Monday, February 24, 2014

A Most Un-Christian Legislation



You may, as a Christian, believe homosexuality is a sin.  And you may, as a Christian, marshal biblical and theological arguments to support that belief.  I know those texts, I know those arguments, and I understand the resulting theological opinion.  [Just to be clear, I do disagree with it, however:  I believe that gays and lesbians are sinners in exactly the same way heterosexuals are sinners--by virtue of our common sinful human nature, not by virtue of whom they love.]  

However, what is entirely illegitimate is to take that belief one step further, and argue, on religious grounds, your right not to serve gays and lesbians.  This is what has happened in Arizona:  read the story here--http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/21/us/arizona-anti-gay-bill/
The opening line of the story says it all:   "Arizona's Legislature has passed a controversial bill that would allow business owners, as long as they assert their religious beliefs, to deny service to gay and lesbian customers."  

Here's the problem.  While Jesus didn't say anything explicitly about gays and lesbians, he did have a great deal to say about one's neighbor and the obligation a Christian has in regards to her neighbor.  In a word, that obligation is love.  Let's take just two of the most famous examples.  First, in the Gospel of Matthew, a lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” [Matthew 22:36-40].  The second example comes from the Gospel of John, in the hours before Jesus’ arrest. 
After Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet and is preparing for his betrayal and death, he says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

These two verses make clear that love is a primary (if not the primary) mode of being in which Christians are to live their lives:  it suffices as a summary of all the other commandments and prophetic words of the Lord; it is an indispensable core component of fidelity to God; and it is the defining characteristic of one’s identity as a follower of Jesus.  Elizabeth Johnson writes that since God is present in the whole of the world, “profoundly present and committed to the world and every person in it,” “loving God means loving the world.” Thus, it can be argued persuasively that it is impossible to love God without loving one’s neighbor, and that calling oneself a Christian while hating others is a fundamental contradiction.  And, let's be clear about Jesus' understanding of "the neighbor:" Jesus was insistent that the category of neighbor even includes one's "enemy," and that Christians are commanded to love them as well.

So, how does this relate to this situation?  Well, when Jesus wanted to concretize what love actually looks like in real life, he pointed to service:  he makes the connection for the lawyer with the parable of the Good Samaritan; and he makes it for the disciples by washing their feet.  So, one can make a strong case that for Christians, the paradigmatic way in which they express love for their neighbor is by serving them:  giving them food when they need it, clothing when they need it, coffee when they need it, a hotel room, medical attention, a pedicure, etc., etc.  

In short, then, this "religious exception" is a complete and total sham--a perversion of a command that stands at the core of the gospel message, and a pitiful attempt to cloak old-fashioned discrimination and persecution in religious dress.  I, for one, am not buying it, and it needs to be exposed for exactly what it is.  You may not want to serve gays and lesbians, but make no mistake, in acting on that desire, you put yourself unequivocally in opposition to everything Jesus' ministry was about, everything he commanded his followers to do, and everything he died on the cross to free us for.  I can think of lots of names for that kind of behavior, but "Christian" is most certainly not one of them.




14 comments:

  1. Thanks. The Gospel writers didn't hear Jesus ask gay and lesbian persons to leave the area before the feeding of the five thousand could continued. "What did Jesus do?" is a winning argument here, I think.

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    1. Your right. He didnt ask them to leave but he did call their action an abomination.

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    2. Actually, Randy, Jesus never makes such a comment in the gospels.

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  2. Thanks so much for posting on this and for your clear, passionate argument. Times like this make it very hard for me to do the whole "love your enemy" thing, too. :)

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  3. Thank goodness for Dr. Largen, who's passion and insight makes clear the ignorance Arizona is displaying. Anyone who would refuse someone from their establishment for a "false" religious reason is ignorant. I am disappointed with Arizona's decision. Thank you Dr. Largen

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  4. Tremendous!
    I am grateful for you effort and your honesty here.

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  5. Thank you for posting. I guess my question is can they also refuse to serve now released murderers, thieves, or adulterers, including those divorced and remarried? Or are they allowed pick and choose, "cherry-pick" the gospel as so many often are prone to do to serve their own version of gospel interpretation?

