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Religious Liberty & Doing Business: Gays in Indiana

Monday, March 30, 2015

From NPR.org
It is amazing how easily a false narrative can be propagated in the age of social media.  The law recently signed in Indiana is one such example.  For those who actually read the law it becomes clear that it is not as it has been reported.  Requiring the state to establish a "compelling governmental interest" when requiring a person to act against their religious beliefs is not an endorsement of discrimination - against homosexuals or anyone else.  Interestingly enough, combating anti-gay discrimination might well be held by Indiana courts to be a "compelling governmental interest."  Were this to be the case, in the constellation of issues surrounding homosexuality, this law doesn't really mean anything at all.

But that's not really what prompted me to sit down and write.  The response to these protests by prominent blogger Matt Walsh - a fellow social conservative - reflects an opportunity to challenge the dominant social conservative narrative on this issue.  The law has, of course, been condemned as sanctioning overt discrimination.  Walsh openly owns the charge - and claims that discrimination is...
...definitely OK. Discrimination is not automatically a bad thing. It isn't inherently evil. It simply means, by definition, that you are making a distinction for or against a person or thing. That’s what it means to discriminate. Synonyms: discern, distinguish, differentiate.
From one social conservative to another... uh... not so fast.

But before I get to the substance of my response, let me pull together some concepts I have written about before in various posts on this blog.  The first, and easily most important, is a general observation from the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  There are two characters in the story where we are invited into the inner world of their intentions and motives: The first is the 'expert in the law' who "rose to test Jesus" and later "[sought] to justify himself."  The second, of course, is the Samaritan who had compassion on the man who had been beaten by the robbers.  In the story and its dialog we learn of his intentions to return and satisfy any outstanding obligations for the man's care.

When we allow the story to be a story, a contrast between these motives and intentions becomes clear.  The expert in the law was motivated inward to his own self-justification, the Samaritan outward in compassion towards his fellow man.  But more to the point still, the expert in the law was: 1) Seeking out a hope of eternal life: He asks Jesus "What must I do to gain eternal life?"; and 2) He was 'right' in his 'argument' in response when Jesus asks (paraphrasing): "You're the lawyer, you tell me!"

The problem was that his being right was not quite up to the hope he was seeking.  Or to put this another way: Jesus wanted him to realize that being right is not always the most important thing.

And this brings us to this matter of businesses denying services to homosexuals otherwise offered to the general public on the basis of religious convictions.  If we actually read the law, it is clear that this is not what it is about.  But in reading Walsh's response, that just might be a distinction without a difference. Don't get me wrong: It bothers me that people are being sued to the point of losing their businesses because they were not willing to make a cake for or take photos at a gay wedding.

The analogy between sexual orientation and race does not hold up to even rudimentary scrutiny.  The difference between a black man and a white man is readily apparent - until we get a cut on, say, our arm.  The blood from both of us will be red.  And when it is put under a microscope, it will look more similar still.  And when examined for DNA...

The deeper you look at race, the more similar we all appear.  Not so with gender and sexuality.  The deeper you look at gender and sexuality, the more different we are.

And so I am not surprised that a fellow social conservative would be uncomfortable making a cake for a gay wedding or taking pictures.  And that discomfort does not arise from a capricious animosity (what the courts call 'animus') toward a group of people who are different. But I have an even more fundamental discomfort with all of this.

It bothers me how shallow and poor our Evangelical leadership is on this issue.

We seem to be driven by this sense that our values are under siege. Of course they are! The entirety of the TaNaK/Old Testament is the story of a Promise under siege, constantly in jeopardy of being thwarted, only to see God intervene in ways big and small.  So to start with, our values being under siege is nothing to be alarmed at.  And it is certainly not worth selling a birthright for a mess of political pottage.

That birthright is a story, singular among all other stories throughout history, of redemption.  And we cannot tell the story if we are being herded into our narrow ideological corners, trained to win an argument, and then carpet bombed with fund raising letters. We will be able to tell this magnificent story once again when we realize that the Parable of the Good Samaritan forces us to decide: Is it more important to make a good argument or to be a good neighbor?

Hopefully for most that is a rhetorical question.  But there is an underlying truth that will help us understand it.  We are familiar with the idea of having been created 'in the image of God'.  We are also familiar with the commandment not to make any 'carved image' of God.  But why?  If we want to know what God is like, why can't we just make a statue for the fireplace mantle?  Why can't we just make an 'image'?

Because He's already done that for us.  Its called your neighbor. And - stop the presses! - your neighbor just might be gay!

Get over it.

Stop arguing - you will not find hope in justifying yourself by winning the argument.  You will not be able to 'discriminate' the image of God out of your gay neighbor by denying them a service otherwise sold to the general public.  Neither will you be able to beat it out of them with an apologetic billy club bought at the local Christian bookstore.  But what you can do - and in which you just might find that hope - is love the image of God into your gay neighbor!

This does not start at the ballot box.  It does not start in that apologetics class the church offers in Sunday School.  It certainly does not start in a state capitol or, of all God-forsaken places, Washington D.C.  It starts in the mirror.  Stand there.  And do not leave until you have at least started to form an idea of what showing the image of God - in you - to your gay neighbor might look like.

Somehow I don't think whether a cake is baked or a photo taken is really going to seem all that important then.

Walsh is partly right: We discriminate every time we judge one thing to be right and another wrong.  I believe in what I call the 'heterosexual complement of nature'.  This inescapably means I believe homosexuality is unnatural - and therefore sinful.  But I also look for that same hope the expert in the law sought in the parable.  And I realize that while I am right - and I can make the arguments as well as anyone - that being right is not the path to that hope.

That path can only be found in the image of God.  He is still working at this story of redemption.  Only now he has passed it to us that we might use our own lives to tell this story by showing His image to others and seeing it in them.

Cakes and photos are mere distractions.

4 comments

  1. Let's take your scenario to an extreme to test your solution. Would an Evangelical Pastor look in the mirror and provide 'Couples Counseling' to a gay couple? What about a business person leasing their 'hall' to a gay couple for a marriage or reception?
    The Good Samaritan's behavior didn't create tacit approval of the injured traveler's lifestyle or make any statement about the traveler at all except to say that he had pity on his physical suffering.
    Once again I believe that your attempt to be more inclusive is an error. We are to be in the world, not of the world. When a Christian photographer or baker, known for their faith, provides services to a gay couple celebrating a gay event, they have clearly stepped over the line and are not just showing Christ's love, they are showing acceptance and tolerance of sin.

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  2. John... You have mistaken my intention from the very start here. This is not an attempt to be more inclusive. It is an attempt to push back on the narrative that, say, a Christian baker making a wedding cake for a gay couple is, somehow by necessity, an endorsement of gay marriage and a 'tacit approval' of that lifestyle. It is neither.

    The decision of a Christian baker not to make that cake is a perfectly valid decision, and I support their freedom to so choose and oppose any infringement on that freedom. I oppose the unstated analogy to race when arguing that this is discrimination in the same sense as denying service to a black family in the restaurant.

    And so the decision of a pastor not to offer premarital counseling to a gay couple, or a business person not renting their hall for a gay marriage (never mind that these two things are about 'apples and oranges' as could possibly be) is perfectly fine.

    But the decision of a Christian baker to make that cake in an effort to love the image of God into the lives of those two people and their loved ones is also a valid decision. It is the decision to make being that image of God before them the most important decision rather than making/winning an argument. It leaves the matter of an actual change of heart from sin to righteousness exactly where it belongs - with the Holy Spirit.

    So again, this has nothing to do with being or not being inclusive. It is to take this stand: The choice to offer a service otherwise available to the public to a gay person/couple as an effort to love the image of God into their lives is the better choice... it would be, for me, my response to the command: "Go and do likewise."

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  3. Once again we will have to agree to disagree. I don't believe that Jesus the carpenter would have made a dining room table for a gay couple or that Paul the tentmaker would have made a tent for a gay couple in order to 'love the image of God into their lives'.

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