Saturday, April 18, 2015

Pizza Christian says "No pizza for YOU

Remember Seinfeld’s  “soup Nazi”? Kramer recommends a new soup restaurant but warns Jerry and Elaine about the owner. He’s called the “soup Nazi” for good reason. If he doesn’t like something about you he shouts at you, “No soup for you.”

Indiana has its version of the “soup Nazi.” Theirs is the “pizza Christian.” Answering a reporter’s question after Indiana’s fiasco over the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Crystal O'Connor of Memories Pizza told him, If gay couples come in and wanted us to provide them pizzas for a wedding, we would have to say 'no.” Why? Because, she said, hers is a "Christian establishment.”

“Are you gay or lesbian?” Answer “yes.” The pizza Christian cries, “There’s no pizza for you!”

The “soup Nazi” was arbitrary. He denied customers a bowl of soup on a whim. Not the “pizza Christian.” She has her own Biblically based authority. She’ll only deny a customer a slice of pizza if the customer is a sinner. And the Bible says gays are sinners. “No pizza for you!”

How does she know who the sinners are? Her Bible tells her so. In 1st Corinthians 6, the Apostle Paul thoughtfully created a checklist for pizza merchants. “Don’t you know the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God,” asked Paul. “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

But a “pizza Christian” can’t pick and choose which sinners are unworthy of a slice. That’s why there’s a list. To avoid being accused of discriminating against homosexuals, she should conduct a searching inquiry to determine whether the customer is anywhere on Paul’s list. “Are you an idolater?” If the answer’s “no,” go to the next item. “Are you an adulterer?” If the answer is “yes,” there’s “no pizza for you.” If you admit to being a thief, or greedy, or a drunkard, a reviler, or a swindler, there should be “no pizza for you.”

She wouldn’t want to be reminded of the story of the adulteress brought to the city center for stoning. The woman was guilty under the scripture and the penalty was stoning. Jesus didn’t tell the crowd not to stone her. He just made a suggestion that only those without sin should participate. For Jesus, it wasn’t about the sin. It was about human dignity.

Imaging Jesus saying to the “pizza Christian” and her followers, “He who is without sin may eat the first slice.” It’s not like we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of the “pizza Christian.”

However, the “pizza Christian” isn’t interested in the broad definition of sin. She doesn’t need to run through Paul’s entire list. She wouldn’t sell much pizza that way. She does quality control on God’s behalf on only one issue. Idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers can order whatever kind of pizza they like with any of their favorite toppings. But it’s against her deeply held religious beliefs to sell a slice of her heavenly pizza to homosexuals. Other Bible-believing-businesses may or may not choose to enforce the Apostle’s entire list. As for the “pizza Christian,” she’s only interested in how you have sex or with whom you have it.

Her ancestors were much more interested in the color of a customer’s skin and their national origin. No preacher, including the meddler from Nazareth, ever convinced them that such “religious beliefs” were contrary to that Gospel manifesto about loving your neighbor as yourself. It was the Civil Right Act of 1964, not the Sermon on the Mount, which eventually changed their way of doing business.

Curiously the “pizza Christian” and her disciples don’t recognize the irony here. They shamelessly claim a religious-belief exception so that they can impose a decidedly unbiblical belief in order to justify stripping paying customers of their human dignity. Regardless my homosexual friends, it’s “No pizza for you!”

Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Long-haired freaky people need not apply."

“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” The “Five Man Electric Band” sang about signs like that.

“The sign says, "Long-haired freaky people need not apply."
So I put my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why.
He said you look like a fine outstanding young man, I think you'll do.
So I took off my hat, I said, "Imagine that, huh, me working for you."

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs;
Messing with the scenery, breakin' my mind.
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?”

Some of the words were changed to protect the innocence of readers. But the point is made. Folks have been reading signs posted above the doorway of local “greasy-spoons” when they should be reading the U.S. Constitution.

