By the Time I Get to Arizona

ArizonaAbout a week ago, I wrote a post on same-sex marriage and how those of us who support it should act towards those that oppose it.  Can we be good winners to the losers?

Some of the response to that post got me thinking (and agonizing) over this issue.  In two states, Kansas and Arizona, bills have made their way through the state legislature that would give people the right to refuse service to gays.  I think both bills are unconstitutional on their face and bring to mind the dreadful memories of Jim Crow.

That said, these laws are the signs of a way of being that is passing.  I as said in my previous post, those in favor of same sex marriage have won.  But there is still something nagging me.  How do we live with those who are the losers?  How do we deal with those who say their opposition to gay marriage is based on religious teachings?  Do we ignore them?  Do we try to stamp them out?  What is deemed as religious (even if we think it is weird) and what is not a religious practice?

The issue of a baker or florist refusing to serve a gay couple brings out conflicting emotions.  I do think at some level there is the potential of bigotry behind that refusal.  I also think that having laws where people can refuse service could cause chaos in our economy.  But then I think about how someone who is a social conservative would see this.  There’s something about compelling someone to do something they don’t agree with because of their interpretation of the Bible that bothers me deeply.  Those of us on our side tend to see this simply as case of bigotry.  Bigots don’t deserve protection and they should shut up and do their job.  After all their “religious objection” is just a smoke screen for their hate.

But the thing is, seeing homosexuality as a sin was considered the normative teaching in our society until recently.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, but we have to take in account that tradition is not something that you can easily dispose of.

The tactic that I have shared at times is that it’s okay to believe what you do in private, but in public you have to set your beliefs aside.  But upon thinking on this, I found this reasoning to be bothersome.  We are basically saying that their faith is a hobby that can be pursued at other times, but not when we enter the public square.  For the faithful, religious belief is not something that is private, but very public.  It orders every part of one’s life.  I think it would be difficult for someone who might think that same sex marriage to have to set their belief aside.  In fact, it wouldn’t make sense.  Why would they knowingly put themselves in a position to sin?

About three years ago, writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about the change that was heading our way on marriage.  He called on the LGBT community and allies to not immediately try to challenge the other side when it came to issues like refusing service to a gay couple.  To do so would be to make social conservatives fears come true and would basically play into their hands.  He writes:

…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.

So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:

Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.

They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.

At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.

He continues writing what should be our response:

In a messy world where rights often collide, we can’t avoid arguing about where legitimate dissent ends and intolerable discrimination begins. What we can do is avoid a trap the other side has set for us. Incidents of rage against “haters,” verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: Those and other “zero-tolerance” tactics play into the “homosexual bullies” narrative, which is why our adversaries publicize them so energetically.

The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.

I think we have to decide what level of discrimination is acceptable and what is off limits. As James Antle notes in his latest article, that at least according to the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, there has to be a compelling interest for the state to force someone to violate their religious conscience:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 seems to have this much right. Freedom of conscience isn’t absolute. But the government can only override religious conscience to serve a compelling interest and then must pursue that interest using the least coercive means available.

So even if there is a compelling public interest in ensuring access to contraception, if contraception can be made affordable and readily available through means other than forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraception or contraceptive coverage, than those other less coercive means should be employed.

The same logic would seem to apply to participation in same-sex marriage services. If we can allow conscientious objectors to refuse to fight in wars, we can surely make some allowance for people to who don’t want to bake cakes, provide floral arrangements, or take photos at a particular wedding. A case could also be made that same-sex couples should prefer to send their business to vendors who share their values.

A sense of proportion matters here. It’s unlikely that we are talking about very many businesses, and even fewer large companies. In some parts of the country, at least, vendors who take this stand risk being picketed out of existence. A few news stories about a same-sex couple who was refused service in their town could easily attract a flood of free wedding cakes, floral arrangements, and photography offers from other more supportive businesses.

He also brings up something that I’ve been thinking about. The analogy that has been used likening these proposed laws to segregation doesn’t really work:

Should gay business owners be forced to provide services to Chick-fil-A, Phil Robertson or organizations that lobby against same-sex marriage? Should gay advertising executives be compelled to write ads in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act? Freedom of conscience applies here too. So does the market’s ability to punish irrational discrimination and a business’s willingness to turn away paying customers.

If a Muslim fundamentalist car dealer refused to sell automobiles to women on religious grounds, even if it was not against the law, he would almost certainly go out of business. (If he didn’t, then immigration laws might need to be revised rather than the First Amendment.)

This is where the Jim Crow analogy, used by Kirsten Powers and others, fails. People often argue for or against the civil-rights laws of the 1960s on the basis of abstract principles, pitting generic equality against generic freedom of association, but they were in fact a reaction to a very specific set of circumstances.

