On the cake case, David Brooks gets it wrong

Lydia Macy, 17, left, and Mira Gottlieb, 16, both of Berkeley, Calif., rally outside of the Supreme Court on the day of the hearing for the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin; caption amended by RNS)

(RNS) — Let me get this right: A baker, in violation of Colorado law, refuses to provide service to a gay couple that he provides to everyone else, and according to David Brooks, it’s the couple’s “bad” that they didn’t invite him to dinner?

I am a long time admirer of David Brooks and I look to him for a reasoned and well-articulated conservative perspective on public matters. But in his opinion piece about the Masterpiece Cake case before the Supreme Court, “How Not to Advance Gay Marriage,” he is uncharacteristically naïve and gets it so, so wrong.

The gay couple should have taken the “neighborly course,” Brooks admonishes, inviting the baker to dinner in their home, letting him get to know them and giving them the chance to prove their “marital love” to him. Which begs the question: Who else in America needs to cook dinner for a vendor before earning the right to purchase their wares?

Were Mr. Brooks denied service at a lunch counter because he is white, would he then invite the owner to his home for dinner so that gradually, over time, the owner’s heart would be changed and white people like Mr. Brooks would be served after all? If that were the right approach to civil rights, African-Americans would still be looking for lunch.

After Brooks rightly notes that the plaintiffs were “understandably upset” and “felt degraded,” that “Nobody likes to be refused service just because of who they essentially are,” and “In a just society people are not discriminated against because of their sexual orientation,” he turns his back on what he’s just written. He argues Masterpiece Cake is not about discrimination based on “who they essentially are” but rather about the baker’s religious beliefs.

The Washington State Supreme Court, ruling on a similar case regarding a florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding, explicitly wrote in its decision that providing flowers for a gay couple’s wedding no more advocated for gay marriage than providing flowers for a Muslim wedding endorsed Islam or providing flowers for an atheist couple’s wedding advocated for atheism.

But the most egregious assertion Brooks made is that “it’s just a cake. It’s not like they were being denied a home or a job, or a wedding.”

Is it possible that Mr. Brooks is unaware that in 29 states, one can be fired from a job for being gay and the employee has no protection and no recourse in the courts? In those same 29 states, one can be evicted from an apartment just for being gay. And as for the right to be married, we should note that in Alabama right now, someone poised to be elected to the United States Senate was the judge who tried his best to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

What these cases are about is DIGNITY. Systemic, societal dignity. Yes, the wedding cake might be obtained at a bakery down the street. But then again, African-Americans may have been able to find lunch at some other lunch counter down the street in the ‘60s. The principle at stake is whether or not gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people are going to be accorded the same public dignity that is available to everyone else — whether or not such treatment is commensurate with the personal opinions and even theologies of the vendors.

Let me be clear: If the baker refused to bake a wedding cake for anyone who is divorced and is getting remarried — because Jesus clearly said that that is adultery; if he refused to bake a wedding cake for any couple who does not give a 10 percent tithe to their church — as commanded in Scripture; if he refused to bake a wedding cake for a heterosexual couple who has been living together before marriage (fornication) — if the baker refused to bake wedding cakes for anyone he deemed to be sinful, I’d be supportive of him (although sinless customers might be few and far between).

But this baker is NOT asking the court to ensure his freedom of religion; he is actually asking the court to ensure and protect his right to discriminate. Mr. Brooks, this case is about much more than “just a cake.”

(Bishop Gene Robinson is the retired Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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  • “If that were the right approach to civil rights, African-Americans would still be looking for lunch.” There is no relationship between race and sin.
    ” He argues Masterpiece Cake is not about discrimination based on “who they essentially are” but rather about the baker’s religious beliefs.” 1 Thessalonians 5:22King James Version (KJV)
    22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.” A homosexual ceremony would be considered evil.
    “Is it possible that Mr. Brooks is unaware that in 29 states, one can be fired from a job for being gay and the employee has no protection and no recourse in the courts? In those same 29 states, one can be evicted from an apartment just for being gay.” Christ taught that He will heal and forgive our sin, should we repent, turn to Him, and follow Him.
    You come up with the questionnaire for bakers to identify which cakes they can make, and which the Lord would not be pleased with them for creating.

