Recently, as a belated Christmas present, a friend gave me a Bullshit (BS) Button. Similar to the Staples patented Easy Button, this button says “Bullshit” in about five different ways. Now I am not a person who curses a lot. Yes, an occasional “damn” does come out, and I do reserve the right to call someone who cuts me off on the highway an “a**hole,” but rarely do I use profanity. However, there are times when a good swear word is the only thing that is appropriate to say. The BS button is a tool for just such special moments — like the state of Indiana’s recent passage of a law
that allows business owners to discriminate against LGBT folks on the basis of religious beliefs or convictions. In essence the bill states that if a business owner is charged with discrimination, a legitimate defense of such an action is his/her religious belief. While the bill does not specifically mention gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered folks, the intent of the bill (much like the HobbyLobby decision
of the Supreme Court last summer) is to justify discrimination against LGBT folks on religious grounds.
Criticism has been swift and strong from the business community, including the CEO of Apple who is openly gay, and the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis and will hold its National Basketball championship there next week. Even those businesses that choose not to discriminate will be hurt by those that do, so the bill makes no sense from a business perspective. Moreover, one has to wonder about the logistics of enforcing an anti-gay policy (“How will you be paying for that Sir? Cash or credit? Gay or straight?”). But for me the issue comes down to a simple issue of justice. In the same way not allowing Black people to eat at lunch counters in the 1960’s or requiring poor White and Black voters to take special literacy tests before they could vote I the 50’s and 60’s, such bill is just plain wrong. As Martin Luther King makes clear in his “Letter from a Birmingham jail” there are just and unjust laws; this one is unjust. It deserves a push of the BS button.
However, I realize that the impact of this recent development hits perilously close to home and that is why it bothers me so much. While my local church, West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, is open and fully affirming of LGBT folks in all aspects of church life, the Mennonite denomination
of which we are a part is in a “discernment period” over whether or not to take a stand for or against same sex relationships across the denomination, and whether churches like mine that have taken an affirming stand should be allowed to stay in the denomination. Even closer to home, my employer, Eastern University, a faith-based institution historically related to the American Baptist Churches USA, has become engaged a process of learning and discussion after the president of the university joined the heads of several other Christian colleges and universities signed a letter to President Obama
requesting that faith-based schools be allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in its hiring practices on the basis of the separation of church and state. When news of the president’s action became public, the reaction from many alumni and faculty was swift and strong, and caused the president to call for a time of discussion. I am serving on a task force set up to organize and guide the learning and discussion process.
Those who want to somehow restrict the presence and/or behavior of LGBT folks in these situations seek to frame the discussion as a moral issue based on fidelity to certain Biblical texts and church tradition. However, for me the flimsy Biblical evidence (which is clearly rooted in ancient beliefs about human anatomy and culture) is far outweighed by the Biblical call to love all people and to seek justice on behalf of those who are marginalized or oppressed. More than that, the impulse to discriminate denies the contributions of LGBT folks (open or closeted) to the church and society in general. As for church tradition, anyone reading church history knows that many times the church has gotten it wrong on a host of issues (war, racism, anti-Semitism, slavery, women, child abuse, etc.), and that this too is one of those times. Basing one’s prejudices against LGBT folks on the basis of the Bible, church tradition or the separation of church and state is….. well, I am tempted to hit the BS button.
There have been some denominations like the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and
more recently the Presbyterian Church USA that have taken stands affirming the role and participation of LGBT folks in the life of the church. While the official Roman Catholic poistion remains exclusionary, Pope Francis has taken a more moderating view . Even so. there are still a large number of denominations like mine that have not taken that clear stand. In those denominations there are a large number of faithful Christians who either oppose same sex relationships, or are not sure where they stand and have remained silent. I am sure there are others who privately are sympathetic to LGBT rights, but for various reasons have not spoken up. Because of these churches and these folks, bills like that which passed this week in Indiana and court decisions like were rendered in the Hobby Lobby case are allowed to continue. I grant people the right to hold beliefs on this issue that differ from each other, but when those beliefs carry with them the power of law they become oppressive and abusive.
Recently, David Gushee
, a Christian ethicist from Mercer University spoke at Eastern and contended that within church circles, we are living in “a moment of transformative encounters with God and people leading to paradigm shifts” that in the next 15 years will lead to greater openness in the Christian church to LGBT folks. I hope he is correct. However, as I look at what happened in Indiana and listen to the tired moral arguments seeking to justify discrimination, I must counter that this is not an issue of morality but of justice. And amidst these internal Christian debate, while I have resisted to this point, I must admit at times I am tempted push the BS button.