Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Christian Response to Arizona State Bill 1062

I have hesitated to write this post for some time.

As you are likely aware, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a bill which would have allowed businesses in Arizona to deny service to persons based on sexual orientation.  Read a synopsis by here. The authors of the bill claimed that religious liberty was at stake and the right to deny service to gay and lesbian Children of God was a fundamental, deeply held religious belief. 

When a pastor speaks of issues of sex and politics, tempers can flare and divides can spread through the lives of the Children of God.  But this post, and Arizona State Bill 1062, aren't about sex and politics, states rights or the constitutionality of gay marriage.  This about discrimination and the use of scripture to justify it.

I am bound by my baptismal covenant to, "Proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace."  Thus, I am compelled to speak on this issue.  Further, I have had countless conversations over the past week about this issue as people asked me to provide a pastoral response to it.  To be clear--my goal is not to change anyone's beliefs on same sex marriage or on the ELCA stance on the ordination of persons who are living in committed, lifelong, monogamous relationships.  I fully support and respect the ELCA statement on Bound Conscience, calling us to live together as the Body of Christ in the midst of strongly held differences on issues of sexuality rooted in one's interpretation of scripture. (You can read more about Bound Conscience here.)

The misuse of scripture and the claim of religious freedom to excuse discrimination has a long, dark history in American culture.  In the Jim Crow era of our nation's history, businesses placed signs in their entryways, stating "Whites Only," using II Corinthians 6:14, "Do not be unequally yoked...," as biblical support.   Ephesians 6:5, "Slaves, obey your masters with fear and trembling," was perverted by slave owners who claimed it was not only their God given right to own other Children of God but also as an excuse to beat them into a state of fear and trembling.  During the early days of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, pastors went on national television, stating AIDS was a curse sent by God to destroy homosexuals while others publicly called for the internment of all homosexuals.

Discrimination in the name of Jesus is deeply offensive to me on a personal level as well, as I recognize only 40 years ago, my transracial family would have been denied service, harassed, and possibly harmed in the name of religious liberty and freedom--this, assuming we could have overcome the insurmountable legal obstacles put in place to prevent us from becoming a family at all.  Denying businesses the ability to place a sign in a doorway which reads "No gays allowed" is not an attack on religious freedom.  Our ability to worship freely is not threatened because gay and lesbian persons, and heterosexuals who are labeled as gay based on stereotype, cannot be thrown out of a Grand Canyon fast food restaurant.

The story of Christianity is one of radical, culture-defying love.  One of the most powerful and holy aspects of the Christian story is the unity in God which comes forth through Christ.  A person was no longer denied the name "Child of God" based on their bloodlines--all nations, all peoples, are welcome and can receive the Spirit.  We read in Acts 2, the Pentecost story, "upon servants, men and women...I will pour out my Spirit."  The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 teaches us that a foreign castrated man, who was to be considered "unclean" and forever cast out of the family of God, is welcome and named "Child of God." 

Faithful Christians read and interpret scripture through various lenses and, bound by their faith and conscience, do not believe this should be interpreted to sanction gay marriage or the ordination of those living in lifelong, monogamous, same sex relationships.  Our religious liberty is rightfully protected under the First Amendment, giving churches the full freedom to preach and interpret scripture.  I do not take issue with those who interpret scripture passages found in Paul's letters and Leviticus related to sexuality in ways that are different from my interpretation.  I welcome honest, prayerful dialogue with all Children of God--the blessing of faith is not to surround ourselves with those who believe exactly as we do but to understand how the Spirit is at work in the Child of God before me.  I do, however, take deep issue when our holy and sacred texts are used as weapons and religious liberty becomes cover for discrimination.

I recognize some believe that as a pastor I should remain carefully neutral on politically charged issues.  There is immense truth in this--I will never, for example, endorse a political candidate using my title.  But, after careful consideration and prayer, I do use my personal blog to speak out against discrimination and offer a viewpoint which is grounded in scripture.

May the unifying, loving message of Jesus guide us always...

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