The recent ruling from the Supreme Court pertaining to the Hobby Lobby challenge to specific forms of birth control has caused quite a stir. The ruling was intended to be narrow in scope; however, anyone with basic political science training knows that incrementalism would open the door to further challenges and religious exemptions.
Therefore, I am compelled to write this after President Lindsay of Gordon College, my alma mater, provided his support to a letter that was sent to President Obama. In this letter, President Lindsay asked, by way of religious exemption, to be excluded from the mandate that federal contractors not discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. Are individuals, workers, or employees completely reduced to their sexual behavior, which as anyone knows is such a small portion of that person’s life.
I sent a message to President Lindsay through twitter and received no response. Moreover, in a seriously cowardly move, he was ‘unavailable for comment‘ when the Boston Globe reached out to him. There are some arguments that people espouse that need to have a response, whether or not anyone ever hears or understands that response.
President Lindsay paints a masterful picture of a simple request for religious liberty, the common good, and national unity as the justification for his exemption from treating people with basic dignity. I guess they forgot to address, in the letter, the religious liberty of those whom they have already decided they aren’t going to hire. As we all know, excluding a minority group from basic civic life because of their rather normal behavior is the pinpoint of a society’s common good and national unity. I hope you caught the sarcasm there.
President Lindsay’s support for this exemption is so disconcerting for our country and our political discourse that we should all be concerned, not just as alumni of Gordon College but as citizens of the United States. This is not a small and isolated incident. This ‘exemption’ has the potential for lasting consequences and the path dependency of civil rights in America. This ‘religious’ exemption is not innocuous. This letter is not about a College’s decision to adhere to its ‘sincerely held religious belief,‘ but rather a decision to contribute to the solidification of discrimination policy or the destruction of progress.
Allowing discrimination on the basis of ‘sincerely held religious belief’ is so dangerous to the public good. The ‘sincerely held religious belief’ is not based on fact but rather belief. This is exactly what the Hobby Lobby case determined. This entity can completely believe that a form of contraception is an abortifacient despite the fact that science says it is not. There is no end to what can be sincerely held. For instance, the discrimination of African-Americans in the Mormon Church is a good example.
I completely understand the nuances of the important legal concepts of ‘compelling interests’ and ‘least restrictive means’ that play a crucial role in this discussion. However, when each religious organization gets to choose which beliefs it sincerely holds and can exercise over those subject to their belief and actions, I think the State not only has a compelling interest but a moral, ethical, and constitutional responsibility to intervene for the true common good.
What is this sincerely held belief that Gordon’s President thought would further the public good? Hetronormative sexual behavior? Is Gordon going to regulate the sexual behavior of every other employee and potential hiree? How would one do that? I guess there could be questions on the hiring application: Do you masterbate? When you climax, where do you put your seed (Genesis 38:9)?
Along those lines, what is ‘appropriate’ sexual behavior that does not violate religious expression? This is to say nothing of who’s religious expression?
How about in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 wherein Paul says that men control women’s bodies during sex and women control men’s bodies during sex or that neither can ‘deprive’ one another from sexual intercourse. Imagine the look on the face of the interviewee when asked this, “Have you asserted your biblically mandated sexual dominance over your partner?”
How about in Matthew 5:28 wherein the Gospel writer says that if men look after women with lustful intent that they have already committed adultery? Should Gordon College’s lustful college age men and women gouge out their eyes, as required by the next verse? In my experience, there would be many blind people at Gordon.
How about in 1 Timothy 1:10 wherein Paul completely equates lying with homosexuality? It is not sexual behavior but reiterates my point. Again, how about in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 wherein Paul again compares homosexuality to greed and thievery and drunkards. Once more in Galatians 5:19-21 he makes similar comparisons with anger and envy and jealousy. See my article at the State of Formation wherein I discuss how Paul is not really condemning homosexuality in the way that people think.
Is Gordon College going to enforce these beliefs? Or are they going to pick and chose which ones are more in line with what they want? Those that are spiritually convenient or politically expedient? Those that mobilize donors? The answer to these questions leave me to believe that Gordon College’s decision to just regulate the sexual behavior of the LGTBQ community is a decision on a political matter, despite what they said. If it is not a political choice then it is simply bad systematic theology, which completely undermines their entire mission statement. I definitely expected more from them. I know for a fact that my exegesis professors taught me to be more intellectually honest than that.
