Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

I know I’m supposed to be getting ready to leave for Florida today, in fact, very soon we’ll be making our way to the airport, but I couldn’t help typing a quick note to you regarding a couple of important news items, the first of which has to do with the most recent Supreme Court ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case.

In case you hadn’t realized it already, it is a very significant thing that has happened.

If you are unfamiliar with the case itself, you should know that six years ago, a Christian baker refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. He did so explaining that while he was more than willing to make them a cake for any other event they’d prefer, he would not do so for their wedding due to his deeply held religious convictions. He was charged by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and was heftily fined. He pleaded his case before them several times, but each time he was unsuccessful. His case made it into court. He lost. His case went before the Appeals Court. He lost there, too. He petitioned for the Supreme Court to hear his case. The justices were willing, and did so last fall. Their decision was rendered on Monday of this past week. He won, and not by a “narrow victory” as many in the mainstream news outlets are proclaiming, but rather it was a 7 to 2 decision.

This is all very important. I say this because it affects us right here in Hartland. I can say from first-hand experience that the pressures from the gay community upon the churches, including ours, is increasing. Pastors are being attacked personally for the positions they take on the Word of God as it meets with the homosexual and transgender agendas.

I am not unfamiliar with having to wipe spit from my shoes just for saying I believe in Christ and His Word rather than the culture. It happened to me right after testifying before the Michigan State School Board regarding the mandate to allow transgender students the freedom to use the restroom of their choosing in the public schools.

But these things aren’t limited to pastors. If you haven’t already, it is possible that very soon you will be engaged by a family member, neighbor, or friend who will accuse you and your church of bigotry for believing homosexuality to be counter to the natural law and against God’s design and holy will for mankind. As I’ve said in the adult Bible study before, no one will mindfully follow a bigoted Jesus, and no one will put up with bigoted Christians. This is a deliberate tactic of the devil. You will be challenged to change you beliefs and practices that find their origins in the Word of God lest you be forced to suffer in a category called “unloving” and “intolerant.” It will be a hard place to exist. Following Christ will be hard. But remember, He said it would be.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:18-24).

But I shouldn’t leave you with only this. Jesus kept speaking, and as He did, He promised that you would be able to bear witness because He is with you and you are with Him, and all of this comes by the power of the Holy Spirit in faith.

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:25-26).

Right now, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few people hovering in the social media world who are trying to lessen the impact of what has come by way of this monumental case. My public words in those forums have been to say that anyone now inferring that the Supreme Court ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case is valueless in the fight for Religious Liberty and the cause for the Christian Church to remain faithful to Christ are betraying the fact that they’ve not actually read the ruling. I encourage you to read it. Even spend a little time working through the shared dissension offered by Justice Ginsburg and Justice Sotomayor. You’ll see by their own words the revealing of a shaky confidence in the legal strength of the gay agenda they more than publicly support when not on the bench. There’s a reason the decision was 7—2 in favor of Phillips and his little cake shop.

As your pastor, I cannot overstate just how important this victory is as it meets the confessional Lutheran life, practice, and overall identity in which we engage here at Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan. Of course, I would never admit that by this singular case the war against the culture’s impositions upon us has been won. We are far from the war’s end. But this case does provide for the establishing of significant fortifications against some incredibly vicious tactics used by an unrelenting enemy, tactics I have experienced personally, and you may experience in the near future, too.

With that, I’ve included the an Op Ed. on the ruling that I wrote last week. It was published in several papers throughout the state.

To conclude, I pray the Lord’s blessings upon you this week. I trust that the visiting pastor will serve faithfully with the Word of the Gospel on June 17. I also offer a very happy Father’s Day to all of the dads in the congregation. And while I’m looking forward to time away with my family, I’ll be happy to see all of you when I get back. You never leave my thoughts. You are always in my prayers—even with a Scotch in my hand beside the swimming pool beneath a palm tree.

———————-

As a Lutheran Christian pastor, many things became clear for me following the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case.

One of those things is that even as gay rights advocates have reached their goal of securing a place for same-sex marriage within the framework of constitutionally protected rights, Christian pastors who hold to the historic biblical perspective regarding marriage cannot be required by the State to perform such a wedding. If this was in question before, it no longer remains so. The words of Justice Kennedy in the Court Opinion have cemented this into legislative history:

“When it comes to weddings, it can be assumed that a member of the clergy who objects to gay marriage on moral and religious grounds could not be compelled to perform the ceremony without denial of his or her right to the free exercise of religion. This refusal would be well understood in our constitutional order as an exercise of religion, an exercise that gay persons could recognize and accept without serious diminishment to their own dignity and worth” (p. 10)

Another result of the ruling appears to be a clearer view of true bigotry. To explain, Christians are called to love all people, but they are not called to be accepting of all behaviors, especially when those behaviors are in contradiction to God’s Word in the Bible. Nevertheless, even as they will find themselves differing with people, the Christian faith requires the showing of love to opponents. This is dogma. Knowing this, an honest consideration apart from anyone’s highly charged opinion must admit that sanctioned hate against gays does not exist within the Christian community. Sure, every community has its crazies. The Westboro Baptist Church is one example. But I can say in comparison that I’ve been spit upon by a group of homosexuals just because I was identifiable by my clerical collar as a Christian clergyman.

Still, while I’m hesitant to summarily say that the gay community believes, doctrinally, that spitting on people with differing opinions is acceptable practice, by this ruling, a poisonous militancy within the camp of the gay rights activists has been outed. It is now on record by the U.S. Supreme Court that Jack Phillips, while attempting to keep to his convictions and not use his talents to give the impression that he supports same-sex marriage, indeed was kind and respectful to his opponents by being willing to bake anything else the gay couple wanted. It is also on record that Phillips has been viciously accosted by the gay community and by officials serving on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in this. He has been portrayed by his accusers and those in positions to judge as bigoted, ignorant, unloving, and a despicable human being because of his Christian faith. In a roundabout way, the ruling names Phillips’ accusers and their unruly deeds as the truer intolerance in the situation, and it gently warns that such tactics will find no footing at the highest level of the American judicial system. Justice Kennedy leans into the point:

“To describe a man’s faith as ‘one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use’ is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere” (pp. 13-14).

Justice Gorsuch adds to the premise:

“Many may agree with the Commission and consider Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs irrational or offensive…. And, to be sure, this Court has held same-sex marriage a matter of constitutional right and various States have enacted laws that preclude discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But it is also true that no bureaucratic judgment condemning a sincerely held religious belief as ‘irrational’ or ‘offensive’ will ever survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment. In this country, the place of secular officials isn’t to sit in judgment of religious beliefs, but only to protect their free exercise” (p. 7).

While there are so many, I suppose a final point of interest may be Justice Thomas’ pondering of the Obergefell case:

“Because the Court’s decision vindicates Phillips’ right to free exercise, it seems that religious liberty has lived to fight another day. But, in future cases, the freedom of speech could be essential to preventing Obergefell from being used to ‘stamp out every vestige of dissent’ and ‘vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.’ (Alito, J., dissenting)” (p. 14).

Here Thomas reaffirms that Americans retain certain inalienable rights, and no particular law must ever be allowed a potency for usurping those rights. He acknowledges that the Obergefell decision set a dangerous precedent. But by this most recent case, the freedom to dissent from what has become “the new orthodoxy” was precisely challenged, and in the contest, we learned that people of faith are not obliged to forsake religious convictions and join the cultural masses pressing against the boundaries of observable biology and the simple contours of Natural Law. Instead, people who believe otherwise may take courage. The freedom of speech and the right to the free exercise of religion, thankfully, have won this particular day.

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