This week, in the wake of a federal government shut down, a Congress with an approval rating uniformly in single digits, the GOP party with historical low approval numbers is still failing to see just how the uber-right wing arm of the party (namely the Tea Party faction) is concretizing their place on the wrong side of history. Despite government shut downs, and still not passing a budget and operating off of sequester funding, Congress has before it the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which was successfully passed with a bit of breathing room by the U.S. Senate earlier this week. The only thing before it and President Obama’s signature is Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) to bring it before the House. Boehner repeatedly has said that he will not bring it to the floor of the House on the basis of frivolous lawsuits that may spawn from this law and also that most states and companies already have policies and laws in place that ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Opponents stayed largely silent until Thursday, when Sen. Daniel Coats (R-Ind.) said on the Senate floor that ENDA “diminishes” the religious freedom of organizations and employers who may feel compelled to hire people who hold religious views contrary to the organization.
“I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination, however, also, of individuals or institutions for their faith and values, which often gets lost and has been lost in this discussion,” Coats said.
The conservative Family Research Council also warned that ENDA “would transform the workplace into an environment in which certain self-identifications and conduct must be given special privileges by employers” that might require people to suppress religious or moral views.
Those concerns are shared by Boehner, who reiterated his years-long opposition to the proposal in a statement this week. But supporters said Thursday that the House version of ENDA has at least 193 GOP co-sponsors and that they are pursuing dozens more. Congressional Democrats also suggested that socially conservative Republicans are increasingly out of step with most Americans.
I was prompted to write a response to this socially conservative way of thinking and I was spurred by the post “Render unto Caesar or unto God? Government Funding and the Crisis of Conscience” written by Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler. Mohler has been the de facto spokesperson for the [at times ultra] conservative Southern Baptist Convention. This is the same denominational organization that split in the 1840s specifically over the issue of slavery and took until the 1990s before an official apology was offered for their participation. They were noted for some semblance of progress when they elected their first black president in June 2012. Nevertheless, Mohler’s media presence far outshadows elected officials of the organization, and no one seems to have a problem with that.
In his recent post Mohler meanders through the creation of the Louisville Baptist Orphan’s Home established in the Reconstruction South and what it’s original intent was and a 1986 pledge that was in keeping with “Christian principles.” Mohler goes on to write that “That pledge is now very much in question as reports indicate that the ministry, now renamed Sunrise Children’s Services, is poised to change its hiring policies to remove any barrier to homosexuals and lesbians working as employees of the ministry.” The current president of the Sunrise Children’s Services (the modern-day name), has now gone on record saying that the company, in accordance with modern practices will not discriminate against the hiring of those who are a part of the LGBT community. This in light of a lawsuit of the same nature filed in 1998.
Included in Smithwick’s argument was his personal statement that he would “rather homosexuals see the love of God through us than be denied employment by us.” He closed by offering the strange analogy of a missionary serving in Iran who wore a head covering out of respect for Muslims, apparently missing the point that no biblical command or biblical teaching is violated by wearing a head covering.
Kentucky Baptists were not alone in their shock over the Sunrise proposal. An attorney who had represented the terminated lesbian employee toldThe Courier-Journal (Louisville), “This is very surprising. They were very adamant that they wouldn’t hire gays and lesbians.” He is right, they wereadamant about the matter and, at least until the board votes later this week on Smithwick’s proposal, they still are—at least officially.
All that can change in short order. Bill Smithwick is absolutely right about one aspect of this matter: there is every likelihood that governmental coercion on these issues is coming. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is expected to pass in the U.S. Senate in coming days, and the Obama Administration has threatened to accomplish much the same by executive order. It is hard to imagine how an entity that describes itself as “not a church or a religious institution” can claim an exemption under such a legal mandate.
The choice faced by Sunrise, soon likely to be faced by a host of similar organizations, is to get smaller or get secular. The instant an organization takes government money it is transformed into an instrument of the state. What Caesar funds, Caesar controls. This is a hard lesson, and one likely soon to be learned by Christian institutions that have been taking government money and have grown dependent on those funds.
This will not end with children’s homes. A good many Christian colleges and universities have grown dependent on funds flowing through federal student aid programs and similar forms of government funding. What happens when they face a similar choice? The math will not work in their favor. A hard choice will have to be made, and we will soon see who will stand on conviction and who will act to save their funding.
The question does not stop with funding. Soon after Britain passed antidiscrimination legislation like ENDA, Christian adoption agencies were basically put out of business. They were given a choice to sever ties with their churches or go out of business. In Massachusetts, the legalization of same-sex marriage meant the end of the adoption work done by Catholic Charities, since they could not and would not violate their convictions. In Illinois, the work of Catholic Charities in foster care and adoption came to an end in 2011, and the admired organization gave up millions in government funding because they would not violate their convictions.
The board of directors of Sunrise Children’s Services faces a hard choice, but the choice is not just between several policy alternatives. They will decide to serve God or to serve Caesar. Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, urged Sunrise to step out in faith, even if it means losing massive funding. He urged the agency “to dramatically scale back its work in order to be faithful to Scripture and to model biblical values in front of hurting children.” As for Kentucky Baptists, they will find a way to serve children and keep their convictions, assures Chitwood: “Either way, I am confident Kentucky Baptists will always minister to hurting children and will do so through a ministry with biblical values.”
