Tag Archives: religious discrimination

Fiery Trials: Emancipation & Equality Today

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Just a coupled of thoughts on this Sunday night. Like yesterday I have been spending a lot of time on my Civil War-Gettysburg Staff Ride text. I have been working on re-writing the chapter on ideology and religion as they related to the causes of the war, its conduct and its aftermath. One thing that caught my attention was something that I think is profoundly important today.

In December of 1862 as he spoke to Congress prior to the the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln spoke these profound words:

“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history….This fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation….In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”

His words in giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free are part of an understanding of freedom, especially Lincoln’s radical understanding that the Declaration of Independence actually meant what it said that “all men are created equal.” For Lincoln this meant African Americans, inlacing those that labored as slaves. Lincoln understood the Declaration in its most broad understanding, he saw it as a universal liberty. As early as 1854 Lincoln posed the idea that the Declaration of Independence was the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.”

Today there are a lot of people, especially the loudly political preachers, pundits and politicians of the Christian right and their allies who are committed to rolling back the rights of blacks, but also of women, and to prevent Gays, Lesbians and others of the LGBTQ community from having any rights commensurate with their status as citizens. In many states we have seen the protections of the Voter’s Rights Act being eroded as state legislatures enact laws to restrict voting rights and make it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote. State legislatures are enacting laws that allow people to discriminate against others based on “a sincerely held religious belief” and while those laws are targeted against Gays they are in many cases written so broadly that they will protect just about any form of discrimination based on religion, even by public officials in the conduct of their duties as happened in  North Carolina last week. 

That is why what Lincoln said as he was preparing to sign the Emancipation Proclamation matters today. When we give freedom to people, we protect the freedom of everyone, but that my friends is not how many people in the so-called Christian Right see it. For them it is their freedom to discriminate in God’s name, because they like the anointed lords of the Southern Aristocracy believe that it is God’s will for them to do this. Sounding like a Southern planter, preacher or politician of the 1850s the founder of the movement known and Christian Dominionism R.J. Rushdooney wrote: “One faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state . . . Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.”

British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath notes how “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.”

That my friends are what we are dealing with today. There is a party of Christians who have tremendous political power who are using it for the most nefarious of purposes, using the law and the police power of the state to deny rights to others while preserving their own while claiming to be the victims of persecution, just as did Southern slaveholders in the 1830s to 1861.

So, that is all for the night. I expect to put out something related to this topic again tomorrow, perhaps a full section of the chapter on religion and ideology from my text.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Jim Crow and the Anti-Gay Laws

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Yesterday I wrote about the case of Obergfell v. Hodges which will be argued in the Supreme Court tomorrow. I compared that case with the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1856 and commented on its importance to the LGBTQ community in terms of basic civil rights. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence something that is the heart and soul of the American experiment.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” 

It is a concept that has always been practiced imperfectly in the nation, Blacks, Women and others have not always enjoyed the same rights as others, and the same is true for the Gay community today. Sadly, even when civil rights of people who are the targets of legal discrimination are advanced and legislated at the national level, opponents often attempt to use local and state laws to legalize discrimination banned at the federal level.

This was done frequently in the post-Reconstruction era, when so called “Black laws” or “Jim Crow” laws were enacted throughout the South. These laws paid lip-service to the Federal law but legalized almost every form of discrimination imaginable and established a culture of legal lawlessness where Blacks were the targets of discrimination, harassment, segregation and violence.

“From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement.” (1)

In 1896 these codes were upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. That ruling established the “separate but equal” doctrine and ushered in an era of de jure segregation in almost all arenas of life including education, transportation, entertainment and health care. What limited social equity and privileges enjoyed by Blacks were erased with the stroke of the judicial pen. The justices ruled on the concept that only peoples political rights were protected by the Constitution and that in the social arena that African-Americans could not interact with whites and assumed their racial inferiority.

Associate Justice Harlan wrote in dissent:

“The destinies of two races, in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all should not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.” (2)

While the case of 1955 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education swept away most of the effects of Plessy v. Ferguson, the underlying attitudes and actions of those who support legal discrimination are still with us. Prejudice and discrimination, not only towards African Americans and other people of color, but also women and even more so the LGBTQ community  has come back with a vengeance in the decades following Brown v. Board of Education.  Opponents of equality hate the sweeping civil rights advances made in the 1960s and 1970s, and more recently the advances made on behalf of the Gay community in the past decade. The end of the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, a law which mush like the Black Codes set up legal barriers for gays to marry and enjoy other civil rights brought forth a plethora of new anti-Gay legislation, especially at the local and state levels. Most of these laws are cloaked in the concept of “Religious Liberty” and permit people to discriminate against Gays in almost any arena of life: to refuse to serve them at their place of business, to deny them service in local government offices and even to deny them health care, should the provider determine that he or she will not serve someone who is gay, all based on the amorphous concept that the providers “sincerely held religious beliefs are at stake.”

