That's Matthew 19:14, quoting Jesus. Came to mind as I read of an outspoken 17-year old named Josie Wieland who challenged South Dakota State Senator Phil Jensen and State Representative Mike Verchio yesterday on their support for the state's Senate Bill 128, which is under consideration by the state legislature. If passed, the Bill would prevent lawsuits against any business that refuses to serve same-sex married couples. Jensen and Verchio were in Rapid City at a "cracker-barrel" meeting open to constituents when Wieland questioned the justification for this proposal. Jensen replied that it's an "anti-bullying free spech bill," adding that "it is just kind of a pro-active bill that will protect businesses and individuals from the bullying of the anti-straight folks." Verchio, in his commentary, said "because I am a very proud Christian conservative and follow the teaching of my lord and savior Jesus Christ does not make me a bigot and I object to people who think I am a bigot."
With respect to Jensen's assertion, as a businessman myself I'm very sensitive to my right to refuse service to anyone. But singling out people because of their beliefs? That's a stretch. Seems to me that if SB 128 becomes law, I could hang up a sign that says I refuse to provide services to heterosexual couples because my personal belief system finds them abhorrent. As you can imagine, it wouldn't take long to come up with other examples that reduce this whole notion to absurdity. Eventually we could have a state full of shopkeepers refusing to do business with this group or that group based on belief systems that don't conform with those of the shopkeepers. I mean this is like, "can, meet worms." I don't question the sincerity of Jensen's feelings on this, but I do question the short-sightedness of his judgement.
As to Verchio and his defensive reaction to being considered a bigot, I wonder if he knows what the definition of "bigot" is. I checked at least a half-dozen dictionaries, on-line and in my library, and came up with one word that I believe was in every definition: "intolerant." Now if Verchio doesn't consider himself intolerant, I wonder why he would support a measure that codifies the right of those to exercise their intolerance by refusing to do business with those they can't tolerate. This seems to me the essence of bigotry, and considering Verchio's basis for his beliefs is the Holy Bible, I'm wondering where in the Bible it says that Christians should be intolerant of others. I've read enough scripture, both in my lifetime of church attendance and as history and literature in college, to reasonably conclude that tolerance and understanding are the essence of the Christian spirit. Furthermore, accepting the distinctions between secular and spiritual life is a practical aspect of Christianity that Jesus dealt with and addressed in Matthew 22 and Mark 12. To me the message is that a Christian's moral imperatives do not casually lend themselves to being exercised and enforced in the broader, secular community.
What it comes down to is that SB 128, simple as it seems on the surface, has some potential complications that make its effects too ambiguous to consider as a law. Its already divisive nature has our legislative conversation dwelling on matters of personal belief, not on those of concrete needs, like education, infrastructure, economic development and health care. It's time to set aside these battles of personal values and get to the business of running this government.