As an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church, I was very troubled by SB1062, the so-called “religious freedom bill,” and much of the rhetoric surrounding it. While many argued that this bill would have strengthened religious, particularly Christian “freedoms,” I believe it sought to do the exact opposite — it would have used religion as a license to discriminate against anyone of one’s choosing.
While many persons of faith came out in support of this bill, other persons of faith, including a large number of Christians, strongly opposed it. I hope this has not gone unnoticed and I long for a day when Christians standing for justice and inclusion are seen as a surprise to no one, especially since many Christians have historically fought for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed in society. In the case of SB1062, many Arizona religious leaders, including the United Methodist bishop, Evangelical Lutheran bishop, Episcopal bishop, and the conference minister of the United Church of Christ, immediately called on Governor Brewer to veto the bill, just to name a few.
Any law that makes it legal to discriminate against others is antithetical to the core of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus, in fact, calls us to love our neighbors. When a lawyer asked Jesus the questions, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story of a man who was beaten by robbers and left in a ditch to die. While those with religious and political privilege and status passed this man by, a Samaritan, someone of a different religion and culture who was considered an outsider and an outcast, pulled the man out of the ditch and cared for him. Jesus indicates that it was this Samaritan man who acted as a neighbor, showing love and mercy to someone in need. The point of this parable is that we inherit eternal life when we are able to see who our neighbors are, and have compassion for them. Our neighbors aren’t just those who are our friends, those who agree with us, or even those who share the same religion as us. Everyone is our neighbor. Throughout the Bible we are reminded of God’s commands to love others — our neighbors, strangers, widows, orphans, immigrants, the marginalized, the oppressed, and yes, even our enemies.
It is difficult for me then, as a Christian, to support laws that are based in fear and discrimination of our neighbors. As Christians, Jesus calls us to reserve the right to serve everyone, even those with whom we disagree. This should hold true both for our conservative, as well as our progressive brothers and sisters. While we might find signs and memes that encourage refusing service to legislators, humorous, they do not help us in learning to love our neighbors better. We must find a way in our state to stop dehumanizing one another, and we must break this cycle of violence toward our neighbors. Yes, we must always stand against injustice, oppression, and discrimination, but at the same time we must seek reconciliation with one another. That probably sounds like an impossible task for most of us, however, I hold out hope that one day we will all work together to make Arizona a place where, even if we don’t agree on everything, we agree that everyone is welcome. Hope for the realization of this vision may sound crazy, but hope is something that is deeply Christian. As we move forward from this mess, here’s to the hope that we can all be better neighbors.
— Rob Rynders is co-pastor of City Square Church in Phoenix