A Theologian’s Thoughts on the Public Hearing

These thoughts come from the strange brain of Matthew Gallion. They are not necessarily representative of the congregation or individual members of National Avenue Christian Church and do not represent anything more than the musings of one member of the congregation.

Last night, City Council held a public hearing in its ongoing debates about the recommendations made by the Mayor’s Council on Human Rights. Specifically, the issue on the table was whether or not the city should adopt a nondiscrimination policy that protects its citizens’ rights to employment, housing, and public accommodations with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity. A litany of speakers came forward, each offering their earnest thoughts on the matter. In the end, the speakers came from two camps: First, there were those in favor of the city’s proposed policy (though some resented the council’s addition of a religious exemption). Second, there were those who felt that it would lead to increased crime or—in one explicit case—direct punishment from on high.

Though I intentionally chose not to speak myself, I found the rhetoric of both sides ringing in my head throughout the night. When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t help but feel that the world felt the same tension I did, with a harvest moon lingering in the west and the rising sun splashing the east with a kaleidoscope of pinks and blues.

Last week, my good friend Phil Snider shared a joke posted on the Guardian’s website in 2005: 

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump.

I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

The fact of the matter is this: Faith is deeply personal. If we dug deep enough, we’d find some point of departure from just about everyone on something that we consider significant. Many last night seemed to insist that there is a strong dichotomy in the relationship between truth and sexuality. That one simply must choose sides. To my own great dismay, both sides suggested that their version of the truth was superior to the other and that their opponents misunderstood the ancient text, the Christian tradition, and so-called “basic morality.” But I’m not convinced that these kinds of answers are so easy to come by. Instead, I tend to think that the exploration itself is the part where life happens. It’s in the hammering out of our thoughts, our lives, and our philosophies that we are open to be interrupted by the lingering traces of inexpressible beauty—to be disrupted by Life itself. This process to me is deeply collaborative, and competitive claims towards the truth are just plain silly. It would be the equivalent of setting up camp right at the trailhead of a large and beautiful forest and considering yourself truly adventurous. But if we would only take the time to hike in a few miles, we might truly begin to experience the depths of life within the world and within ourselves on—or even off—the trail. I truly believe that our only obligation to one another is to journey together. For me and my community of faith, our commitment rests on the commandment of Christ to love one another. To celebrate one another. To walk with one another. This kind of life together means much more than any theology.

But it wasn’t only the theological underpinnings that left me so unsettled. The concerns that City Council is attempting to address with this policy are not doctrinal; they are civil. We live in a society that protects our religious freedoms by not allowing the government to dictate what citizens should believe or to enforce a morality based solely on the religious convictions of any one particular group. The rights to employment, to housing, and to public accommodation are fundamental rights protected by the Constitution for all citizens. So, regardless of one’s own position regarding Christian theology and biblical interpretation, the issue at hand is this: Is the city of Springfield going to allow any of its citizens to be discriminated against because of their identity? Will the city endorse the perpetual violation of its citizens’ rights when its primary purpose is to protect those rights? Matters of faith aside, the City Council must make its decision based on the laws of the land and not the nuances of faith. A deeply held Christian conviction, which has represented the majority a good number of times in American history, is not the only religious belief protected by the Constitution. Though it may seem like a violation of religious freedom to some, the truth is that passing this policy is the only means through which the city can protect religious freedom for the rest of us.