Gay Cheeseburgers in Kansas: Faith, Freedom, and a Law About Neither

So, I’m new here. And I realize that Kansas has JUST BARELY moved past the Prohibition. But I am baffled and perplexed by this new legislation, making it totally legal and legit to refuse services to same sex couples.

Granted, this is just one more way Americans have managed to slap a ‘religious freedom’ sticker on run-o-the-mill discrimination. But as the culture at large makes steps toward LGBT equality,  smaller interest groups push back in last, grasping efforts to marginalize and condemn.

This is not surprising. What is deeply disturbing is the framing of thislaw as ‘religious freedom,’ when in fact, it has nothing to do with religion. Or freedom.

I heard this story on NPR yesterday about a man in Massachussettes who thought he’d landed his dream job as a school cafeteria manager. But then, in the last round of interviews, the adminstrators realized he was gay, and reneged the job offer. When interviewed by the media he said “I mean, I’m not going to make gay muffins…gay cheeseburgers. What are you afraid of?”

Yes, religious groups have a right to ban certain practices and teachings within their own institutions. I don’t get it, and I don’t agree with it, but you don’t have to hire a gay priest if you believe the Bible condemns homosexuality. You don’t have to marry a same sex couple if you believe scripture instructs against it. And—oh, and this is a blog post for a WHOLE nother day—you do not have to hire, or even consider a female candidate for a leadership role, if the Lord has revealed to you the truth that women are to remain silent in churches. (Because Jesus. I guess).

Like I said, I don’t like it, and I’ll never understand it. But I can at least concede that religious freedom grants this sort of government sanctioned exclusivism. Within the walls of a private institution.

But if you take the gay man out of the worship service, and out of the class room, and you place him in the cafeteria—does religious freedom extend that far? Can the church say ‘we think you’re a sinner, so you can’t serve our children lunch?’

Some folks in Massachusettes say no. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, take that gay man out of the worship venue, out of the Christian classroom, and out of the faith-based facility altogether. Take him to a totally secular, privately owned business. Say, a restaurant.

In Kansas.

And here’s how this goes down—You and your family are out enjoying a relaxing dinner. Nobody has to shop, cook, OR clean up tonight, so yay!  It’s a weeknight, so the place is uncrowded and pretty quiet (except for your children, of course). Two women walk in, with a child in tow, about the same age as your own. These women look as though they *might* be together. The presence of the kid kind of tears it. It gives them a decidedly family-unit appearance. They ask for a table for 3. The hostess looks uncomfortable. Says she needs to go get the manager/owner.

As your entrees arrive at the table, the manager hurries by. He goes to the family (at least, we all assume they’re a family) standing at the door. “I’m sorry,” he says, a little more loudly than necessary. “We don’t serve you people here. You’ll have to leave.”

Some of your fellow diners nod in smug approval. More than a few look uncomfortable. The rest of you—well, you’re not so hungry any more.

I could write a novella about what happens next. Is there an uprising from a vocal minority who insist this family be served or the rest of you will leave? Do you go open your own restaurant and serve gay cheeseburgers? I don’t know. It might be a great story. But the more important question is: is this the world we want to live in?

And perhaps even more importantly: is this restaurant owner really within the bounds of ‘religious freedom’ as outlined in the constitution? I mean, he’s nowhere near his church. The encroaching lesbians are not threatening him with bodily injury if he wants to post pictures of Jesus or the ten commandments in his place of business.

Say what you will about Dan Cathy and the whole Chic-fil-asco, but they never refuse service to anyone.

They have not established separate drinking fountains.

And technically, I guess, neither has Kansas. But you’ve got to wonder… what’s next?

Because, oh, and this… The Kanss-ackward (Kansas+ass+backward) interpretation of religious freedom here does not just extend to small business owners. No, this bill extends the ‘right to refuse services’ to state employees. Where does that parameter end?

Can a public school teacher refuse to teach the child of a same sex couple?

Can a fire fighter or a police officer walk away from a burning home if gay people live there?

The thing is, we don’t know. This is new, so we don’t know what the broader impact on our communities will be. But I do know this—the prospects are frightening, and nothing about it is biblical, Christlike, or remotely related to the life of faith.

I feel like a broken record sometimes, but apparently it bears repeating that the constitution is meant to serve all the people, and not a privileged few. Freedom of religion emerged from a desire to escape the tyranny of government-sanctioned belief and practice. As a matter of fact: that particular article of governance exists SO THAT whomever is in power at the moment cannot subject the minority to his (yes, usually his) particular form of belief or practice.  The First Amendment is meant to protect faith from governance.  Attempting to write your faith into law, then, abuses the spirit of the constitution, creating the very tension it was meant to destroy.

I hate to see the constitution misused in this way. But of far greater concern to me is how the public understanding of ‘faith’ has come to bear such toxic implications for humanity. As if it were somehow a basic right of the believer to shape the world into their own narrow image of God.

Whatever you believe about same sex marriage, LGBT presence in church leadership, or biblical teachings on homosexuality, people of faith need to holler back right about now and say that freedom of religion does not extend to the arbitrary mistreatment of others. Even IF you believe that homosexual behavior is fundamentally sinful, you should rail against the notion that the Christian narrative can be used in such a harmful way.

Because here’s the truth: faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is the conviction of things unseen. Faith is NOT the word for word writ of doctrine, sanctified by the law of the land. Faith is not the promise that you will always be comfortable, or that you will be always allowed to surround yourself with like-brained people.

To practice any religion is to believe in a power higher than one’s self; to trust in a Creative force, alive and at work in the world. Using that force for our own cruel manipulations of the social order is—I’m going to just say it—an abomination.

Even moreso than gay cheeseburgers.

I sometimes doubt the power of petition to affect real social change… However, if you are as good and pissed off about this as I hope you are, you can at least send this little note to…wherever these things go. Put your name on a big fat NO. Kansas has smart people. AND nice people. We should all get together sometime.  Note: you do not have to be a Kansan to sign this!

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X