“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish – where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source – where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”
― John F. Kennedy
In Part One of this essay series, I introduced the topic of the religious freedom to discriminate as being as old as religion itself, linking it to people’s mistaken beliefs in pure vs. impure people, the shadow side of our contemporary understanding of The Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the difference between “good” discrimination and oppression. In Part Two, I reimagined the Parable of the Good Samaritan as The Parable of the Anointed, the Pious, the Despised, and the Vulnerable or in short, The Parable of Our Collective Survival, to illustrate that our collective survival depends on understanding the relationship between the despised and the vulnerable as the process of mutually desegregating civilization. Also in Part Two, I argue that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has been misappropriated by the anointed and the pious against the despised and the vulnerable, contrary to the Christian ethic and formation espoused in the parable. Given the proliferation of RFRA-inspired state legislation throughout much of the country, distorted well beyond its intended purpose, the original RFRA has been superseded by the law of unintentional consequences and ironically, in the name of Christianity, undermines Jesus-inspired Christian values. The flight to anachronism and the potential unintended consequences of RFRA are the subjects of Part Three.
I am a pastoral counselor who has worked with people on many places of the sexual and gender identity spectrum and many places on the spiritual and religious belief spectrum. The combination of these experiences leads me to agree with Kennedy’s position and further argue that the anointed and pious who impose RFRA against LGBTQ people (the impure, the despised, and the vulnerable) comes from unconscious and conscious anxiety and self-hatred for a sexually pluralistic nation. One simply cannot be pro-RFRA (against LGBTQ citizens) and also pro-America as America is today. America has never been like the idealized and idolized communities of the Bible – it never will be — and this leads some people to become fearful of a wrathful God, which leads them to fear they are living in the wrong time, coupled with the fantasy that RFRA can supplant the past God-fearing order and place that order into the present chaos of plurality. The use of RFRA to turn back the hands of time to an era we never lived in, and return us to a place we never lived in, is abusive anachronistic legislation. As we consider which political party will occupy the White House in 2017, now is the time and here is the place to closely examine RFRA’s potential unintended consequences.
As some state-and-church unity state legislators and governors continue to contemplate how they intend to warp RFRA against U.S. citizens, here are a few questions and considerations for state legislators and governors open to interfaith dialogue. (For inspiration visit http://www.stateofformation.org/2016/05/observing-the-masters-of-interfaith-engagement/:):
- How do you determine who should have the religious freedom to discriminate against others?
In The Parable of Our Collective Survival, Jesus suggested to the lawyer that the despised and impure was actually more spiritually powerful in heart than the anointed and the pious because he helped the vulnerable man that the anointed and the pious refused to help. Who should have the power to discriminate? Here are some additional questions to consider when determining the answer to that question. Are the purest Christians those who hold Sunday or Saturday as Sabbath? Are the purest Christians those who are baptized through complete immersion or receive drops of water on their heads? Are the purest Christians Catholic or Protestant? Are the purest Christians those who are involved in mission work two hours a week, or those who are missionaries full time? What kind of mission work is considered Christian? In the absence of agreement on these questions, should the state be involved in mediating the conflicts about what constitutes Christian purity?
- Are you willing to impose RFRA at the risk of impoverishing others?
Think about how the law of unintended consequences has already superseded RFRA’s original intent. What if pure Christianity is determined on the basis of whether one observes the Sabbath? In America as it is today, nearly 100,000,000 or 29% of Americans work on the weekends. Does working on the weekend make one an impure Christian worthy of being discriminated against by Sabbath-observing Christians? In The Book of Numbers in the Bible, Moses, Aaron, and their community stoned a man to death, in the name of God, because he gathered sticks on the Sabbath. In the name of religious freedom, do we want to prohibit 100,000,000 people from working on the weekend?
- Should Christians be discriminated against by non-Christians?
Some Christian legislators apparently do not believe the religious freedom to discriminate can be turned against Christians by non-Christians. What if a Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist business owners decide to religiously discriminate against Christian job applicants? Increasing pluralism requires we examine the impact of our hegemonic privileges.
- What are the actual religious practices in your religion that dictate your negative behavior towards LGBTQ citizens?
I am aware that some religious people think LGBTQ community members are sexually impure and dangerous, but beyond hatred and ignorance, what are the actual religious discrimination practices regarding LGBTQ people? Have religions created rituals to treat LGBTQ people differently? For example, is there a ritual that prohibits LGBTQ people from communion? Prayer? Reading scripture? Are there different diets? Different spiritual pilgrimages? Different clothes? Different rules? Is it possible that many of our religious communities really do not dictate negative behavior towards LGBTQ community members? Are we called by our gods (or demons) to be God? Life is such that most of us, not being God, bring our own, ignorance, hatred, and delusion into reading scripture and crafting laws that target people for being who they are.
- How do you really feel about your own sexuality?
Evidence is mounting that many religious people who openly rally against LGBTQ citizens also secretly harbor self-loathing about their same sex attractions. The Parable of Our Collective Survival necessitates the despised asking the anointed and the pious about how their feelings about their own sexuality informs their opinions of others’ sexuality.
John F. Kennedy said he believed than an act against one church is essentially an act against all. I disagree. I prefer an attitude which says that an attack against the impure, despised and the vulnerable by the anointed and the pious, is also an act against all religious institutions because these attacks, in the name of religion, undermine the potentially beneficial pastoral authority of these religious institutions. What can we do to bring about the good? Instead of attacking LGBTQ community members for their sexuality, gender identity and gender expressions, we might turn our attention to the log in our own eyes – our feelings about our own sexual impulses. In Part IV of this series, I will examine one way the fear of one’s sexuality seeped into the psychological sciences, religion, and social policy.