April 8, 2015 / David Fitch

The Indiana Religious Freedom Law, the Pizza Parlour and What it Says About the Church

By now everyone knows about the so-called Indiana Religious Freedom Law fracas last week. Despite the multifaceted rhetoric, few doubt that the bill was conceived as the means to allow businesses to reserve offering services to LGBT folk (say for example providing goods and services to marriage ceremonies of same sex couples) in the name of religious freedom. It protected such acts from lawsuits. If it were me, and I was afraid of such complicity, I would just politely refuse, and then give witness to why. If I was put in prison for my convictions I’d consider it an honor.  I would humbly submit and offer some explanations to the world as to why I felt this was important enough for me to go to prison. This would hopefully be an act of humility (I have my issues) instead of pretentious hubris. It would be an act of suffering versus an act of power. It would offer a profound witness to the world instead of unleash a world of hate in my direction. If serving a pizza to a gay wedding was that important of a problem for me (which it is not) this is the way I would go. My theory is: What better way to witness for Christ than to go to prison?

But I digress. For me there is another lesson for the church in this whole mess. This lesson is located in the observation of the furious backlash against that little Memories Pizza parlor every one is talking about. In case you didn’t hear about it, one of the owners of a small local pizzeria found herself in the unfortunate position of being interviewed on local television news about the Indiana law. She evidently admitted that the pizzeria would not cater to a gay wedding if they ordered pizzas. In a matter of hours, this little pizzeria became the overnight subject of lewd insults and degrading comments. Their Yelp review site lit up with degrading insults, dehumanizing slurs, lewd pictures of naked men, threats to rob and burn down the place, etc. etc. It was a monster coalescence of hate. But it didn’t end there. Less than a few days later, the pizza parlor somehow announced it was on the verge of shutting down and going out of business, when some 29,000 people started a GoFundMe page and donated close to a million dollars in less than a week! How does one little pizza parlor become the eye of such a furious hurricane? (This descriptor is very important to me because the eye of a hurricane is hollow/empty. There’s nothing there. It nonetheless holds the storm together. ).

For me this is the reveal of the state of our culture and the ideologies surrounding the LGBT issues of our day. I suggest that all churches take note of this little pizza parlor and learn the lesson. It is, what I called in End of Evangelicalism?, an eruption of the real. It reveals the antagonism and the identity forming power around these antagonisms, that are at work in these ideologies. It is notable that it comes now not just from the right in a stupid defensive act of hubris called the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It is equally as forceful from the left. The level of vitriol and hate cast on this tiny little pizzeria reveals it in all its ugliness.

Here’s my one point.

This isn’t about anything real here. Meaning … I seriously don’t think any member of the LGBT community cares about pizza at a wedding. I cannot imagine any wedding couple (even in Italy) ordering takeout pizza for the reception (no, I did not try to convince Rae Ann of this cost saving strategy for our own wedding). The pizza parlor is really an empty symbol (since it’s not about the pizza) to aim all our hate and pain at. It is a case of jouissance, sick enjoyment, taking down a little pizza joint in the name of equal rites for gays. It then becomes the center of the ideological swirl as 29,000 people on the other side give it a million dollars (has any pizza joint ever made a million dollars in its lifetime). The result, I predict is no more pizza. And we all walk away making our point. (I have since learned Memories pizza has decided to start up again. Although no hints of franchising yet).

This is the way ideology works. It sets people against one another. It’s all about nothing on the ground. It means nothing. Yet the flury of anger makes it unsafe for anyone to go get a pizza. So people react, and they coalesce around making pizza safe, most of whom never ate pizza before. A new defensive enclave is formed. And no one looks at their own sin any more (Notice Jon Stewart pointing out all the inconsistencies/contradictions of all the parties hurling their anger at Indiana).

And so today, I challenge us to think of the church of Jesus Christ in terms of this little pizza parlor. Every time we enter into these ideologies, on the terms laid down by a culture that lives, breathes, feels, builds identities on antagonism, we lose the space for Jesus Christ to work in our lives. We create firestorms of anger. It’s no longer safe for those weak and vulnerable, struggling in any number of ways with sexuality, to come and be present and work through life. Through the anger and the violence, we lose the space by which Christ can be present (He will not be present amidst violence). The space is exceedingly unsafe for mutual discussion and submission on all things sexual. And so we all walk away angry, pained, and unmet by Christ. But we might feel better about ourselves for a day or so as we took down/ or started anew a pizza parlor (where we never intended to go buy pizza any way).

The church must at all costs avoid being the pizza parlor (in this metaphor). The church must at all cost be the space of peace, mutual consideration, reconciliation, the place to work out our sexualities, our hurts and antagonisms that swirl around them, in the presence of Christ. To the extent people on BOTH the Right and the Left, “Welcoming and NOT Affirming” and “Welcoming AND Affirming”, have allowed themselves to enter the ‘debate’ on ideological terms, we abnegate our calling to be the peace of Christ in the world for the sexual redemption God is working in the world for Jesus Christ. Last week I summarized it on Twitter with this

 “Every time a new cultural antagonism manifests itself, we feel the tug to enter in on one side or the other. Resist. Be present. Listen”

What say you?