By Isabel Manuela Estrada Portales, Ph.D., M.S.
When fighting the rhetoric of the Islamic State and similarly situated religious terrorists, we usually begin with a direct counter argument to their lunacy about “America’s fight against Islam” and “the West trying to convert every Muslim into a Christian.”
After reading Rod Dreher’s article in Times, I thought he was quoting some deluded Islamist terrorist, until I realized it said Christians.
If this sounds extreme to you, please read The Writing’s on the Wall for Christians, I mean, pass the title. Here is the first paragraph, full of the loving and peaceful Christian spirit we expect from someone like him:
The current fight over Indiana is a real handwriting-on-the-wall moment for orthodox Christians and other religious conservatives, who now understand that the Left’s culture warriors, having won the gay-rights conflict decisively, are determined to shoot the prisoners.
According to him, those of us who oppose discrimination are about to stand siege around every church, mosque, synagogue and other places of worship and force everyone inside to convert to whatever the religion of the “Left’s culture warriors” is and to become gay and be married right then and there. Or something along those lines, since we are clearly out to get them. Nothing more Christian-like than festering divisions, but I digress.
I won't discuss the myriad of reasons why Indiana’s “religious freedom” law is misguided, discriminatory and, if it didn’t speak to the worst in us, laughable. Plenty of people did this much better than I could dream of doing it.
But the kernel of Dreher’s diatribe requires attention: his convenient comparisons to race, with the emphatic purpose of discrediting the essential civil and human rights that are at the base of that just parallel.
His is a smart if hardly new approach. He panders to the most, sadly, discriminatory segments of the black church in America that, as the church in general, have negative views of LGBT persons.
Those groups try in vain to distinguish their struggle for equality from the essential, long-arched struggle for fairness and justice across the world and across all groups. I guess that is why their disparaging remarks about LGBT rights are, indeed, a lot more painful to hear.
In his blog, Dreher insists that a baker who refuses to bake a cake for a “gay weeding” and one who refuses to bake one with disparaging and hateful messages about gays have the same rights of refusal. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But is it? Would it be right for a baker to refuse to bake a cake for an interracial weeding or one with disparaging comments about blacks? That’s why conservatives go to great lengths to distinguish those two fights, because when one substitutes sexual orientation for race, you realize how brutally unfair it and discriminatory it is.
I have two main contentions with Dreher’s piece: race and numbers.
Race has no moral implications, really?
In what can only be considered a willful exercise of un-remembering, Dreher says:
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. You don’t have to agree with Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and traditional Christians, but this goes down to the foundational beliefs of our religions. (Emphasis is mine.)
Is he seriously saying that for “traditional” and non-traditional Christians alike race does not have moral meaning?
Is he forgetting the proper verb tense? Did he mean “Sexual expression has moral meaning that race does not have now.”? Or did he mean “Sexual expression has moral meaning that is no longer acceptable to attribute to race in polite company.”?
Did he ever read the Loving v. Virginia case in which the Supreme Court ruled bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional? Did he ever read the arguments from the state of Virginia, so thoroughly based on religious interpretation and explicit mentions of the Almighty that even atheists can’t read them without blushing?
The essence of the Virginia laws include the State's legitimate purposes “to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens,” and to prevent “the corruption of blood,” “a mongrel breed of citizens,” and “the obliteration of racial pride.”
In case you are wondering, the Loving v. Virginia case was decided in 1967!
But I am sure Dreher has read them, which is why his stance is so hypocritical.
Furthermore, has he ever read the basis of slavery as a whole, the rationales for Jim Crow and the many subterfuges to keep black people enslaved or under the boot of whites due to their race-based moral failings?
The Southern Argument for Slavery has a very nice summary, but allow me to quote just a couple of the arguments:
Defenders of slavery noted that in the Bible, Abraham had slaves. They point to the Ten Commandments, noting that “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house,... nor his manservant, nor his maidservant.” In the New Testament, Paul returned a runaway slave, Philemon, to his master, and, although slavery was widespread throughout the Roman world, Jesus never spoke out against it.
