In the fall of this past year, the community I live in passed a ‘human rights’ ordinance. It gave legal protections in the community for housing and employment and private business services for a wide range of individuals. Protected in this ordinance are people of ‘actual or perceived’ race, gender, sexuality, age, marital status, religious affiliation (or lack there-of), employment status, income source, care giver status, handicap, pregnancy, weight, height, etc. (I believe it was city ordinance 777) Some poorly worded exemptions were included to, in theory, protect the high school from litigation if it did not provide transgendered changing facilities, owner occupied structures with a room for rent, churches with respect to ‘sacerdotal function’ (but not specifically ‘secular’ activities like church-based school teachers, administrators or custodians) and a number of other items. The ordinance was introduced under the guise of ‘extra business’ so as not to appear on the public posting of the agenda. Public record of the activity before the ordinance’s ‘second reading’ were not to be found in their normal places (though technically, they were published). A concerned friend informed me about an hour or so before the city council meeting that the ordinance would be given a second reading with an opportunity given for public comment. I was asked if I would go and ‘say something.’ So, I went home, cleaned up, put on the coat and tie and made my way to city hall with but the length of the meeting to read the proposed ordinance and figure out what to say (fortunately, comments came at the end of the meeting). There were the only two people present with anything to add in the public comments time (my friend and I). The bill had already been read a second time and voted in (3-2 or 4-3 or some such thing) before we were given opportunity to speak. No response was made to any of the questions raised (although meeting protocol demanded it). The exercise seemed rather pointless. Nonetheless, I spoke on the record with no time to prepare a statement.
Honestly, I found myself rather torn. I actually supported most of the objectives of the ordinance – so long as there are no crimes being committed, all people in a free society should be able to work, live, and conduct business without harassment – the church never wins in a free democracy by waging war on this front. What concerned me was the potpourri of issues that were thrown together (I believe white, middle-aged, heterosexual, Christian men were the only category left out – I only wish I were joking) and the hodgepodge list of protected exemptions. In short, the intent of the ordinance may well have been good, but it was a horrendously crafted piece of legislation leaving both the City, several leading community groups, and enormous segments of the city’s residents unnecessarily exposed to litigation. My then 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter later read a copy of the ordinance, laughed, and asked if this was ‘for real.’ My son thought his previous year’s AP Government class could have easily crafted a better ordinance, but I digress. Like me, both supported the intent of the legislation but recognized on their own that in a rush to ‘pass something’ the city ended up settling for a garbage ordinance.
As I stood before the Council, I commended their desire to acknowledge the dignity of all who would want to live and work in our community. I concurred, so far as it stated, the protected elements in the bill. I expressed concern that as crafted, this bill would expose many of the churches in the community to litigation if they ever needed to hire outside of their congregation (teachers, office workers, custodians, etc.). I expressed that it exposed many of its residents to similar litigation concerns – especially those who ran small personal businesses (photographers, videographers, scrap-bookers and the like), frequently out of their homes. I referred generally to some cases I had heard about in other towns after similar legislation was passed. I imagined, hypothetically, what could happen in the face of such an ordinance. Then I met ‘Jay’ (not his real name – but the story I’m about to relate actually occurred and occurred while living in a different community).
Jay is a devout Christian. Like many conservative Christians, he doesn’t see a difference between his ‘church life’ and the rest of life. For many devout Christians there is no separation between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred.’ The claims of Christ extend to every area of life. Like many other Christians I know, Jay advertised his home based videography business online and dubbed himself a ‘Christian videographer.’ (Note – I’m not sure what the difference is between a Christian videographer and any other videographer, or if that’s even a distinction worth promoting, but to Jay it was – and after speaking with him, I believe his intentions to have been sincere, though perhaps misguided.) One day, Jay received a call to record a civil ceremony formalizing the union of a gay couple. Jay indicated that he couldn’t as he had a previous engagement, but recommended a couple other videographers in the area. The couple stated that they had seen samples of his work online and insisted that they only wanted him to do it and suggested another couple dates. Jay finally responded that while they seemed to be nice enough guys, he didn’t feel comfortable participating in a ‘gay wedding’ because of his faith. In the face of an impending lawsuit, Jay was forced to close his very small business and move as his only means to protect what few assets he had and look for work elsewhere.
Now, I don’t want to suggest that every sincere Christian should have come to the same conclusion that Jay did. I know some who would have taken the job, done exemplary work, treated the couple with the utmost respect, and used the opportunity to plant seeds that might have later served to help the couple see the church, and by extension, Christ, in a new and better light (stranger things have happened). I might even have suggested that Jay do just that, had I been his pastor when he faced this situation. But that’s not the point. In talking with Jay, he like many Christians I know, harbor no ill toward homosexuals as individuals. They disagree (sometimes very strongly) with the lifestyle (chosen or otherwise) and feel that the full and free expression of their faith prohibits them from appearing to sanction the lifestyle. Most of these people would decline to work at a Muslim or Hindu wedding ceremony – they just wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it, nothing more. While Jay could have made a few decisions that would have prevented any of this, the fact is, Jay – and people like him – become easy targets for those more concerned with pushing an agenda and forcing universal acceptance than living respectfully as neighbors in a truly free and pluralistic community.
Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, faces a difficult decision. A clearly agenda driven media blitz has labeled the legislation she is considering as simply ‘anti-gay’ (it doesn’t help that she’s a Republican – for the record, I find myself criticizing both major parties pretty regularly). I haven’t read the fine print of the legislation. I don’t know if it’s truly good legislation or simply another well-intentioned, but poorly executed piece of garbage like the one my community leaders passed in virtual secrecy. On the surface, it seems like it’s intent is to both acknowledge the rights of gay citizens to live, work, and conduct business while also recognizing that there are sincere, well-meaning people of faith – like Jay – who cannot in good conscience participate in a gay ceremony and should not be criminalized for that alone. Unfortunately, just as there are wolves hiding in the fold of the church who cannot and will not be satisfied until everyone thinks and acts like them, there are militant voices in our culture who won’t be satisfied until every semblance of faith is publicly discredited and removed from any and all aspects of public life. It seems neither are fit for life in a free and open society.
– Pastor Jim Kushner