These laws are being set up with the full knowledge that Obergfell v. Hodges will likely legalize Gay marriage throughout the country. Knowing that the opponents are raising the specter of Christians being put in concentration camps for opposing Gay marriage, and other equally apocalyptic and patently untrue statements, many coming from leading Republican presidential candidates and their backers in the Christian Right. Justice Harlan was correct about the intent of the Jim Crow laws and correct about the intent of the new anti-Gay laws. The seeds of hate cannot be allowed to be planted under the sanction of law. 

These are the new Jim Crow laws, and they must be fought at every turn even if the Supreme Court affirms the legality of Gay marriage in its ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges.

Opponents of Gay marriage should remember the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

We must move forward.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1. Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.526

2. LaMorte, Michael W. School Law: Cases and Concepts 9th Edition 2008 p.300

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Post Easter Thoughts on Christian Right Paranoia

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Easter was weird for me this year. While I rediscovered the joy of celebrating Eucharist thanks to three Lebanese Christian officers who were in our last class at the Staff College, I struggled. I mentioned last week that it wasn’t my post-Iraq agnosticism, but rather a reaction to the power hungry preachers, politicians and pundits of the Christian Right.

These are people who though they hold most of the levers of power in the Republican Party, have a stranglehold on over half of the state legislatures and state houses as well as have the majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate live in a paranoid dream world. It is a cloud-cookoo-land were they honestly continue to spread the lie that they are the only group that it is legal to discriminate against. It is a world where they pass laws to discriminate against groups of people that they hate and then say that they are being discriminated against.

The positively Orwellian attitude, words and actions of these people are responsible for the rapid decline of people who call themselves Christians and the rapid expansion of people who no longer believe. The reason is born out by the polls of the Barna Group, Pew Religion Research and many other polls. They all agree. It is not Jesus that people reject, it is his most ardent followers, who are now described as Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political.

Another Barna poll recorded that young people were leaving the church because “Christians demonize everything outside of the church,” that “God seems missing from my experience of church,” that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers and that churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in,” that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and “church is like a country club, only for insiders,” and finally that young people are unable to ask their “most pressing life questions in church,” that they have “significant intellectual doubts about their faith,” and that the church “does not help with depression or other emotional problems.”

Despite these self-inflicted wounds the Christian Right and their allies blame everyone else for the demise of the Christian church in the United States. Instead of making a genuine attempt to witness of the grace, love and mercy of Jesus embodied in the message of reconciliation so wonderfully stated in Second Corinthians chapter five:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 

Note that in this there is no command to judge or take political control over the world, it is a message of reconciliation seldom practiced by Christians now or sadly throughout much of history, especially after the Church became the Imperial Church under Constantine.

The words of the Christian Right and their allies, especially regrading homosexuals have reached such a point of ridiculousness that it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Cries by Mike Huckabee that “It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel, and I’m talking now about the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” 

Others repeatedly invoke the specter of Nazi Germany, persecution of Christians and even concentration camps and martyrdom, even though they are the ones passing the laws and using the government to legislate against homosexuals. But they say that they are the victims of homosexual hatred and liberal intolerance.

To me it is reminiscent of the scare tactics used by the Souther proponents of secession and slavery in the months leading to the Civil War. Henry Benning of Georgia told the Virginia Secession conference:

“I fear that the day is not distant when the Cotton States, as they are called, will be the only slave States. When that time comes, the time will have arrived when the North will have the power to amend the Constitution, and say that slavery shall be abolished, and if the master refuses to yield to this policy, he shall doubtless be hung for his disobedience…we will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth; and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. That is the fate which Abolition will bring upon the white race…But that is not all of the Abolition war. We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks…”

The message of the Christian Right and their allies is laden with similar statements, not about blacks, at least openly, but mostly in regard to Gays and the LGBT community.  None of these words or actions can be in the slightest construed with an authentic Christian message. Robert Henlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

This is what Conservative American Christians of the Christian Right, especially the leaders who subscribe to Christian Dominionism are doing every day. That my friends is why the church in the United States is dying and why people are fleeing it in record numbers, and why non-believers want nothing to do with it. It is why I struggle. 

But there is an antidote to this, a message that wonderfully contradicts everything that the Christian Right and their allies stand for, and that is a message of love.

In his last Bishop Blackie Ryan novel, the late Father Andrew Greeley used the example of a fictional Spanish Cardinal to his people. It is the message that needs to be preached here and now in this country:

“So many of our lay people believe that ours is a Church of rules, that being Catholic consists of keeping rules. They do not find an institution which is like that very appealing. Nor should they.

In fact, we are a Church of love. Our message from the Lord himself even today is the message that God is Love and that we are those who are trying, however badly, to reflect that love in the world. I find that in my own city that notion astonishes many people. How we came to misrepresent that which we should be preaching above all else is perhaps the subject for many doctoral dissertations.

More important for us today, however, is the reaffirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.

Does such a Church have a future? How could it not?”

Greeley wrote more than fiction, he was a socialist and a historian. He noted something about a time when Christians were actually the subject of real persecution before Constantine:

“People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good — Catholics were so good to one another, and they were so good to pagans, too. High-pressure evangelization strikes me as an attempt to deprive people of their freedom of choice.”

