Over the past few days, I’ve drowned in a barrage of posts from my Indiana-based friends expressing outrage and dismay at a legislature that doesn’t represent them. The comments I’ve heard have ranged from the mild, “I never thought this would go through” to the brutal “I feel like the state senate has turned against us, and they aren’t going to stop until Indiana is stripped down to nothing but spare parts for big business.” For those who don’t currently live in Indiana and aren’t terribly immersed in state politics, let me just say that Indiana has a well-storied history of it’s people being ignored. I can’t say precisely why the idea of a representative democracy is so far from a reality in Indiana, but over the past 10 years there have been a number of significant changes to the state’s operations and laws that the people have openly fought tooth and nail, yet have been celebrated in the press and true victories.
So, many Indiana citizens watched the drama unfolding as what would become SB 568 came into being, in horror.
I’ve seen people asking where the Christians who opposed it were. They were in Indiana, actively fighting against the law being passed. Many churches, from the Disciples of Christ to the Mennonite Church to the Episcopalians, did in fact organize and fight the bill being passed. A common fear they expressed was that the bill could not only be used to discriminate against gays but could also be used to discriminate against other Christians. This may seem like a ridiculous idea, but let’s not forget that the Mennonite church, highly prevalent in Indiana, found itself in the United states after it’s founders were being burned at the stake for heresy by other Christians. The common idea of “religious freedom” touted in America today may be the freedom to not participate in society at will, or to discriminate when the Bible can be cherry picked in defense, but that isn’t what free religion meant in the days when this country was founded. There are some of us with a long enough memory to feel like freedom is still the right to not be persecuted by others of our same faith.
No one has the right to dictate to an individual what their faith should be: not the government, and not other parishioners.
Now, post-passage of the bill, people are asking where the Christians are. “Business men are speaking out, sports organizations, but where are the Christians?”
Well, for one, they are still speaking out. Many churches and religious leaders have openly denounced the law, but a google search for this won’t yield much, since most news organizations have focused not on the religious opposition to the bill, but to the possible ramifications as businesses and public organizations cancel events which quickly rack up millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue. It’s been said before that dollars talk, and that is the same here.
The sad, bitter reality is that no one cares about the spiritual ramifications of the bill or whether or not the religious support that Pence has touted is actually real. The tone of the story, from the beginning, was carefully controlled. Yet major news organizations aren’t asking some very real questions about why.
Let’s look at some of that now:
- Politicians have, for years, used fear mongering tactics to pose a false “battle” between gay rights and Christian ones. This is never more apparent than in the tales of poor elderly Christian baker-ladies who are dragged to court and reduced to Victorian-era poverty when their religious scruples don’t allow them to bake a cake for Adam and Steve’s wedding. While there have been cases of bakers being sued for refusing to make cakes, what is interesting is that we rarely hear about the baker sued for not making an ANTI-gay marriage cake. Not to mention the fact that these lawsuits are only possible because the Civil Rights Act ensures that any business offering services to the public at large must not discriminate in their practices. If you are going to make a cake for Susy and Bill’s shotgun wedding, or Mary and Mark’s atheist wedding, or Jane and John’s jewish/Christian wedding (oh, hey, the Bible openly condemns that one) you’ve got to bake that cake for Adam and Steve’s gay wedding, too. If you don’t want to bake cakes for weddings that offend your sensibility, maybe stick to just baking cookies. After all, I can guarantee you’ve baked cakes for sinners.
- The news media has very little motivation to cease posing any issues over gay rights as a battle. Conflict sells, and the more heartfelt the conflict, the better. There’s not much news to be made from stories that read like this: “Religious leaders form coalition to lobby for equal rights for gay people.” Why? Where’s the conflict? On the other hand, “religious organizations picket funeral of public figure to protest gay rights” almost always makes the headlines, even when numerous groups have condemned such things and even staged counter-protests that outnumber the original anti-gay gathering. The truth is that even amongst well-established religious communities, support for gay rights has become nearly ubiquitous, but there’s no headlines to be made by saying that religious opposition to gay rights is becoming a minority belief.
- Politicians have everything to gain by continuing to monopolize on gay rights as a campaign tactic. While gay rights may have widespread bipartisan support, the people who oppose gay rights are loud, rich, and politically motivated. Political science majors the world over are familiar with a very simple truth: even if the majority are middle-of-the-road, campaigns can be won by a very active minority who feels there is an immediate danger to the other side winning. No one fights harder than someone who feels outnumbered and as if their way of life is at risk. So what do we hear from the politicians? That “sacred” marriage is at risk, that the “family” is eroding, that the American way of life is ending, that society is on the verge of collapse, that homosexuality led to the fall of Rome, and as the numbers become more marginal the rhetoric gets more hateful and louder. But let’s look at Indiana specifically. How did this particular bill get passed? Again, you have a very vocal minority. The amount of Christians in Indiana who truly felt their personal liberty needed defending from gays may have been minimal- but they were there, and they were loud. The bill was originally introduced as a necessary protection from contamination by secular sources. And as soon as the bill was introduced, concerns were raised. Often by other Christians who felt that the legislation was too problematic and unnecessary. (A common quote was, “why defend rights that already exist naturally?”) In order for the legislation to pass and the minority, who have huge political clout, to be appeased the tenor of the debate had to be carefully controlled. It’s no wonder that even as evidence mounted that Indiana as a whole did NOT want this bill passed, the legislature continued to stonewall and repeat the basic message that this bill was wanted by the people and absolutely necessary.
