Editor's Note: Since original publication of this piece, Indiana lawmakers have announced changes to the Indiana RFRA legislation that includes anti-discrimination language.
Last week Indiana found itself at the center of the news cycle for all the wrong reasons. With Gov. Pence’s signing of the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, our nation once again found itself taking sides in the debate over LGBTQ rights.
Honestly, I’m torn over this issue. I understand that the Indiana bill was fashioned after the 1993 bill that was signed into federal law by Bill Clinton. I know that 19 other states have RFRA legislation. And, as a pastor, I support religious freedom, not just for Christians, but for Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and yes, even Westboro Baptists. I think most Americans support protecting individuals' rights to conscientiously practice their faith. Freedom of religion is one of the things that makes this country great, and that freedom is worth protecting. But this bill, supposedly enacted to protect those freedoms, has caused quite the stir. Even more interesting to me are the people I follow on social media who are much more interested and knowledgeable than me in politics who say Indiana’s RFRA won’t amount to significant change. This raises the very simple question, “Then why pass the bill?”
I believe RFRA was designed to protect people’s rights in their business. When I was in college, I worked at Old Navy, and because of my religious beliefs, declined to work on Sundays and was thankful when my managers honored my requests. Even though I don’t agree with it, American Indian tribes that use psychotropic drugs as part of their religion shouldn’t be forced to stop because drugs are illegal. Here you can find 10 examples of people that have been helped by RFRAs.
So let’s be clear: RFRA does serve some purpose AND this isn’t just about Christians. After all, it allowed the First Church of Cannabis to come into existence (bet no one saw that coming!).
While I agree with the legislation on one hand, on the other hand I think it may be an expansion that is unwise.
The outrage surrounding Indiana’s bill is that its language expands on other bills like it to ensure businesses are protected as well as individual people. Those who oppose the legislation fear this change will allow businesses to discriminate against people, particularly LGBTQ individuals. Legal experts deny RFRAs provide a legal basis for discrimination, saying that these laws give individuals and now businesses the right to file litigation and have their day in court.
So here we find ourselves, all whipped up into a frenzy with one side shouting at the other side. This is how things go in America. We yell and don’t listen. One side yells at the other claiming they are ignorant of the actual law and hate America, Christians, and religious freedom. The other side yells that RFRA is a concealed attempt to legalize Christian discrimination of LGBTQ people.
Just a typical week, America. Everyone is talking, no one is listening.
As a Christian, I believe it is my responsibility to listen. Here is what I am hearing: Christians are not trusted. Or another way to say it: The anger and frustration surrounding the passage of RFRA is really anger and frustration with us.
That’s a hard pill to swallow, but I can’t help but think the fear surrounding the use of RFRA to discriminate against LGBTQ people is because Christians are just not trusted to not use it for that purpose, but that it is expected that Christians will use RFRA to discriminate. And why wouldn’t people assume that? We have a lousy track record when it comes to walking alongside of the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their peers. They comprise 40 percent of the youth homeless population. Students who identify as LGBTQ are five times more likely to miss school, and 9 out of 10 have been bullied in the last year. We have done little to help with change those horrible statistics. In fact, the case against same-sex marriage has become a rallying point for Christians. When World Vision changed its employee policy, the evangelical world dropped their support of impoverished children. What the LGBTQ community heard was, “We would rather let children starve than have LGBTQ work with them.” When the ELCA changed its stance on same-sex marriage, a tornado that went through Minneapolis was said to be God’s judgement. Christians have blamed 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and Sandy on homosexuals.
Rather than finding ways to aid our neighbors who, as evidence by the statistics above, are hurting, we legislate for our rights and say we are the ones being marginalized — which, for good reason, gets a lot of side-eyes.
Admittedly, I still believe in traditional marriage. But I can’t look at the statistics above and not see the pain. I cannot imagine being blamed for tragedies like 9/11 or natural disasters. That is absolutely appalling, and the pain that causes must be immense. To be called unlovable. To be treated as if the image of God has somehow been removed from their person. To be so utterly rejected by a people claiming to speak for the God who is love. My heart breaks. And so I’m longing to find a way to converse and move forward that is different. I believe, that begins with me.
When I listen to the outcry surrounding Indiana’s new law, I hear frustration with us, Christians. The outcry isn’t about the law, it’s about us. It’s a fear that we will discriminate. And it is a fear based on a history that, whether we like it or not, is ours. We have, in no shortage of ways, broken relationships with the LGBTQ community. We have expelled our sons and daughters. We have protested them. We blamed them for the ills of society like a scapegoat. And no matter what we believe about same-sex marriage, that is wrong. Because of that, restoring relationship and trust with the LGBTQ community is on us. Even if you disagree with all I said above, restoring the relationship is on us because we are called as followers of Jesus to be ministers of reconciliation.
For many Christians, homosexuality and same-sex marriage is a moral issue. But in the eyes of society, the morality of monogamous same-sex marriage has already been decided. It’s over. The morality that matters to culture and society now is the treatment of LGBTQ individuals. If non-affirming Christians are going to continue to try and convince culture that same-sex marriage is immoral, we will find ourselves at a moral impasse. Perhaps we already have. But I wonder if beating the drum of morality is the best way to communicate the gospel and live out the gospel? You see, the question now being asked of Christians is, “Will you treat us as human beings?” That’s what behind wanting a cake for a same-sex wedding. Or photographs. It isn’t shoving a lifestyle down people’s throats. It’s simply a desire to be seen as human. To be treated as human. To enjoy life as we all want to enjoy life.
For that reason, I’d bake the cake. If Jesus can make 120-180 gallons of wine for a wedding party that is already long underway and not be condoning or celebrating drunkenness, I can make a cake for a wedding that I may have some theological issues with. Truth is, we as Christians do this all the time. We bake cakes for Jewish weddings, weddings for people who divorced for non-biblical reasons, atheist weddings, and maybe even a Wiccan wedding. To choose one lifestyle we disapprove of as the one where we cannot offer services is hypocritical.
I cannot find a place in the Gospels where Jesus refuses to serve someone who has a different worldview than he does. The Samaritan woman, the Roman Centurion, the Syrophoenician woman, tax collectors, and on and on. Jesus met everyone with an incredible amount of grace. In Jesus we find a relational God who is willing to go to extreme measures to love human beings. It’s why John says that we love because God first loved us. God gave us grace long before we wanted it. And so we give grace. Freely. Even to those we disagree with. Even to our enemies (I’m not saying LGBTQ are our enemies. I’m saying grace goes to those we think deserve it the least).
For too long our “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra has been a clanging gong. When we fear having a law force us to serve someone, I think it is safe to say we don’t love them.
Perhaps now is the time for Christians to focus more on our responsibilities than our rights. Our responsibility is to love others like Christ. Our responsibility is to lay down our lives for another. Our responsibility is to give grace with same reckless abandon that put Christ on the cross. Our responsibility is to comfort the hurting, mend the brokenhearted, and stand up for the oppressed – even if we disagree with their theology, lifestyle, and choices.
In this case, our responsibility is to listen.
Which may mean our rights have to take a back seat.
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the author’s website www.natepyle.com.
Nate Pyle is a pastor and author. Nate pastors in Fishers, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis, and writes at www.natepyle.com and his book, Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood, will be released September 29, 2015.
Image: by Cary Bass-Deschenes / Flickr.com