Jack Phillips is back at work at his Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood.
Just a week ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated Phillips’s First Amendment rights and that Phillips was within his rights when he refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Now, he says, the six years between that first encounter with Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig has been a trial for Phillips and his Christian faith.
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Phillips grew up just a few miles from the business he now runs, and he says that even as teenager he needed to enter an artistic profession.
“I would be the kid with a pencil in his hand, drawing, sketching, that kind of thing,” he recalls.
After he graduated high school, he got a job at local wholesale bakery and eventually got a chance to decorate cakes. He fell in love with the work and decided the best way to combine his passion would be to open his own cake shop someday.
“I even knew the name — Masterpiece Cake Shop — because Masterpiece says art and cake shop says cakes,” he says. “So people could walk in and know they would see cakes that were art.”
Phillips’ says that his dreams of a cake shop in his early twenties coincided with a spiritual awakening. On his way back from work one morning, he remembers feeling a sudden connection with God.
“I was driving along in my car and I was suddenly convicted by God for my sin — for my sinfulness — and I had no ability to stand before him when I died.”
Phillips had grown up going to church, but never took his faith seriously. In that moment, he says he committed himself to follow the teachings of Jesus in his personal life and in his work. Phillips opened Masterpiece in 1993.
From the start, he considered whether the message of each cake fit with his beliefs. Among work that would avoid: “I don't create anti-American, racist cakes, cakes for Halloween. I wouldn't even create a cake if someone wanted to disparage someone who identified as LGBT.
But the day in 2012 that Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig came to Masterpiece to order a cake for their wedding and sat down with Phillips to discuss the project, it put Phillips on a trajectory for the Supreme Court.
“Right off the bat I tried to make it clear to them that I would sell them anything in my store. It’s just that this was a cake that presented a message I couldn't create for them,” he says.
Mullins and Craig took their case to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which sided in their favor and ordered Phillips to serve wedding cakes to anyone who walked through his doors, ”and that's just something that I could not do. So rather than violate the state's order, we stopped making wedding cakes. So that cost us 40 percent of our business.”
Phillips says he lost six of his nine employees as a result. That's also when Phillip's personal faith became a public spectacle. He explained it in countless media interviews. And while he knew the position caused pain and frustration in the gay community, he says the turmoil went both ways. He says he came to expect death threats.
“Recently, in the last few weeks, someone threatened to come in and kill me with a machete. That's a frightening thing.”
The case has consumed his life and his shop ever since. Then, last Monday, he checked the news, “and when it said we have Masterpiece, my first thought was: wonder if there's another one? No. This is me. I call my wife. It's like it looks like we win.”
Phillips kept the bakery open Monday to receive well wishers as reporters and photographers looked on, then closed for a few days to make media appearances and process what had just happened. He reopened Thursday, looking forward to getting back to making wedding cakes.
The experience has also connected Jack to people involved in similar cases around the county, like Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Washington who also declined to serve a gay couple.
“We encourage each other that our God is good and he's in control of all this. My outcome has been good. The others are still in question,” Phillips says.
He views his faith in a new light. Phillips says he's learned his religion — while deeply personal — can't be hidden from view. It must be lived in a way where the world can see it.