Thursday, July 6, 2017

Theology Thursday: Complicated Complicity.

A few years ago, I sat down with a pastor to have coffee and discuss the current political climate and differing views regarding how the Church views LGBT+ folks. I was relieved that we immediately moved past the surface discussions of what was being deemed as right vs. wrong, and we jumped into discussing this idea of complicity.

Because, when a baker with a business that serves the public decides that he can no longer serve certain members of the public, due to his religious beliefs, we're not really talking about a righteous person of faith standing up for their beliefs. That might be what they tell the public, or the story they tell to the media, or even the lie they tell themselves. But what we're really talking about here is the false notion that by providing a service to someone they disagree with, this business owner is now complicit with whatever activity they hold a religious objection to. By serving the persons they deem as engaging in "sinful" behavior, the business owner feels as if that sin is somehow transferrable to them, thereby they are also engaging in "sinful" behavior.

First of all, this is total bullshit. This is a conservative, evangelical construct to further the bogus idea that American Christians are being persecuted more than ever in our nation. And the irony here is that while conservative Christians have been telling us for years that the LGBT+ community doesn't just want equal rights, they want special rights - it seems that conservative Christian business owners who don't want to serve certain folks are now the ones looking for special rights to discriminate who their businesses serve.

And the crazy thing is that this seems to just be an issue for conservative Christians to dote on. I almost guarantee that if I walked into a Kosher deli tomorrow to order beef for a party that I was throwing, I'm guessing that they probably won't ask me if I also plan on serving shrimp, or perhaps a vegetable tray where two different vegetables might have been grown in the same field, and refuse to serve me because they personally abide by a different set of beliefs than I. Since they serve the public, it is a good business model to not refuse the service of the people who specifically come to you for the particular service you provide. If you want to provide a religious test to determine who you are willing to serve, then having a public business probably isn't the best choice for you.

In the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, where owner Jack Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, one of the points that his lawyer has made to garner public support for Mr. Phillips, is that he has lost business and received negative press for his decision to discriminate in who he provided his services to. To be clear, his personal decision has resulted in business related consequences. This is what drives me absolutely crazy. On the one hand, Phillips is proudly standing up for his beliefs, willing to lose the business of a particular couple because he has a closely held personal religious objection. He's willing to take a stand, but when the consequences result in a business fallout, he suddenly feels compelled to call himself a victim. 

This calls to mind the story of Joseph of Arimathea in John 19. This was a man who was part of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the religious governing body that handled religious and civic matters for the people of Israel. Joseph is said to be the man who was responsible for burying Jesus. This meant that he had to defile himself, because he had to touch the dead body of Jesus, a direct violation of their religious doctrine on the eve of Passover. Joseph was assisted by Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin, because they wanted to give Jesus a proper burial. They tossed aside their deeply held religious beliefs to remain pure for Passover, so they could serve a man who had been tried and ultimately executed at the very hands of the governing body they were a part of. Joseph even gave up his personal tomb to Christ, and insisted that his body be properly wrapped and treated with spices. We don't have much information about what happened to Joseph and Nicodemus, but to be sure, I bet their fellow members of the Sanhedrin wouldn't have been thrilled with their actions. There is a very good chance they would have been thrown out of the group, maybe even shamed and forever ruined their reputations, and likely their entire families would have been cut off from associating with anyone ever again. That's the price they were willing to pay, and they did it. They didn't cry foul or play victim. They sacrificed their religion and their deeply held religious beliefs for Christ.

On top of this particular story, we know that Jesus himself associated with all of the folks that the religious zealots looked down upon. I mean, come is arguably the most revolutionary lesson Christ had to offer - that exclusionary behavior is not representative of holiness. When we invite everyone to the table, serve them, and resist our human instinct to expel those who are different than us - those are the moments when we are the best representations of Christ.

And that's why this idea that we should feel sorry for Mr. Phillips or anyone else who has refused service to someone because of their deeply held religious beliefs is a total load of crap. He decided to take a stand for his beliefs, and there are very real consequences for that. Be willing to pay the price for your beliefs or stop pretending you follow Christ. 

The truth is that I think what Mr. Phillips' case and similar cases represent is the selfish notion that we can't serve those we have disagreements with because it makes us dirty. What a small view of God these folks must have, to think that the God they claim to serve can't differentiate between unselfish service to others and "sin." Why go into business as a means to be a representative of Christ and serve others, when you actually aren't willing to serve and "be Christ" to everyone? If you're not willing to wash the feet of others, to show love and not condemnation to those the zealots deem unclean, you are not following Christ. That's the bottom line.

And yet, in the last 24 hours we have another case of blatant hypocrisy by a religious business. Hobby Lobby, who famously went to the Supreme Court to argue that they shouldn't have to provide their employees with birth control, because it would make them complicit in providing abortifacient drugs or perhaps encourage their female employees to engage in extramarital sexual behavior, is now facing millions of dollars in fines, because their "love of the Bible" has led them buy and smuggle black-market ancient artifacts out of Iraq. It is likely that the money the company used to buy these artifacts, was paid to groups connected to Isis. So, not only did Hobby Lobby engage in purposefully lying to Customs officials by labeling the artifacts as ceramic samples while they were being shipped to the United States, but the money they used could have potentially been used to fund a terrorist group that regularly murders Christians around the world (though they mostly murder Muslims). On the one hand, Hobby Lobby insisted that they would not be complicit in what is actually a woman's personal & medical choice, but they are totally ok with being complicit in funding terrorism and murderers, as long as it saves inanimate objects.

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