- Once a tone is set, it continues. Like the basic physics concept that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, once something has hit the news the story tends to stay the same. The people with the loudest voices tend to be heard first, and the people with the loudest voices tend to be the ones with the most political clout or money. As an example of this, think about the woman who burned herself on McDonald’s coffee. By the time the story had hit the mass media, it was reduced to a handful of words that made it sound as if someone had spilled coffee on themselves, was annoyed, sued, and somehow wrongfully was awarded millions. The actual facts in that case (that the burns were so severe they were disfiguring and the woman had to be hospitalized) were overlooked. The media had decided from the moment the story was first aired that the tone should be that a corporation was being wronged by fatuous lawsuits. The actual story? Irrelevant. There are hundreds of cases of this where by and large the national coverage of a story is one-sided. That is also the case with Indiana, where the only coverage of widespread opposition to the bill is from small local reporters who know their cities well. National news coverage doesn’t seem to know, or care, that the people of Indiana themselves feel wronged. The only local voices being heard in the national stories tend to be ones who support the bill, or gay people who oppose it. Where are the Christians who oppose the bill? Unheard of, despite existing. How can I be so sure that’s the case? I’m originally from Elkhart county, Indiana, and my friends and family there are deeply concerned that the bill will make things worse, instead of better.
- The outcry that Christians who oppose the bill are staying silent is a false story. Like Muslims who condemn extremism, Christians who condemn extremism in their faith seem to be largely ignored. Everyone listens to the Pat Robertsons of the world calling gay rights a steamroller obliterating the faith, but when Christian groups band together to support gay people, no one listens. This is no different than the constant outcry that Muslims don’t condemn extremist Islam. Muslims do, regularly, both publicly and privately. So why isn’t it heard? One reason is because, like moderate Christianity, it just doesn’t make good headlines. “99% of Muslims go another day without participating in or condoning violent acts” just doesn’t push papers, does it? Plus, there’s a lot to be gained from continuing to pose the dialogue the way it is. People who want to remain with their prejudices aren’t going to seek out evidence that they are wrong, similarly, the people involved in the political wrangling between ultra-conservatives groups and gay rights don’t have a lot to gain from realizing that the moderate middle ground is growing. So what do they do? Continue the conversation as it is.
One could question if when the Moral Majority first entered politics if they were a majority at all. What they were was a political powerhouse that monopolized on both a certain brand of politics and flavor of faith. That amount of political clout has incredible power to guide the national narrative and quash any minority voices. And while the “moral majority” may no longer exist as such, the truth is that they forever changed the landscape of politics for moderate, socially liberal Christians.
The best way forward, both for gay rights and for Christian freedom, is to take back the power from the political machine. And we have to do that by partnering together and no longer allowing the dialogue on the national stage to pit us as natural enemies. After all, we aren’t enemies. Moderate Christians want the preservation of basic civil rights just as much as gay people do, and we as moderates also have much to lose if moral extremists are the ones making laws. The same people who want to keep Adam and Steve from marrying have proposed laws that would force me to be investigated for infanticide if I don’t carry my child to term (even if I miscarried naturally!) and have said such vile things as that “rape is like the weather, and you’ve just got to relax and enjoy it.” (No link, google “republican politicians on rape” if you dare.) Moderate Christians fear legislation that will punish single parenthood and women who work outside of the home. Moderate Christians question the logic of tying together religion with lax gun restrictions or other questionable stances. One of the greatest of these is the policy of rewarding corporations with generous tax write-offs while cutting back social services to the mentally ill, disabled, and poor. We need to be partners in fighting the political ideology that uses religion as a crutch while spitting in the face of some of the basic principles of brotherhood and good citizenship that Christ so fully embodied. If moderate Christians are going to take their voice back from the politicians who have bent and twisted the faith for personal gain, we need the support of others. So if you are talking about cases like the Indiana Religious Freedom law, be sure to point out that moderate Christians do not support it. If you are a journalist writing about divisive politics, bring gay and moderate Christian voices together. If you want to see more moderate voices in the political landscape, donate to churches like the Disciples of Christ, the Mennonite Church, and the Episcopalian Church, specifically to their political action committees who have a well documented history of supporting gay rights.
We can take back our fair country from the hands of bigotry together.