The Failed Arizona Anti-Gay Legislation: The Lesson for Christian Mission

imagesI have an involuntary knee-jerk reaction whenever I’m asked to support putting the power of the state behind a Christian moral conviction. And so, I naturally reacted negatively last week when I heard about the passage of the Arizona state legislation to protect business owners who wish to deny services to LGBTQ couples people.  But my complaint goes a little deeper with this one. Regardless of what your moral convictions are on LBGTQ sexual relationships, I suggest that legislation like this takes the place of talking with each other. If this legislation had been signed by the governor, I suggest, it becomes the means by which the cakemakers do not need to share their actual fears and paranoia’s, test them out, and communicate what is actually going on with them face to face to the same sex couples getting married who need a wedding cake. They can bypass all that and simply legislate the protection we Christians assume we need to go on living our convictions. Legislation, I contend, is the defense mechanism which enables us to assume stuff without really checking it out. It is a Christendom reflex (when we could assume a lot more). So I’m against it.
The ensuing debate (surrounding the Arizona law) between Christians seems to miss this point entirely. People like Jonathan Merritt/Kirsten Powers  and Al Mohler argue vehemently for or against the merits of the legislation itself on Christian grounds. Neither asks whether legislation itself works against what God would do in the world period. For me, I worry that it is any kind of legislation in this manner that forecloses off the space by which we are present with one another, Christian cakemakers with Lesbian or gay people getting married, Christians with people they are in conflict with on any issue. I say forget the legislation and instead get together to listen to each other and let the reconciliation of Christ be worked out. Legislation like this forecloses mission.

Jonathan Merritt and Kirsten Powers for instance respond to the law by saying…

….  the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation of (same sex marriage).

Really? Can this even be discerned except case by case? Instead of legislation, I suggest instead that we avoid at all cost the working out our Christian witness via legislation because such legislation ideologizes what we believe (making it a idea that we argue with for or against) and then distances us from people who we disagree. It forecloses us being with and listening to people God has called us to be with (like gay and lesbian folk).

Likewise, Al Mohler rips Merrit and Powers for denying “that forcing participation in a same-sex ceremony is a violation of conscience.” For Mohler this is a matter of religious liberties.

Again, really? Do we not all have the liberty to resist anything the state might force us to do when it violates our conscience before God if we indeed are willing to go to prison for it? Is not peacefully going to prison for our convictions one of the best witnesses to a society? even if it is about the future of marriage, family, sexuality etc.? Instead, we waste our time battling over the nature of religious liberties.

As opposed to legislation, what if these cake makers actually had to talk face to face with gay/lesbian marriage partners, discuss their fears, share their tears, hear the grief’s? Out of these places, far beyond the reach of government coercion, I believe space is opened up for God to do something new. That something may be totally unrelated to whether they should or should not get married? I do not venture to proscribe what shall come, only to say, it’s amazing what happens when we share vulnerably and in humility our deepest fears and our own experiences in conversations under the Lordship of Christ. Enacting legislation is a way to avoid all that: i.e. talking to each other.

In another case last week in Toronto, a woman sued a Muslim barber for being unwilling to cut her hair. Is this not a case of “why don’t you just talk to the person? and try to understand what is going on with his?” I do not suspect this women is a Christian. But we should come to expect more from Christians than this.  We don’t sue. We reject legislation that coerces. We talk, listen to hurts, share hurts, forgive, and seek God’s purposes out of the daily conflicts and differences of our lives. This is what we do because we believe it is out of this hospitable presence in the world that God shall work to reconcile the world to Himself through Christ. Each surprising conflict or disagreement or misunderstanding therefore is not an occasion for me to protect my rights. It is the opening up of space to learn, grow, unwind bad stuff and for God to work. This is what Christians should become known for.

In short, to me Merritt/Powers and Moher reveal the bad posture of Christians in the world. By addressing the legislation first, they reveal the urge Christians still have to control the world. But God works differently. He works via humble witness, vital and loving relationships, speaking truth in love and in mutual submission to what God is doing. He enters the world willing to be killed by the controlling government for the truth. Let us get off this kick. And return to being the humble minority people giving witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what God is doing to save the world in Christ.

What do you think?

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