Monday, February 24, 2014

Why Arizona's SB 1062 Deserves Failure

Nearly a year ago, I went on the record explaining why I thought government should ban gay marriage. But when the question is whether governments should allow people to deny services to homosexuals on the basis of religious belief -- and Arizona's SB 1062 is aimed in that direction -- we go off into a dangerous void.

Let's start with the bill itself [PDF]. It broadens an existing religious freedom law to include businesses, along with individuals and religious institutions. It does not specifically mention Christianity, or any specific religion. Neither does it mention homosexuality. Here's where the problems begin: this bill was clearly a response to situations outside of Arizona where people who provide services to weddings, such as bakers and photographers, ran into legal trouble because they refused to provide their services to same-sex weddings on religious principles. But this bill is not tailored that narrowly, and if it were, chances are it would not survive a court challenge, just as many states' gay-marriage bans are not surviving court challenges now.

With a bill so broad, it could potentially apply to situations its authors never intended. Does a hotel have a right to refuse a room to a gay couple, married or not, because the owner considers such conduct sinful? In that case, have the owners refused a single-but-unmarried couple because the owner disapproves of sex outside marriage? It gets worse: could some Christians legally refuse to do business with Mormons if they think the LDS is a cult? Going ad nauseum, could any business refuse to provide any service for anybody simply on the grounds that it violates their religion?

Here's another problem: the bill doesn't contain any language to test whether somebody objecting on religious grounds is actually a faithful practitioner as opposed to being somebody who just claims they believe in something. From the language of the bill:
"Exercise of religion" means the PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.
In other words, this bill says practicing religion is being religious -- a recursive definition that doesn't even require you to belong to any organized faith.

Laws live and die by loopholes, and this bill has doozies. In order to make it legally non-discriminatory, it's legally vague. Vague laws get challenged in court, leaving judges to deal with the legal heartburn of throwing out flawed legislation and complaints from groups who scream bloody murder about activist gavel jockeys.

Now let's look at the Christian perspective. First, we have to see what GOD actually says about doing business with homosexuals. As I found last year, the Bible references homosexuality nine times, but none of those references deals with rendering goods and services to gay people. So GOD is not telling us to avoid doing so.

Furthermore, we get insight from Mark 2:15-17 (NIV):
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. 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?”

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.”
Here we learn JESUS knew HIS mission meant trying to minister to sinners rather than avoiding them. GOD doesn't tell us to avoid sinners completely, although 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 says: "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.' Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of GOD — I say this to your shame." However, the context of these verses makes them more of a warning for people to stop hanging around people who are leading them into consistent, definable sin rather than just eating with sinners.

Some of you are asking, "Aren't we complicit in sin if we help others celebrate a sinful union?" Fair question. You can point to James 4:17 (NIV), which says: "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them." But, again, the context of the verse talks about those who put off submitting themselves to GOD, as earlier verses in this chapter implore us to do -- not moral dilemmas on whether something is a sin or not. And remember, we haven't even established that serving gays or gay couples is a definable sin in the first place!

With so much left unspoken in GOD'S Word and the wording of the bill, SB 1062 creates more problems than it solves. A lot of you will still have problems offering goods or services to same-sex couples, no matter what the law or the Bible says. You will agonize about it, even if the Bible doesn't say it's a sin. Your conscience will still bother you because you just can't see the perfect answer.  Remember, GOD doesn't expect us to live perfectly, just consistently. And when we confess to GOD we can't do it perfectly, that we need a SAVIOR, that we need forgiveness and guidance and wisdom for the things we're not sure about, GOD will give us all of those things.