Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Using Religion as a Cover for Discrimination

This evening the nation is still watching to see if Governor J. Brewer of Arizona will sign or veto a bill that allows for “religious reasons” a business to deny services to anyone they so wish to do so. The rationale is that no business or person should be forced to provide services to a person for whom they view as living a lifestyle, or who has views that are against their religion. While the law is broadly written and makes no mention sexual orientation, gays are its primary target.


While Arizona does not have any laws protecting gays from discrimination with regard to housing, services, etc., three cities within the state have such laws. The law before the governor is an effort to override the laws of the three cities and allow businesses and individuals to discriminate with the State’s blessing.  I am disappointed that similar legislation is working through the Georgia legislature, and likewise under consideration in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Missouri.


The bill is driven by a cluster of "conservative" Christians who view gays as living an unhealthy and sinful lifestyle, and feel gays should be second class citizens. They are uncomfortable with interacting with gays. Their perspective is akin to John Calvin’s views and his rule of Geneva. The viewpoint holds that the Christian faith should govern the law of the land, and no Christians should be forced to work with or provide services to those who they consider to be offensive to them and their beliefs.


Under Calvin’s leadership, Christian values were imposed upon all citizens. Everyone was required to go to church, whether they were part of the elect or not. Swearing, playing cards, playing non-religious music, doing any work on Sunday, even quietly in private were outlawed and could land one in prison. Those whose faith was defined a little more broadly than Calvin, could find themselves in prison for what doing what they viewed as being okay by their understanding of faith, but which Calvin views as sinful.  After seven years, Calvin jettisoned imposing religious laws upon the whole population.


I am against the Arizona law on a number of levels and hope Brewer vetoes the bill. I am against imposing Christian views upon the country as a whole. Whose Christian understanding of faith should prevail, conservative Baptists? Conservative Methodists? Roman Catholics? Are we to outlaw the eating of meat on Friday? The religious beliefs of The Salvation Army which views smoking and alcohol as evil? What about those churches that view eating out on Sunday or filling up your car’s gas tank as sinful?    


I detest laws which set one group above another, giving one group the ability to use their majority to abuse and discriminate against a minority. The strength of American democracy and its Constitution is that it protects the minority and reminds the majority that they must be mindful of the minority and do not live in land where the tyranny of the majority is enshrined.


It infuriates me when people use the Christian faith as the cover for unjust discrimination and prejudice, to grant privileges of one group over another group, and to justify conduct that in other contexts would be criminal and ungodly. Such conduct contrary to the Christian values that I know and value. We have seen religious rationale as justifying the enslaving of other races, as segregating people of different faiths into designated “quarters” with inferior infrastructure, denying people with employment opportunities or advancement or equal pay for the same job, destruction of property, beating and killing, prohibiting people of different ethnicity from socializing and marrying, denying entrance to a college, and turning down bank loans. We are not talking about what has taken place in past centuries for many of these things have taken placed during my lifetime.


My belief system should not be imposed upon others, nor should the beliefs of another imposed upon me and my family. That said, if I am working in the world, I should be able to interact civilly those who have different beliefs and values, and I should not deny them services that I can reasonably offer and which they reasonably can expect. My interaction is part of life, and does not pollute my faith and life.