Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Problem with Peddling Fear

In our Tuesday morning Bible study class, generally attended by our retirees and our folks who work evenings, we just started a short unit on a few of the "minor" prophets of the Hebrew Bible: Zephaniah, Zechariah, and Malachi.  In Zephaniah, the entire first two chapters (essentially, the first 2/3's of the book, since it is only three chapters long) are a discursive screed on the terrible coming of the day of the Lord: the stuff we call today "fire and brimstone" preaching.  It strikes fear into us, as well it probably ought to.

But as we discussed in our class, for someone like Zephaniah, whose ancestor was the righteous King Hezekiah, to see his country fall and burn around him was what brought about the fear and anger, and for him, the Lord coming would well be a source of comfort and reassurance, because he is already losing opposed to us who still have so much left to lose.

And that is where American Christians are today: we still have so much left to lose, even if we pretend that we do not by claiming persecution at every turn.

Just south of me in Oregon, Judge Alan McCullough handed down a $130,000 fine upon the Kleins, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, for refusing to serve a lesbian couple who wanted a wedding cake for their marriage ceremony.  Melissa and Aaron Klein cited their religious beliefs as the basis for their refusal of service, but "a 2007 Oregon law protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations. It provides an exemption for religious organizations but does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation." (source: The Seattle Times)

Sweet Cakes By Melissa, though run by Christians, was (is) a for profit private enterprise, and thus did not qualify for the religious organization exemption.

In the wake of the judgment, reactions (as is wont to be the case in our social media saturated environment fueled by a 24/7 news cycle) were swift, including two I want to highlight.

One is a Gofundme campaign for the Kleins, which was eventually shut down after donations reached $109,000.

Why is this important?  Well, for a few reasons.  One is that $109,000 could, a the risk of sounding manipulatively guilty, feed a lot of malnourished kids or put a lot of homeless people into shelters.

But another is the claim that this fine would in fact make the Kleins homeless themselves, that it would bankrupt them.  Fox News commentator Todd Starnes repeated this particular canard on the radio, and it is easily disproven.

On a micro level, dealing only with the Kleins, the $109,000 raised so far was, per Gofundme in the article I link to above, still made available to them, which would cover over 80 percent of the original fine.  Now, I don't meant to make light of the remaining amount of the fine still left outstanding: that's a serious chunk of change as well.  But considering the rapid success of establishments like Sweet Cakes and Memories Pizza at raising money after going public with their homophobia, I have little doubt that Sweet Cakes could secure the remaining funding, and then some, through private donations.

On a macro level, though, what Starnes is saying: that GLBTQ follks and their straight allies want to drive Christians out of their homes and businesses is point blank untrue.  Because first of all, it isn't all Christians: lots and lots of Christians support marriage equality; depending on who you ask, majorities of Catholics, young evangelicals, and mainline Christians all support marriage equality.

To illustrate the character of our support, I would simply tell you this story, that was conveyed to me last weekend at a meeting of my region's board of directors (of which I am one), if you've been reading my blog, you'll recall that in March, I devoted quite a bit of digital ink to exhorting my denomination, the Disciples of Christ, to denounce the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana, where the Disciples are headquartered and where, in 2017, we had planned to hold our General Assembly.

Upon Governor Pence's signature of the RFRA bill into law, our General Board voted unanimously to authorize the office of our General Minister and President, Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, to reopen the bid process for hosting our 2017 General Assembly.

In the interim,though, the RFRA was amended, and one of those amendments was to allow municipal nondiscrimination statutes to supersede the RFRA.  And Indianapolis, the city of our headquarters and which would have hosted our General Assembly, does in fact have a strong nondiscrimination statute on its books.

My regional board's moderator conveyed this all to me and the other board members to explain why, then, our General Board voted to keep the 2017 General Assembly in Indianapolis upon passage of the amended RFRA.  And when I told my wife this story, her immediate reaction was, "That's so need to be able to say 'yes' to the parts of the state that are doing right by your gay and lesbian colleagues instead of being forced to leave the state entirely."

More than that, though, our recommitment to Indiana acts, I believe, as a direct rebuttal to the line trotted out by folks like Todd Starnes that gay and lesbian people and their allies are out only to destroy.  They, and we, are clearly not.  We, the Disciples of Christ, asked for nondiscrimination protection for our gay and lesbian General Assembly attendees.  We got what we asked for, and we continued with our commitment to hold our 2017 General Assembly as planned.

There was no vindictiveness.  There was no "f*** you."  There was no revenge.

Because none of that is Christ like.  And we are the Disciples of Christ.

Which means that, the next time you hear someone saying that Christians are under attack in America, please, I ask you, lend an ear to what I have said here.  We aren't interested in putting people under attack.  We never have been.  And when you're gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender and have faced hate crimes and violence and discrimination for decades and centuries in this country, you know what being under attack looks like.

What we seek is protection and reconciliation.  This is not an "us versus them" thing.  It never has been.  It never ought to be.

And yet, for as long as we peddle in fear, and play on peoples' fears, rather than peddling faith and playing on peoples' faith, it will continue to mournfully and lamentably be so.

Yours in Christ,

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