  • If the court rules for the baker, we might be living out the Soup Nazi episode from the Seinfeld TV series. The Soup Nazi arbitrarily picked his customers. If he didn’t like you for some reason he shouted, “No soup for you! Next.”

    “No wedding cake for you! Next.”

  • Like the top photograph says, “It’s Not About The Cake.” Despite all the debating & spinning, it’s simply about YOUR constitutional religious freedoms. Gay Goliath is telling the USSC to repeal your freedom of religion and speech. Right Now.

    If Phillips loses, you will be expected to obey Gay Goliath immediately on request. Expected to participate in HIS gay-marriage religion, which violate and oppose your Christianity and other major religions. For Christians, you must decide whether Jesus or Goliath is really your Lord & Savior. You need an Engine of incalculable, invincible horsepower, if you choose to oppose Goliath.


    Jesus is your Engine. Meanwhile, it ain’t about you becoming Jim Crow, because what you are trying not to participate in is a Gay-Religion EVENT, not a person. So don’t buy that crazy argument.

  • “I hate divorce says the Lord”=“I hate Moses says the Lord”=“The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”
    Mal. 2:16=Mt. 19:8=Hos. 14:9

    Mal 2:16+Mt. 19:8=Mal 3:18

  • Fortunately it is not Gene’s opinion that matters especially given his inherent bias. It is the Supreme Court and the clear wording of the Constitution.

  • Many thanks to Bishop Robinson for setting a good example of the Christian faith by upholding the dignity, human worth, and equal treatment of ALL people. He’s good counterweight to the Evangelical Christians who dehumanize gay people and call for gays to be mistreated and denied access to businesses in the marketplace.

  • And New Hampshire got it’s recompense for the first gay bishop: the Old Man of the Mountain lost his face on the same day. The Robinson Crusoe of New Hampshire will be seeing His face soon. Today is the day to repent, for the day you got it wrong.

    As the head of something, you should be aware that every time you compare your cause to the African-American cause, you are earning double stripes because you are doubly wrong.

    Jonah visited your church and he says “they that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy”

  • Bishop Robinson misses the point, the same way the Colorado court whose decision he endorsed missed the point when it equated gay marriage to Islam and Atheism. The first is an ACT, the latter two are BELIEFS. That the baker wasn’t discriminating against the gay couple themselves is proven by the fact that they would have been free to buy any of the general goods he had for sale in the the bakery, it was the EVENT he refused to be a party to. Other events/positions he refuses to be a party to with specially requested cakes: divorces, Halloween, anti-patriotic sentiments, anti-LGBT sentiments.

  • I loved David Brooks’ perspective on this. He writes:

    If you want to know why we have such a polarized, angry and bitter society, one reason is we take every disagreement that could be addressed in conversation and community and we turn it into a lawsuit. We take every morally supple situation and we hand it over to the legal priesthood, which by necessity is a system of technocratic rationalism, strained slippery-slope analogies and implied coercion.

    Legal conflict is a clumsy tool to manage the holy messiness of actual pluralistic community. The legal system does not deal well with local and practical knowledge, the wisdom to know when a rule should be applied and when it should be bent. It does not do well with humility, tolerance and patience — virtues that are hard to put into a rule and can be achieved only in a specific situation. It inevitably generates angry reactions and populist uprisings.

    Readers of this column know that I fervently support gay marriage, but I don’t think bakers like Jack Phillips are best brought along by the iron fist of the state. I don’t think the fabric of this country will be repaired through the angry confrontation of lawyers. In this specific situation, the complex art of neighborliness is our best way forward.

    I’m not surprised that a man like Gene Robinson wouldn’t like the neighborly approach though. Activists got to have scary dragons to slay. And if you can’t find a dragon, you go after hamsters and mice and make them into the worst small rodents in the country.