We, as a society, have encountered a similar situation during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Some business owners in the South maintained that they were able to refuse access to the services they provided. They argued that their private establishments were not subject to government intrusion or regulation. This approach allowed for a drastic and systematic discrimination and dehumanization of many African-Americans. They had legal precedent to do this in many of the states.
Congress purposefully and deliberately corrected this potential for discrimination. They justified their action by the Constitutional clause that enabled them to regulate commerce. Congress has the power and authority to force a small business owner to allow specific people to frequent their establishment. Congress, through the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) has the power and authority to make Gordon College treat people equally. Gordon College definitely receives federal dollars and is therefore under the power and authority of Congress.
The Supreme Court confirmed this regulation and approach to ending discrimination by unanimous decision. They outlined the law in the case of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. This case, under the umbrella of the ‘Commerce Clause,’ established the promise of civil rights to potentially marginalized American citizens. The current law and U.S. policy force those to act more civilly when they inappropriately and unjustifiably use their prejudices to discriminate against others. This action is not a mechanism of government intrusion but rather an instrument of equality with regard to our citizenry. The civil rights of the LGBT community are at stake.
Imagine the Civil Rights Act getting passed if businesses in the south asked for a ‘religious exemption’ to not hire African-Americans? Imagine if those in the southern establishment had a Supreme Court decision to justify their discrimination on the basis of religious belief?
President Lindsay does not represent every person that goes through Gordon College. I believe, as do many of my peers from Gordon College, there is a path to salvation for those who are LGTBQ — just as there is for every other human being in the world. I am simply saying that what we understand homosexuality to be now is not in the Bible. It has not been addressed substantively by the Church or the Bible. Therefore, should we not acknowledge that the Bible is unclear, at best, on what to make of same-sex behavior, particularly for a 21st century understanding of homosexuality? Would not doing so enable the Church to have a constructive dialogue? This provides us with the perfect opportunity to see that with whom Christians have sexual relations does not dictate the path of or the destruction of our salvation. It most certainly does not say that Christians can legally discriminate against LGTBQ community in hiring.
What does seem to be a clear about the connection between the Bible and same sex behavior is that we should not see it as an abomination, but rather it presents a message about not exercising sexual power over others. To separate yourself from those that do, and be hospitable to the various peoples of G-d.
Without such action, one has to ask where the discrimination ends? Can we justify nearly everything and anything as religious expression? So, now bakers are not going to bake cakes for gay weddings? Photographers are going to decided not to take pictures at gay weddings? Christian schools are not going to hire gays? What about the many gays that currently work there? Are you going to have an inquisition or witch hunt to find them and fire them? How about a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy? Are we able to frame our most disgusting and vile xenophobias as religious virtues and hope that the Court will find a First Amendment justification for our actions?
Thankfully, the State has successfully argued that it has a right to regulate religion and religious expression if it has a compelling interest in doing so, particularly when that expression is harmful to the civil rights of other citizens or if that expression is some action that the government would usually regulate (Employment Division v. Smith), like discrimination on the basis of intrinsic characteristics. Moreover, and most importantly, the Court has argued that the government is able to make a differentiation between the ‘belief’ of a religion and the ‘action’ of the religion.
President Lindsay and Gordon College are constitutionally protected in their belief that homosexuality is contrary to G-d and the Bible, however, exegetically weak and anachronistically ignorant it may be. However, they should not be permitted to act on that belief and take away the civil rights of the LGBT community in their hiring practices. The minority rights of the LGBT community must be protected if we are to exemplify, in society, the principles our Constitution and our Christian faith embodies. We cannot let the offensive and anti-Biblical religious views of some dictate.
——- Portions of this article appeared on this blog in 2012 and at http://www.stateofformation.org/2012/10/religion-gays-and-a-nice-little-b-and-b/
Images are taken from Wikimedia Commons, a “media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content.”
The images are of LGTB Flag byD Michael Lindsay.