And so finally I jump in...and very likely I may infuriate everyone to a degree.
Thanks to Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana state legislature, we have this Religious Freedom Restoration Act before us on the conversational grist mill. If you haven't heard of it, or you've been hiding under a rock for the past couple weeks, here's the quick overview of the kerfluffle. I recognize we are in the midst of getting clarification on what the text of the law really means, from both Indiana politicians (possibly helpful) and from talking heads in the media (mostly unhelpful).
Some initial thoughts, if you will:
1. Defenders of the RFRA rightly point out that many other states (upwards of twenty-something) have similar laws on the books. They are also correct in saying that the RFRA is profoundly similar to the law signed by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993. I re-watched the video of Clinton explaining the rationale for that and I was impressed again with his articulateness and reasoning.
2. Those against the law are rightfully edgy that individuals and businesses (remember the Indiana law extends religious liberty to businesses acting on their religious ideals) might use this law as a wedge to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, especially on same-sex marriage issues.
3. In my honest opinion, I think the liberty the law will grant is not as expansive as its proponents imagine, and the discrimination the law's detractors claim it will unleash will be closer to a trickle.
4. Religious liberty (along with freedom of speech, press, assembly, etc.) is a desirable cornerstone of a functioning and flourishing constitutional republic like the United States. I'm also humble enough to say I can't speak authoritatively what that might specifically look like, especially given the variety of meats in our nation's theological stew.
Now, some brass tacks...
One danger here is for people to freak out over what a legislature can do or to be too triumphant and claim victory. My expanded concern is that this legislative stance is going to reinforce the idea of "the legislature has ruled, therefore it is settled in some way...why discuss?" I don't like the relationship of how followers of Jesus who disagree with homosexual behavior and the LGBTQ community interact (which of course is part of what is involved here) to be decided in the State Capitol in Indianapolis. That's a matter for people of each tribe to converse and work through in a constructive manner, and I'm afraid what the Indiana legislature might have done is short-circuit what should be a grassroots-level discussion.
Another danger is to assume too little. What if--as one political cartoon has suggested--an African-American baker with strong Christian beliefs refuses to bake a cake for a Ku Klux Klan rally? What then? (And don't say if wouldn't happen...America is full of the craziest stuff out there!) Do we champion the black man's refusal based on the biblical virtues of all races being made in God's image and against the hatred of the KKK? Of course! But if a person would refuse activity based on disagreement with another's lifestyle (say, homosexuality), would people lampoon that? Probably. The question is what's the basis for praising one and decrying the other.
Understand I'm not saying that's a thing. I'm just underscoring the problematic nature of enforcing this thing consistently. But there are other issues...
Constitutionally, we do have the freedom of religion in this country (and the freedom to NOT be religious, by the way). But religious liberty is never something God guarantees to his people in Scripture. In fact, the ancient church was vibrant and growing in the face of much persecution. You can make the argument that when the emperor Constantine put Christianity on the "official religion" pedestal, the Church's vitality weakened and the Gospel was hurt more than helped. Should Christians in China rise up and demand their "liberty" from the state? Why do we get hung up on that in America? We need to distinguish between a constitutional right and a divine mandate.
I've seen reports of establishments in Indiana now calling themselves "Christian businesses", a label that makes my skin crawl. Please, Christians who run businesses...stop calling your establishments Christian businesses! Your work needs to be defined by something beyond a label. I've dealt with enough "Christian" places over the years to where I can say, with some authority, that the ichthus (i.e., the Jesus fish) can be a warning sign. The words of C.S. Lewis are very instructive here. He spoke primarily of writers, but it has application for all productive endeavors: "The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature." (Something I try to keep always in mind)
I honestly don't know where this ends. A "Christian" business? Does a Christian civil engineer build bridges that can only be used by heterosexuals? Does a gay couple driving to their wedding ceremony at the justice of the peace have to find an alternative route around that bridge? The pizzeria I referenced in the previous link: Would they serve (and by the way, who has pizza at a wedding?) a couple if they knew the man was cheating on his bride-to-be, or if one of them was embezzling money, or if the couple was racist? Something to think about.
You're free to disagree with me, but here's what I'd do if I was a baker and gay partners Dino and Nico came into my shop and asked if I could bake a cake for their upcoming wedding. I'd look at that as a God-appointed opportunity for a conversation with them. How did they meet? What do they do? Do they like living in (name of town)? Share stuff about me and my family. That sort of thing.
Then of course the issue of their wedding would come up. Now, you should know, I hold to the view that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, "till death do us part". I'm not a believer in same-sex marriage, both on biblical grounds and because I believe one can make a secular case for my view, too (That would have to be a separate blog post). But let's say we get to the point where they know where I'm coming from, but they've dug in because they have heard great things about my cakes (I've obviously paid off the critics at Bon Apettit!).
I would then say, "Look guys. You know my beliefs, but you're still wanting this despite my disagreement with your lifestyle. How about this? First, why don't you make sure that my cake would be the one you'd want?"
"Sure," they might say. "But how?"
"A full eighth-sheet cake, your choice of flavor and frosting, on the house. You take it home, you enjoy it, you digest it, and then come to me later and let me know if my productivity and my work ethic meets or exceeds what you want."
"Seriously?" they might say.
"Yes," I reply. "Then you let me know where you want to go from there. I do want you to understand where I'm coming from in the way I look at life, at relationships, and so on. But I'd like you to believe that however this ends up, my interactions with you are based on honesty and decency, in a friendliness and an earthiness that goes beyond labels and distinctions."
"Why would you be that kind to us?" Nico and Dino might exclaim.
And I would tell them that a man I never met once gave up everything for me when I hated him, so that he could rescue me and I could enjoy how he equipped me with the gift of baking. It's just taking what I was given and giving it to others.
You know what? I think I just might bake that cake. If God's Kingdom advances, it'll be because of random moments like that and not a freshly signed law on a desk inside Interstate 465.