But now the problem is more than high pressure evangelism, it is the high pressure political machine that the Christian Right is an integral part. That my friends is what is destroying the witness of the church, not gay rights or same-sex marriage. It isn’t the liberals, or the media, it is a woefully short-sighted belief that Christians must subdue those who they disagree with and disapprove of and that they must work to use the law of the state to establish their view as law, and enforce that law on others.  Eric Hoffer noted that:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

The Christian Right has found multiple devils to demonize: gays, women, liberals and anyone else they want to make the enemy of their God. As Hoffer said: “religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

I thought about this subject over the past week in the context of my own struggle and the series of articles that I wrote about the Roman Centurion during Holy Week. Despite my own struggle I realize it is better to struggle with faith than to subscribe to the absolute falsehood and heresy of the hatred and judgment used by the Christian Right and their allies.

Anyway, I am tired and need to take a break.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Religious Discrimination Restoration Acts

 

There has been a trend in so called Red States where state legislatures are busy working on legislation with a wonderful sounding name, Religious Liberty Restoration Acts. I mean who could be against religious liberty? I mean when I see what the Taliban, the Islamic State and Boko Haram are doing to Christians, Shia Moslems and others I want to climb on that wagon and say absolutely. But then I realize these laws are not about restoring religious freedom at all, because no one is threatening anyone’s constitutional right to worship or even bear public witness to their faith.

What they are, are horrible laws with incredible bad second and third order effects on every citizen. They have nothing to do with religious liberty, but rather are much more like the restrictive sharia laws of the Taliban and the Islamic State. These laws are designed to allow religious groups to discrimate against individuals and groups that they believe that their God hates.

In every one of these states these laws are directed at one minority group. Gays, or the LGBT community, and are a protest against court rulings and laws which allow Gays to marry, to visit their spouse or significant other in the hospital, or basically enjoy the same legal rights that straight people, even those in illicit relationship enjoy.  The laws almost all allow government employees or employees of private businesses to deny services to gays based on a “sincerely held religious belief.” Some laws like one in Arkansas have even go so far as to allow the state to void local non-discrimination ordinances passed by towns, cities and counties. A similar law is being floated in West Virginia. Arizona and some other states are debating bills similar to that of Indiana.

Indiana passed theirs today and Governor Mike Pence, a conservative Christian says that he is looking forward to signing it.  Of course this ensures that the good Christian people of Indiana are free to discriminate against anyone they want. While targeted at gays the same law could be used against, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs, or any other group of people. Logically since some Christian sects believe that Blacks are still under the curse of God, the bill could allow a KKK Christian not to serve a Black man or woman based on their sincerely held religious belief.

A similar bill in Oklahoma disappeared last week after a Democrat representive attached an Ammendment mandating that any business wanting to use religious liberty to deny service had to post a sign saying that they did so. I think that is rights anyone who wants to use the law not to serve someone should make that very clear. Just like the days of Jim Crow, where “No Blacks Allowed” was common, or Nazi Germany where “no Jews allowed” was almost universal.

I think that the wording of such signs should be quite clear and explicit. For instance, if it is a Christian business owner who refuses to serve gays the sign should say: “No Gays served due to my deeply held Christian beliefs.”

If a Moslem wants to claim their deeply held beliefs about sharia, claim that their act is a peaceful  jihad against the infidels in order to discriminate against unbelievers just let them say so, I have no problem with that if Christians have that right.

Orthodox Jews should have the same right in such a world, who cares if the Goyum can’t buy their babka bread or bagels at the Jewish bakery, after all it’s the right of the owner, right?

Likewise I think that the Gay florist should be able to refuse to do business with people having their weddings in churches that refuse to allow gays to be married. So what if they are the only florist in town, they should have that right too and be able to claim a religious reason as to why they can, after all fair is fair.

Now, let’s step back and look at the absurdity of such laws. They open the door for anyone to discriminate against anyone based on their religious beliefs regardless of other established laws.

In reality such laws only work in theocracies where a majority religion can in effect use religious law to discriminate and disenfranchise unbelievers with impunity. When governments attempt to apply such laws in pluralistic societies there can be only one result; a Balkanization of society from which no good can come.

These laws are not laws to promote religious liberty, these laws are designed to allow a specific group of people to usurp laws that apply to everyone because of their religious beliefs.

Sadly, these laws are the last gasp of a religious aristocracy that has lost influence in society and that is dying; conservative Christianity. All the polls and studies say so, and sadly it is in large part the fault of churches and people that identify themselves as such. Their younger members are fleeing at an ever increasing rate and non-believers want nothing to do with them. The days of the “God loves you” type of evangelism are over. Instead, what suffices as public witness is that “God loves me and hates you.”  

Why are people fleeing? Evangelical pollster George Barna’s group did a study and the results paint a picture that shows a church that is now described by the majority as Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. The Pew Survey as well as others that survey religious belief and practice in this country back this up.

These laws show how desperate and increasing irrelevant that church has become. It is a sad commentary and they should know better, but like cultural suicide bombers they will destroy themselves to hurt those that they hate. It is short-sighted, and tied more to the political power of conservative Christians and to preserve their influence than any demonstration of the grace, love, mercy or even the justice of God.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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