Yesterday, I read Jonathan Merritt’s article in the Daily Beast. In it he makes a strong argument against the new Bill in Arizona that has made headlines over the last week. The bill allows business owners the right to refuse service to gay people because of their religious beliefs. Merritt pushes against the logic of the bill. Rarely, he points out, do people assume the baker or the florist has a stake in the wedding they serve. The cake is not an affirmation of the wedding. More, the article argues that if this practice is indeed necessary, then the stance must be uniform across all “unholy” marriages. The logic holds up, and I am glad Jonathan spoke up, but I think the Christian faith goes even further. Let me explain.
Our religious beliefs should not demand we withhold business from others; it should compel us to serve everyone, including people that are different than us. Christian faith does not give us grounding for discrimination. LGBTQ people deserve our welcome not our refusal because they are created in the image of God.
Jesus tells a story about a man who is on a journey. He packs a bag and heads out on foot when all of a sudden he is blindsided by a small group of people. They rough him up, take his belongings, and leave him injured on the side of the road.
Rather quickly, a man of the religious elite happens to be walking in the vicinity and notices the man lying near the road; however, he walks to the other side of the road and fixes his gaze on the horizon leaving the man to suffer in the street. Later, another person happens upon the injured man. This second person is a well-known leader in the town for his generosity and philanthropy, but he too walked by the injured man. Finally a third person, a Samaritan, approached the man lying in the ditch. He notices him, scoops him up in his arms, and hurries him to a place where he can receive care.
Many of us know this parable Jesus told. He tells the story in response to an important question. Who is my neighbor? It seems from his story that everyone, even our very enemy is our neighbor. Somehow this way of life is often not supported by the actions of Christians.
It is interesting to me how different Jesus’ practice was than our Christian agenda. Jesus was regularly questioned about those he hung out with. The text tells us in one place that some described Jesus as a drunkard and glutton because he was spent so much time with those kinds of people. Elsewhere, Jesus is said to eat with tax collectors and sinners, place his hands on lepers, and welcome other outcasts. It seems to me Jesus’ religious faith demanded a radical way of life; it was just a way of life that was the exact opposite that we live by.
Our religious affiliation often has us excluding not including. I do not know where we have misunderstood Jesus’ central teachings. We believe in the God who gave his life for us all, but we are not willing to find our place in his story. Romans says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” More, God created and continues to pursue us out of the overflow of love. In view of this, we must rethink our posture to the world. We must act out of the overflow of God’s love. We should be known for our radical embrace, not our exclusion.
Even Christian business owners should serve our neighbors because Jesus’ life and death teaches us that holiness looks different than we expect.
We are Holy as God is Holy not when we follow a set of laws or stand against what we assume God hates. We act as a Holy people as we participate in the love and welcome of the Crucified Messiah. Christian faith does not call for discrimination because we disagree with others; it calls for a radical love because this way looks like Jesus.
Notice how Jesus responds when questioned by the Pharisees in Matthew 9:10-13.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
Jesus calls his critics to learn mercy, and I think these words should ring through our lives. Our songs and sermons declare the mercy of God, yet we do not move that forward into our lives. Our religious beliefs call us to a particular way of life; one that learns each day what mercy looks like. We must learn live out mercy for our families, friends, neighbors, and enemies (even our ideological enemies).
The Arizona Bill and similar bills working their way through other state legislatures do not reflect the religion I practice. Christian faith calls for a different way of life. This practice believes that we should not be known by anything but our love.