Defenders of slavery argued that the institution was divine, and that it brought Christianity to the heathen from across the ocean. Slavery was, according to this argument, a good thing for the enslaved. John C. Calhoun said, “Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.”
Not surprisingly, we find that often the same groups have opposed both: same-sex marriage and interracial marriage.
Liberal analysts when discussing laws of the ilk of Indiana's go to great lengths to acknowledge and explain the plight of conservative religious people, whites to a very large extent, who find that the world as they had known it and - I do not know based on what given the history - thought to be Panglossian-ly good is vertiginously changing before their eyes.
Somehow, we should pity them for that, or, at least understand them. Really? Because a world based on discrimination and exploitation of people by race, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, ethnicity, country of origin, etc. was so good that is a sad thing they have lost it.
I have zero sympathy for the pleas for understanding that blight the predicament of the people who were really under the boot of those now crying foul.
Yes, it is true that the world has changed, thankfully, continues to change and hopefully will pick up the pace because there is plenty of needed change yet to come, if, say, a Ferguson report you may have heard about and a few transgender women abused or killed on the streets of DC, just to pick two examples, are any indication.
What they have lost is the right to be the ones determining how that world and the people in it should live their lives. But, guess what: they didn't have that right to begin with. They never should have had the right to determine the rules for all of us. They usurped that right and now we are just saying: you live your life the way you please, and, by all means, do not be gay, but do not try to influence how we live ours.
Unfortunately, they still have a lot more influence on our lives than many of us like. Religious conservatives are the ones pushing backward public school curricula for all children: against teaching evolution, sexual education, common core standards, climate change, and using historically accurate textbooks.
No, they haven't been excluded from the public sphere. Otherwise, Dreher wouldn't be able to reinvent Western history on the pages of Times magazine. They just no longer have the right to abuse others just because they don't agree with them.
Toni Morrison would say that the purpose of racism is to define Black people as reactions to White people. We could think about these views of religious people under attack the same way: those who believe differently and those who are different and don't hide it are just perennial affronts to them.
They are afraid of a changing world. Well, they shouldn't be. I wish they weren't afraid and, instead, embrace the change that would make more just the lives of their brothers and sisters. But, if they are afraid, what entitles them to live without fear?
What about the fear of a girl in a classroom whose two mothers are being pilloried by a teacher spewing the religious “truths” about what a family is? What about the fear of the transgender people who are beaten up and killed? What about the fear of the gay children who don’t know where to turn?
Do the religious conservatives now so afraid have stopped to consider what a huge source of continuous fear they have been by sustaining and reinforcing many discriminatory injustices perpetrated in the lives of generations of people without the power to decide their destinies?
I know we have stretched our imaginations with the notion that money is speech, so, to think that a cake is speech is not so far off. However, not so long ago the bakery and florist religious communities found a way to adapt their baking and planting semiotics to serve interracial couples. It is time to engage in a similar exercise.
We conveniently only think of the good implications of the federal law, but let us remember how it ended up being twisted. For instance, unmarried couples and single mothers were rejected by landlords who didn't believe in sex or children out of wedlock.
We get to the second contention: is discrimination such a big deal if it only happens to a few people? Dreher says:
Where, exactly, are the many examples of businesses discriminating against same-sex patrons? If Indiana in 2015 were like Mississippi in 1956, that would be one thing. But the number of cases nationwide where this has happened has been small, involving rare instances in which a commercial service is arguably a form of coerced expression.
And, with my inability to not mix up things, I remember the 'oh, terrible epidemic' of cases of voter fraud that can be counted with the fingers of one hand that, however, somehow demand stringent and unconstitutional new voter identification requirements – I am sure it is mere coincidence that the most affected groups would be blacks, Latinos, poor people, go figure.
So, if there are only a few couples against which there is discrimination, if there are only a few blacks still forced to sit on the back of the bus, if there are only a few women not treated equally in the workplace, we should not be making a fuss about it, is that it? I mean, if, say, they decided to lynch gay people, well, then...