Some businesses may want to “reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” but can’t. They made a bargain with the government when they bought that property. How does that work? My property-law professor at the University of Wyoming law school explained it like this. Think of private property as a “bundle of sticks.” When you buy property, you get some sticks, but never the entire bundle.

The neighbors get enough of the sticks to enforce covenants. Are there mineral rights? The sellers may keep enough of the sticks to drill for oil. The government always gets some of the sticks, enough to enforce zoning laws, property taxes, and anti-discrimination laws.

If motel, restaurants, or retail businesses had all the sticks they could reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. But they don’t. Their forbears lost that argument in the 60s when property owners thought they could refuse service to blacks.

In 1963, President Kennedy proposed prohibiting private businesses from discriminating against people because of the color of their skin. Those conservatives who were also racists complained. “My business is my private property,” they cried, echoing those who want to deny service today to homosexuals.

Congress posed this question, “Does the owner of private property devoted to a public establishment enjoy a property right to refuse to deal with a member of the public because of that member’s race, religion, or national origin?” The answer in a nation of civil rather than religious laws is “no.”

Don’t blame “liberals.” Those who decided government should keep enough “sticks” to prevent discrimination were the same beloved Founding Fathers conservatives love to quote.

Under the English common law, adopted by the Founders as the basis of U.S. law, anyone using private property for commercial gain by offering goods or services to the public accepts the commitment of the government to protect their rights to enjoy the benefits of private property. Those benefits include due process as well as the use of public funds for the benefits provided by public roads, highways, transportation, police, and fire protection that allow customers to safely access your business.

In exchange, the government retains enough of those “sticks” to make certain your business does not discriminate against other citizens.

Lawmakers reasoned private property exists for the purpose of enhancing individual freedom and human liberty. “Is this time-honored means of freedom and liberty to be twisted,” Congress asked, “so as to defeat freedom and liberty?”

Business owners can’t have it both ways. They cannot receive government protections without accepting the protections government provides to their customers. The concept is really quite understandable. Don’t want to serve the public? Don’t go into business.

The bill seeking to allow businesses to discriminate against some customers came up in Wyoming this year. It didn’t pass but will be back.

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs, messing with the scenery, breakin' my mind.” These are the signs sadly indicating many still don’t “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Those are the legal implications. Next week I’ll explore the spiritual implications.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

God's big enough to inspire many stories

A Christian friend and I attended a Book of Mormon seminar. He said, “Weird, don’t you think?” I said, “Yes, but then I imagine those who didn’t grow up learning our stories would also find many of them just as weird.”

Chapter 21 of the Old Testament Book of Numbers, for example, is a preposterous story. Israelites are journeying through the wilderness. People are hungry. They complain to God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water.”

God sends poisonous snakes to bite the people. Many die. Moses intercedes. The Lord says, “Moses, set a bronze serpent on a pole. Everyone who’s bitten shall look at it and live.” Moses makes it happen.

That story’s is a part of the Christian Bible we expropriated from the Jews. For Christians it leads to an understanding of the meaning of looking upon the cross. That story compelled Christianity to the largest religion in the world with 2.1 billion calling it “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

But, it’s not the only story that people of faith find compelling. When Joseph Smith was 21-years-old, the Mormon story goes, the angel Moroni gave him some ancient records. Joseph, with little formal education, was able to translate them because God gave him the gift. The result was the Book of Mormon.

The Bible is written by and about the people in the land of Israel from the creation of the world until shortly after the death of Jesus. Mormons accept the Bible as the word of God. They also have The Book of Mormon, the history of God’s dealings with the people in the Americas between 600 BC and 400 AD.

That may seem weird to you, but it’s “The Greatest Story Ever Told” for millions. Missionaries knock on the doors of houses and huts worldwide, testifying to how those stories changed their lives.
Worldwide, there are over 15 million Mormons, slightly more than the numbers of Jews. Mormons constitute the 4th largest U.S. denomination with over 6 million adherents, equal to the number of Muslims, for whom Jesus is a significant part of their “Greatest Story Ever Told.”

