It was an early lunch on a Sunday in Seattle, fifteen-odd years ago. As we enjoyed our meal, the restauarant began to fill up with families in more formal attire.
"Everyone's getting out of church," I remarked. One of my companions, an atheist, glanced up. "Yeah. Christian assholes." I was taken aback. "Discrimination in reverse is still discrimination, you know," I said. "So what?" he responded. "They do it to everyone else."
I replay that conversation in my head frequently. It bothered me then and it bothers me now.
Human life is incredibly diverse. In this sea of differences we naturally seek out small islands of like-minded people with whom to forge relationships. It feels good to spend time with people who think similarly or who have similar interests. We love our families - most of us do, anyway - but we need our friends, our classmates, church family, club members and fellow volunteers. We identify with others and with the whole of humanity when we share beliefs or hobbies.
Religion as it has been practiced by far too many has been an exercise in coercion, isolation and condemnation. But those are not the hallmarks of every person of faith. Faith is also, for me and for many others, a source of inspiration, connection, energy and love. Here in the U.S. our forefathers designed a secular government not tied to any particular brand of faith in order to preserve everyone's right to practice the faith of their choosing. That freedom also encompasses the right to not practice any faith at all, to congregate and to speak freely, to be free of the intrusion of the state into our personal affairs.
I am thankful for the freedom to raise my voice in disagreement; there are many people on this globe whose governments do not afford them the same treatment. I can stand on a rock in the middle of the square and shout my distaste for government agencies wildly overreaching constitutional boundaries in their quest for information and - at least for now - I won't be arrested (or worse) for doing so.
That freedom assures me that not only can I lift my voice to proclaim my personal beliefs; so can each and every one of my fellow citizens. The beauty of this freedom may not seem so apparent when others voice opinions that clash with my own. Even so, if another's ideologies are distasteful, if their words and actions seem bigoted and unkind, there is no victory for me in behaving the same way. Two wrongs have never formed together to create a right.
Here in my small corner of the world we had an incident that grabbed the national spotlight last summer. A local florist declined to provide flowers for the wedding of a gay couple. She's now in court, as our state statute prohibits businesses from discriminating against minority groups, including LGBT folks. Personally I don't agree with her views in the slightest. But I'm not here to argue my (well-thought out and researched) opinion. I'm here to say that I disagree that prosecuting an old lady for her antiquated and conservative opinion does anything at all to make this a better world to live in. It simply fans the flames on both sides of the argument.
Look, if we lived in a town that only had one florist to provide flowers, it would be entirely different. The fact is that there are upwards of forty local listings for florists, most of whom would be delighted to provide flowers for anyone's wedding, gay or straight. I don't think what's happening by prosecuting the business owner serves any purpose but to exact retribution against people for not thinking the way others want them to think -- and just like that we've become what we despise. I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in a world where we are no longer free to have our own thoughts and ideas about things. Do you?
You know, I hate discrimination. For example, I hate when people see women as less capable than men simply because of their gender. But if I, in retaliation, turn the tables and exact my revenge against all men because of the actions of some misogynist assholes, what good have I done? Have I in any way advanced the notion of equality?
The small herd of horses at my house has a heirarchy. Khara, Denise's mare, believes she is the boss. My gelding Bugs doesn't agree, but he lets her push him around most of the time. Penny, my little chestnut mare, is the low man on the totem pole. Denise laughed as she described their behavior one recent morning. Khara chased Bugs off of his hay, so he in turn laid his ears back and bossed Penny around. Poor Penny didn't have any other horses to bully, so she laid her ears back and chased the chickens away. Fortunately chickens are stupid and not particularly nuanced in their thought processes. They squacked and cackled and got quickly out of Penny's way, then resumed picking through the horse poo for insects to feast on.
I think those chickens are on to something.
If you think people ought to refrain from denigrating, making fun of, bullying, hating or otherwise discriminating against other people, then I gently suggest that the next time you have an opportunity to show other people how you would like them to behave, try NOT doing those things either and apply a generous dose of forgiveness instead. We will never change the world in a positive way when our response to injustice is to be unjust in return.
No, I believe the path to a better world comes when we apply love like a balm at every opportunity.
Today, God, help me to be the person I want to see in others. Help me to be bigger than my small angers and hurts. Help me to love everyone, even the unloving and the unlovely. Help me to see when I am being unjust and unloving and to make amends. Thank you for the people you place in my path who show your love in their words and actions. Help me to be more like them.