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God and Country

God and Country

The Christian right these days is fond of proclaiming that here in America there is a War on Christianity. Isn’t it bizarre how the media likes to portray everything as a war – a War on Drugs, a War on Women, a War on Christmas…can we please just have a War on Media Wars? Anyway that aside, the Christian right is fighting back against what they perceive are assaults on their liberty to worship as they choose by left-leaning progressives and the Obama Administration.

Some of these have taken the form of laws meant to allow merchants or businessmen with certain religious principles (which are meant to be Christian – God help a Muslim who wants to run his business by Sharia law) to not be forced to do things against those principles by law. That’s all well and good, at least on paper, but the practice of it is more insidious.

The brouhaha in Indiana over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the surface sounds like overreaction; after all, 16 states have laws like it (including my own home state of Florida) and there is a national policy in place as well, signed into law by former President Clinton. However, the way that the RFRA was worded seemed to permit discrimination against LGBT citizens of the Hoosier state. Suddenly there was a ruckus as businesses in Indiana, concerned that they would have trouble attracting LGBT employees, began to complain and threaten to scale back their operations in Indiana as well as outright remove them.

The outcry was so loud and so deafening that governor Mike Pence hurriedly signed into law a revision of the legislation that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT citizens on April 2nd. However, there are similar bills similarly worded being discussed in state legislatures around the country, as well as an onerous bill in California (which to be fair is not going to receive any serious legislative attention) that would require all LGBT citizens to be put to death.

The right has been more successful in pushing through legislation that makes it harder for clinics that offer abortion to be viable. Texas has now fewer than five clinics serving an entire state of millions of women and there are states that are essentially putting restrictions on clinics that make it impossible for them to operate. The religious right is trying – and succeeding – in legislating abortion out of existence. This isn’t because there’s a glaring medical or legal need to do so; it’s because it’s against their religious principles. That brings up the question that our founding fathers wrestled with when framing our constitution; when do the rights of religious practice become more important than the rights of others whose values differ?

The answer that our founding fathers came up with was “never” and for 200 plus years our government has operated on that principle. However, the religious right now feels it necessary to force their values onto the nation as a whole. My values are that a woman’s body is her own and that decisions regarding whether she should carry a child to term is also her own, that workers have a right to organize and negotiate with the management of businesses on their own behalf and that LGBT citizens are entitled to the same rights and protections as straight people. So why are the values of Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Rick Scott more important than mine?

Well, because people continue to elect them and to elect state legislatures that believe as they do. But do the people get to trample the rights of others just because they believe it is okay to do so, or because their religion tells them that they should? Our constitution says no. Our founding fathers, many of whom were deists and not evangelical Christians, also said no.

The problem I have with the RFRA and the religious right dictating anti-abortion laws is that it emboldens wackos like the guy in Michigan whose auto repair business now gives discounts to open carriers and refuses service to the LGBT community. I don’t live in the area but I would choose not to take my car into his place of business in any case because not only do I not agree with his views, I’m pretty sure that people who do what he has done cannot be trusted to be competent at their jobs. I have a right to believe that way, after all.

But the guy certainly has a right to believe however he chooses. I would never threaten him with anything other than taking my business elsewhere; he claims he is getting death threats (which I find somewhat unlikely; the LGBT activist community has been notably non-violent) which is extreme. Nobody should die because they believe differently than you; that’s ISIS-like.

However, I do call on him to be consistent. If you’re going to deny service to those who the Bible says you should shun, then you need to deny service to those with tattoos; it’s forbidden in the Bible (Leviticus 19:28). Also, he should deny service to divorcees; forbidden (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:6). Those convicted of stealing (Exodus 20:15), or adultery (Exodus 20:14); also forbidden. And I’d check your customers breath for ham; that’s forbidden too (Leviticus 11:7-8). Usury is forbidden (Deuteronomy 23:19-20), so that would exclude most in the financial industry. And actually, those who carry guns should probably not get the discount either; after all, the commandment is “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and what other use is there for a gun other than killing? And if you say “It isn’t for killing, it’s a deterrent” than you should be able to carry a replica of a gun that doesn’t actually fire. After all, it’s a deterrent, right? Not something you’re actually going to use to murder somebody?

The point is that it is unlikely that most people who are Christian believe that a pork-eating tattooed divorced bank manager is someone that should be discriminated against. So if that’s the case, if we don’t accept that everything in the Bible is (no pun intended) gospel, then maybe the LGBT and abortion things shouldn’t be either?

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Prevailing Winds

Recently, President Barack Obama made history as being the first sitting U.S. President to endorse same-sex marriage. This might not be a big deal for some – he’d always hinted that he was leaning in that direction and being as liberal as he is, it comes as no surprise that he would share this viewpoint.

