Conversations at the Well

Proponents on both sides of the RFRA debate fill the Indiana statehouse.

2000 years ago, an radical Jewish rabbi and a nameless Samaritan woman had an encounter that would define both of them.

This rabbi, named Jesus, was traveling back home. To do so, he had to pass through the land of Samaria. This was a big deal: the defining cultural narrative at the time said that Jews were the enemies of the Samaritans, and that there was no way that gap could be bridged. Jews were not to do anything that could be construed as supporting the choices Samaritans made, lest their moral purity as Jews be compromised.

So powerful was this divide, it even became a sort of a law of the land: Jews who chose to treat Samaritans as second-class citizens were permitted to do so by their government.

Jesus decided to stop at a well in a Samaritan town, thirsty from the heat of the noonday sun. To get a drink would mean compromising his moral integrity. But, in violation of what everyone expected from him, he called out to a woman to fetch him some water from the well. What’s more, this woman was known to him as someone who had slept with several men, further impurifying her in the eyes of his faith.

Yet, he saw in this interaction an opportunity to give life. An opportunity to care for this woman’s soul. He was well within his rights to ridicule her, treat her as less-than, or even refuse to acknowledge her. But Jesus didn’t do that. He chose the more difficult path: the path that forced him to have a conversation with this woman and engage with her at a deep level, despite what his fellow Jews might think.

This week, my home state of Indiana passed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” a bill which is said to reinforce religious freedom in the state. Such a measure, however, is viewed with skepticism by the LGBT community, fearing that the law could be used to allow discrimination against them. Some lawmakers tried to add amendments to this bill making it clear that enabling discrimination was not its purpose, but the amendments were soundly rejected.

This leaves the law in a state of ambiguity on the issue of discrimination against LGBT people. It will not be clear until interpreted for us by the court system, and legal scholars have a variety of opinions on where those decisions might end up.

What we can know is this: while this law may or may not enable discrimination against LGBT people, we serve a God who, in His very own actions, showed that embrace is better than exclusion.

The rabbi sitting at Jacob’s well that day could have used His legal protection to discriminate against the nameless Samaritan woman, yet He chose not to. It is my deep belief that if Jesus came across a gay man or trans woman in Marion, Fort Wayne, Elkhart, or Indianapolis, He would interact with them with the same dignity and love He would afford anyone else. I dare say that He might even bake them a wedding cake or show up at the ceremony, regardless of whether He agreed with them or not. He would turn no one away, even if He was within His rights to do so.

While we may not be able to repeal the law tomorrow, or pass non-discrimination protections for our LGBT neighbors, we can start making changes in our lives. We can choose to follow in the footsteps of that radical Jewish rabbi. We can choose to have a conversation at the well.


Matters of life and justice

In recent days, our national media has been consumed by conversations of justice, or, more specifically, the lack thereof.  Fathers choked to death and children shot, all under the guise of a fair, equitable, and just legal system.

I do not pretend to know the plight of my black brothers and sisters. I am a white, protestant male who lives in a city that was home to the last public lynching in the northern U.S. I cannot know their suffering. I cannot know what it means to fear for my life every time I see a police officer. I cannot know what it means to be denied access to the court system to pursue justice. I cannot know what it means to live life without my inherent privilege because of the color of my skin.

What I do know is this: today, Christ weeps with the families of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown. He repeats His words from Matthew 25, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” He mourns the destruction of life—any life, but especially the lives of the downtrodden and oppressed.

In the season of Advent, we are asked to remember Christ who makes all things new. He accomplishes that re-creation through our hands and feet. Pray for justice, yes. But it’s just as important that we work for justice. That we stand up against oppressive structures. That we break down the prejudices in our own hearts and minds. That we do more than just hope things get better and make it so.