The nation took notice when Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips politely declined to design a custom wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage.
But Jack’s nephew, Sean, took notice of the aftermath.
It was certainly hard to ignore. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that Jack had to agree to design cakes for same-sex weddings against his deeply held beliefs or to stop designing wedding cakes altogether. That cost Jack nearly 40 percent of his business and over half of his staff. The commission also ordered Jack to re-educate his staff, teaching them that it is wrong for him to run his business consistently with his religious beliefs. One commissioner even called Jack’s religious defense a “despicable piece of rhetoric” and compared Jack to perpetrators of the Holocaust.
And then there was the hate mail, nasty phone calls, and death threats pouring in.
At one point, Jack even received a death threat when his daughter and granddaughter were in the store. He sent them in the back to hide while he called the police. The threats got so bad that Jack’s wife, Debi, was too afraid to go into their own shop.
Sean couldn’t understand it.
At that point, Sean didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. But he did know his Uncle Jack. And though he didn’t fully grasp why Jack was willing to take such a stand, he knew all the hate being aimed at Jack didn’t make any sense.
Sean describes Jack as one of the most genuine, kind, and generous people he knows.
And Jack’s actions back that up. Frequent visitors to Jack’s shop include a homeless man and a man from an Alcoholics Anonymous group. They’ve struck up a friendship with Jack over coffee and cookies. He’s the type of man that lends out his best car to those in need and drives around a clunker instead. Jack loves and serves everyone that walks through the doors of Masterpiece Cakeshop, but he cannot celebrate every event or express every message that is asked of him – particularly when it contradicts his faith.
Jack’s faith guides everything he does, and it has been his strength the past six years – even as the state continues to target him.
Jack could have been angry or bitter about the situation. And there was plenty to be angry and bitter about – losing employees and business, a sense of safety and security, and his good name in the media. But Jack’s faith never failed him.
“Through it all, my dad has had this unearthly peace,” said Jack’s daughter Lisa. “People call him and say such hateful things. They slander him in the news and on the radio, and he knows the whole time that it is Christ they are slandering and hating. He considers it an honor to be counted among those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake, and he would willingly do it again. It’s a beautiful thing to watch and learn from: God giving him all the strength, and my dad giving God all the glory. Watching my dad’s trials undertaken for the sake of Christ has only made me want to know Christ more.”
Lisa wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Sean was also shocked at the hateful treatment Jack endured. In fact, it made him angry.
But in observing and talking with Jack, he saw a quiet example of what it looks like to live a life in obedience to Christ.
Over time, Sean let go of his anger. He dug into the Bible to understand the comfort that Jack had in Christ and how he could withstand such hardship with grace and peace. And eventually, God drew Sean to Himself.
In June 2018, Jack won his case at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the State of Colorado acted with hostility toward Jack’s religious beliefs. And that victory has implications for the religious freedom of creative professionals across the country.
But Jack counts the eternal implications of his case as even greater and more precious.
Sean is walking with Jesus today. He is living for God and not for himself. He is a changed man.
And Sean isn’t alone. There are many others whose lives have been changed by the faithful witness of Jack and his family.
“[We] have been blessed to see countless other Christians, who’ve watched the effect of this case on our lives, stand up boldly and with greater confidence. Some weren’t standing up at all, and now they are firm in God’s teachings,” says Jack. “That’s deeply encouraging to us, and I think it is one of the most beautiful things that could happen to anyone in a similar situation – to know that other people will be encouraged and, in turn, will encourage others. That really has made all of this worthwhile.”