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.