Open Letter to our Legislators

For those who don’t know, the Indiana House just passed out of committee a so-called Religious Freedom Act. Though it has only made it through committee and it has yet to go through the whole House – through which it is sure to pass – it has already gone through the State Senate and the Governor has promised to sign it. This legislation is all but a done deal. And so, I have been thinking and praying all day about how best to respond to this since I read the news.

The gist of this act is that it would allow businesses to refuse service to anyone they believe is acting against or contrary to their (the business owners) religious convictions. The lightening rod for this act was a bakery that refused to make a cake for a same-gendered wedding based on the owners convictions. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Wescor, says, “We need to be protected from the government interfering in our religious exercise.” And for me, this very statement is the problem with the legislation. It acts in the assumption that businesses are religious institutions. A Southern Baptist pastor says that this law is needed because he can not bend his beliefs.

The thing is no one is seeking to bend beliefs. What people are seeking is the ability to buy goods and services without the risk of being discriminated against. I find it fascinating that many of those in favor of this legislation are the same people who argue that we should let the free market fix everything – this legislation is an attempt to undermine the free-market – but that is another issue.

The reason I am against this legislation is not because I am a lefty liberal, but because I am a proud American Baptist and a Christian. This legislation, though guised in the cloak of religious liberty, in fact is the first string to be pulled out of our basic civil rights. We have yet to see how it will unravel, but by allowing this legislation to pass our state is starting to say it is ok to have businesses that cater to this group and not that group. The are beginning to put the signs up above the water fountains that say one is welcome and the other is not. This state is beginning the slippery slope of legalized discrimination.

This legislation is painted as an act that will protect religious freedom – as if God needs to be protected. This is the God who created the cosmos out of nothing. This is the God who created humans from stardust and dirt. This is the God who parted the Red Sea. This is the God who sat in a fiery furnace with three boys who refused the orders of the King. This is the God who put on human clothes and commanded us to Love God and love our neighbor. To treat the “outsider” as a beloved child of God. This the God who came to protect us from each other. This God does not need to be protected by a piece of legislation.

This act is an affront to the very message of God – to love neighbor. To act hospitably towards those who seek service. To be gracious to those we disagree with. To care for and love each other. This act elevates the privilege of one group above another. And worse it is the state allowing it – an affront to the separation of church and state.

This legislation is not about trying to protect ones faith. It is about saying one faith is held in higher esteem than another; more specifically it is saying that one interpretation of that faith is held in higher esteem.

The bottom line is this – God doesn’t need protected. God is perfectly capable of protecting God’s self. If you want to truly be a faithful business person and honor God perhaps it is best to follow Martin Luther’s advice from this little story:

Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps.

Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”

“I’m a shoe maker.”

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”

You don’t need to discriminate against someone to be a good Christian. You don’t need to put little crosses or Bible verses on things. Just do what it is your are called to do – and do it the best you possibly can. That is showing your faith more strongly that refusing service to someone because you disagree with them – because you are doing what God has given you the gifts to do for someone other than yourself.

In the Peace of Christ,

Rev. Justin Thornburgh, Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

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One response to “Open Letter to our Legislators

  • Judy Fackenthal

    Justin, I gratefully appreciate what you are saying here. It seems to me that as Baptists, this is the very thing we took stands against in our formative years when we were the targets of various discriminations. The Bill seems contrary to Baptist ways. Thank you for being at the statehouse and taking a stand.

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