Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Conversion of the Apostle Mead

After four years as governor, he had a vision. Matt Mead saw that, unlike him, not everyone was born with a silver spur in his or her mouth. Mead’s conversion occurred almost without notice. Quietly the governor became a supporter of Medicaid expansion. Suddenly he was concerned about the thousands of Wyomingites who lack healthcare.

Having been against Medicaid expansion before he was for it, Mead never explained
his conversion. But, this sort of conversion is without meaning unless those who
followed him when he was leading them in the wrong direction are also converted.

One of the all-time great conversion stories is found in the 9th chapter of “The Book of the Acts of the Politicians” of the Sagebrush Gospel. It’s the story of the conversion of Saul a/k/a Matthew Mead. It goes like this.

While still breathing specious arguments against Medicaid expansion, Matthew came unto the legislature, saying the Empire couldn’t be trusted to pay its share, that Medicaid expansion was sinful. As he was going along and approaching the 2015 legislature, suddenly a light flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Matthew, Matthew, why don’t you care for Wyoming’s working families who have no health insurance?”

Now there was a disciple in Cheyenne called Sancus, named after the Greek god of honesty. The disciple took Matthew aside. Sancus explained the state of Wyoming was losing tens-of-millions of dollars, leaving thousands of people without health care, and that many of the state’s hospitals were in danger of closing their doors. They cared for the poor despite the financial losses they incurred.  The disciple explaineth that expansion of Medicaid would solve many of the state’s health-related problems while saving the taxpayers millions and building the state’s medical infrastructure, adding millions of dollars to the economy of local communities.

Sancus proclaimed, “Let those with ears hear!”

Matthew had heard all these things before, but in the glaring light the words suddenly made sense. He saw a vision. He became aware he was elected governor of all the people, not just some.

For days he was with the disciples in Cheyenne and began to proclaim the truth in the halls of the legislature. “Verily I say unto you, I know I have persecuted those who believe in Medicaid expansion. But now I say unto you I share their concern about taxpayers sending money to the Empire that goes to other states for healthcare. Render unto Wyoming people that which belongs to Wyoming people!”

All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the Governor who made havoc among those who could not afford healthcare? Has he not gone to the courts and the legislature to make certain these folks never receive care?”

Mead confounded legislators. They had campaigned for seats in the Temple (which Jesus called a “den of robbers”) by repeating Mead’s very words promising constituents never to expand Medicaid. Then the Apostle Matthew sayeth, “We are now in this place with roughly 17,600 people falling in the (Medicaid) gap. Most are working but still can’t afford insurance. As of now, 4.5 million denarii ($90 million US dollars) that would have come to Wyoming have gone to other states.”

All who heard him marveled and said, “Duh!” And the multitudes said, “Matthew, if you really believe, go forth and leadeth.”

Governor Mead deserves thanks for joining those who understand the importance of expanding Medicaid. If the legislature is going to have the same conversion experience, he will need to explain why he was wrong before. Not a single fact has changed. Only Matt Mead’s views have changed. Why?

When the Apostle Paul saw the light, he wasn’t quiet about converting. He persuaded others to convert by explaining how he’d been wrong before. Neither should the Governor be quiet.

Memo to Governor Mead: “You led them in the wrong direction for three years. How do you plan to get them to turn around and follow you now?

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.