Jim Crow was a system of extensive discrimination, not isolated incidents. It relied on the state enforcement of laws requiring racial separation and the non-enforcement of laws banning private acts of violence when the victims were black. It denied blacks’ constitutional rights and was rooted in state government coercion and social customs so powerful they were largely impervious to market forces. The federal government had repeatedly attempted to remedy these problems through more modest measures.

It is theoretically possible that allowing a New Mexico photographer to refrain from taking pictures at a same-sex wedding ceremony—or more plausibly, allowing the Kansas legislature to enact the previously mentioned bill—would create conditions like this for gays. But it is not very likely.

I would agree. On the surface the two seem the same, but not in context. The Jim Crow that my father lived through in Louisiana was not simply one person refusing him service, but an entire system that was placed into law. There is a difference between the two, not that refusing a gay couple is okay, but it is not backed by a system of laws, at least not in every state but Arizona it seems.

The point of my rambling is that those of us in favor of same sex marriage and those opposed have to find a way to tolerate each other.  Those who have a traditional understanding of sexuality have to understand that being gay is becoming more and more normative.  LGBT folk and their allies have to understand that the other side isn’t going away anytime soon and in many cases they are compelled to follow what they interpret to be from God (even if we think this is pure hogwash).  We have to learn to coexist, because this tit for tat war of stigmatizing is futile and for those of us who are Christian not very Christ-like.  We have to learn to love the other even if we think they are wrong.

I want to end with the words of fellow pastor Trevor Lee who has this to say about tolerance:

Tolerance now means completely accepting viewpoints that culture, and especially the media and TV/movie industry deem correct. Many of these viewpoints are against traditional moral stances. So those who hold to the “outdated” views are intolerant. Yet this has almost nothing to do with tolerance. In fact, very often those who rail against those “intolerant people” are being intolerant in the process. Here’s what it comes down to…

You do not tolerate someone or something you agree with.

The dictionary defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from [emphasis mine] one’s own.” So the only people and opinions we can logically tolerate are those we disagree with. If we change our opinions and beliefs we would now be tolerant by continuing to respect and treat with dignity those we used to agree with. I am for tolerance (really I’m more for love than tolerance, but we’ll get to that in a minute), but this is teetering on the edge of being a useless word in our culture.

I pray for more tolerance in our society. On all sides.

These Aren’t the Evangelicals You’re Looking For

A few years ago, I was invited by a Lutheran friend of mine to take part in a group of church planters.  I knew these folk came from an evangelical background and my “shields” went up.  Would these people accept me?  Did I have to go into the closet here?

After a while, the woman who was leading the group noticed my hesitancy.  “Dennis, are you gay?” she asked.  She didn’t ask the question in a mean or menacing way, but more to get at what was making me so shy.

Having grown up in an evangelical culture where being gay wasn’t good, the old tapes were playing in my head.  But this woman never turned me away after I told her.  She and her husband welcomed me.

I learned a important lesson that day.  I learned that not every evangelical is out to get gays.  I learned that things had changed in the nearly 20 years since I left evangelicalism.  I learned that there is far more nuance of evangelicals than most progressive Christians are willing to admit.

Recently, evangelical author Skye Jethani wrote a blog post about the reaction of evangelicals after the two Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage.  Jethani was fascinated by the media coverage because it didn’t match what he was experiencing:

One would assume from media reporting that evangelicals are obsessed with two things: politics and homosexuality. In my 30 years of involvement with evangelical churches, parachurch ministries, and mission organizations, I cannot recall hearing a single sermon about homosexuality. In addition, my role with Christianity Today connects me with evangelical congregation all over the country. Politics and gay marriage may arise in my private conversations with pastors, but I’ve never heard them engaged in a worship service. That does not mean these topics are never broached in a church setting, but they reside very, very far from the spotlight. And what about this past Sunday after the “culture shaking” ruling by the Supreme Court? Nothing. I did not hear a sermon, a comment, a prayer, or even a conversation in the church foyer about it. And this silence isn’t limited to LGBTQ issues. In three decades I’ve not heard what I would classify as a political or partisan sermon. Given the lack of politics in my evangelical church experience, why do 75% of young non-Christians say evangelicals are “too political”? How do we explain this gap between what actually happens in evangelical communities and the media’s portrayal of evangelicals? There are two possible explanations. Either my church engagement is wildly outside the norm, or perhaps evangelicals aren’t as devoted to political social engineering as the outside culture seems to believe we are.

So why is there a disconnect between what he has seen and what culture perceives?  Jethani thinks part of the problem is media perception:

…the presence of socially conservative, politically rabid evangelicals fits the narrative advanced by the news and entertainment media. With 24 hours of airtime to fill each day, finding more extreme voices, to say more outrageous things, and incite more conflicts has become the mission of the news media. That’s why last Sunday’s “Meet the Press” pitted MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow against the founder of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed. Are these the two people you want on your news program for an intelligent, respectful conversation about gay marriage? Not likely. These are the people you want at the table when making the news is more valued than reporting it.

