I live in Indiana.  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  Indiana has been in the news… a lot lately.  In fact, I haven’t been able to look at Facebook for the last week without seeing how Indiana is making headlines.  There’s a few different types of people that I’m seeing:

  1. Those who hate this new law and spew venom at anybody who supports it (ironically).
  2. Those who think religious liberty is a good thing.
  3. Those who think the law is a good start, but it is incomplete and needs to be balanced out with intentional protection for sexual orientation in discrimination laws.
  4. Those who are getting worked up about what the law could do, not what it does do.
  5. Those who say the new law isn’t going to make much of a difference because most people aren’t jerks.
  6. Companies who want to make it clear that they will serve anybody who crosses their doorstep and has money, as any business that wants to stay open should be doing.
  7. Companies who want to pull out of “bigoted Indiana”… and don’t have a problem doing business with China (who also has no civil rights laws to protect against discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation).
  8. And, of course, those who just want to watch cat videos… (By the way, there’s an entire website with searchable videos.  Go to YouTube.com and type in “cats” in the search box.  That way, you don’t have to be bothered by all the rhetoric.)

My initial response to the law was, “What does it say?”  I know, I know.  It’s a crazy idea, but I thought it might be a good idea to read what the law actually says, and not what its opponents say about it.  So, I read it.  Then I read it again, because I didn’t understand a dang thing about it.  Then I read it a third time.  Then I gave up trying to understand it, went to YouTube and watched a shark video (because sharks are way cooler than cats).

Then I read an article written by a law professor from IU.  I figured, he’s smart.  He probably has something reasonable to say.  He did.  You can read that article here.  He makes some good points.

Then I pulled up the federal law.  To me – a non-legalese speaking, non-political party siding person – it read the same.  Here they are, side by side (at least the part of the law that people seem to be getting upset about):

(a) In general: Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.  

(b) Exception: Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—

(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

(c) Judicial relief A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. Standing to assert a claim or defense under this section shall be governed by the general rules of standing under article III of the Constitution.

 

Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.  (b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates  that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling  governmental interest.

One of those is Indiana’s law, signed by those no-good, conservatives that hate all the gay people and don’t want them to have anything.  The other is the federal law, signed by those no-good, liberals that just want anything to go and are leading the moral decline of our country.  To be honest with you, I forget which is which.

Over the last day or so, some articles are getting printed that go into more detail about the wording of the law and how it is actually different from the federal law.  Clearly, I’m a moron… or something like that… because they still look the same to me.  However, this guy thinks they are vastly different, has his own website, and wrote a really, really (I mean, seriously) really long post on his blog about the differences.

So, today, after deciding that I’m tired of all the rhetoric and I was ready to watch some more shark videos, it dawned on me….

How did we get here?  How did we get to the point where a law that is supposedly about religious liberty gets interpreted in such a way that people of faith are automatically accused of being hateful and discriminatory in their business practices?  Why it is that this story has come to be about Christian bakers who don’t want to bake a cake for a same sex wedding?  Is that really the perception of Christians in our society – that they are hateful people just looking for a reason to discriminate against others?  Sadly, I think what we are seeing is that is exactly what people think about Christians.

The very fact that we have to have anti-discrimination laws on the books in the first place is a blight on contemporary society.  But add to that the assumption that Christians are the ones who are going to try to abuse this new law in order to discriminate against people, and it tells me that we have messed up, Church!  We have messed up in a big way if people know us more for those that we want to exclude because of our disagreements than for the love of Christ, who lived, died and was raised that all people may know they are of sacred worth to a loving God.

Now, look, theologically, you can label me – if you feel like I need a label – as a moderate-conservative.  I believe in the primacy of Scripture.  I believe that the Word of God gives us a lens through which we need to interpret our traditions, experiences and reason.  I also believe that each person is valuable and loved by God – regardless of the decisions that they have made in their lives, regardless of whether or not I “approve” of their choices based on my understanding of Scripture.

I try – notice: try, I’m not always successful – to live by one simple rule: don’t be a jerk.  For too long, too many Christians have failed to live by this rule, and the perception in our society is that Christians are hateful people who don’t like homosexuals and are willing to do whatever they can to justify their hatred.  This is the world we live in.  The conservatives are so obnoxious that I want to be a liberal, and the liberals are so obnoxious that I want to be a conservative.  Neither one is listening to the other.  They are both shouting nonsense at the top of their lungs, thinking they are in the right, and all the while, the witness of Jesus Christ, the good news of the gospel, is getting drowned by political agendas.

Pastors – if you are spending more time posting arguments that only support your point of view and arguing on people’s Facebook posts about this law, stop it.  It’s Holy Week.  Focus on what’s important.  (And, yes, I’m talking to myself about this as well.  I posted a couple of articles that basically told people to chill out about it because it’s not as bad as everybody claims it to be, and have since read others that served as a counterpoint that I have not posted.  They all make good points.  I just don’t care enough to pursue it any further.)

Christians – if you see the passing of this law as a victory so that you can be discriminatory against people in the name of your religion… then I have misaddressed you in this paragraph.  Remember who you follow, and live out those principles in your own life.  Don’t be a Pharisee.  Don’t get me wrong, the Pharisees were good, holy people that were very concerned about doing all the right things for their faith.  They were also jerks about it.  Don’t be a jerk.

People who think Christians are bigots and see this new law as something that confirms your point of view – I’m sorry that your past experiences have led you to this conclusion.  We’ve messed up – big time.  Please be willing to extend the same forgiveness that Christ has extended to you.  And, please, don’t be so biased and discriminatory against all Christians because of what those few have done.  When you do that, you are just living out the same principles that you say you are against.  You are being every bit as much of a hypocrite as the Christians you accuse of being the same.

If you’ve made it this far into the post, then I applaud you – both of you.  Thank you for taking the time to read through some of my thoughts on this subject.  I imagine it wasn’t quite what you expected to read.  But, sometimes, when you sit and listen to what somebody has to say, you just may find out that it rarely is what you expect.  Now, on to some more shark videos…

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