I had planned to work on my next installment of Open-Source Parenting this morning, but my attention keeps being pulled on a single thread away from our own small family, across the ocean, and straight to the heart of Arizona.
I’m doing my best to understand both sides of the debate being waged right now over Senate Bill 1062 (which some frustrated groups are calling the Anti-Gay Bill). I’ve read the text of the bill itself as well as arguments by intelligent and well-meaning people on both sides of the issue, and I have some thoughts of my own that I’d like to share. First, though, if you’re not familiar with what’s going on, here’s my completely non-professional, non-expert recap:
Last Thursday, Arizona Senate passed a bill that exempts individuals and organizations from “any law” (yes, you read that right) that prevents them from using their property in accordance with their religious beliefs. The text of the bill stipulates that that these convictions do not have to be “compulsory or central to a larger system of religious beliefs” (i.e. – as long as you believe it, it counts). The bill does not mention sexual orientation at all, but Arizona policymakers claim that the bill was drafted in direct response to an anti-discrimination lawsuit won—wrongfully, they believe—by a lesbian last year. Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, has until the 28th to veto the bill if she chooses; otherwise, it will become law.
Everyone, it seems, is in an uproar. People on one side of the debate (which isn’t cut as clearly along party lines as you might think) argue that this bill will protect religious freedom while those on the other side see the bill as taking freedom away. I’d like to believe that this law would only be used to enforce things like a venue-owner’s right to turn down a group of Satanists who want to use the facilities for their necromancy party. That sounds reasonable, right? But let’s be honest—whether or not the bill refers to homosexuality, it is setting a new precedent in the LGBT debate.
Unless the governor vetoes the bill, it will soon be legal for Arizona restaurants to turn away gay individuals (and presumably even those who seem gay, as we are dealing solely with beliefs here). Based on sexual orientation alone, someone can be blocked from entering a movie theater, a civic council meeting, even a town square. Doctors, policemen, firemen, and social workers would be within their rights to refuse service as long as a “religious belief” is motivating them. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that hate crimes could be upheld in court.
Do you see how scary this is to me, this carte blanche given to individuals to exert something as subjective and unverifiable as belief over the law?
It’s easy for my mind to jump straight to other religions, to those whose belief systems go contrary to my sense of ethics, to all the vague possibilities of horror that a practicing jihadist could wreak under the protection of SB1062. I’m only qualified to speak for one religion though—Christianity. I’m quite familiar with our Bible, with what is described in its pages as sin. I have not seen the part of the Bible that requires us to judge, shun, or otherwise discriminate against those who sin, but many Christians feel differently, and based on the Bible alone, here is a small sampling of the people on whom Arizona Christians will have the right to turn their backs:
- Anyone divorced (unless for reasons of infidelity) or remarried following a divorce
- Unwed mothers
- Couples arguing with each other
- Misbehaving kids
- Anyone with a credit card balance
- Anyone with a tattoo
- Women wearing boyfriend jeans
- Anyone out or about on a Sunday
You get the point. By claiming the Bible as their witness, Christians can justify discriminating against pretty much anyone they want to. Actually, let me rephrase that. If this law goes into effect, Christians will be legally able to justify discriminating against pretty much anyone. I make that distinction because whether or not the government says it’s okay to kick a gay couple out of your restaurant, that doesn’t mean God says it’s okay.
Those sins listed in the Bible? The ones from which we pick and choose our preferred ammunition against those different from us? They’re meant to point us inward, to direct us back to the territory of our very own hearts where we can then work together with God to address our particular brands of un-love. (It is also worth noting that there are many “sins” referenced in the Bible that are limited to the cultures and circumstances of its original audiences. No matter how literally Christians may claim to read the Bible, very few still believe that eating pork or wearing jewelry are wrong.) If you’re interested in reading more about sin and Christians’ misplaced sense of duty in the “culture wars,” I highly recommend Micah J. Murray’s post from earlier this month.
Here is my stance, based entirely on what I’ve come to believe about God and my role as a citizen of humanity: My job is love. Period. It is neither my responsibility nor my right to judge my fellow humans as less worthy than myself. (In fact, Jesus had some pretty strong words against judging.) If you believe differently than I do, if your identity or choices do not line up with my own moral code, even if you’re straight-up my enemy, my job is still to love you.
And I want to be clear about something: Saying that a discriminatory action is made “in love” does not make it so. We love each other through our actions, not our semantics, and refusing to serve someone because they burden our religious sensibilities is about as unloving a gesture as we could make no matter how we try to spin it. What’s more, I would argue that those of us who follow Jesus are especially bound to kindness through the example of his life. How easily do we forget that Jesus spent his time on Earth serving the morally reprehensible? How easily do we skip over “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone?”
My heart is heavy today for Arizona, for the states considering similar ballots, and for all the people who will end up caught in the cycles of judgment. Every time that I think the American civil rights battle is well and truly over, something like SB1062 comes along to prod it back to life, and I realize just how far we still are from treating everyone as an equal. Yes, I care that we have religious freedom, but I also care that our freedom not be at the expense or to the detriment of others. I care mostly deeply that those of us who follow the Bible not twist its message into a weapon against the very people we’re here to love.
If you don’t agree with my stance on SB1062, that’s okay. I still respect your opinion. However, I hope you’ll carefully consider that our rights and what-is-right don’t always match up… and that the freedom to judge others’ worth for ourselves and treat whomever we want like a second-class citizen might not count as freedom at all.