However for those in the Gay and Lesbian community, it is a big deal. To have a political leader of this echelon supporting their cause in this arena is a big boost. Just a little bit of hope, after all, can inspire one to work harder and it seems to me the battle to allow same sex marriage is only beginning.

Of course, one has to look at the circumstances regarding the President’s announcement. This is also the first time in history that polls have shown that Americans in general support same-sex marriage, which gives the political impetus for someone running for re-election to use that as part of their platform. Only a few years ago the overwhelming majority of Americans were against allowing same-sex marriage so the change in the prevailing winds of opinion have shifted significantly.

There is also the timing of the North Carolina state legislature’s bill not only denying same sex couples the right to marry but also the right to a civil union which most states have yet to do. One would hardly expect differently from the state that gave us Jesse Helms, after all.

My stance on the subject has already been dealt with in another blog and I’ll leave it at that for the most part, other than to say that I continue to assert that I don’t think it is the bailiwick of politicians to meddle in religious subjects any more than I think it is the right of the clergy to meddle in political subjects. The two are supposed to be kept separate in our society and yet we continue to see that line blurred, not only on the same-sex marriage topic but also on things like stem cell research and abortion.

I’m beginning to see two Americas; the religious right on one side growing more conservative, continuing to push their agenda based on Christian morality. Not that I have anything against Christian morals – I very much endorse Jesus’ admonition to love one another – but I do think my interpretation of what Christ had in mind is far different than the conservative Christian interpretation.

The other America is the secular left, who are pushing their own agenda based on their own precepts. I don’t feel it necessary to ridicule religion, as Bill Maher often does, but I do think it is important that there be a definition of the place of religion in American society.

That doesn’t mean that as Roman Catholic as I am, I  want the Catholic bishops making policy. After all, these are the same men who chose to cover up numerous instances of pedophilia within their own ranks and while the Southern Baptist Convention hasn’t quite the same sad record as the Catholics, I find them just as undesirable as policy-makers. I would much rather that they stick to religious matters than those that are secular. Render that to Caesar which is Caesar, after all.

It is pleasing to see that Americans finally seem to be leaning towards allowing same-sex marriage. I believe the high profile of gay people like Ellen deGeneres and Jane Lynch have given a face to gay couples to an American public who perhaps needed to see gays as people. For those in Mid-America and in the Bible belt where same-sex couples are less prevalent, I believe that it’s an eye-opener. Some see lesbians as primarily butch man-haters and gays as catty mincing queens, both images largely a product of movies and television. While both sorts exist, there are even more who are as ordinary and as normal as anyone else other than in their sexual orientation. Hopefully as Americans get to see gays and lesbians in that light, their innate compassion may yet override their fear and distrust.

I believe that discrimination is wrong, no matter how it’s gone about and who is its victim. Preventing two people who love each other the same privileges and rights that two different people who love each other enjoy is just plain wrong. If a church chooses not to marry people of the same sex on moral grounds, that is their right as a religious institution. If a state chooses to prevent people from the same sex from marrying by enacting laws to do so, it is discriminating against gays and lesbians and those laws are therefore unconstitutional. In many states, it used to be just as illegal for people of different races to marry and those laws were eventually taken off the books. I believe that years from now, we will look at these laws defining marriage in very much the same way.

For those who say that interracial marriage is a different basket of cats from same-sex marriage, let me give you this – interracial marriage was opposed for years on moral grounds and those who opposed it often used biblical sources as the reason for their opposition. Laws banning interracial marriage were supported by the clergy, who saw African-Americans as less than human and a marriage between an African-American and a white person to be an abomination. There are some in these parts who still do.

I hope these attitudes towards gay people are changing. I think it’s high time they did. Our national self-image is that we are an inclusive people – you know, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” It is easy to be inclusive when the person is just like you. It is when including someone who challenges your beliefs that that inclusion becomes more critical. Agreeing that gay people should be allowed to be married isn’t endorsing homosexuality – it’s endorsing humanity. It’s doing the right thing.

The institution of marriage won’t be destroyed by allowing gay people to share in the joys and responsibilities of marriage – I believe the institution is far stronger than that, and if it isn’t then it needs to be destroyed anyway. I think the institution of marriage is destroyed by preventing people from benefitting from it. It’s destroyed by turning it into a political matter rather than a romantic one.

The winds of change blow us from all directions and it can be difficult sometimes to know which way to turn; whether to face the wind and challenge it or turn our backs to it and let it blow us as it will. For my part, it gives me hope that even though there is so much wrong with this country that it sometimes seems like we’ll never be able to “fix” it, that there are indications that there is nothing wrong with the heart of Americans. Maybe that will be enough to carry us through any storm after all.