Monday, October 6, 2014

Thought Police and Religious Freedom: Do We Really Believe God Hates Fags - Part 2

When I wrote my post on the passing of Fred Phelps, I had no idea that three related events would explode soon after.

The first was the World Vision incident. For those who didn’t catch this, World Vision changed its policy to allow legally married same-sex couples to work for the organization’s United States operations. Thousands of donors pulled out in protest, and World Vision backtracked.

The second was that the incoming CEO of tech company Mozilla resigned under pressure after it came to light that he had donated to the political campaign for California’s Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage.

The third was an executive order by President Obama requiring companies contracting with the Federal Government to have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation.

The reactions to these three events by my fellow Evangelicals was sadly both predictable and incredibly tone deaf. I would add that I - and many of my generation - found the responses to be rather un-Christlike as well.

There were the calls to dump existing child sponsorships at World Vision because it was no longer a “Christian” (read: doctrinally pure) organization. The hardships that would result to the children? Not nearly as important as making sure that no fags were allowed to assist in the mission.

For the Mozilla decision, the response was also completely predictable. “The End of Free Speech.” “Thought Police.” “Fascism.” “Gay Mafia.”

Likewise for the non-discrimination policy. One company involved complained that he was suffering religious persecution, that he was not being allowed to practice his religion. Because apparently part of his religious practice was to fire gays. And Evangelicalism backed him up!

I’m rather appalled by that. It’s one thing to make a political argument about the constitution, but to make job discrimination into a religious sacrament? 

It is amazing to me that there can be this level of hypocrisy.

I explained in my previous post that I believe that Evangelicals view the United States as the new Israel, and are terrified that God will remove his blessing if we don’t do everything in our power to rid our nation of homosexuals. That theory is about all that adequately explains these reactions.

Let me analyze these related events from the legal point of view, because the responses betray a basic lack of understanding of our constitution. I also want to address the religious side, because I am appalled at what continues to be said, and I believe it is a significant reason that Evangelicalism is losing its young people.

Let me start with the legal errors.

First, I am so tired of people analyzing the Mozilla situation as a “free speech” issue. The 1st Amendment right to free speech is a right to be free from government interference with one’s speech. Subject to what we call “time, place, and manner” restrictions, we have the right to voice our opinions in public. That includes the right to make political donations without retaliation from the government.

Mozilla is not a government entity. It is a for-profit corporation owned by private sector shareholders. Within the basic boundaries of state and federal fair employment laws, they can choose to hire whomever they want.

On a related note, the claim of “thought police” or “fascism” is equally ludicrous. There is no governmental action here whatsoever. A private sector corporation has made a decision about what sort of person it wants as the visible representation of its company.

When people complain about a decision like this, what they are calling for is NOT free speech. They are calling for speech without consequences. They are calling for the ability to exercise free speech without risk that others will see them and their speech as offensive.

But not everyone’s speech. Just their speech.

Federal Contracting

Likewise, the legal analysis in the Federal contracting issue is faulty. (Leaving aside the more legally interesting question of legislation by executive order.) Our Federal government chooses to contract out some of its functions, such as building stuff. NASA, for example, flies a lot of rockets, but it doesn’t actually own a facility to manufacture them. They pay private industry to do that.

Our government is, by design, secular, rather than theocratic. It exists (in theory) to serve the American people, not just one particular segment. That’s one reason why our constitution has a clause forbidding religious tests for office. It’s also why we enacted civil service laws - so that cronyism and discrimination wouldn’t determine who could serve. Likewise, non-discrimination laws protecting various groups have been put in place throughout the years. Generally, these are aimed at stopping discrimination against a group that has been subject to discrimination in the past. It’s not much of a stretch to note that homosexuals are one such class that has been subjected to a great deal of exclusion. In fact, one could simply look at the fact that there is a huge protest at the thought of having to hire gays. (Sort of like there was for non-whites, and women…)

So thus, we as a nation appear to be in the process of deciding that non-discrimination laws to protect those of minority sexual orientation are a good idea. (About half of the states, including my home state of California, already have such laws that apply to public and private employment. So a Federal contractor based in CA would already be subject to the rules, as would any non-church employer.)

