Thursday, April 2, 2015

If The Writing's On The Wall, It's Because You Have Been Found Wanting

I'm taking a short break out of my preparations for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday (collectively known in the clergy world as the "Triduum") to write about a couple of things regarding this whole RFRA kerkuffle that I have already been blogging about incessantly (see my last few entries here and here).

First, earlier this week, the General Board of my denomination, the Disciples of Christ, voted unanimously to authorize the removal of our 2017 General Assembly from its original host city of Indianapolis in protest of Indiana's new RFRA.  Several of my colleagues have even privately said that the would be willing to make individual financial donations to the denomination to mitigate any cancellation fees this move would incur, and I will be one of them who does donate if need be.  A certain saying about putting one's money where one's mouth is comes to mind, quite literally.

Second, though, is that I feel the need to refute this narrative that somehow the defense of the RFRA has religious tradition on its side, a narrative like in this piece from Rod Dreher for TIME Magazine (which, amazingly, somehow still exists).

There are several serious theological and exegetical errors in Dreher's analysis, and while I am normally not one to nitpick, when we are talking about the turning away of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ, I will nitpick until they are free to patronize any pizza shop in Indiana they please.

First, the title of Dreher's piece.  Rod, you know where the "writing on the wall" idiom comes from, right?  In Daniel 5, the Babylonian monarch, King Belshazzar, sees a hand writing a mysterious writing on the wall of a banquet in which the king is eating and drinking from dishes looted from the Jerusalem temple.  None of Belshazzar's magicians can decipher the handwriting, so the king sends for Daniel, who translates it thusly:

Mene: God has numbered the days of Belshazzar's reign
Tekel: God has weighed and measured Belshazzar and found him wanting
Parsin: Belshazzar's kingdom will be divided between the Medes and the Persians

So from my perspective, actually, the title fits.  God is weighing and measuring us, and if we are going to turn away our neighbors on the basis of their sexual orientation, we will be found wanting, and our kingdom (the influence we hold over the populace) could well fall and be divided.

But I have a hunch that isn't what Dreher was going for.  Even if our turning away of gay and lesbian couples would make us to be found wanting in God's eyes, which I have to imagine it would.

Second is this line:

"I understand that most liberals view homosexuality as entirely analogous to race. Abrahamic religion does not see it that way. Sexual expression has moral meaning that race does not."

Good gravy, where do I even begin with that?  Abrahamic religion places moral meaning on race all. the. effing. time throughout the Old Testament.

In the Hebrew Bible, God is the God of the Hebrews and not much else.  In Deuteronomy 20:17, God, through Moses, issues the Israelites a laundry list of differing peoples they are to exterminate in their entirety, lest they teach the Israelites detestable things (God also promises to send a pestilence upon these peoples in Exodus 23:23 & 28).  This command is also repeated in another form (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

In Exodus 21:1-6, slaves must be set free on the seventh year of their enslavement, but this law only applies to Hebrew slaves.  Non-Hebrew slaves can be enslaved indefinitely (Deuteronomy 20;11).

And in Deuteronomy 23:3-6, Ammonites and Moabites are permanently banned from converting to Judaism and consigned to second-class citizen status.

In fact, all of these sorts of verses were in part why there was such debate over whether to evangelize to Gentiles to begin with as what would become Christianity began splintering away from its Jewish tradition.

And right after that comes this:

You don’t have to agree with Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and traditional Christians, but this goes down to the foundational beliefs of our religions.

Maybe it does, but Biblically speaking, it shouldn't.  When asked in Matthew 22 what the most important commandment is, Jesus proffers two: love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind (Deuteronomy 6:5), and love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).  On these, Jesus says, hangs the entirety of the law and the prophets (22:34-40).  Meaning that as Christians, these two laws are the foundational beliefs of our religion.  And dismissing a customer on the basis of a same-sex wedding doesn't count as love of neighbor.

Moving right along:

An America where the majority casts aside religious liberty, and treats orthodox Christians as outcasts as gays were once wrongly treated, is an America in which it is hard to have faith. (emphasis Dreher's)

The false equivalency here is so stark, it's painful.  Are Christians being killed for being Christian, like Matthew Shepard, Richie Phillips, Jason Gage, and so many other gay, lesbian and trans people?  Is there a lengthy and historically documented tradition of discrimination against Christians in America?  Did Christians have to face ballot measure after ballot measure banning their right to marry?  No, no, and no.

And by the by, since when did being against same-sex marriage become a part of Christian orthodoxy?  My theology is about as orthodox as it gets, but under Dreher's definition of the term, I would count as neither a traditional or an orthodox Christian.  And really, considering the serious errors in Biblical exegesis I detail above, it's pretty rich for Dreher to act as though he has religion on his side with this argument.

Which is sort of--and has been--my point all along.  Religion isn't, or shouldn't be, on the side of defending Indiana's RFRA.  The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment that protects your religious expression protects mine as well, and the American judicial system has a long history of protecting the religious expression of views that are certainly in the minority in the American populace, such as the right of Jehovah's Witnesses to not be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette) or the right of Amish students to not attend public high schools (Wisconsin v. Yoder).  In fact, the "compelling governmental interest" litmus test in regulating religious expression has been on the books since 1963 in Sherbert v. Warner, with the majority opinion being penned by one of the great liberals of the Supreme Court, Justice William Brennan.

As a self-professed "liberal" "orthodox" "traditional" Christian, I consider religious expression to be beyond value.  The only way I know that I can teach and preach what I feel called without government interference is if the pastor down the street from me can preach and teach what s/he feels called without government interference.

But turning away a gay couple on the basis of that preaching and teaching isn't free expression any more than turning away an African-American couple or a Jewish couple is.  It's discrimination.  And it is an affront to God.

That, for whatever it is worth, I learned from Jesus Christ: in Luke 9, a Samaritan village turns away Jesus and His disciples when they seek lodging on the road, "because His face was set toward Jerusalem" (Samaritans resented Jerusalem as the center of the Jewish tradition--essentially, they turned Jesus away because He was not a Samaritan).  His disciples wanted to call down fire from the heavens to consume the town, but Jesus rebuked them for wanting to.

It was only later on down the road, a few verses later, that Jesus lamented that the Son of Man had no place to rest His head.

What a terrible lament to have to admit.  At our hands.

The entire point of protesting the RFRA is to end the need for that lament.

I hope Rod Dreher can recognize that, and repent of his defense of it.

Yours in Christ,

As I write this, I saw the updated body count of the al-Qaeda attack in Kenya: 147.   147 souls.  Please pray for all those affected; I had the immense privilege of visiting Kenya on my mission trip to Africa in 2006 and came away humbled and genuinely moved by the beauty and culture of generosity that is firmly at root there.  This attack is an affront on that culture and beauty.  ~E.A.

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