Why Opposition To Religious Freedom Is A Really Big Deal

Why Opposition To Religious Freedom Is A Really Big Deal

When you are outraged with Indiana’s failed effort to protect religious freedom, you’re saying that I, your family, friend, coworker, and fellow citizen, am no longer allowed to exist in your world.
Christopher Neuendorf
By

I’ve grown accustomed to being depressed by social media. With every new issue that arises, dear friends and family members, people whom I love and respect, come out of the woodwork to express their support for causes that make me cringe, or to express their outrage at causes I hold dear. Friend after friend courageously joins the growing majority of Americans in jumping on the cultural bandwagon, which affords them the ideal vantage point from which to hurl their righteous invective against we oppressive Christian bigots who hold to antiquated beliefs (opposition to same-sex marriage is so 2013!), and who dare to act on those beliefs in meaningful ways. I’ve learned that I am a member of a rapidly dwindling minority. It’s lonely out there.

Until now, I’ve been okay with that. Disagreements are a part of life. As we constantly hear, diversity is built into American culture, and that includes diversity of opinion. I can deal with that. I don’t need everyone to agree with me in order to be a functional member of society.

But with the outrage over Indiana’s and Arkansas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs), and recent actions by the DC City Council to force religious groups to hire and provide resources to people who oppose their missions, that’s changed. No longer is this just a friendly (or unfriendly) disagreement between loved ones. Now it’s all-out war.

I’m not exaggerating. I’m not indulging in hyperbole. This is what you’re saying when you post on social media that you are outraged with Indiana’s efforts to protect religious freedom: that I, your family member, friend, neighbor, coworker, fellow citizen, am no longer allowed to exist in your world. I must conform myself to your way of thinking, or face financial ruin and ostracism.

So You’re Saying Religion Equals Bigotry

Consider what Indiana’s RFRA offered before Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and his fellow lawmakers neutered it: if sued by a same-sex couple for refusing to provide goods and services that constitute helping celebrate a same-sex wedding, business owners might find protection from devastating lawsuits. Or they might not. It’s up to a judge, and of course we’ve learned not to hope for too much sympathy from our courts these days. But even the potential that a business owner might get away with such stand without facing total annihilation is intolerable to our passionate defenders of non-discrimination.

It doesn’t matter that any Christian business would graciously serve food, baked goods, flowers, or any other commodity to any homosexual person who might enter that establishment.

It doesn’t matter how much we protest that we’re not talking about denying goods and services to our homosexual neighbors as homosexuals. It doesn’t matter that any Christian business would graciously serve food, baked goods, flowers, or any other commodity to any homosexual person who might enter that establishment. It doesn’t matter that we’re talking only about those limited circumstances in which we are expected to become actively involved in the celebration of behavior that our conscience insists is sinful. Such protestations consistently fall on deaf ears.

It seems to be a self-evident truth that refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, while being perfectly willing to sell those same flowers to a same-sex couple for any other purpose, is the moral equivalent of denying food and shelter to someone whose skin is a different shade from ours.

Convert or Perish, Religious Infidels

Nor does it matter that our righteous opponents of bigotry can already accomplish with the power of social pressure what they insist on being allowed to accomplish with the force of law. They have recently demonstrated that they can effectively close an Indiana business just for its employee saying, when probed by a reporter, that they would not participate in a same-sex wedding if asked (although, of course, the business owners would happily serve individual homosexual customers). No, the opponents of Indiana’s RFRA were not content to allow Christian bigotry to die a natural death. Even the suggestion that they be denied the option of suing us out of house and home is itself bigotry, punishable by ostracism.

We must embrace the New Normal with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, or be destroyed.

The message has come through loud and clear: we are no longer allowed to exist. We must convert or perish as cultural infidels. We must embrace the New Normal with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, or be destroyed.

Naive as I am, I still hope sometimes that some of our fellow citizens might come around to a more tolerant position. I still hold out the fantasy that maybe some of them might be induced by pleas from within their own ranks to be content with same-sex marriage as a universal reality, with only a few Christian holdouts raining on the Pride Parade. But who am I kidding? They will be content with nothing less than our complete assimilation to the new way of thinking, feeling, and believing—or, at the very least, our banishment from their tolerant society.

I have to believe that our loved ones realize this is what they’re saying by expressing their indignation at Indiana’s RFRA. A daughter must know that by denouncing the RFRA on social media, she’s denying her bigoted Christian-businessman father’s right to exist. But she does it anyway, because her devotion to the cause is stronger to her than family ties.

If you express your opposition to Indiana’s RFRA, please don’t be surprised when your Christian family and friends react a little more strongly than you’re accustomed to. After all, you’re no longer just disagreeing with them. You’re now challenging their right to continue living and working in your society.

Christopher Neuendorf is a Lutheran pastor in Davenport, Iowa.

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