Note: this post was written for the Reconciling Ministries Network blog. RMN is active within the United Methodist Church, working for the full inclusion of all people in all aspects of the UMC. It’s here on their site.
The so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRA) have become law in 19 states and are in process in several more, including my own Indiana. Proponents argue that they are necessary to protect conservative Christians from being forced to serve gay people. Sure, there are better-sounding, well-polished explanations/obfuscations, but let’s be real: it’s about making sure discrimination against gay people is legal. And supporters of these laws are using Christianity to justify it.
To my Christian brothers and sisters who are claiming this legislation is necessary and right, I say:
First, stop using Christianity to justify your fear, judgment, mistreatment, and abuse of gay people. Your religion may justify such things, but any religion that leads to discrimination is not Christianity rooted in Jesus Christ. Discrimination and exclusion are not values of Jesus, though they are apparently values held dear by many Christians. That’s not new, though. These were core values of some of Jesus’ opponents, purity-obsessed members of his own religious group that fought Jesus at every opportunity. They were disgusted at Jesus’ lack of morals, at his libertine social boundaries, and at his disdain for the rules of his own religion. They were disturbed by his willingness to associate with the filthy and the despicable. They insisted on their right to refuse service to the unclean, to marginalize those contaminated by what they self-righteously labeled ‘sin’. They loved interpreting scripture in ways that led Jesus to call them hypocrites for worrying about specks in ‘sinners’ eyes while ignoring logs in their own. Perhaps their perversion, which mutated what was surely a sincere pursuit of faithfulness into its exact opposite, should cause you to reconsider your support of RFRA and of your sense of ‘purity’ that calls on you to discriminate against gay people in general.
Any use of Christianity to justify discrimination is evidence of a misunderstanding about who Jesus was and what the good news Jesus lived means for humanity.
Second, stop claiming victimhood as some sort of oppressed minority. The fact that the culture as a whole is no longer in agreement with your moral compass (as it was in some ways in the mid-20th century) is not evidence that you’re being oppressed. Being denied the right to discriminate is not the same as suffering discrimination. Being denied your hegemony of the public sphere is not an infringement on your religious freedom.
Finally, if you wonder why we Christians have such a reputation as hypocrites, RFRA is only one example in a long, long list. We talk about love and grace, sin and forgiveness, and then we push for a law that allows us to behave like racists in 1940. Really?
I’m grateful to live in a nation that will likely check my bigotry when it appears on the surface and hold me to account for discriminatory behavior, even if I try to justify it as part of my religious commitment. May we, the Church, learn to recognize and call out misguided religion today with as much clarity and fire as Jesus did.