Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona now has to decide whether to sign the controversial bill just passed by the state legislature that would allow business owners to deny services to gay and lesbian customers as long as they cite their religious beliefs.
These types of "no gays allowed" laws, also being considered by other states, are being hailed by conservative religious groups as a victory for religious freedom.
These discriminatory laws are not about "religious freedom." From a Christian perspective, such legislation is the betrayal of everything Jesus of Nazareth taught about loving God with your whole heart, and your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:36-40)
As Jesus taught in the parable called "The Good Samaritan," it's "God-walk" that matters, not just "God-talk." In the story, the big God-talkers of Jesus' time, the priestly classes, just pass by a man who has been beaten, robbed and left by the side of the road. It is the hated "Samaritan," a member of a group the Jews of Jesus' time regarded as the worst of the human race (John 8:48), whom Jesus shows walks the walk of faith. The Samaritan is good because he cares for the wounded man, transporting him to help and even paying for it!
These conservative Christians of Arizona and elsewhere where such discriminatory legislation is being considered, however, are showing themselves to be very bad Samaritans. Their so-called "religious freedom" bills betray everything important about walking the walk of Christian faith.
That is the reason the faith-based signs at the rallies in Arizona last week are so important. As many of the signs make clear, "no gays allowed" legislation is an offense to God and neighbor, and the opposite of what Jesus taught and lived.
It may very well be that Governor Brewer will veto the legislation because of the likely economic backlash. Arizona businesses are urging the Governor to veto the legislation precisely because they are still suffering from the economic boycotts launched after the state passed draconian anti-immigration laws.
But what is critical to realize is that there is no longer have a God Gap in the U.S. as was argued after the re-election of George W. Bush.
Today, progressive and mainline religious groups in this country connect the dots on faith and legislation that supports discrimination, and they make a faith-based case in the public square against it. This is exactly what is happening in Arizona. Protestors in Phoenix on Friday waved signs like the one above. Other signs read, "What about love thy neighbor?"
Robert T. Hoshibata, Resident Bishop of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church, sent a note early Friday to about 212 active and retired clergy in Arizona and southern Nevada asking them to reach out to Brewer voicing opposition to the bill, and cited church teaching as the reason. "'We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person's value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened.'"
The failure of many Christians to walk the walk of faith, and instead to promote discrimination against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people under the guise of "religious freedom," is one of the reason so many younger Americans, the so-called "Millennials," have turned against organized religion. According to Dr. Robert P. Jones of Public Religion Research Institute, these younger Americans are leaving the church because "strong majorities" agree that modern day Christianity is "hypocritical" (58 percent), "judgmental" (62 percent), and "anti-gay" (64 percent).
But faith traditions that do walk the walk, not just talk the talk, have renewed appeal today.
Youth Pastor Andria Davis, who took the photo above at the rally where she and other faith leaders of Arizona gathered to protest this discriminatory legislation, summed up the faith and life issues that are at stake in Arizona:
"As a queer Christian, a youth Pastor and a member of the United Church of Christ, I come from a tradition that believes firmly in God's unwavering love and in the all inclusive hospitality modeled by Jesus. I am ashamed that my faith tradition is being used to legalize bigotry. This law hurts Arizona's businesses, Arizona's reputation, Arizona's citizens and all of Arizona's communities of faith who seek to know and share God's love in the world."
Follow Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sbthistle