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After the Cakeshop decision: Celebrations, cynicism and sobering insights from pros

After the Cakeshop decision: Celebrations, cynicism and sobering insights from pros

So I was at the gym last week (old people with arthritis do things like that) and I fell into a conversation with another old-timer about the 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, LTD v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (.pdf here). She wanted to know what I thought of the decision.

These kinds of conversations happen all the time here in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in part because my column has run for three decades in the nearby Knoxville News Sentinel, a newsroom that played a key role in the birth of "On Religion." I'm that religion guy.

Anyway, I said that it appeared America's one true king -- Justice Anthony Kennedy -- couldn't decide how to settle this clash between the First Amendment and LGBTQ rights, two issues at the heart of his high-court legacy. So he punted and wrote a narrow opinion, focusing on the anti-religious bias exhibited by Colorado officials. Who knows what will happen next?

I didn't take notes, but this Oak Ridger replied: "Well, I just don't think that guy could refuse to do business with a gay couple like that."

I asked if she knew that baker Jack Phillips offered to sell them anything in his store for their wedding, including cookies, brownies or basic wedding cakes. What he said he couldn't do -- because of his traditional Christian beliefs -- was make one of his special, handcrafted designer cakes that included themes and details linked to their same-sex union rite.

Well, I don't think it's right for him to single out gays like that, said the woman.

Actually, I noted, Phillips has turned down lots of jobs because of his evangelical beliefs, including making Halloween cakes, cakes containing alcohol, risqué bachelor-party cakes, atheist event cakes and, yes, cakes with slogans attacking gay people. He doesn't reject classes of people, but he does reject delivering specific messages he believes are linked to religion.

This Oak Ridger was silent for a moment, then said: "Well, I haven't heard any of that on CNN."

Maybe I should have told that story in this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), because it's a perfect example of how simplistic press coverage has helped shape -- "twist" might be the right word -- grassroots discussions of religious-liberty issues.

Ever since the ruling was handed down, there has been an amazing barrage of opinions from activists on both sides.

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Part II: New Year’s observations on matters religion writers will want to be watching

Part II: New Year’s observations on matters religion writers will want to be watching

Let's continue with some of the themes we were discussing in the previous Religion Guy Memo, in which I offered some predictions on what kinds of news items and trends religion-beat specialists will want to anticipate during 2017.

Watch for the U.S. Supreme Court to schedule the oral arguments in three complex cases consolidated under Advocate Health Care Network vs. Stapleton. At issue: Special pension exemptions for religious organizations other than churches. The Atlantic headline for a piece on this says the outcome “could bankrupt religious schools and hospitals.”

The speaker list for the customary Jan. 21 interfaith service at Washington's Episcopal cathedral the day after President Trump's inauguration will be worth coverage and comment. Will any ranking Muslim leaders agree to participate? Will any observant Jews appear even though it's the Sabbath day? Will Southern Baptist spokesman Russell Moore or other #NeverTrump clergy be invited?  

The NRB International Christian Media Convention in Orlando Feb. 27–March 2 will be a handy place to collect evangelical hallelujahs (and any lamentations) about the Trump Presidency. Headliners include Kelvin Cochran, fired as Atlanta fire chief over anti-gay statements; Alan Sears, whose Alliance Defending Freedom litigates religious-liberty cases; the Rev. Jonathan Falwell, who leads father Jerry’s local church; and radio pundits Steve Deace and Hugh Hewitt.

Yes, Virginia, there are pro-evolution evangelicals, and biologos.com plans a March 29 – 31 conference in Houston about “the rich harmony between modern science and biblical faith.” Speakers include British New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, Wheaton College Old Testament Professor John Walton (author of the controversial “Lost World of Adam and Eve”), and Christianity Today Executive Editor Andy Crouch.

Speaking of Bible debates in the news.

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