Saturday, February 22, 2014

Arizona, Faith, and the Definition of a Person

The faith-o-sphere is all alight these days with shimmering debate and umbrage about a-soon-to-be-enacted law in the state of Arizona, one which allows individuals to refuse to perform services that violate the integrity of their faith.  It's cleared the Arizona House and Senate, and now sits with Governor Jan Brewer for signature.

This puppy will be a law, at least in that state.

Amidst all the furor, I thought to myself, gosh, perhaps it might be a good idea to actually read the bill as it stands right now.

Hard to talk about it meaningfully unless I've actually read the danged thing, now, eh?  And so I did.

You can too.  Just follow this link.

There are many things that are challenging about this law, and many reasons folks are up in arms about it.  There are legitimate concerns that another law passed in Kentucky...might permit waiters to refuse to serve customers who offend their faith.

"Hi!  I'm Ida Mae!  Welcome to PQ McQuackenbushes!  Hey, wait.  Are y'all friends, or are y'all gay?  'Cause if you're friends, let me tell you about our specials.  If not, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to move to that two-top over there so that slut Jolene can be your sinner-server today."   It feels just a teensy bit too much like segregation.  Just a tich.  Just a tad.

But I have another problem with it.

My concern, as a pastor and a person of faith, goes somewhere else.  It lies with how the bill describes what it means to be a person.  Because personhood matters in America, and our rights as individuals are central to the integrity of our republic.

But a person, according to this law, is defined as follows:
41-1493.5 "Person" includes any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization.
And there, I have beef, as should anyone who takes faith seriously.

I have written on this before, but the assumption of corporate personhood bugs the bejabbers out of me when it comes to asserting faith and religious conviction.  Because as deeply as personhood matters in our republic, it matters more to our relationship with our Maker.  An individual can have faith.  We worship, we pray, we sing.  We are, ourselves, loved and culpable and redeemable and faithful.  We stand accountable before our God.

A corporation does not have faith.  It cannot.  It is a thing.

No, scratch that.  It's less than a thing.  An object is real.  But a corporation is not real.  It is a legal construct, an illusion, a phantasm that has no reality.  It cannot feel, or weep, or laugh, or be saved.  It is not sentient, or self-aware.  It cannot be held to account.  In fact, corporate structure exists solely for the purposes of escaping accountability, a mask that hides individual liability.  It has no soul, and with no soul, can have no faith.

A corporation is no more a person than a statue of Ba'al is a god.

And yet the Arizona bill as written asks us to understand that this soulless nothing can have a belief.  It can "sincerely hold" this belief.  It can "exercise" faith.

No, it cannot.

And yes, I understand the legal conceit of corporate personhood.  I do.

But that understanding doesn't make me less bothered by it.  Because if in the defense of "religious freedom", we are watering down what it means to be both faithful and a person, we're treading in some dangerous places spiritually.