Last week Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). While the fact of the matter is laws like this aren’t anything new, the timing of this particular bill comes uncomfortably close to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. Behold, the eruption of every LGBTQ/Conservative-religious cultural tension abounding on social media these past few days. In short, the purpose of the bill is to ensure that religious freedoms are not oppressed, nor are religious business owners forced to adhere to guidelines that compromise their religious beliefs.
Advocates for the RFRA, would say that the bill does not allow for discrimination against the LGBTQ community, but is helping people live freely inside of their chosen religious beliefs. We want our churches to be able to feed the homeless. We want the right to wear our head coverings in the work place. It’s about freedom to maintain the integrity of a diversity of faiths.
Those opposing the RFRA would say it is opening the door for widescale discriminaton against the LGBTQ community. For example, businesses may now have the ability to cite the RFRA as a defense in businesses declining to cater a gay wedding. With no laws in place in Indiana to protect the discrimination of this population, people fear abuse of the RFRA is inevitable.
Indiana Statehouse 03/08/15 Photo by Darryl Smith
So I’ll start with what this isn’t. This is not a post to tell you whether the RFRA is wrong or right. It is not a post to tell you whether or not gay marriage is wrong or right. Frankly, my personal opinions on either is irrelevant and unhelpful for all intents and purposes. In fact, after days of protests, the RFRA is in the process of being altered to alleviate a lot of concern and so I imagine most of this will blow over in time. But as news of the RFRA has spread, there has been an outpouring of bitterness and spite on social media from Christians hiding behind the veil of “religious persecution”. Today, I am most interested in the supposed liberties that many Christians are readily laying claim to. To reiterate this is not about the RFRA or religious freedom in general; rather the ugly that it has spawned.
I will lead with this: if you think Jesus would turn away a newlywed gay couple at the door of his pizza shop, you are reading a different Bible than me.
This is what I’m hearing:
“They would serve gays in their restaurant, they just don’t want to cater their weddings. So what?”
“They are free to choose their lifestyle, we should be able to have that same freedom.”
“We are the ones discriminated against. I can’t even carry a Bible without someone accusing me of homophobia”
Here are my questions:
What in the Bible leads you to believe that you are meant to live a life of freedom and never be discriminated against because of what you believe to be true?
What of Jesus’ behavior and message indicates to you that providing flowers for a gay wedding is a compromise of faith?
How do you prioritize your own personal liberties in respect to God’s commandment to love your neighbor as yourself?
I’m writing this because I wholeheartedly believe there is something deeply evil surrounding how we engage in conversations about homosexuality and God. For this purpose, let’s take that homosexuality is, in fact, a sin and same-sex marriage equally sinful and dishonoring to God. The amount of unadulterated and excused hatred, disgust, and outrage that comes at the thought of this particular “sin” is, for lack of a better word, weird. It lacks reason. I’ve seen level-headed, Bible-reading, hands in the air on a Sunday, respected Christians at their angriest; not when we’re talking about genocide, or rape, or child labor or human trafficking; no, the real rage comes when homosexuality is on the table. It’s a blinding anger. And in my opinion, it’s evidence of how evil is so effortlessly weaved into our rationale in it.
If you’re a man and you think God says don’t get married to a man, then you cannot be expected to get married to a man. Me asking you to do so would be asking you to compromise your religious beliefs.
But serving a man who is getting married to a man? In what way is that compromising any law that Christ ever gave us? We must think critically about this line. What about who we are in God’s eyes, actually changes because we catered a gay wedding? Do we not trust that an all-knowing creator God, can see so far into us that he would know that we are not, in fact, supporting gay marriage, but serving our neighbor?
God at the Table
Jesus called a man by name down from a tree and said, come be with me. Zaccheus didn’t come to Jesus and say, I’m sorry I’m sorry, show me the light make me pure. HE WAS IN A TREE. We’d do well to stop telling the story as if Zaccheus had some worthwhile revelation and then and only then did Jesus call to him. No, in a sea of people fawning over and praising him, he saw a man in the tree, away from him. And chose him. A tax-collector, exploiting his own people for money–oppressing innocent people. Who do you think paid for the table they would sit at together? Oppressed and exploited Jewish people. Whose pain bought the food they would share? And yet it’s that house Jesus wants to stay in. A house built on sin. You are mistaken if you think that Jesus’s place (and therefore our place) isn’t precisely with people who don’t follow the same rules as us.
