New Anti-Gay Law Proves Mississippi Don’t Know How to Read (the Bible)

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A small Human Rights Campaign equality banner flies on the grounds of the governor's Mansion in Jackson, Mississippi as several hundred people rally outside the building on April 4. Protesters called on Governor Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523, which many believe will allow discrimination against LGBT people. Rogelio V. Solis/AP

From wailing that forbidding discrimination impedes their religious freedom to declaring the Bible their official state book, Christian politicians and their supporters—many of whom seem to know more about the Kardashians than their faith—have recently been engaged in some of the most embarrassing and anti-Christian behavior in years.

The latest politicians to join the rogues’ parade of Bible-thumpers who know nothing about what the Bible actually says are from Mississippi. The hypocrites of the Hospitality State—joining their like-minded brethren from North Carolina—just passed a law allowing businesses and even some health care providers to refuse services to gay couples on the basis of religious beliefs. (Unlike other states that have passed or are considering such laws, Mississippi even includes a provision letting businesses refuse service to straight couples who engage in premarital sex.)

A lot of rage has been directed at these politicians based on stances involving nondiscrimination and equal rights for gay and transgender people. Those are all strong arguments, but ones these self-proclaimed “good Christians” will never hear. Unfortunately, when some folks believe they’re doing God’s work, they don’t much care how many people they run over.

04_22_Mississippi_03 Demonstrators rally outside the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center in Charlotte, a day after North Carolina passed a law forbidding cities from enacting anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community, March 24, 2016. The measure—hastily presented, passed and signed into law in just 12 hours—quickly prompted a wave of criticism from the business community as well. Travis Dove/The New York Times/Redux

Before getting too deep in the weeds explaining Christianity to these Christians, a few simple points need to be made. There is no religious prohibition to selling cake or providing therapy to a gay person. Strange as it may seem to these people who appear to believe the Bible is all about sex (with a few parables sprinkled in), nowhere in that book is it deemed improper to engage in a business transaction with someone a Christian believes is a sinner.

There are Christians who lawyer up the Bible to make it say what they already believe. Some point to a passage in 1 Corinthians in which the Apostle Paul talks about whether Christians should eat meat sacrificed to idols. Seriously—they start with steaks made from cows slaughtered for Zeus and from there draw a straight line to baking a cake for a gay wedding.

But even that quite illogical connection is based on what can be interpreted only as an intentional misreading of the passage. Eating meat of animals sacrificed to other gods is irrelevant, Paul says, because it changes nothing about a Christian’s belief. “Meat commendeth us not to God,’’ according to Paul. “For neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” In other words, eating the meat does nothing to minimize one’s relationship with God. But Paul argues that good Christians should be concerned for weaker Christians who think the meat is forbidden, see someone eating it and conclude it is acceptable to sin against God.

Let’s apply that to the new law in Mississippi. Assuming for the sake of argument that homosexuality is a sin, would people turn gay because they saw a Christian taking photographs at a wedding for two men? Would a patient in a therapist’s waiting room become gay after seeing a lesbian go into the counselor’s office? Except in the bizarre world of choleric Christianity—where there seems to be this belief that everyone is looking for any excuse to have sex with someone of the same gender—the idea that seeing photographers or therapists do their jobs would cause others to suddenly become gay is absurd.

In other words, the main Bible section some Christians invoke to provide a façade of religious support for their hatred has nothing to do with the issue. If people tell you they can’t bake a cake for a gay wedding because of their “sincere religious convictions,” ask them which part of the Bible relates to business transactions with people they perceive as sinners. They won’t have an answer.

When grasping at straw men, some Christians will cite Ezekiel 3:17-18 as an invocation that they must point out other people’s sins to save their own lives and possibly the lives of those they chastise. But in context it is clear that God is speaking here to Ezekiel individually and not issuing a blanket proclamation. If some wedding baker says that is not true, and all of God’s words to Ezekiel were instructions for all of humankind, never eat anything that person cooks; in the next chapter of the same book, God instructs Ezekiel to bake bread using feces from another man.

Looming over all of this is the reality most self-righteous Christians refuse to face: Outside of those proscribed by the Ten Commandments, the Bible does not elevate one sin as more important than any other. If people want to invoke the Bible to define sin, then picking up sticks on the Sabbath is just as forbidden as fisting. And while there are sections of the Bible that define gay sex as a sin, they include plenty of other actions that are deemed equally serious sins—often in the same sentence. In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul condemns what he calls sexual immorality, but only as part of a chain of other sins, including greed, drunkenness and speaking abusively to others. So do these bakers and photographers refuse to participate in extravagant weddings with an open bar at the reception that leads to Uncle Larry cursing out Cousin Bob? If not, why not? Do Christian therapists refuse to help alcoholics? If not, why not?

04_22_Mississippi_02 A bakery displays cakes as presents to couples attempting to get their marriage licenses in West Hollywood, California, June 17, 2008. Under Mississippi's new law, businesses would be able to refuse LGBT customers under religious objections. Hector Mata/AP

The answer is obvious. These anti-gay laws have nothing to do with religious freedom. They are about reinforcing the hate of Christians who learn about their religion from other haters. Parishioners who arrive to church drunk or in Lexus SUVs, if people insist on invoking the Bible as literal truth, are sinners. But no one screams at them or beats them or refuses to do business with them; that abuse is reserved for gay people because these “loving” Christians hate homosexuals and use religion as a cover. They don’t want to know what the Bible actually says about gay people because it might force them to examine their own behavior, rather than castigating someone else’s.

Even mildly religious Christians know that the scribes and Pharisees condemned Jesus for associating with prostitutes and other people of whose conduct they disapproved. He ate with them, he drank with them, and if there had been a camera around, he probably would have taken selfies with them.

And had modern Christians been around back then, they would have been right there with the Pharisees, condemning the man they now call the Messiah because he hung out with sinners.

So the message to these Mississippians is: Just bake the damn cake and stop whining. Or at least accept that your desire to discriminate against gays has nothing to do with your religion and everything to do with bigotry.