I think Jethani is on to something here.  For mainline Protestants, most of our perception of evangelicals tends to be from what we see from the media.  We don’t really hold much interest in getting to know evangelicals with the exception of those that tend to be more progressive.

Last spring, writer Brandon Ambrosino wrote a touching essay of his coming out experience, which happened to take place at Liberty University- the institution founded by Religious Right superstar Jerry Fawell.  If you are expecting a horror story of how Brandon was mistreated by fundamentalists, you will be surprised.  Many of the adults he encountered were incredibly loving towards him.  They might have disagreed with the whole gay thing, but they loved the flesh and blood being standing in front of them.

Last fall, I wrote about how my opinion of social conservatives has changed.  I still disagree with them, but I stopped looking at them as abstractions and more like real people, people you might think are wrong, but people you will still welcome at your table.

I wonder at times if the church needs to be a place where we are able to reach out and befriend each other.  I know it’s hard for lesbian and gay folks who were traumatized by the church to turn around and be forgiving; but I wonder if part of our healing and reminder that God loves us includes reaching out to those that might disagree, not with the intent to change their mind, but to just be present with them.  What if we could spend some time listening to them and visa versa.  Minds might never be changed, but hearts just might be.

I wonder what might happen if we let go of the need to be right and try to be more loving of those with whom we disagree.  I’m not saying we abandon our work for justice, but what if we were able to chat with someone who doesn’t see things like you do and yet remain friends?  What would that say to the world?

 

Now That We’ve Won (Maybe)…

526563_10151536092120549_414515262_nThis week’s drama over the issue of same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court has been nothing short of historic.  American society is at a point that I thought wouldn’t come for several years, if not decades.  Same sex marriage might be legal in most of the nation in a few short years. Here in Minnesota, it might be that by the end of the year we might have the right for gay couples to marry.  It means that I can have my relationship with my partner Daniel, recognized by the state and therby able to receive benefits that heterosexual couples have enjoyed for a very long time. There’s been a sense of celebration among my friends, as we see places like Facebook ablaze in the red equal signs with people showing support for same sex marriage.

But there has also been a darker side.  I’ve seen friends kind of using this moment to make fun and belittle those who have opposed same sex marriage.  Of course, when you are on the winning side, especially in the culture wars, it’s very easy to start “spiking the ball;” enjoying the tables turning.

But before we pop another bottle of champagne, those of us who all ourseleves Christians need to make sure we are offering love and grace to our opponents instead of spite.

On Good Friday, we see Jesus on the cross  surrounded by soldiers and religious leaders laughing and taunting Jesus.  It is a total hatefest.  Now, Jesus had every right to ask God to send down angels and put this obscene display to a fitting end.  But Jesus didn’t seek revenge.  Instead, he said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

It’s pretty common in the gay community to not always be so gracious to our enemies.  After all, we see them as the equivalent of modern day segregationists, and why should anyone treat them with kindness?

And let’s be honest, there are a lot of gay folks who were hurt by people who called themseleves Christians.  Those hurts take a long time to heal, if ever.  You can’t blame folks if they don’t feel charitable to people who may have hurt them.

As Christians, gay or straight, we are called to love our enemies.  I am to love those who might still think being gay is a sin, or who might disapprove of same sex marriage.  I know I’m right about this issue, but it is also equally important in my view to be loving as well.

And this all matters because people are watching us.  They are wanting to see how we act.  If go around calling everyone a bigot because they don’t see things our way, we will be seen as a poor witness.

A few years ago, I shared a blog post about an elderly man I encountered at church.  He and I didn’t see eye to eye on being gay.  I shared what happened one day between the two of us:

I had just graduated from seminary and was doing my CPE at a local nursing home. I was still involved at the church where I was an intern and was asked to serve on the church board. It came to a vote and I was voted in nearly unanimously. I say nearly because one person voted against me. I knew who it was and so did many others. It was an elderly member of the church. He had some idea I was gay and many people assumed that was why he voted against me. After the meeting concluded, he asked me to come with him into another room. He explained that he prayed and studied the scripture on the issue of homosexuality, but his conscience was not swayed in favor. As he said this, he began to cry.

I was and still am touched by this guesture. He did have to speak to me to explain his actions, but he did. He might not approve of who I sleep with, but he did treat me with respect. This wasn’t simply about being right for him, but about being loving.

Yeah, I know that his actions were hurtful. Yes, it would have been nice had he voted in favor. But I could respect his decsion even if it was wrong, because he valued me enough to respect me.

That experience told me that even though some people might not approve of me, they are also human beings and need to be treated with love, not judgement.

People are watching to see what gay Christians will do.  Can we show love to our enemies?  Can we allow for grace to breakthrough?

This might be the biggest test for gay Christians in America.  Will we pass the test?