Religious Freedom to Discriminate: Unraveling Archetypes, Anachronism, and Apartheid for our Collective Survival – Part II

…I let go of the law,
And people become honest.
I let go of economics,
And people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
And people become serene.
I let go of all desire [for controlling, fixing, prohibiting, securing] for the common good,
And the good becomes common as grass.

The Tao te Ching, Stephen Mitchell


Indiana Governor Mike Pence, an arch proponent of the religious right to discriminate against LGBTQ people in publicly-shared spaces, whose anti-LGBTQ legislation was opposed by many individuals and corporations and was thus radically revised, was selected to be pro-business Donald Trump’s running mate for the U.S. presidency for a political party that used to stand for small government and the separation of church and state. As a pastoral theologian with an interest in human rights protections, I see the coupling of Trump and Pence, despite their many protestations to being religious Christians, as an “antichristian alliance” constructed to compound the divisive impulses and rhetoric they both bring to politics. In Part I of this series, I discussed, in part, how the Parable of the Good Samaritan is a story about divisiveness between ancient Jewish peoples. In Part II, I will discuss how the religious right to discriminate against LGBTQ people is not inspired by Jesus’ parable.

Part II

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, a story about a helpless man being ignored by a priest and a Levite before he was attended to by an otherwise racially and ritually-impure (according to some ancient Jewish people) Samaritan, needs a new interpretation to be more effective in helping people transcend hatred towards others. I will call this The Parable of the Anointed, the Pious, the Despised, and the Vulnerable, in short, The Parable of Collective Survival.
The Parable of Collective Survival, as Jesus told it, involved four people, not just two. In this parable we learn that the priest (who I call the anointed), saw the vulnerable man and kept walking. The Levite (who I call the pious), also saw the vulnerable man and kept walking. It is surprising to think that those who are considered spiritually pure would be the ones who would act heinously towards the vulnerable by depriving them of mercy, but that is exactly what religious freedom to discriminate against LGBTQ people laws attempt to do – provide a legislative mechanism for the anointed and pious to organize themselves against a perpetually despised and vulnerable group of people as the people inch towards becoming a Constitutionally-protected class of people. The Parable of Collective Survival teaches us that the Samaritan (who I call the despised) and the helpless (who I call the vulnerable because we are always vulnerable), teach the anointed and the pious what it means to live on higher purpose. The higher purpose is collective survival through the process of mutually desegregating civilization – the despised responds to the vulnerable out of compassion and mercy, despite the negative labels they have carried, and the vulnerable (we are always vulnerable) allows the despised to be who they truly are – responsive to others’ needs – and accepts their compassion and mercy.

For example, in the late 1980s, I was visiting my first cousin Damon (not his real name) in Los Angeles. He was engaged to be married to Lois (not her real name) who seemed very kind and engaging. We were talking about the earthquake we had experienced the previous night. Lois told us about a time when an earthquake hit while she was working in her office. As the earth shook, Lois and her two male colleagues ran to their designated safe place and held hands underneath a desk as they feared for their lives. Lois lamented, while telling the story, that in what might have been her last day on earth, she was holding holds with a gay man and an atheist. She wondered how God could have put her, a good Christian, in that position. Lois, the pious and vulnerable, could not bear the thought that the despised had comforted her in her vulnerability. Damon also lamented. I was not able to say then what I am able to say now – in Jesus’ view, the despised will be glorified (think Beatitudes).
The religious right to discriminate attempts to thwart the despised and the vulnerable, in relationship, having anything to teach the anointed and the pious about the potential for collective survival through the process of mutually desegregating civilization. If Jesus teaching the parable to the lawyer was an attempt to free the lawyer’s mind from adherence to law for law’s sake, the religious freedom to discriminate runs contrary to the spirit of Jesus’ teaching. So what are the implications for having a political party that embraces a vice presidential running mate that believes his religion should be the law of the land?
Religious freedom to discriminate as the law of the land is not about the good discrimination of my former friend who, after learning of my sexuality, decided not to let me tutor her daughter and ended our friendship on religious grounds. From a psychological perspective, the need to enact an apartheid law against a group of people for who they are, has meant and still means punishment will follow. For the punishers, there is a strand of sadism in punishing people for who they are. Gay-bashing is evidence of this sadistic tendency. The intensity of the pleasure in the enactment of the punishment is a measure of how uncivilized we are. How much pleasure did the anointed and the pious take in the vulnerable person’s degradation? If there was no mercy and compassion, what was there? When we feel no compassion and no mercy for those who suffer, and when we refuse to act in the interest of those most vulnerable, we do not participate in or collective survival. The Parable of Collective Survival teaches us that the despised and the vulnerable, in relationship with each other, are the truly anointed and the pious (think Beatitudes), but the U.S., with respect to the religious right to discriminate, is on the wrong track as it relates to the process of mutually desegregating civilization. How did we get derailed on this fast moving train?
Nearly half of the U.S. has enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)-inspired laws, and several more states are considering similar legislation. RFRA, sponsored by Democrats in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, was intended to protect First Nation peoples religious practices taking place on their lands, but the law of unintended consequences seems to have superseded the law of RFRA. If a federal law to protect First Nations people’s religious practices inspires state legislators to draft legislation against LGBTQ people, and inspires governors like Mike Pence to sign the legislation into law, what population will be targeted next? How far can the need to codify and enforce religious segregationist values go? If we envision how far religious tyranny can go to punish people for being who they are, perhaps we have an opportunity to scale back these sadistic impulses. In the meantime, the lid on Pandora’s Box has been ripped off. Is there anything the despised and the vulnerable, in relationship with one another, can do to invite the anointed and the pious into the process of mutually desegregating civilization? The despised and the vulnerable can teach us how to disobey and transform oppressive laws, in fact, they already have. They can show us how to make economic systems more transparent and participatory, revive humanism in religion, and intentionally moderate our desires to make room for other’s desires to manifest. Let’s re-image ways to promote honesty, prosperity, serenity, and the common good without misappropriating and proliferating laws enacted to protect First Nation people’s religious traditions. First Nations people have been despised and vulnerable, Jewish people have been despised and vulnerable, and Christian people, have been despised and vulnerable, in the name of religions, long enough.

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