I know the danger to gay people remains great, and I don’t want to minimize the impact of living in a state where businesses of all kinds are empowered by law to put “No Gays Allowed” or “No Gays Served” in their best practices. But in America in the 21st Century, the movement that seeks to legislate outright discrimination against a tiny minority is doomed to bitter failure. It’s doomed because the principle of non-discrimination is now endemic in American culture – and among the younger generation the first article of their civil religion. Such a principle became embedded in the national identity in the Civil Rights era, where the evil of Jim Crow laws was exposed with fatal finality.
Now, the Christianist right is putting its full weight behind legal discrimination against any groups or individuals who might offend someone’s sincerely held religious conscience. Arizona’s Senate just passed a new bill expanding the concept of religious freedom from being the province of “religious assemblies and institutions” to a much broader category that includes “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.” So rights once accorded to purely religious institutions are now for anyone – any business, any teacher, any pharmacist, any florist, any hotel-owner and on and on.
I’ve had my say on this, but it’s worth reiterating that this bill has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. It is, rather, is an attack on Christian principles and a betrayal of the Gospels.
If there was one aspect of organized religion that Jesus opposed, it was its attempt to draw lines around the unclean, the marginalized and the sinners. Among his radical acts was immersing himself with sinners of all sorts – prostitutes, lepers, and collaborators with an occupying power. Segregation – the placing of a group of unholy people outside of mainstream interaction – was anathema to Jesus and should be to all Christians. To construct a legal regime in which those people are fair game for outright ostracism and segregation is a disgusting inversion of both democratic and Christian values.
I was struck recently by the massive show of support that Michael Sam received from his Missouri peers when the Westboro Baptist Church decided to picket the university with signs decrying “fag footballers and their enablers.” They formed a line 2,000 strong to block the protest from view. Many of the students backing Sam were devoutly Christian. Here’s how they explained their position:
Yes, practicing homosexuality is a sin. But so is lying, so is cheating, so is coveting. I sin every day. God hates the sin, not the sinner. If God hated all the sinners, he’d hate me!
When will the generation of bigots and Christianists cede to a new generation of citizens and Christians? How long do we have to wait? And how long do we have to tolerate a political party that, far from taking this on, merely aids and abets its poison?
(Painting: Zacchaeus by Niels Larsen Stevns. Jesus calls Zacchaeus, a tax collector for the Romans, down from his height in the tree and asks to stay with him in his house.)