Rev: Christy Thomas: Discriminatory practices in marketplace wrong

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It is my understanding that some in Texas want to enact a bill that would do the same thing as the controversial one in Arizona would have done.

It reads in part: “Be it further resolved that the right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless the government proves there is a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act.”

The wording itself seems so innocuous — it seeks to uphold religious liberty, something I am certainly in favor of.

However, any time I see the words, “sincerely held religious belief” being floated as a reason to “act or refuse to act,” my concerns grow.

When the legislative language implies support of statements such as, “I will not serve ... [name your particular group] at my [business open to the public] because I sincerely think they are [pick your reason here], then we put a stamp of approval on discriminatory practices.

I understand the call to protect religious liberties. A pastor of another denomination asked me recently, “What happens if a gay couple insists I perform their wedding ceremony when I personally am in deep disagreement with gay marriage?”

My response: “Could we be in conversation as humans together on this complex journey we call life and without demonizing the other? Of saying, with honest compassion, ‘Look, I am legally able to perform your ceremony but I know that I’m going to struggle internally with this and would not be the best one to serve you. Here is a name of a clergy person who would be honored to be your celebrant. I wish you the best.’”

Here, we relate to one another as fellow human beings, seeking mutual understanding and the best for all. We don’t need legislation for that. We need personal maturity infused with respect for other human beings and that can’t be legislated.

We live in a multireligious/multicultural society. We must look both to the greater good as well as the individual good. The greater good does not in this nation discriminate based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

Even so, individuals and institutions have the right to state who they are and the bedrock beliefs under which they function. Those bedrock beliefs may indeed be discriminatory, or not in line with current cultural norms.

Many religious groups state that women may not serve in church leadership positions. Others hold that those whose sexuality does not fit the two-distinct gender hypothesis of human sexuality are unacceptable in the eyes of God. That’s their right. Those who wish to participate in those organizations need to respect those positions.

Outsiders do not have the right to demand that such voluntary institutions change what they believe. The U.S. was formed on a basis of religious freedom — and we need to fight for that freedom.

But religious freedom in the marketplace takes a back seat to the national ethos of nondiscrimination. That’s the price we pay for living in a free, nonstate-mandated-religion society.

THE REV. DR. CHRISTY THOMAS blogs at www.christythomas.com. She can be reached at pastorchristy@gmail.com.


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