I’ll point out that Federal contractors are not religious organizations providing religious services. The companies in question aren’t providing “rent-a-preachers” or wafers for Mass. (It would be a pretty obvious Establishment Clause violation if the federal government were hiring companies to provide sectarian religious services or sacraments.)

The contractors, rather, are building things, and performing basic, non-religious, services.

Since these are non-religious in nature, there is no legitimate reason to require, for example, that one’s employees all be Baptists. Likewise, there is no legitimate reason to require that all employees hold to the sexual code of the employer. This simply shouldn’t even be relevant to their employment. A lesbian can swing a hammer or clean a bathroom without interference from her orientation.

Thus, it really seems a stretch to me that having to hire competent employees without caring about their orientation wouldn’t require a violation of religion at all.

This would seem to be a basic fact, unless one believes that God has called one to isolate homosexuals and deny them access to jobs. If your religion is based on harming those who don’t follow your sexual rules, then I guess one could make that argument.


Federal contracting has its problems, but “too many gays employed” isn’t one of them.

The Mozilla and the World Vision cases are very similar.

The World Vision case is a bit different than the federal contractor issue, because World Vision is a ministry, and doesn’t rely on federal contracts. Thus, it is free to require religious tests for its employees. Thus, it appears to resemble the Mozilla case. Here is the parallel:

Certain donors to World Vision put pressure on that organization to exercise its hiring powers in a way that excluded gays. “We don’t want your kind (gays) working here.”

Certain customers (and employees and board members) put pressure on Mozilla to exercise its hiring powers in a way that excluded donors to a certain political campaign from the highest position of leadership. “We don’t want your kind (bigots) representing our organization.”

Po-TAY-to. Po-TAH-to.

Except that this isn’t the first time this has come up.

A key childhood memory is of the never-ending calls to boycott corporations for their political decisions.

This has been going on literally for decades. Boycott Target because they donate to Planned Parenthood. Boycott Burger King. Boycott Proctor and Gamble for...I forget...maybe it was because they were Satanist or something.

There was another reason, though, that really sticks in my mind.

If my memory serves, AT&T and Exxon Mobile were singled out for a particularly heinous violation of decency. What was that, you ask?

These corporations decided to spend their own money to extend health care coverage to same-sex partners.

How awful! Rather than use that money to buy a new corporate jet or line the pockets of the CEO (which would not have drawn a boycott), they were going to provide health insurance to people God hates. We cannot have that happen. BOYCOTT!

And that’s just health insurance. For centuries, gays risked losing their livelihood, their freedom, and even their lives if they were outed. (Even as recently as the last century, there is the sickening story of Alan Turing. It’s worth looking up.) 

There is a pretty clear pattern of Evangelical Christianity - continuing through today - using its political and economical power to say, “We don’t employ your kind here.”

Again, let me go back to my previous post. Anything less than a complete and vigorous exclusion of gays from every facet of decent society is considered to be drawing God’s wrath on our nice little theocracy.

The shoe is now on the other foot.

The same tactics we have used for decades are now coming back around. When we were the majority, we could do this without repercussions. Now, public opinion has shifted and is continuing to shift, and we are finding that using our money and our speech to declare that God hates fags is making us unpopular. We are no longer the popular kids on the playground. Others are deciding that maybe they don’t want to hang out with us.

This isn’t the thought police. This isn’t an abridgment to religious freedom.

People don’t like to hang out with assholes. Not even if they are “Assholes for Jesus.™”

Especially not if they are “Assholes for Jesus.”

Again, the shoe is on the other foot, and we are suddenly faced with our own tactics being used against us, and we are freaking out. Perhaps we might have thought about that before we used those tactics.

If the tactics are legitimate when we use them, then why shouldn’t they be used by others? Legally, there is no difference. We just want our case to be treated differently.

Of course, we do believe that there is a difference. We just aren’t being honest about what that difference is. We like to claim that we have a politically consistent philosophy, but cases like this expose us. We believe in free speech...for us. We believe in non-discrimination in employment...for us, but not for gays. After all, we came unglued when World Vision decided to hire gays. And by god, we want the right to deny gays jobs or terminate them from the ones they have. (Or even, in some cases, we apply this to minorities and women. See Matt Walsh calling for abolishment of all restrictions on discrimination - including Civil Rights laws. Oh wait, he now has removed that post. Too embarrassing perhaps?)

