Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Christian separatists?

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, there has been some discussion of what they really won.
[T]he majority of religious Americans ... insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting “religious liberty.” Instead, it’s just a victory for one kindof religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for the wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews — not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores — their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.
Of course, it didn't take long for a group of 14 faith leaders to ask for religious exemptions from any pending executive order banning federal contractors from discrimination against LGBT people.  Because nothing speaks to the inclusive love of Christ like refusing to hire a homo at your food bank.

Remember, we aren't talking about churches being forced to hire gay folks, but rather, organizations that take taxpayer money (including that of gay taxpayers) who want to ensure they can still discriminate against gay people.  Since no one is forcing them to apply for federal grants, they have a clear either /or decision.

Fortunately, a group of 100  progressive faith leaders has written their own letter, saying "NO, exemptions to the order would promote discrimination!".  And a large group of LGBT groups have now pulled their support from the languishing ENDA (Employment NonDiscrimination Act) because its religious exemptions are too broad, leaving the increasingly marginalized HRC as the only supporter.

Some commentators think that this push for exemption under the misnomer "religious freedom" is the rearguard action of the anti-gay right, because they can see the writing on the wall re. marriage equality.

They want to separate themselves from the presence of gay people, the way an anti-semitic businessman might want to be excused from dealing with Jews, or a racist wants the right to refuse to serve blacks, or a devout Muslim doesn't want to have to deal with women who are uncovered.  After all, it's their faith.  What's the problem?

Jonathan Rauch calls it The Great Secession 
The problem is that what the social secessionists are asking for does not seem all that reasonable, especially to young Americans. When Christian businesses boycott gay weddings and pride celebrations, and when they lobby and sue for the right to do so, they may think they are sending the message “Just leave us alone.” But the message that mainstream Americans, especially young Americans, receive is very different. They hear: “What we, the faithful, really want is to discriminate. Against gays. Maybe against you or people you hold dear. Heck, against your dog.” 
I wonder whether religious advocates of these opt-outs have thought through the implications. Associating Christianity with a desire—no, a determination—to discriminate puts the faithful in open conflict with the value that young Americans hold most sacred. They might as well write off the next two or three or 10 generations, among whom nondiscrimination is the 11th commandment. 
There is, of course, a very different Christian tradition: a missionary tradition of engagement and education, of resolutely and even cheerfully going out into an often uncomprehending world, rather than staying home with the shutters closed. 
Andrew Sullivan agrees.
A Christianity that seeks to rid itself of interacting with sinners or infidels is not a Christianity I recognize. A Christianity that can ascribe the core religious nature of a human being to a corporation is theologically perverse. Corporations have no souls. They do not have a relationship with God, as Jonathan Merrittpoints out here. And a Christianity that seeks to jealously guard its own defenses rather than embrace the world joyfully and indiscriminately is not one that appeals to me.
Taken to its logical conclusion, it isn't just the gays, but the Jews and the blacks and the women who can be discriminated against.  Oh, but we have laws to protect the Jews and the blacks and the women.  Just not the gays.  Because we haven't got there yet.  So we're supposed to tolerate people who are anti-gay, in a way we won't tolerate anti-semites or racists or sexists.  So it's okay for the baker to refuse to bake the cake for the gays, as long as he bakes it for the Jews, the blacks, and a woman.

Therefore, what's supposed to happen if the grocery clerk in the tiny town doesn't want to sell vegetables to the gays? Back in 2013, in the marriage battles in Washington State, we had an answer.  After a bill was introduced in the state senate to allow business to deny services to individuals based on religious or philosophical differences,
...a reader of Seattle-based blog The Stranger called up one of the bill's co-sponsors,....to ask why he was supporting the bill. Castro asked a staffer at Hewitt's office a simple question: "What are rural gays supposed to do if the only gas station or grocery store for miles won't sell them gas and food?" The staffer, who refused to identify himself, reportedly told Castro that if such a scenario were to unfold, "gay people can just grow their own food." [Needless to say, the bill did not pass....and the staffer backtracked.]
 That is the logical unfolding of exemptions in the civil polis.

I don't care what they do or say in their churches.  But the cost of this separatism in the public square is a fundamental attack on the tolerant pluralism that is supposed to undergird our social contract. Wanting permission to discriminate against LGBT people is no different than wanting permission to discriminate against Jews, blacks, or women. Regardless of whether your religion calls you to do it.  

3 comments:

Bill Ghrist said...

And all this in the name of Jesus who was criticized for associating with tax collectors, sinners, Samaritans and (gasp!) women.

IT said...

Bill, exactly.

JCF said...

"What we, the faithful, really want is to discriminate. Against gays. Maybe against you or people you hold dear."

When you, w/ your notorious "same-sex attraction", come in to order a wedding cake, or ask to rent a motel room, or (today in the UK) ask "permission to officiate" in your new chaplain job, we want to be able to HUMILIATE you. You've shocked us (by your queer existence), and we want to take revenge, from our position of MORAL SUPERIORITY, by saying "No, we can't [won't] do that. No. Leave. In disgrace. Get out."

Just to unpack "discriminate"...