INDIANA’S LUNCH COUNTER POLITICS

The phrase “religious freedom” has wobbly boundaries, if it has any at all. In the 30s and 40s, religious, church-going people would pack a picnic basket, dress up the kids, and gather in a field to watch the public lynching of a black man. Then on Sunday, they would trudge off to church, bow their heads in prayer, sing hymns, and worship, certain that God had no problem with their particular form of afternoon entertainment. After church they might go to the local diner, where black people were not allowed to sit at the lunch counter, because according to white religious beliefs, mingling of the races was unnatural.

Now we have Indiana trying to preserve the rights of faithful, church-going people to shun those whose sexual orientation they deem unacceptable. And just like in decades past, they believe God is on their side. Governor Mike Pence is shocked that this is being called discrimination. It offends him because as a Hoosier he knows how friendly the state is. Yet when George Stephanopoulos tried to pin him down about whether or not a shop owner would be allowed to refuse service to a gay couple, he refused to answer the question. I might not be objective here, but Governor Pence was not exuding friendliness. If a gay couple goes into a diner, can the owner ask them to leave? What’s to stop the establishment from putting a “Straight people only” sign above the lunch counter? I’m sure Governor Pence wouldn’t answer those questions either.

The positive outcome in all this has been the outrage from businesses, CEOs, public figures, and millions of Americans. It’s pretty clear that Indiana is in trouble if this law isn’t abandoned. Maybe they could secede from the union and go it on their own. I mean if they’re going to go backwards, why not consider secession?

But I’d like to linger on the religious angle. God gets used a lot when people want to justify the unjustifiable. Many people love to create God in their own image instead of the other way around. In Joan Osborne’s brilliant song One Of Us she asks: “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home?”

I think God is all of us — white, black, Asian, Indian; gay, straight, transgender; male, female, young, old…And God is frequently heartbroken by our inability to realize that the only things dividing us are our own prejudices. God put us all here together on this small blue ball called Earth with a dream that we could learn to get along. He’s still waiting.

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