Isn’t it Ironic? Getting beneath the surface of the RFRA debate

Some of you who know me have heard my rant on Alanis Morisette’s 1996 hit, “Ironic”, where she sings about a lot of things that are NOT ironic.  Rain on your wedding day? Not ironic – kind of a bummer.  A black fly in your chardonnay? Gross, but not ironic.  Good advice that you just didn’t take?  Unfortunate and perhaps ignorant; not ironic.  I could go on. The fact that a song called “Ironic” is NOT ironic IS ironic.

Something else that is ironic?  A law (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) that was initially conceived to protect religious liberty (and religious diversity) has become a symbol of religious intolerance and is now being used specifically as a tool to give Christians the legal right to treat some people as less deserving of service than others.  In short, I see conservative Christians (who generally eschew governmental meddling) asking the government to give them the right to act in a manner that is not Christ-like.  THAT is ironic.

First, let me say what this post is NOT:

It is not a Biblical exegesis on what is or is not “sin”.  Better minds than mine have been doing this for thousands of years and haven’t reached agreement – I don’t plan to try my hand at it here.  I find myself at this stage of my life and Spiritual journey in a Christian community that draws lines differently than the churches I grew up in and in which many of my friends and family still worship and serve.  Each of us must come to a Biblically sound and Spiritually informed position on what we believe.  How can equally wise and spiritual men and women come to different conclusions?  I don’t know, and I will admit to lifelong perplexity about this reality in the Church.

It is not a platform for or against gay marriage, gay clergy, gay church membership, etc.  Again, each Christian, denomination, or individual community of believers has the right to prayerfully decide how scripture rules on this, and YES, there are excellent cases made on both sides.  I am choosing not to make my argument in this space.

It is not a legal treatise on how Constitutional rights can (and do) conflict.  Yes, at some point, the judiciary needs to rule on legislation that blurs the line between personal freedoms (speech, press, religion) and equal protection under the law.  Those judicial decisions will fall one way today and the other way tomorrow, based on the makeup of the judiciary, the skill and elocution of appellate attorneys, and the content/quality of the legislation in question.  We live in a democracy, folks – this is how it works.  Trust the system.  And if you can’t trust the system, trust God.  I think it is safe to say our sovereign God is not threatened by an aggressively conservative Senate or a liberal/progressive presidential agenda.

OK, so that’s what it isn’t.  What is it?

It is an appeal to people of faith to walk circumspectly and be consistent in what they believe and how they live out those beliefs.  

My primary issue with the current conservative rally against gay marriage and the opportunistic use of RFRA laws is that a refusal to provide services for gay weddings on the grounds that it “celebrates sin” and creates “substantial burdens on religious exercise” is disingenuous.  As my brother thoughtfully asked in a recent Facebook post: “Am I complicit in sin if I do not reject it at every turn?  Should a hotel chain deny a room to a homosexual couple as they may be sinning while staying there? Should they then make sure every couple of opposite sex is married? I would contend there is a higher predilection for hotels being used for affairs. Should the hotel owner be in his rights to require two forms of ID and a wedding certificate? Thinking people can arrive at the conclusion that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sin. They should be allowed to arrive at that conclusion, hold that conclusion, and voice that conclusion. But the government also has the responsibility to guard the civil rights of every individual.

Or (and I’m surprised I haven’t seen this parallel drawn more frequently, especially in regard to providing wedding services), what about the sin of remarriage after divorce (which Jesus specifically addresses, – Mark 10:10-12 – unlike homosexuality.  Just an aside)?  If I, as a Christian providing a wedding service, feel a “substantial burden” to my religious beliefs in doing so for a gay wedding, I must maintain consistency and withhold my services for divorced individuals seeking to remarry.  Yes, the same account I hyperlinked above in Mark gets some wiggle room in Matthew by allowing for divorce in the instance of sexual immorality.  I doubt, however, that a Christian wedding service provider would engage in the interrogation of an engaged heterosexual couple to determine whether their marriage is or is not “sinful”.  A pastor might explore this and determine (on the basis of religious belief) that he or she cannot officiate the wedding and be completely within his or her rights to do so.  I would argue that someone providing a commercial service does NOT have this right UNLESS THE FAITH-BASED CONVICTION TO NOT CELEBRATE SINFUL BEHAVIOR IS APPLIED IN ANY AND ALL INSTANCES OF “SIN” INVOLVED IN THE WEDDING AND/OR THE MARRIAGE ITSELF.  And, of course, no one is going to do that.  For one, it’s not practicable, because other “sins” are hidden and difficult to detect.  Moreover, as I mentioned above, no vendor is going to have the audacity to ask such “personal and private” questions, while the engaged gay couple’s “personal and private” reality is on display to the world.  Secondly, the social stigma of remarriage after divorce has largely disappeared, even though Jesus makes a specific point of labeling it “adultery”.  Similarly, most faith communities have conveniently reclassified Pauline directives on how women should behave as being “time-bound” or “specific to that congregation”, yet continue to cling desperately to other scriptural admonitions as being “Capital T Truth”.  When we demand our “rights” when it suits us but let the rules slide elsewhere, we fail to be a consistent witness to the world and lend credence to the world’s case against us as hypocrites.

How might we better be witnesses?  I’ll let Jesus speak:

Mark 2:15 

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

John 13:34-35

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Matthew 5:43-48

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Luke 6:36-38

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” 

That’s a tough mandate.  But as much of a “burden” as that mandate may be, I don’t think my state or yours needs a RFRA law to protect us from working at it.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this post on the F word. One of the most difficult things i have done or rather am doing other then the times i have starred into the abyss would be being comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is the real work. Inspiring.


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