Jesus himself broke bread with the very man he knew would betray him. A man who stood for the undeniable rejection of God and his kingdom come, and Jesus gave him a seat at his table.
This is not to say that we should not have claim to religious freedom, but how should we steward that freedom? Might I pause and think– not what freedoms I “deserve” as a Christian, but what the world “needs” in order to be brought closer to Christ.
Could it be that the reason we do not want to provide floral arrangements for a gay wedding is not, in fact, a defense of Christ, but of self? Our reputations, our pride, our fear–I wonder if we are dishonest in our justifications. We say, “Sin sin, They are sinning and I want no part of it.” Well I look down at my own hands and I see sin sin sin, and yet I’m told God still desires me. When did serving sinners become some sort of religious compromise?
Could it be that we are compromising the message of Christ if we do not serve the sinner?
Whatever work God has set aside for you to do, is for the good of ALL PEOPLE and ALL CREATION. It is not our job to choose who is worthy of our gifts and labor.
In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well. She has 5 husbands, hate between her people and the Jews, some would say an adulterer- considered immoral by her own people’s standards. And yet, the longest one on one conversation in all of scripture is with her and Jesus. And he doesn’t just talk to her but asks her for a drink. Sinner. Immoral. Anti-God. Anti-truth. Samaritan woman. He asks for a drink from her, knowing full well this would deem him “unclean”. Over and over again, the Jesus that I encounter in text is about bringing people who are far away from him, closer to him. We read that in scripture and we think how sweet, what a Jesus… but then we isolate the character of God in our attempts to be like him and maybe we think, Dear God, if I ever cross paths with an adulterous polygamist wife who hates Christianity, I will love her like you and then she will come to know you and everything will be okay. But Jesus’s exchange with the woman at the well speaks to the character of God in a profound way. He is for all people. He would compromise what is perceived as his very own law, to engage and serve those who are perceived to be far from God.
I believe we must stop pretending that our main concern is “compromising our Faith” and admit the true and simple factors that send us running to this guise of “religious freedom”. Reputation, pride, and allegiance, not to God, but to our unique tribes of this world are what send us running from our neighbors. You don’t want to support gays. You don’t like it and so you don’t want it. I hear you. But might I be a voice of reason in the chaos and unapologetically declare on page, providing flowers for a gay wedding does not inherently support the wedding, it serves a group of people that we’re too scared or prideful to be associated with. If you are not the officiator of that wedding, declaring them married under covenant with God, you are not the reason that wedding happened. You are a servant– serving people who you believe to be living in brokenness.
If we truly believe that the core of who we are to and for Jesus is being compromised by serving a gay couple on their wedding day, I would encourage you to talk through that with pastors and peers. But I suspect when we’re talking about homosexuality, 9 times out of 10, Jesus is just a pretty name we plaster to our ugly so that we can feel good about wearing it. It’s not about Him. Because he is about service and sacrifice. It’s not about him because he broke bread with Judas. It’s not about him because he ate at a table built on injustice. It’s not about him because he called Zaccheus down from the tree.
When we serve a God who is so clearly in the business of bringing people closer to him, I think it peculiar that God’s followers are so bent on pushing people away.
So I ask you two simple questions I’ve learned to ask myself.
Whom do we serve?
Who did he serve?
Let us go in peace and truth and “be not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
*the sick, the paralyzed, the inconvenient, the sexually immoral, the fraudulent, the oppressor, the thief, the embarrassing, the unseen, those walking in darkness
[Addendum: Acknowledging this is too vast a subject to capture in a single blog post. This is only a starting point for a conversation that is most fruitful in groups face to face with a Bible open and a prayerfully humble heart. I encourage you to do that. I am open and willing to be a participant in that conversation. ]