It’s Not About Gay Rights Versus Religious Freedom

April 18, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments


Same-Sex Marriage

Frank Bruni, columnist for The New York Times, has written a refreshingly honest, even if somewhat frightening, piece in response to the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, which was signed into law last month by Governor Mike Pence.  The Act prohibits “a governmental entity [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion.”[1]  LGBT groups are furious, arguing that this Act will open the door for Christian business owners to discriminate against LGBT people by refusing to offer them certain services because these business owners will be able to claim that offering these services, particularly services that have to do with same-sex weddings, would violate their religious tenets.

Mr. Bruni offers the following take:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision.

They’re not – at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will …

In the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing …

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.[2]

Mr. Bruni is not only interested in whether a Christian small business owner should be forced to, let’s say, bake a cake for a gay wedding, he also launches into a critique of traditional Christian theology as a whole, stating that the faith should be “rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.”  This assumes, of course, that modernity is, in fact, enlightened – an assertion that Mr. Bruni seems to feel little need to defend.  This also assumes that the Western version of modernity that embraces LGBT beliefs about human sexuality is the rightful moral pacesetter of our world, something with which many modernized Eastern nations may take issue.  This also assumes that Christians should not only love LGBT individuals, but endorse LGBT lifestyles as morally acceptable.

The irony is not lost on me that although Mr. Bruni does address “the florists and bakers who want to turn [LGBT customers] away” because of the owners’ moral convictions, he is silent concerning the many businesses that are jettisoning the state of Indiana in light of its religious freedom law because of their owners’ moral convictions.  Why the inconsistency?  Because, for Mr. Bruni, this is not an issue of religious freedom or even of gay rights.  This is an issue of what version of morality should hold sway in our society.  In Mr. Bruni’s worldview, for a Christian to try to avoid baking a cake for a gay wedding is morally reprehensible.  For a business to avoid a state because of a religious freedom act is morally commendable.  Thus, it is not inconsistent that one business, whose owners are working out of a set of traditional Christian moral convictions, should not be able to avoid providing services for a same-sex wedding while another business, whose owners have more secularized moral convictions, should be able to dump a whole state.  After all, the Christian set of moral convictions is, for Mr. Bruni, immoral!  And immorality must be squelched.

Pastor Timothy Keller explains the necessary moral entailments of the debate over gay marriage using a brilliant analogy:

Imagine an Anglo-Saxon warrior in Britain in AD 800. He has two very strong inner impulses and feelings. One is aggression. He loves to smash and kill people when they show him disrespect. Living in a shame-and-honor culture with its warrior ethic, he will identify with that feeling. He will say to himself, That’s me! That’s who I am! I will express that. The other feeling he senses is same-sex attraction. To that he will say, That’s not me. I will control and suppress that impulse. Now imagine a young man walking around Manhattan today. He has the same two inward impulses, both equally strong, both difficult to control. What will he say? He will look at the aggression and think, This is not who I want to be, and will seek deliverance in therapy and anger-management programs. He will look at his sexual desire, however, and conclude, That is who I am.

What does this thought experiment show us? Primarily it reveals that we do not get our identity simply from within. Rather, we receive some interpretive moral grid, lay it down over our various feelings and impulses, and sift them through it. This grid helps us decide which feelings are “me” and should be expressed – and which are not and should not be.[3]

Being LGBT has often been cast in terms of identity.  Pastor Keller argues that the issue at hand is really about morality.  Is it acceptable or unacceptable to be a violent aggressor?  Is it noble or troublesome to be in a same-sex relationship?  Feelings and impulses do not give us the answers to these questions.  Only moral grids do.

Frank Bruni offers some refreshing candor in his column.  He knows that, ultimately, the fight over gay rights and religious freedom isn’t a fight over gay rights and religious freedom.  It is a fight over what’s moral.  And his conclusion bears witness to his moral conviction:

Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to LGBT people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”

Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”

His commandment is worthy – and warranted.

Mr. Bruni is clear.  Christians must be made to accept homosexuality.  To settle for anything less would be unworthy and unwarranted.  In other words, it would be immoral.

I would beg to differ.

But at least we know where he stands.

__________________________

[1] S.B. 101, 119th Leg., 1st sess. (Indiana 2015)

[2] Frank Bruni, “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana,” The New York Times (4.3.2016).

[3] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 135-136.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brad Hubbard  |  April 18, 2016 at 8:20 am

    I would beg to differ as well. I believe that our identity less to do with what we look like on the outside, how we might feel about ourselves on the inside, or who we look at with interest romantically; and more to do with whose we are as God’s people. Any time we place our sexuality as the center our identity, we end up confused, frustrated, and ultimately disconnected.

    Reply
  • 2. Phil Cook  |  April 18, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Another assumption that Mr. Bruni makes but chooses to not defend is that the Christian faith is drawn from “scattered passages of ancient texts.” If these are merely ancient texts, historical documents that record ancient wisdom, then there is good reason for us to listen to “the advances of science and knowledge.” But if these “ancient texts” are divinely inspired, and represent the revealed will and intention of God, then they stand on a whole other level.

    If we assume that God does not exist, if we can take him out of the equation, then we are free to define morality however we wish. If he exists, however, then morality and reality are defined by him.

    That’s why Christianity has always been first and foremost about the person of Jesus Christ, knowing him and what he has done for us. Morality and moral grids are always secondary to that truth. Our Christian witness is always first to the person of Jesus, to the gospel, and only secondarily to the way he would have us live.

    Reply

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