When asked about the payment of taxes, Jesus famously responded, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). We dare not render to Caesar what belongs rightly and only to God.
I’m not so sure if this is a crisis of conscience or a crisis of compassion levied on behalf of those who so doggedly cling to their religious beliefs. One of the differentiations between a zealot and someone simply passionate about their beliefs is that a zealot will inflict or allow harm for their beliefs, whereas a passionate person will simply go down with a good fight and say “We’ll get ’em next time.” This blind approach to beliefs results in a “bad religion” that allows for basic human services to fall by the wayside simply because the Bible says is implemented to the point of exclusion rather than inclusion.
I think what always gets missed in these discussion is the fact that this approach encourages a theocracy. This is not a battle between scriptures and which Jesus or Paul quotes we choose to engage today, not even does want to engage in an love ethic or an ethic of war, but actually that there are those who fundamentally believe “Thy will be done on earth…” as the zealous mandate to bring the Kingdom of God down here [from a real tangible heaven above, supposedly?] to earth. I agree that the movement of scriptures, specifically concluding with Revelation 21:2 where the New Jerusalem did come down from heaven to earth, does support this concept of “heaven on earth,” it flies in the face of the precept of “separation of church and state.”
When relying so heavily on the biblical “mandate” does to exclude persons from community and preclude helping those on the margins, I question what is the veracity of such a religious mandate. Those that agree with Mohler have created a homogenous community in which the fullness of humanity is not welcomed. This selected community is the same community that produces the Tea Party and allows them to engage in the divisive bombast that marks the likes of Sarah Palin to Ted Cruz. It’s this same xenophobic conscience that allows Ted Cruz’s father to tell Obama to go back to Kenya. It’s this same concept that gives door to people fighting to “take back” the country; taking back the country from whom or from what has yet to be decisively answered.
Religious zeal of this nature has no room for a conscience. There is no crisis of conscience as Mohler blithely attempts to argue, he is quite clear how this game is to played out and for who’s benefit. The underlying message, is that he’s expecting the ultra-conservative religious groups to open up their pockets and subsidize the gap of what the end of government funding will leave as a result of ENDA potentially becoming law. The fictional vice president Sally Langston engaged in this similar dog-whistle strategy just this week on the latest episode of ABC’s “Scandal” where the evangelical pastors and spokespersons whipped that faction into a frenzy and thus opened up pockets and checkbooks. There was never an crisis of conscience, but rather how to affect the bottom line: money.
Mohler writes this as an agent of Religion. Yes, Religion with a capital-R. Those of us who are in this system may claim that we are in the system to be agents of change, but as long as we collect paychecks twice a month or once a month from the system we are nothing more than errandboys and girls, working for the System (another proper noun). The System is a church staffmember, a pastorate, a professor at a school, a CEO of a religious-based charity whatever the case maybe; some perhaps are doing good work, but it’s all a part of the System and we are all agents of Religion.
Systems inherently aren’t good or bad. I love countering people’s arguments when they say “All religion is bad,” (yes, I still get people who speak in absolutes as though this is 1955) and I respond by saying “If there wasn’t any organized religion, do you know how many homeless shelters, charity offices and other goodwill places wouldn’t exist? Surely you don’t expect the government to take up the slack?” Usually a blank stare follows. However, when a System is categorized by whom it excludes, rather than known for who it includes, it’s at that moment that I begin to question the utter intent of why it was created.
Mohler states that the original intent in 1869 was to care for “orphan and destitute children,” to which I ask, is this only doable when biblical mandates are fully achieved? It assumes that one’s sexual orientation is the sole biblical mandate that stands in the way of doing this good work. Based on this logic, all fat people should be discriminated against from working there because of their greed, or that the majority of married people should be let go from their jobs because I’m sure at least one time they’ve looked at someone else wondering what it would be like to have sex with them.
I read Mohler’s article, and most of what he’s written with a grain of salt: I’m reading the works of a theotician. A theotician is a theological politician, merely working the System. Mohler must say what he’s saying in order maintain his position and his social cache in the evangelical world. We need only look at the likes of Carlton Pearson to learn of the struggle and woes of one who was once in the System who decides to act against it.
The entire rhetoric of the evangelical church espoused in pulpits across America and even from media talking heads such as Mohler, all speak to creating a theocracy; it’s about willingly participating in the System. It’s actually something that has reached even into many average Christian households: when we talk about how bad things have gotten because prayer has been taken out of schools, we’re likening ourselves to a theocracy. Every time we lament the ten commandments from being in front a public building, it’s our sadness over the fact that this country isn’t a theocracy. When we make those claims in our churches, in our public schoolhouses and in our personal homes, we are acting as agents of Religion.
I think it’s the supreme example of xenophobia when Christians dislike another belief system to the point that they wish for legislation against inclusion. For me, Mohler’s issues isn’t the Christian’s conscience, but rather the Christian asking just how far one’s compassion will go. Obviously for Mohler and his ilk, that compassion stops when you have to work side-by-side a gay or transgendered person.
To push the envelope all the way, to be fully religious and to ultimately the engage the doctrine of the cross: does the atonement of Jesus’ blood reach to the highest mountain and the lowest valley or has it been dammed up by religion’s own shortcomings facilitated by our own crisis of compassion?
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL