Dear Tennessee: Addressing The Latest Legislative-Led Gay Hating in Tennessee.

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Dear Fellow Tennesseans,

Not that long ago I got into a discussion with someone who was a born-again Christian who believes that Jesus was a necessity in order for people to behave appropriately. And when I told them that not everybody needs Jesus or the threat of burning in an afterlife to be a good person, they responded that, yeah,  some of them do. No argument on some.  I mean, I think we all know that there are some people so screwed up that even Jesus and Dr. Phil might not be able to help. But I disagree that you have to threaten people with burning in hell simply for them to be a good person or a redeeming member of society.

We need God — however you define him — to help us do things that are impossible in and of our human selves.  We need God to overcome addictions, afflictions,  and those quick fixes that it’s human nature to hold on to. We need God — whatever that higher power is to you –to pull us up out of ourselves. And to do things like  forgive, let go, trust, move on. Things that we fight with every cell in our mortal selves. But not everyone needs religion just to be decent. They’re decent because they’re human beings. They’re decent because they believe in the Golden Rule. They’re decent because they do unto others as they would have them do unto them.  They don’t steal because they don’t want to be stolen from. They don’t murder because they respect human life.  They’re respectful because they have mothers.  They’re good simply because they feel — because they have empathy, sympathy and compassion. Just because someone might believe that when they die they’re just dead, doesn’t mean that they’re not pure, positive, honest, kind, and loving creatures. People who have no respect for human life are not called atheists, they’re called sociopaths.

Which is what I find so confusing about “religious freedom” legislation proposals in the state of Tennessee. It goes against any compassion that humans may have. And it uses  God as a reason to do so — which is a contradiction of Christ himself. When you use God as a way to further your own narrow-mindedness and bigotry, it’s not Christian, it’s just wrong. And much like Max Lucado writing an OP-ed in response to the rise of Donald Trump, it’s hard to watch someone tarnish the goodness that I know God to be simply for the fact that they personally don’t believe that gays are entitled to equal protection under the law. Which the Supreme Court has already made clear that they are.

Here’s what I truly find baffling:  What is so flipping hard about giving a gay man a cup of coffee if he, in fact, chooses to enter your establishment and asks for one.  If a queen ask you to bake a cake, here’s a radical idea — bake a freaking cake! If you’re in the business of digging ditches, you dig ditches. If you’re in the business of serving the public as a baker, bake the damn cake. If you want to save souls,  save souls!  But if you open your doors to the public to do business — then do business! If you want to be selective, then work out of your home and only serve people out of your church — nobody’s stopping you. And despite what the homophobic fear mongers are telling you, nobody is going to force a church or a Pastor to form any kind of religious ceremonies for somebody that they don’t want to. But if you open a business, open it to the public,  if you hang an “Open!” sign on your door, advertise as a business and list your number in the phone book — then be open for business. I bet most of these so-called “Religious Freedom” fighters were wearing armbands with WWJD back during its peak, and I don’t know, I don’t assume to speak for Christ, but based on his word and what he set down for us, I think it’s safe to assume that the answer to  “what would Jesus do,”  is  Jesus would make the damn cake and serve it with a smile.

See,  here’s where that gets tricky. Let’s say that I’m a small business owner. Maybe I own a used bookstore that serves a little latte. Nothing big,  but I live up top so I don’t need much. (Just go with me here, kind of an abstract dream of mine.) But you hear that I grind the best brew and you can pick up a hardback for $4, so you’re up for a trip. It’s just a cool little java jive, but it’s where I spend most of my time so the energy affects me and I own it,  so I’m entitled to run it as a please, right? (Cue the “We reserve the right to refuse…” sign.)

Now let’s say that you have ugly grown sons — which is always met with outrage on the internet and people keypad pounding, “I do not have ugly kids!”  (it’s a hypothetical here, homeslice, get over your mock-shock selves) –and let’s say that in the United States of America where I’m free to worship any God I choose and religion is simply the observance of something greater than your self, I worship at the altar of the universe. Which means I practice my interpretation of Karma.  I believe that the way in which you view the world is the way in which you will meet it. What you seek, you will find. What you speak, becomes reality. What you demand and put effort into, you will get. What goes around, comes around. What you speak; what you seek, becomes truth. You get the idea.

And as someone who believes in surrounding yourself with positive energy in hopes of drawing a  desired response out of the world, I don’t entertain ugly.

I’ve decided the best way to land a good looking husband is just not to fraternize with anybody who isn’t hot. If I only entertain the company of attractive people, then attractive people will be the reality in which I make my home. Now, I’m not being mean, y’all — this is simply my religion!

A religion is simply the practice of worshipping something outside of oneself. Serving something bigger than me.  And in the United States of America, I can worship anything, and any God, I damn well want. So says the Constitution. And it just so happens that holy ghost I’m possessed with is my brand of karma. Now, I’m not trying to put anything bad out,  I just don’t want to take anything ugly in.

Now, those justifications may sound ridiculous, but in their application they don’t sound any more ridiculous than some of the homophobic so-called Christians and their “biblically-based” discrimination.

So let’s say all of the above exists, and you walk into my establishment, which is open to the public,  with your ugly sons and I say, “I’m sorry, I just don’t serve unattractive people here — it goes against what I believe in.” 

How the fudge would you feel?

Twisting God’s word in the United States of America — where your interpretation of what God said is not the basis for law or the way in which we treat our citizens — is no different or less ridiculous than what I just described.

In Orangeburg, South Carolina, in 1968 after after federal legislation had passed ensuring equality to all citizens, there was a bowling alley that still denied African-American college students the right to bowl. The owner refused on multiple occasions,  stating that it was a privately owned business that he could operate any way that he liked,  and that he could refuse service to anybody he wanted to — he couldn’t. The protests that ensued led to the deaths of three students and 28 others who were wounded when police officers fired into the unarmed crowd. When we look back at the ridiculous, disgusting, unthinkable actions of that man who simply claimed that he was within his rights, it’s no different than what we see today in those “religious freedom” fighters who want to reserve the right to refuse service to people simply because of their sexuality.

We’re all called with great gifts. We all have a way in which we minister. What is wrong with saying that if you’re cake baker, you’re going to be called to bake the best cakes that you possibly can for as many people as you can? If you believe that God has called you to minister with cake flour, and you put all your heart and talent into the of baking a cake that is so sweet and so wrapped in God’s word and God’s love that if, in fact,  a sinner takes a bite, it’s so heavenly and filled with love that’s reflective of the divine God that created us all that he suddenly seeks redemption — why the hell wouldn’t you do just that? Serve!

What is wrong with that?

If you major in psychology and you get your degree with a desire to help others sort out their sh*t, who are you to want to judge what that sh*t is? Which is why I can’t imagine that there are many licensed, trained psychologist who want to be legally protected from helping a client sort out their psyche, when that client happens to be homosexual. It’s just not a thing, y’all!

Which is how I know that this so-called religious freedom legislation is not intended to protect anybody in their religious freedoms, anybody in their professional capacity,  it’s intended to discriminate!  Because how many of us actually know a trained counselor who opens their doors to the public who would actually say to a patient, “No queers here.”

I mean, be real, Tennessee!

In Pat’s Summit’s book “Sum It Up,” she touches on the cornerstones of her faith and the roots that she developed in that small town Tennessee congregation in which she worshipped weekly, with a reflection that God wasn’t something that you went around shouting about. That you didn’t talk about God — loudly, publicly shouting out about your relationship with him — that people should see that your belief in Him in the way in which you treated others and the way in which you treated the world. They should be able to look at you and know God’s love,  because you are love. Attraction, rather than promotion. And when people see kindness, generosity, humility and compassion for others promoted they can’t help but want what you’ve got. That’s the God that Tennessee needs to get back to,  and I can’t think of anybody who could teach it quite like Pat Summitt.

God isn’t a reason to go around ousting everyone that you don’t like. He isn’t a reason to scream “Queer!” at everyone that you perceive as a sinner. That doesn’t make you a saint, it makes you an a*shole.  It doesn’t make you more saved to refuse to make a floral arrangement for a gay couple,  it makes you a religious whack-job who has no compassion for others because you’re so possessed with fear that you will someday not be good enough for that fire-and-brimestone God that you could, possibly, burn in that fiery afterlife that you’re so busy condemning everybody else to. Perhaps if you took the time to stop being such a religiously paranoid a*shole and  actually spent a minute experiencing God and His goodness and His grace and the way in which He redeems others and experience the truth of how we could never ever do enough to earn that redemption — and that’s what makes Him so powerful is that He just gives — then you would see that.

And then, maybe, you would actually become a reflection of that God you claim to mimic, and the world would see that mirrored in your interactions with them. In other words,  kindness would ooze out of you and in to everything that you touch, and you would see it reflected back at yourself. Instead of the hate and fear and paranoia of hell that you feel, you’d see redemption staring back. And then engulfed in the grace that is God’s love, the humility that you would feel at knowing that such a supreme being loves you just the way you are, instinctively, the desire to love others would take over. Because that’s how God works — through us; through His people.

And that’s how you draw “sinners” to God. Not by kicking them out of your pulpits and refusing to serve them cake.

It won’t just be sugar and flour and counseling services that you refuse to serve, it will be love. And when you do that, you bring upon yourself that same judgment that your projected onto others.

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self; there are none other Commandments greater than these. I don’t know about y’all, but in loving myself — I serve myself cake all the damn time. Why should I refuse it to my neighbor?

But the better question — the more important question — is why would I refuse to do so and then claim to be doing it for God?

That’s neither the God nor the Tennessee that I know. Both are much, much better than that.

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