Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Indiana and the Right to a Dominant Worldview

Indiana Protest Against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.
Amos 8:11

Amos observes the injustice of his people and proclaims that there will be a famine. But this famine will not be about a shortage of food or water. This will be a famine “of hearing the words of the LORD.” If you do not act justly, says Amos, then you will not be able to hear what God is saying to you.

In Indiana there is a famine among some of their political and religious leaders, “not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”

They are so unaware of the injustice of a worldview that takes for granted the lesser status of LGBTQ citizens, that they cannot hear the words of the Lord in this context. When injustice looks like normal, it is very difficult to see anything else.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that a prophet is someone who knows what time it is.

He did not mean time as measured by the clock. And he didn’t mean the sense of timing that we associate with successfully telling a joke or making a political calculation. The role of the prophet is to reflect on the sacred story of what God has done, and what God has called us to do in the world to work for justice, and then by reading the signs of the times, to proclaim what God requires in the present moment.

The prophet Micah asked rhetorically, “What does the LORD require of you?” And then declared the answer, “To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

In response to Governor Mike Pence’s recent signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, United Methodist Bishop Mike Coyner issued a pastoral letter about “Faith and Fear.”

He rightly notes that the measure is not founded on faith or on religion, but on fear. People fear that that their faith is under attack, even though it isn’t. But he wrongly argues that there is an equally misplaced fear on the other side of the issue; that those who fear the law will lead to discrimination are overreacting. In the end, his desire to be fair to both sides gives legitimacy to those who want religious cover for their prejudice.

The law is designed to enable discrimination. It is not unreasonable to fear that the law might do what it is designed to do.

In one sense, the bishop is probably right when he says that it will all turn out to be “much ado about nothing.” It is unlikely that very many vendors will turn away business. It is not the most important thing in the world.

But that is not the point.

The law will do at least two things.

The first and most important result of the law is to reassert the dominance of a worldview that discriminates against LGBT people. Every time they enter into a business transaction, or look for an apartment, or apply for a loan, or apply for a job, they will know that the law says that they can be denied simply because of who they are. That is no small thing.

The second result of this law is that it reinforces the perception that Christians are bigots.

It is time (long past time) for Christians to speak up. This isn’t about sincerely held beliefs on both sides. It is about right and wrong. It is about justice. It is about knowing what time it is.


  1. Fascinating and sad that the voices raised for justice on this issue come from corporations and political entities, not the Church. Fascinating and sad that Bishop Coyner's quest "to be fair" only reveals that he's a victim of the famine.

    A great writer once observed that the line down the middle of the road is yellow...

  2. Thanks, Abraham, for your comment. Yes, it is sad that the corporations are leading, rather than the church. And yet, I am thankful that they are.