Muslims see Jesus’s story compelling. He’s one of five great Muslim prophets along with Moses, Noah, Abraham, and Muhammad. The Quran tells of a group of conspirators seeking to kill Jesus. Allah will not permit that to happen. Allah promised to raise him to heaven. Jesus asked, “Who among you will agree to make yourself look like me and die in my place and be crucified and then go straight to paradise?”  A follower sacrificed himself so that Jesus could live. God changed him into a form resembling Jesus and he, not Jesus, was crucified.

Weird story? Not so far from the Christian story and compelling enough that Islam is the second largest faith on the planet.

It’s idolatrous to worship one story as the only story. God is big enough to inspire more than one story in a world as diverse as ours. Yes, the Book of Mormon is strange. The Quran has “strange” teachings. Native Americans, Hindus, and Buddhists tell stories we find “off-the-wall” but those stories compel millions into a life of faith.

The Christian story of the cross and empty tomb invites us into a relationship with God. But it’s not the only story. Stories are how we all come too see God. We shouldn’t care more for the story than for the relationship. Does it matter which story others tell if it teaches them to love God, to love others?

Any story leading toward God’s love is the word of God whether it’s from our Bible or the Hebrew Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita.

This Easter, let’s not worry about stories others find compelling. Let’s be thankful when their stories bring them into a relationship with God causing them to join in bringing hope to the world.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Walk a mile in a liberal's shoes

As you might imagine I get a lot of email in response to my columns. Some of it’s appreciative; some not so much. There are some folks who think my columns are just too far left. My doctor once asked me, “About that stuff you write for the newspaper. Do you really believe it or are you just trying to p*** people off?

Can’t it be both?

Many readers believe that to serve the community, the newspaper ought only to mirror their far-right opinions. Paraphrasing one recent letter to the editor, “This is a conservative state. Why are you publishing this left-wing stuff?”

It’s called democracy, an arena of ideas.

If you conservatives think it’s hard to put up with a few liberals writing occasional opinion pieces, walk a mile in our shoes. Using last Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (March 22) as an example let me tell you what it’s like for a liberal stroll through the morning paper.

The front-page story about Wal-Mart explains their new store, which they touted as having a huge economic impact on Cheyenne, won’t.  Like the Keystone pipeline there may be a lot of new jobs during construction but few afterward. There was surprisingly good news from the corporation liberals love to hate. Wal-Mart’s increase in workers’ wages to $9 per hour may cause other low-paying businesses to compete for workers by raising pitiful wages. Food stamps might not have to subsidize so many employers.

Page A6, informed readers of yet another juvenile justice study. If you stacked all the studies done on juvenile justice since the 60s, they’d stretch to the moon and back. Virtually all make the same recommendations, which the legislature always disregards when one of the feudal lords complains. The feudal lords are well-connected Republican county attorneys who think these kids ought to be scared straight and have their futures stolen from them.

Readers finding the editorial page were treated to a letter-to-the-editor from someone who believes that once you have a first grade education, you can fully comprehend the Bible. It’s as easy as a Dick and Jane reader, right? He selectively used verses from the Good Book to prove the government should kill human beings. Can’t these small government conservatives understand there’s no government bigger than one that can take your life, especially when you might be innocent?

Page D-1 reports on the GOP budget. They propose a “balanced budget” by repealing Obamacare, which they would claim is the fix for everything including climate change if they believed in it. Of course, repealing Obamacare actually reduces revenue, but if first grade reading can get you through the Bible, first grade arithmetic can get you a balanced budget.

Finally a “Journey” section story confirms the goal of Cheyenne radio station owners to make certain we don’t hear anything but far-right fanatics on local airwaves. Day-long Hannity, Dennis Miller, Rush, Fox, and my friend Gary Freeman (I do consider him one) doesn’t give righties enough of a fix. My old radio employer KRAE, contracted with yet another. Despite being fired repeatedly from other stations, according to the article, for trashing sponsors and sexual harassment, Dino Costa’s willingness to call Barack Obama a “lying, sociopathic liar” landed him a contract doing rightwing sports talk. The news-story said he will deliver “loud, opinionated rants straight from the Capitol City.” Oh goody!

