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

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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?


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20 responses to “The Indiana Religious Freedom Law, the Pizza Parlour and What it Says About the Church

  1. This last Sunday, Easter, we had a nice, hip looking couple come to our gathering. Before things started, as we were chatting, the man said something to the effect of "I’m just going to come right out and ask it. Where does this community stand on gay marriage?" I was immediately uncomfortable- it felt like an interview question. Turns out it was.
    The follow up was "We’ve been at such and such a church for 6 months and their position is ‘Everyone should be celibate until marriage.’ What’s yours?"
    I did my best to answer both questions carefully and pastorally- but apparently my answers didn’t match up with what they wanted to hear. They were gone before we even started.
    Later, after the gathering, I was thinking about how upsetting to me this was- to have our whole community judged and dismissed on the basis of two questions asked and answered by one person in the community (albeit one in leadership). I was especially sad because while I don’t know for sure, I have a feeling that couple missed out on worship on Easter Sunday. I imagine they could have found another community that hadn’t yet started their service, but I kind of doubt it. Worse, their entire image of our community now centers on how we handle the issue of sexuality- not how we love God, preach the Gospel, serve the poor, love and serve each other and all the myriad things that make up "Church."
    Just sex.
    At that moment, I decided to never, ever answer that question again outside of relationship. I’ll tell people this story and invite them to journey with us as a community, learn who we are, what we’re about, who the Jesus is we serve and follow, and if they are still wondering, I’ll take a crack at their question in 6 months or so.

  2. Bob,

    I am glad you shared your story. It is not popular to follow the pattern you have not adopted, but it is one I am confident traveling.

  3. Bob-
    That makes perfect sense. It has occurred to me several times that my response would differ according to the relationship I have with the questioner. Maybe that’s why Jesus answered so many questions with questions of his own. Context and relationship do matter.
    Nancy S.

  4. So how does this position ("Resist. Be present. Listen") you’ve articulated here not become the new position to defend – a new angle in the antagonism? In other words, why are we still talking about the pizza parlor?

  5. Bonhoeffer called the work of the community of disciples to be one of Stellveretung (literally, standing-in-between) often translated redemptive vicarious action. It does require a space-making for the gift of peace.

  6. Bob, to minimize their concerns as simply being about "just sex" reveals something to me. It exposes that you’ve bought into one side of the issue…that you’ve bought into an ideology, rather than transcending the conversation. Human sexuality and genderedness isn’t about "just sex." If someone came to your church and wanted to know how you supported new families or support single folks, would your response be the same?

  7. "This isn’t about anything real here"…for YOU. for someone championing listening and presence, this doesn’t read much like you spent time considering why it matters to the people for whom it is more than a hypothetical thought exercise.

  8. suzannah,
    Maybe you didn’t get what I was talking about with the word "real" ? It’s a play on the way ideology works. What’s real is the antagonism, what is not real is that anyone really cares about pizza at a wedding. For me this is not a hypothetical exercise.

    1. lol, i get it. it’s dismissive, and i don’t agree with the way you wield ideology as a weird zinger, like your beliefs originate from a superior and pristine, ideology-free zone. and again, just because you don’t care (about something that only impacts other people directly) doesn’t make the "right" to refuse service any less real to real people.

      also, plenty of people of every sexuality do enjoy simple take-out at weddings, because that is what is affordable.

  9. "It protected such acts from lawsuits."

    Huh? Sorry David, it did no such thing. The law merely gave the business owner an opportunity to present their case in court. How could you have such a fundamental misunderstanding of what you’re posting about it? I shouldn’t say I’m shocked to have only gotten a few sentences into your post but I’m shocked.

  10. Andrew, you can carry on the discussion with any takers… to me it’s a side track. It’s not central to the driving point of the post. Generally people know of that perception .. but if you want to carry on a discussion about this feel free.

  11. I appreciate the practices you invoke in the twitter summary – and that is heart of it, rather than continue to advocate positions, which are often simply abstractions of these cultural antagonisms.

  12. you miss the basic point.to serve a same sex wedding is the same as saying that you ENDORSE "GAY" marriage.That you approve of it.Hopefully you are not naive enough as to think otherwise.As Christians they (the pizza place) can not and should not ENDORSE "GAY" marriage.And PLEASE do not be so pitiful as to ask if I would refuse to allow them in my church.I would be DELIGHTED to have them there.But they could not be married there.That would be against what God has written in the Bible.
    The anger against the pizza place is understandable. It comes from the segment of the homosexual community that wants everyone to endorse them, approve of them, and tell them that what they are doing is ok.Some of us can not do that according to our Religious beliefs.I am not angry that they are that way (although it makes me sad) and they should not be angry that I/we are the way I/we are.It appears that tolerance is what Christians should always show "GAYS" but that it is somehow inappropriate to believe it should be shown to Christians and their beliefs.

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