“We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Anyone” is posted at my dry cleaners. I’m not sure what the sign means. I imagine if I am disorderly, obnoxious, rude, or under the influence, they can refuse to do business with me. Perhaps they don’t want to serve a clergyman? That’s fine. I can leave and pray for them. There are other dry cleaners.
This past week in the news, there is a pizzeria in Walkerton, Indiana, which is apparently the first business to deny service to people in same-gender relationships. The owner said, “If a gay couple wants us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we will have to say no.… We are a Christian establishment.” Of all the ceremonies I have been a part of, as priest, guest, or participant, I’ve never been to a pizza catered wedding. But, I digress.
A number of things bother me about this situation. My parents are small business owners. I believe they should have the right to refuse service, just like my dry cleaner. But, the biggest thing that bothers me is refusing service in the name of Christianity. Can you think of a time where Christ refused service to someone? I remember stories of Jesus eating with sinners, how Jesus’ disciples were troubled, and how the religious leaders of the day used Jesus’ inclusiveness to bully the disciples. In the Gospel of Mark, religious leaders asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call on the righteous, but sinners.” (Mk 2:16-17) The ancient rite of ordination calls on ministers to have a heart for those to whom Jesus ministered – the outcast, lonely, widows and orphans. I believe the “priesthood of all believers” means all who follow Christ are called into his ministry for all people.
But I could be wrong. There are two distinct groups in the Old Testament. A group of Torah followers believed in purity and leaned heavily on laws dealing with food, marriage, association, and even clothing. They believed God is pure and therefore they needed to be pure. Another Torah group believed they were a light to the nations. As God’s chosen their responsibility was to share. They also believed God is pure but their calling was to share the light of God. In early Christian times, therefore, groups of Christ followers secluded themselves from the rest of the world. They felt their baptism prohibited participation in the world. To remain in their pure baptismal state, they had to reject the world. Other Christian groups believe that to be baptized with Christ is to share the Gospel with the world – to participate in the world so that the world can be saved. I think we are seeing those divisions playing out in Indiana today.
You probably can guess which group I identify with. Perhaps my own feelings about the LGBT community influence me so that I think all Christians should welcome all people into the loving embrace of God through Christ. But, I could be wrong. Perhaps Christians in Indiana are letting their views influence the way they participate in their own faith tradition and in the world.
But still, I think I’m right because I am betting on Christ’s inclusiveness. If I think that Jesus doesn’t forgive the sins of even one person, I am on a slippery slope that eventually might end with me sliding down out of the eternal promise made to Abraham and dying in my own sins. So, I bet it all on Christ and his love and forgiveness promised to every person.… even if that person refuses to cater a gay-wedding-pizza-reception. I am certain that Christ loves that person, too.