In 1970, KRAE fired me from a rock-n-roll DJ’s gig when I announced I was running for the legislature. It was expected that radio stations present both sides of issues. I understood my firing. What I don’t get is why equal time no longer matters to either the broadcasters or most listeners.

The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle should be saluted, for attempting balance; a goal local radio stations should embrace. There aren’t near so many of us liberals as there are of you conservatives. Still, as the Dick and Jane translation of the Bible teaches, “Even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Understanding the incomprehensible

"On Tuesday morning (March 10), Neil (Mick) McMurry left this world on his own terms.” With those words and with their own hearts broken, Mick’s family’s announcement broke Wyoming’s heart.

As stunning as his death, the manner in which he died was more so. It’s near impossible for anyone who knew Mick to imagine this gentle, loving man ending his life with what the coroner deemed “a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

I knew Mick but not nearly so well as hundreds of others who were much closer to him for much longer. I’ll leave the tributes to people like Bill Schilling. Bill is the president of the Wyoming Business Alliance. He and Mick worked together on countless civic projects. Bill has written of Mick’s lifetime achievements, how Mick was a man who took great risks, reaped great rewards, and then shared it all on good causes.

Mr. Schilling aptly calls Mick and his wife Susie “the face of charity for Casper and all of Wyoming.”

The McMurry family doesn’t need the rest of us to understand. And seeking to do so, we mustn’t invade their privacy during these dark days. Yet, Wyoming must come to grips with self-inflicted death. Our state often leads the nation in the rate by which our people leave this world on their own terms. Perhaps Mick’s final act of charity is to bring some degree of understanding to suicide.

Death by cancer, heart attacks, car wrecks, or strokes is logical. We easily wrap our minds around those deaths, though we grieve. But death by choice defies logic. Suicide is of the mind or spirit, not the body. Death by disease or accident can be explained to us through medical science. Doctors can examine the remains and tell us exactly what happened and more importantly why.

Suicide is different. There is no scientific explanation to satisfy those who grieve. His family says, “Mick had serious health problems that were greatly impacting his quality of life.” That is, in my view, ample reason. Each of us knows others who only wish they’d made that choice before disease robbed them of the capacity to do so.

The writings of Father Ron Rolheiser open new windows into the way we see suicide. He is a widely read Catholic theologian who has seen the pain and guilt left by the myths which inevitably wash up in the wake of a suicide largely because of cultural expectations and religious views. Rolheiser has written extensively on the spiritual dimensions of self-inflicted death.

He doesn’t accept the supposition that death by suicide is any more voluntary than is death resulting from cancer. Just as cancer is the result of a breakdown of the body’s physical immune system, so suicide is a breakdown of the emotional immune system. Rolheiser says, “A person who falls victim to suicide dies, as does the victim of a terminal illness or fatal accident, not by his or her own choice. When people die from heart attacks, strokes, cancer, AIDS, and accidents, they die against their will.” The same, he argues, is true of self-inflicted deaths.

Father Rolheiser seeks to right a wrong the church committed centuries ago. In the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote, “This we declare and affirm and emphatically accept as true. No man may inflict death upon himself at will merely to escape temporal difficulties.” The doctrine, though without scriptural support, became a hurtful church teaching, damaging to families seeking to understand the deaths of loved ones.

Suicide isn’t sinful. Neither is it cowardly nor “an easy way out.” Those superficial beliefs defy our faithful reliance on a God of grace. Those who are left to grieve are victims of these unfortunate myths.

State and federal governments spend millions trying to prevent suicides. The cause is noble. But, an even more noble effort should be made to help families and communities gain a level of acceptance of the deeply painful and personal reasons that good people make the choice.

RIP Wyoming’s friend!