Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Where Conscience Stops and Community Begins

I was planning to have this post up earlier, but in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, I held off for a couple of days.  But this is definitely something I need to get off of my chest.

Across my home state of Washington, in the town of Richland, a controversy is a-brewin' over a florist who refused service to a same-sex couple (who had already been regulars at her shop) when they asked her to do the flowers for their wedding (Washington, of course, legalized same-sex marriage last November).   The state Attorney General has stepped in to issue a $2,000 fine, citing state statutory law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and so has the ACLU, who is demanding a public apology be issued to the couple, as well as a $5,000-dollar donation to a local GLBTQ youth organization.

The florist has cited her "relationship with Jesus Christ" as the reason for refusing this couple service, so great chunks of the local Christian community are up in proverbial arms about this "bullying" of the florist.


This isn't about freedom of religious expression, this is about living in community.

Since a lot of folks opposed to marriage equality cite the slippery slope argument (ie, if we legalize same-sex marriage, what's to stop us from legalizing polygamy?), this logic goes both ways: if business owners are allowed to refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation, what's to stop them from refusing service on the basis of, say, race?

In other words, what were the sit-in's staged in the Jim Crow south during the civil rights movement all about?

If you feel compelled to oppose marriage equality, that's your right--as Volatire said, I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.  I have congregants who I am sure voted against marriage equality in November, and even though I profoundly disagree with them on this, I don't love them any less because they are still my flock and are still part of the body of Christ.

But commerce isn't necessarily free speech.  And it most certainly isn't an expression of worship.

Is commerce an expression of values?  Absolutely.  For instance, I choose not to shop at Wal-Mart because of how they treat their workers and their extreme anti-union policies.  When your dad was a union lawyer for 15-some years, that's how you roll.  And stewardship involves commerce as well, but stewardship involves intangible religious benefits, not an exchange of goods.

But is commerce an expression of  religious worship?  I sure hope not, because I have no desire to proclaim my love of God by purchasing materialistic things with Caesar's coins.

So either we are saying that our expressions of religiosity include the obtaining of goods Jesus tells us not to put our stock in (Matthew 6:19-20), or we must admit that this has nothing to do with religious conscience, and everything to do with what demonstrations like the sit-in's are all about: institutional discrimination, the treatment of one people by another people not quite like them.

And that's what community is all about--it isn't about "you do your thing, I'll do mine," like some would suggest--that the business owner has the right to refuse service because its her revenue being lost.  No, community is about "I've got your back and you've got mine."

There are times when we are individuals and there are times when we are a collective.

I worry that far too often, we err towards the former rather than the latter, and in so doing not have the backs of people who are a part of minorities not our own.  Sometimes, you have to let your own stubbornness play second fiddle to the needs of others (see also: gun rights and the need for less violence in America).

And if I could say anything at all to this florist in Richland, it would be that.

This isn't about you.

This is about us.

Yours in Christ,

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