The difference is that we believe that we are doing God’s work. We believe in the theocratic principle, that the laws of our secular nation should be primarily directed at enforcing our views of sexual morality - and even, if we are really honest, our cultural preferences. (Future blog post on this one, perhaps.)

We believe that since God hates fags, we are justified in using these tactics against them, but they are not in using them against us. Shoe’s on the other foot now. How’s it feel?


Is this even remotely how Christians should act?

Can we just be honest about the practical implications of what we Evangelicals are advocating? We want the right to deny gays housing, employment, and anything else that we can. And we want to convert the rest of the world to our beliefs. What would that mean?

That would mean - in practice - that we would wish to starve, freeze, and in essence kill the homosexuals. Let’s admit it, rather than recycling platitudes about Christian love.

Denial of employment and housing is just that - a denial of the right to exist.

I guess our hope is that if we kill isolate and deny basic services to homosexuals they will what? Convert? Stay in the closet?

I talked a little about this idea in my original post, but have been thinking on it even more, and have concluded that we Evangelicals are so freaked out about God’s wrath toward us for not preventing others from sinning that we haven’t really noticed what Christ taught.

For purposes of this discussion, I want to make clear that I do not consider homosexuals to be enemies, of me or of God. I use the term purely to make a rhetorical point. As I pointed out in my previous post, I believe Christ taught that all human beings are our neighbors, and that those who are most despised by the self-righteous religious powers are closest to the Kingdom of Heaven.

That said, since Evangelicals generally tend to treat gays as the enemy in practice, regardless of what they say, I think we should take a look at what Christ actually said about enemies.

From the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:44):

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (KJV, which includes the entire quote)

And, from Mark 12:28-31:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?"
Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.'
"The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (NASB, caps in original)

In another context, Christ was asked a followup question: “Who is my neighbor.” Christ then told the parable of the Good Samaritan, clearly showing that we are called to love even - especially - those who are despised by the religious establishment, who are hated and hate us back.

There is one more that I think is dispositive of the matter. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Roman church - one that was ground zero for martyrdom - that we are not to seek revenge against our enemies. Echoing the words of Christ from above while quoting from the Old Testament (Proverbs), he says the following:

"BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." (Romans 12:20, NASB, caps in original)

I do not think it is a stretch at all to apply this to the present. It would be silly to act as if this only applies to food and water. So let me phrase this for the situation at hand:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, if your enemy needs shelter, rent him your freaking apartment, and if he needs employment, give him the freaking job!

Even if you are hell-bent on considering homosexuals to be your enemies, shouldn’t you at least take Christ’s commands and the admonition of Saint Paul seriously?


***

Note on Proposition 8:

I am sure that many of those who donated to the Prop 8 campaign had simple motives. They believed homosexual acts were sinful, and didn’t want governmental recognition of homosexual relationships. I think, at the root, this is the general belief of Evangelicals. Well, that and anal sex is gross. (From the ever-entertaining Phil Robertson...)

You could call this the Phil Robertson approach. “God says it’s wrong, and it’s gross.” This isn’t a very good political campaign though. 

First, our opinion of what God’s opinion of something isn’t really convincing to those of our countrymen who don’t believe in God. Actually, that isn’t convincing to plenty of theists either. They may disagree about the interpretation of God’s desires, or they might not believe that our secular laws should always reflect God’s opinion. (We don’t outlaw gluttony, obviously.) Second, it’s pretty hard to drive voter turnout with “anal sex is gross and God doesn’t like it.” It’s a pretty uncompelling ad campaign.

So, the actual Prop 8 campaign took a politically effective approach: fear. (Sex sells, but fear sells more, and fear of sex sells most…)

The result was a series of ads that accused homosexuals of preying on the children. They’re out to get your kids, to infect them with the virus that will turn them gay. To teach them things in school that conflict with the “God hates fags” message. While not stated outright, the ads strongly implied that gays are child molesters eager to despoil the children.

I’m sorry, that is highly offensive. It’s not true. (Which is why girls are far more likely to experience sexual assault than boys.) And it certainly isn’t universally true.

