Spiritual Side Steve Hammer

Arizona made national news again, but it was not necessarily in a good way. My sister back in Indiana called me last week. She was watching the news and wanted to know what on Earth was happening in Arizona. When SB 1062 passed both chambers of the legislature, a friend from high school who connects with me via Facebook wrote, “Chalk up another one for religion.”

It isn’t always easy to explain things to someone who lives far away. I suppose the Biblical writers were aware of that. The author of 2 Peter wrote to a very diverse audience in the first half of the second century. He was addressing an early version of the communities that formed around the stories of Jesus. Some were movements within Judaism, some were dominantly Gentile and still others were a mix of the two.

The message sought to be strong and authoritative. The communities were facing multiple pressures, some were coming unraveled and he reminded them of how they were tied together. “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Myth is not unimportant; it is universal. The creation myth in Genesis 1 was never intended to be science. Instead it ordered its story around the already practiced pattern of Sabbath keeping; doing no work on the seventh day of the week. It was a way to make ordinary life reflect the pattern of the extraordinary phenomenon of creation. And yet, no fewer than eight times, Jesus violated the law regarding Sabbath keeping because there was something even more important at stake: Compassionate humanity.

SB 1062 was a cleverly devised myth. It was wrapped in the treasured American value of religious freedom. After all, shouldn’t a business owner be entitled to choose with whom to do business, especially when his or her own religious convictions are in play?

When I was 7, our family moved from our small town to the big city. Shortly after we moved in, a neighbor came with a petition he wanted my parents to sign that would prohibit African Americans from buying property in our neighborhood. My father did not sign, and housing discrimination became illegal with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You won’t have to look very long on the Internet to find those who think racial discrimination is a religious issue. Law that dehumanizes another, no matter how well intended, is bad law.

There are many reasons why SB 1062 was a bad bill. I would like to think that the moral issue was more important than the economic or constitutional issues. I would like to think that our religious freedom is in fact limited when it is manifested by codified discrimination. I would also like to think that just because this cleverly devised myth was dressed in the language of religious freedom, that my Facebook friend would dig a little deeper to find that religious voices, including mine, were very much a part of those urging Gov. Brewer to veto it, and among those grateful to her for doing the right thing.

• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.

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