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  6. I see your point and it's a compelling argument, but I think those in favor of the legislation view some forms of service not as service at all but as helping a neighbor to sin more. And some probably view it as being a party to their neighbor's sin. In that sense, strictly comparing these scenarios to Jesus' service examples in the gospels is not an apples-apples comparison.

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    1. With whom did Christ spend most of His time while walking this sod? Was it the prefect, the blameless, the sinless, the pious, the righteous, the holy?

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    2. I can see your point, Phillip. I wonder how they would react to someone using the same logic on them. An appropriate text there is Matthew 7 v. 5 about the sliver and plank or log. What is the sin of the day. Just watched an old movie the other day-Blossoms in the Dust- that described a fight by one woman who sought to remove the word illegitimate from birth records especially for orphans being adopted. The argument was that "parents need to know if the child was born in sin". Each generation has their favorite sin that allows us to draw focus away from the real problems (actually sins!) of our society. The ones behind the propagation and fomenting of fear are usually hiding much more hideous sins. The focusing on the Affordable Care Act requiring church affiliated business to have in their plans women's health needs and then to focus on abortion and contraceptives is to draw away from the overarching needs of our society to better and lower cost health care FOR ALL. You could indeed use an apples-apples comparison and still get no where because the instigators of this type of legislation base their assumptions on false arguments and fear and popular catch phrases that have caught on, but serve the public no good. Ask the legislators, they introduced these bills because of the ACA...they will tell you about some elderly sisters in Chicago, they will lift up Chick-fil-a, they will lift up Hobby Lobby. Again these are straw men used to draw attention away from their agenda of actually making us have less choice at the hands of their handlers (big business) and carve away at the progress we have made in health care, workers's rights, women's rights, racial rights, immigrant rights...and the list can go on and on.

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  7. Thank you Kristin. As a person who chose to follow Christ, and is gay, I too agree with Jesus when he said, "Love your neighbor." It is dern tough, but we are to follow His example.

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  8. Kristin, your theology of sin sounds a lot like Bonhoeffer's designation of Cheap Grace. We are all sinners so what!

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  9. Thank you, Dr. Largen. First, I completely agree with you. Second, I'm left with a kind of confusion over what to make of the church, and we pastors, who claim the right to refuse to officiate at the weddings of gays and lesbians. Not all states, yet, honor such marriages, but even in those states that do not homosexuals hold "blessed union" ceremonies. It is widely accepted that clergy have the right to refuse the "service" of a wedding to people based solely on the pastor's discretion, or "deeply held religious beliefs". Power of the keys, I suppose, is the root to this. But, we all know that just because it is widely accepted doesn't necessarily mean it is good and just. So, in your opinion, do clergy have the right to refuse the service of a wedding for a gay or lesbian couple, on the grounds of it being against his or her religious beliefs?

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  10. Hi, Pastor Moore--well, your question is complicated, isn't it? I'm Lutheran, so I believe that I officiate at weddings on behalf of my church [even though it is the government that gives me the authority to do so]. So, I think that if an ELCA pastor refuses to perform a wedding for a gay or lesbian couple, he or she is acting in direct contrast to what his/her church teaches--and I think that's a problem. So, I guess I don't agree with you that clergy act "solely" on their own discretion--they have a responsibility to their denomination. That said, there is the issue of "bound conscience"--again, at least in the ELCA--which actually can go both ways. So, had I been asked to officiate at a wedding/unification ceremony for a lesbian couple before 2009, I probably would have done that out of my own sense of justice and theological understanding--but I would have known that there may well have been ramifications, given that such an act was not in accordance with the teachings of the ELCA at the time. [And, my congregation at the time might well have said I could not officiate in that building....] Bottom line, I don't think clergy should ever act as "lone rangers," but should be in prayerful conversation with their colleagues and mentors in ministry: again, in my denomination at least, I represent a tradition much greater than myself and I have a responsibility to wrestle faithfully with that tradition--regardless of where I finally come to rest. Longer answer that needed, I'm sure!

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