Jack Philips and the Supreme Court ruling in his favor. It was called the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. Phillips was a baker and store owner who would properly sell anything in his store to anyone who wished to buy. But he refused to create a unique cake for a wedding of a homosexual couple because it violated his conscience and his religious beliefs. The Court ruled that the homosexual couple may have the right to believe what they believe about the hotly debated issue regarding the definition of marriage, but so does the baker. But, even more importantly, the Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission could not take a hostile position against the baker’s view of marriage. Ironically, right after that favorable ruling, Denver’s civil rights community tried to sue Phillips AGAIN! Another person filed a complaint demanding that Phillips bake a unique cake that violated his conscience. Wow! Phillips was demonized, caricatured, and maligned as a bigot and a homophobe in the first case. Why? Because he believed in the distinctiveness of the marriage between a man and a woman as unique among all relationships and as a foundational institution for a healthy society. And then, even after those who opposed him were chastised by the Supreme Court, Phillips was subjected to the assault once again. When will it stop?

People of faith need to realize that this is not an evangelism issue or a fairness issue. Instead, this is a First Amendment issue that undergirds our right to proclaim God’s Word for the sake of ourselves and our culture. The “Jack Phillips” cases, both the first and the second time around, are about shutting down his right to have his public voice about marriage heard and also forcing him, through his art, to publicly acknowledge something against his conscience. The demonization of his view was part of the effort to stifle his speech; the final hammer would have been the government’s silencing of his voice by threat of law and punishment. That should frighten those on both sides of this cultural debate.

In a free society, issues such as these—differences about fundamental moral truths—are best left to people’s consciences in a culture of mutual respect. In down-to-earth terms, that means that people who don’t believe in today’s alternative views of marriage should be free to hold a differing position without being maligned, demonized, and litigated against. With more and more attacks on traditional, biblical morality, the time has come for forthright discussions about relationships, marriage, culture and so forth without the destructive force of government muddying up the issue. Thankfully, there seems to be growing pressure to demonize the demonizers or at least there’s societal pressure to let all views be heard.

And the biblical voice on this needs to be heard, not just in the church, but also in the culture and for the sake of the culture. The biblical view of marriage is more than a casual view of Christians. Marriage is a unique relationship whose essential role can be demonstrated sociologically, psychologically, physiologically, and yes, even theologically. Those of us who hold this view understand that marriage is more than a relationship. It is, by definition, an institution. Today, this institution has been maligned, rejected, and now diminished to merely a relationship of convenience. But much of Western culture is imploding because of its disdain of marriage. Our cities are exploding because of our disregard for marriage. Our entire culture is wallowing in sexual confusion because of its diminution of marriage. However, at least for now, the Supreme Court has said you can’t dismiss the perspective of marriage being a unique institution among various relationships as bigoted, homophobic or sexist, which it is not. In fact, those of us who hold the traditional, institutional view of marriage believe that such a view can actually be beneficial to all, so let those discussions/arguments begin.

It is time to push back on those who insist on smearing and maligning people of conscience, people of faith, people who actually put love into action, even toward those with whom they disagree. The Supreme Court reminded us that the state cannot disparage such a view, nor hold it in contempt with a “hostility towards religion.” Yet that didn’t stop the State of Colorado from trying to do it to Jack Phillips again, just with a little nicer tone. We are the ones who must demand that the euphemisms, the dysphemism, the caricatures, the personal malignments, and the demonizations cease so that robust, honest, and forthright conversations can continue. The former needs to stop so that the other can resume! This effort demands our prayerful attention today for the sake of the church, yes, but also for the sake of our culture.

The Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz is the executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty.

Be Informed

Did you know that when Colorado baker Jack Phillips was first sued, the LCMS was quick to join an amicus brief for the U.S. Supreme Court in his support? Read more about the Synod’s support of religious liberty here.

Be Equipped

Learn more about the case against baker Jack Phillips and why some charges against him were dropped. Click here to listen to an Issues, Etc. interview with Joy Pullman on the topic.

Be Encouraged

“Despite seeing cultural changes that are contrary to God’s Word, numerous legal challenges, and shocking Supreme Court decisions, we need not fear. We are people of hope and joy. Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10). It is our joyous task to proclaim the Gospel of free forgiveness in Christ to all (Matt. 28:19). We are a people of joy (Eph. 4:4). We are not angry people. And we are people of hope (Rom. 5:3ff.). We know the end of the story. That’s the bottom line as we deal with the intense challenges of our day. We will be compassionate (Luke 6:36). We uphold the basic human rights of all people (no matter their sexual orientation). All are God’s creation. We are all sinners under the Law, and Christ invites all to repentance and faith (Matt. 9:13). “ – Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod