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.