  • Is this the same guy who left his spouse to marry someone else and then left that second spouse all the while thinking he’d be a good person to be a Bishop, knowing it would be incredibly divisive to his denomination?

  • Why is this author ignoring the fact that the baker has happily sold baked goods to gay people? This isn’t about not serving people who are “sinful.” Christianity teaches that we’re all sinful, yet simultaneously all made in God’s image and worthy of dignity.

    A marriage entered into sinfully is still a legitimate marriage. Nonchristian marriage is legitimate marriage because marriage is a creation ordinance, not solely for Christians. But “gay marriage” is not marriage at all. That’s the issue. The new leftist definition of marriage contradicts the historic definition of marriage. Thus, those who still hold to the historic definition of marriage cannot in good conscience participate creatively in that which is not a marriage at all.

  • A ruling in favor of the baker would allow a vendor who opposes heterosexual marriages other than his religion’s to deny service, even though you yourself would not.

  • Is N/zi an adjective or a noun in your example? Are you asking, should the baker be forced to bake a cake for a N/zi, or should he be forced to bake a cake that has N/zi symbols? Either way, no, because (a) political beliefs generally are not covered by antidiscrimination statutes, and (b) it is undisputed that the baker could refuse to put specific “speech” on the cake.

  • Some of those denials, like George for complaining about not being given bread or Elaine for banging on the counter, probably would have been legal. But the guy who’s refused service for speaking Spanish has a good argument.

  • So? I’ve never heard of anyone attempting to do that, but why should the government coerce an artist into creating a certain message?

  • The forced-speech argument is separate from the free-exercise argument. I don’t think the government should coerce an artist into creating a specific message, I just harbor serious doubt that the baker in this case qualifies. He makes very nice cakes, but it is undisputed that the couple never asked him to create any specific design.
    The Court will be making law for the entire country, not just these parties. Another “cake artist” who feels the way I suggested above would have an equal First Amendment exemption to the antidiscrimination statute. You may not have heard of anyone attempting to do that, but there already has been an inn owner who sought to deny a wedding venue to an interfaith heterosexual couple.

  • The First Amendment protects your right as an American to the free exercise of your religion. It does not protect your right to use your religion as an excuse to discriminate against other Americans.

  • It does protect the constitutional right of ALL of us (not just Christians), to not be forced to take part in events that oppose & violate one’s own chosen religion and/or religious worldview.

    Discrimination against personal participation in specific religion-related **events** such as gay weddings & receptions, is not discrimination against **people.** Constitutional religious freedom, which includes the right to not get your personal religious participation forced by any government, is for ALL Americans (even gays and atheists).

  • Re: “There is no relationship between race and sin.” 

    Actually, there is! Each of us is born into a race, and we are also all born sinners (see e.g. Rom 3:23). We can, literally, avoid neither. 

    The question isn’t whether bakers should be able to refuse service to “sinners.” If that’s what they want to do, and if that’s what their religion mandates, then they’d have to go out of business, since they wouldn’t be able to serve anyone! 

    No, the question is why certain “sins” are so devastatingly important that bakers can’t get anywhere near them, while other “sins” are just fine and they’ll bake cakes for those who engage in them? The question is why there’s so much sanctimony and furor over gays, while other sorts of “sinners” get free passes to do whatever they want, to whoever they want, any time they want? Why can they get cakes baked for them, but gays can’t? 

    It makes no sense at all. It turns Christian bakers who try to police their clientele into hypocrites — because they happily serve some “sinners,” but not others. Maybe they ought to be concerned about that, because reportedly their own Jesus explicitly told them never to be hypocrites (see e.g. Mt 7:5 & Lk 6:42). 

  • Sorry, l Christ doesn’t plant sin in you when you are being formed.