[Great link with actual research about pedophilia. Bottom line: homosexual men are no more likely to be attracted to children than heterosexual men. Rather, pedophiles are primarily attracted to children, regardless of gender, and tend to choose victims based on availability for abuse, not gender.]

A little empathy here might be appropriate, so let’s imagine this flipped around. Couldn’t the claim be made that all Catholics are child molesters? Good lord! Have you read about all those priests? We need to be sure that we don’t let Catholics around our kids!

Or perhaps homeschoolers. They must all be sexual predators. Look at their leaders: Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips

But this ad campaign ran, and millions of people saw it.

These ads probably did more to turn my generation against the beliefs of our ancestors on this issue that any other factor.

Because we know gays. They are our coworkers, our colleagues, our bosses, our mentors, and our friends. They are in many cases our relatives. To hear them painted as predators is disgusting and false.

And we can understand why they are angry at those who paid their money to fund those hateful ads.

The generation gap:

Many have remarked on the generation gap in opinions on Gay Marriage. I think the fault lines run deep and touch on a whole host of related issues. The gap is primarily between the Boomers and the older generations on the one hand, and Gen X (my generation) and younger on the other.

While our elders have correctly concluded that this is a watershed issue, I believe they have utterly failed to comprehend how and why it is such a big deal - and thus they have botched it badly in a way that has and will continue to damage Evangelicalism. And, I would add, will probably contribute substantially to the increasing numbers of younger people leaving the faith altogether.

To many of us young(er) folk, the issue is about the heart of Christianity. Is Christianity primarily about sexual moralism and political enforcement of the same? If so, it really isn’t fundamentally different from radical Islam or Mormonism or any number of other religions past and present.

If the exercise of Christianity is all about using wealth, political power, and whatever else we can to punish others for sexual violations, then we are justified in the use of whatever means are available - even killing. What does that say about our heart?

The fact that someone can stand up and say that firing those who don’t share his sexual mores is “exercise of religion” and nobody calls him on it is a huge problem.

Most of us have someone in our acquaintance I’ll call the “racist uncle.” You know who I am talking about. The guy (or gal) who can be counted on to say something that he or she doesn’t even realize is racist, but is highly offensive, and results in an awkward silence. We all know somebody like that.

The older generation of Evangelicals feels like a “racist uncle” to a great many of us young(er) Christians. We wince when we hear you talk like you do. When you talk about how important it is to make sure that gays don’t get jobs or housing. When you complain that you are being marginalized because you say offensive and mean stuff about others. When you act entitled to use the power of government to force everyone else to follow your sexual preferences. It’s very much the same as talking about all the happy black people before the Civil Rights movement ruined them. (Hello Phil Robertson… Does anyone in the Boomer generation realize how much we wince when we see you defend this creep?)

I kind of understand why the rank and file tends to just parrot what the leaders say, so perhaps I am most frustrated by the way that Evangelical leadership has handled this. This may come as a surprise, but my generation would like to actually see Christ reflected in the actions and words of the Church.

And we are NOT seeing it very often.

Instead, we hear politics and power and “gays shouldn’t get jobs” and a whole host of other things that look like just another moralistic political campaign, and nothing like Christ.

It’s a bit beyond the scope of this post, but over the last couple of weeks, my pastor has been teaching on the references to spiritual warfare in Ephesians, and has noted that the Church has a tendency to treat people as the enemy and fight against them. His view - which I would agree with - is that this is essentially shooting the prisoners of war captured by the other side. Something to think about.


Note on John MacArthur and ostracism:

When I was a kid, we went for a few years to John MacArthur’s church in Los Angeles. While some of his stuff is pretty good (see my review of Twelve Ordinary Men), he has made a career in some ways of excluding people he disagrees with from the Christian faith. Exhibit A would be his longstanding (and rather one sided) “feud” with the late John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard denomination over doctrinal issues. I’m not going to claim that Wimber was right about everything (or that MacArthur is either), but Wimber certainly was more gracious about the disagreement. MacArthur preferred confrontation and accused Wimber of being a heretic. Further, MacArthur seemed really quick to apply that term to many outside of his particular doctrinal brand.

