Jack Phillips (pictured here with Pastor Hair) was recently in Arizona to speak at the CAP banquet in Phoenix. Jack Phillips is a Colorado cake artist who opened his bakery more than 20 years ago not only to provide for his family and his employees, but also to serve his community, share his artistic talents, and – most importantly – to honor God through his work every day. The very name of Jack’s bakery – Masterpiece Cakeshop – is a reference to his favorite Bible verse, Ephesians 2:10, which says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”
Jack was shocked when not just his business, but his faith, and even his family, became the subject of threats and punishment. In 2012, two men came into Jack’s bakery and asked him to design a wedding cake for their same-sex wedding. Jack kindly explained that he could not design cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies. The men swore at Jack and stormed out. Jack received notice from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. He was being sued, accused of violating the state’s nondiscrimination laws.
When the commission ruled against Jack, he knew that the real issue was not “discrimination” but whether he would be forced by the state to violate his conscience. “I haven’t singled out that one issue as something I won’t do,” Jack says. “I don’t make cakes for bachelor parties, I don’t make Halloween cakes, or anything involving witchcraft.”
Jack was ordered by the state to use his talents to celebrate same-sex weddings in violation of his sincerely held religious beliefs. He was also told to reeducate his staff, and to file quarterly compliance reports with the state for two years. Jack’s case has been argued before the U.S.Supreme Court and is currently awaiting a ruling. Throughout the entire journey, Alliance Defending Freedom and its allied attorneys have been defending Jack in court, free of charge.
The founding fathers cared much about checks and balances, about constitutional limitations, about division of powers because they did not trust anyone with such power – the founders had a robust notion of sin. If in our environment the virtue of (the new) tolerance becomes absolute, then ostensibly moral discussions are brought round to this single consideration.
We said last week that once the category of evil disappears, our moral discernment has no structure. We end up not only with rampant ethical relativism but with the anemic inability to feel or express moral outrage over pervasive immorality. The failure to recognize the evil in our own hearts is precisely what convinces so many of us that our opinions and motives are above reproach while those who contradict us are wrong.
John Piper, in “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God,” challenges relativism by asking, “How is the bad thing called relativism different from good ways of thinking relatively? We may conclude that someone is tall or short relative to another person: in many domains, such thinking is not only a useful way of thinking but an indispensable way of thinking. When we make such comparisons, people on all sides have some kind of measurement standard in their minds, so the relative height or shortness of two people is agreed on the basis of a shared standard.”
D.A.Carson tweaks Piper’s concept by stating, “For moral relativism to exist, one or more of the following statements must be true:
- There is no external or objective standard of truth.
- The standard may be out there, but we cannot know it.
- The standard is out there, but we cannot know what it means.
- The standard exists and we can know what it means, but we simply do not care.
“Consider the statement, ‘Sexual relations between two human males is wrong.’ Two people might disagree over the truthfulness of this statement and still not be relativists. For instance, they might both hold that the Bible is God’s authoritative Word and that it establishes an external, objective standard on this matter, but might disagree as to what the Bible says. Relativism arises when there is no standard, or when the standard is said to exist but we cannot know what it means (or any of the four points listed above). Perhaps the saddest (and certainly the ugliest) relativism is found under the fourth point. It is a kind of pragmatic relativism: we acknowledge the standards but insist on doing things our own way—in much the same way that we can have a pragmatic atheism (we know that God exists but we act as if he doesn’t).”
Relativism is the view that no one standard of true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly exists that is valid for everyone. Relativists may be happy to talk about my truth and your truth, but rarely about the truth. Convictions and conduct flow not from some objective standard but from personal or communal standards. Piper argues that pragmatic relativists exist in every culture: consider Matthew 21:21-27, where Jesus’ opponents will not face the truth (“But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd…so they answered ‘We do not know’”) and so find ways to duck it, even to say untrue things in order to preserve their own lies. The tragic reality of our generation in the West (though certainly not everywhere in the world) is that we have codified and authorized relativism to such a degree that interest in truth and morality alike, in any enduring and objective sense, has largely dissolved.
From the perspective of the Bible, relativism is treason against God and his Word. That the God of the Bible exists establishes the possibility of truth; that He is a revealing God establishes the possibility of knowing that truth. Relativism regularly plays games with language, encourages doctrinal aberration, cultivates duplicity, and pretends to be humble while authorizing astonishing arrogance. Relativism promises freedom but enslaves people: it refuses to acknowledge sin and evil the way the Bible does, and therefore it never adequately confronts sin and evil, and therefore leaves people enslaved by sin and evil. Even at societal levels, it is an invitation to destruction, for if everyone does that which is right in their own eyes, the end is either anarchic chaos or cultural cries for more laws in order to establish stability-ultimately even a call for a dictator.
“When we witness the new tolerance making its way through this stench, we understand, once again, through this new view, how controlling discussions of tolerance and intolerance can be, precisely because there are no other widely agreed categories for right and wrong. And for exactly the same reason, such discussion cannot be leavened by networks of broader moral considerations: there aren’t any, or at least not many.”
Supreme Court justice Kennedy recently stated, “Tolerance is essential in a free society, and tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’s religious beliefs.”
The effect of this change is striking. It used to be that the moral issues held a central place in public discourse, and part of that discourse dealt with how much deviation from those moral standards could be tolerated. Increasingly, however, the rights and wrongs of the old moral issues receive scant attention while the public discourse focuses on what sanctions should be imposed on those who do not “tolerate” (definitely the new sense!) the abolition of what were once the moral standards. In other words, the primary “moral” line drawn through Western culture declares that those who “tolerate” just about anything are good, and those who do not are bad and therefore should not be tolerated.