    James 1:13 New International Version
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

  • What? For many, the Bible is just as clear about homosexuality as it is for divorce and remarriage. The only sexual union Jesus speaks of is heterosexual. It is a valid view then that a non-heterosexual marriage is out of step with Jesus. If a person cannot bless a marriage they should not be required to bless the marriage. In a similar way, evangelical architects ought to be able to refuse to design a Mormon church, a Christian artist ought to be able to refuse a commission if it violates his beliefs. This is an ideological issue not a civil rights issue. A Christian tire dealer should never have a right to refuse to sell tires to a Gay couple because tires do not say anything. They do not celebrate anything. But a wedding cake speaks and celebrates. So IT IS about what the cake says.

  • Some evangelicals do dehumanize, but I know dozens of pastors of conservative churches and hundreds of evangelicals that do not. Prejudice says all black people are this way or that way. You are prejudiced toward evangelicals in the same way and you can’t see it. We differ on what morality is and marriage is supposed to be. We have several gay people in our church and they know we disagree and we still can hang out. All evangelicals “call for gays to be mistreated. That is an ugly lie. You should take that back. Our long list of gay alum’s have said openly that your kind of prejudice is wrong. The world is much more diverse and nuanced than you know.

  • Re: “Sorry, l Christ doesn’t plant sin in you when you are being formed.” 

    The Bible is clear and unequivocal that all humans are born sinful. See e.g.: 

    Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Rom 5:12) 

    For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners (Rom 5:19a) 

    Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (Eccl 7:20, quoted in Rom 3:10) 

    As soon as you can explain why some sins are bad enough to justify relegating people to second-class status whereas others aren’t, let me know. I’m eager to hear that explanation. 

  • James 1:13Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

    1 Corinthians 6 -18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin[b] a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

  • None of your quotations refutes that, elsewhere, the Bible clearly says humans are all born in sin, and that means we are ALL sinners. 

    None of them. As in, Not. A. Single. Freaking. One. Of. Them. 

    Also, none of them explains why it’s impermissible for Christians to do business with gays, but just fine for them to do business with fornicators, perjurers, thieves, murderers, etc.  

    None of them. As in, Not. A. Single. Freaking. One. Of. Them. 

    So try again. This time, you must acknowledge that you — yes, you! — are as much a sinner as all those gays you despise. 

  • Yeah, pretty soon people are going to start thinking that they are entitled to make their own moral judgements. Can’t have that.

  • Yes, and decades ago, hillbilly evangelicals in the south were using the same argument to deny serving African Americans.

    Not so ironically, evangelicals are doing a fine job of destroying their own religious liberty.

  • In the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, in the south, blacks were often denied service in businesses that were otherwise open to “the public”. The proprietors of those businesses claimed the right to choose who to serve as customers; some cited biblical verses as a reason. I am insufficiently familiar with those verses, but they had something to do with Ham, I think, and black skin.

    After some years, those doing the denying concluded that it was inappropriate to cite those verses, or anyway, inconsistent with their self-identification as “Christians”, so they stopped. But in any case the basis of denying service to certain folks was that the proprietors of those businesses somehow had the right, or the “religious liberty”, to do so.

    Bottom line: if you are running a business that “serves the public”, you must serve ALL the public; you are not allowed to be selective. If you don’t like it, find another business.

    Several folks here have made the point very eloquently that the baker is being highly selective in choosing not to do business with folks guilty (in his mind) of “certain” sins.

  • Actually, I understand it better than you do. I can quote some of it from memory in the original Greek. Can you say the same? If you’re like 99.999999% of the Christians I’ve ever met, the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” 

    If you can’t, at the very least, read the New Testament in its original Greek, and haven’t read translations into other languages (as I have), then in fact, you have far less knowledge of scripture than I do, and need to put away your arrogant assertion that I don’t know your holy texts. In truth, I know them very well, and no amount of denial on your part can ever magically make that not so. 

  • I’ve been observing evangelicals and interacting with them for many years.

    The main things I’ve discovered about them are that (1) either/or thinking is very common among evangelicals (probably less common among others, but certainly not exclusive to evangelicals) and (2) most evangelicals are fearful, hate-filled, racist hypocrites who are either profoundly ignorant of the real teachings of Jesus, or are knowledgeable about Jesus’ teachings and hate them, but for some reason want to call themselves “Christians”.