So, it isn’t much of a surprise that, lately, MacArthur came out with what he considers to be the “doctrinally correct” approach to dealing with a child who comes out as LGBT: ostracism. Ooo, big surprise there. Sure to be effective, no doubt. It sure goes with the general philosophy of gays as the enemy, to be destroyed or at least marginalized and dehumanized. Yes, there is video.

[Side note: MacArthur’s reference to “turn them over to Satan for destruction” is seriously triggering to me, because that was one of Gothard’s teachings about how to handle “rebellious” children. That is, children (even adults) which fail to agree completely with their “authorities” - that is parents - and obey them in everything.]

Note my own opinion on boycotts and assholery:

I’m not a big fan of boycotts. Maybe it is burnout from my childhood, but I don’t find boycotts to be a particularly Christian response to anything. They create bad feelings, don’t really convince anyone, and make the boycotter feel self-righteous for “doing something” without actually having to risk anything.

I don’t find anything admirable in trying to pit “us” against “them.” 

I don’t think either side is behaving particularly well right now. I would like to see more graciousness and desire for reconciliation. I know this isn’t going to happen from Evangelicals, though. If anything, they are becoming more and more fundamentalist about many issues. Gender Roles seem to be becoming a fundamental doctrine of the faith, for example, as I have pointed out elsewhere.

The world has changed significantly over the last few decades. My children are going to have to live in a world vastly different from that of my grandparents. Some things will be much better. I see progress in the area of race, for example. My daughters will have more options, and be less likely to suffer abuse than my grandmothers’ generation. On the other hand, the shrinking of middle class jobs means that they will probably have less economic mobility than the last few generations. I hope not, but I fear so.

But one thing I do know: they will not be able to get away with being militantly anti-gay. As Phil Robertson is discovering, talking about the glory days of Jim Crow will put you outside the mainstream of society. Just as previous generations have had to deal with African Americans in the White House and the Supreme Court, the next few generations will have to deal with gays in mainstream society. And being an asshole about it won’t fly.

Even if one is thoroughly convinced of the sinfulness of homosexual acts, one needs to behave decently. We don’t go around constantly shaming gluttons. We tend to, if anything, glorify the greedy and give our money to swindlers. For these, and many other sins, we don’t feel the need to make a scene. Just saying.

We can and should aspire to live in peace with all men, to the extent that we are able.

Maybe we could spend a little less time being assholes, a little less time whining about the “thought police,” and a little more time building relationships with our neighbors.

Note on the real employment injustices:
I find it irritating that most of those who get all freaked out about a CEO losing his job seem to be unaware of the real problems facing employees. In some cases, they even vote against job protections for poorer people, which seems a bit of a misplaced priority to me. A few links are worth reading.

In general, many employees, particularly those on the lower end of the economic ladder, are vulnerable to job loss for any and all reasons, including expecting their employers to follow labor laws. This case at UPS is just one of a myriad that I could list.

Lest anyone think that the risk to gays and lesbians of losing their jobs for their orientation is a trumped up problem, here is the story of a police chief, who was apparently doing her job well losing it because the mayor didn’t want homosexuals to be visible. The great moron quote caught on tape:

"I would much rather have.. and I will say this to anybody's face... somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.”
   
Comparison of boycotts of companies that provide same-sex relationship health care with threatened boycott of company over political contributions.

Perhaps the ultimate in assholery:

Yes, it isn’t enough to be a jerk to gays when they are alive. One must make sure that they don’t have a funeral. (Note that the church involved would just be renting out their building, not providing a preacher for the service.) One wonders if this church also vets their funerals for gluttons, greedy people, swindlers, hypocrites, and so on. [crickets…]

One more for thought:

Although he doesn’t use my (not really) trademarked phrase, “Assholes for Jesus,” Jonathan Merritt really analyzes the problem well.

Americans are not intrinsically allergic to Christians, but rather certain expressions of Christianity. The pope’s popularity helps us understand exactly which types of Christianity people resist.

Americans accept Christians who advocate for the marginalized.
Americans resist Christians who seek power to marginalize others.

Americans accept Christians who want to serve society.
Americans resist Christians who want to be served by society.

Americans accept Christians who are as clear-eyed about the failures of their community as well as others’.
Americans resist Christians who are partisan and tribal.

Americans accept Christians who are compassionate and speak with humility.
Americans resist Christians who are cantankerous and speak with hubris.



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