If you have been living under a delightful rock you might not have heard that Arizona is “this” close to enacting a bill that would make it acceptable for “Christians” to refuse to do business with those who are homosexual. The lunch counter meme’s are flying thick and fast, as they should. The point is quickly being raised that you can’t tell someone is gay by looking at them, so is the next step to require all gay Americans in Arizona to wear a label of some sort?
Legally, the legislation is ridiculous. If it becomes law it will cease to be law just as quickly again, the Constitution still trumps states on these things, as the segregationists discovered to their embarrassment. But religiously the law is even worse. Despite the label it waves around, it is anti-Christian.
The traditional definition of “Christianity” is “the religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or its beliefs and practices.” (via Google). Pretty straight forward, Christianity starts with this fellow named Jesus, whose teachings and actions we have recorded in what his followers call the New Testament. Pretty standard stuff so far, and not much to argue with. The problem for Arizona’s discriminatory law develops right there, at the basic definition of Christianity, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Supposedly, this law is meant to allow Christians of good faith to follow their leader’s (assumedly Jesus) example. And that’s the issue. Jesus doesn’t give his followers the option to not deal with people they dislike, disagree with, or find morally in the wrong. He starts it straight off: he touches and heals lepers (whose disease was thought to be a punishment for being a morally reprehensible person, even if it no one could think of a cross word you’d ever spoken), he eats with prostitutes (folks his Jewish culture considered morally reprehensible), tax collectors (also, morally beyond the pale), and Gentiles (poor things weren’t born as members of the Israelite nation and therefore, out of luck and just bad people, by nature of their genes, race, and practices). No Israelite baker worth his salt would have baked the wedding cake of any of them. And Jesus had a problem with that.
Jesus says uncomfortable things like: “let he who is without sin throw the first stone” (John 8:7). He spoke of turning the other cheek to violence, of loving and praying for one’s enemies. Of blessing those that curse you. He called anyone who followed his teachings (which included not a single reference to sexual practice, none) his family. And he demanded that his followers behave likewise. After he’d ascended into heaven it didn’t stop. His followers found themselves compelled by the God that Jesus has revealed to them that they welcome all those people Jesus hung out with as God’s own, even Gentile. They found themselves having to draw the circle of God’s grace wider and wider and wider, to include people they considered beyond the pale of salvation. Over and over again God made it clear that our idea of who is out and who is in doesn’t matter one bit, and every time we say “you are wrong” God will remind us just how wrong we are.
If we are followers of Christ we don’t actually get to chose who God loves, includes, or blesses. And we certainly don’t get to arbitrate who loves each other. Our single and solitary charge is to love our neighbor. Full stop. No outs. As uncomfortable as that might be.
I can speak for no other faith, there might be some that call for loyal followers of their God to ostracize and shun certain people. But Jesus makes it impossible to say that as his follower. My own interpretation of Christianity believes all committed, loving relationships bring joy to the God who is relationships and love. But there are plenty of people in this world whose behavior falls outside the bounds of my belief of right and wrong.
But I don’t get to cut myself off from them. I do not get to not be in relationship with them. No matter how much I disagree with you, on whatever, dear reader my charge from my God is clear: I must love you. Even (especially) if you are hard to love, even if you make me uncomfortable, even if I just plain dislike you. (And yes, I’m human enough that there are lots of people I just don’t like.) Like is optional, love is mandatory.
Love demands that I listen to you, that I seek to not add to your suffering in this world, that I honor you as a fellow beloved child of God. Love demands that I respect the ways we are different, not be threatened by them. Love demands that I do to you no violence. Full stop, no outs. Arizona’s SB1062 does violence in the name of the Prince of Peace. It does violence to the souls of those who have already been abused by the church, and it does violence to those it supposes to protect because it breaks in them even more love and relationship. No one wins down that path but hate. And Jesus of Nazareth, hands clasped with a healed leper, and the lesbian teenager who just hanged herself, weeps.