A boss stands in front of his four employees and says: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to let one of you go.” The black employee says: “Well, I’m a protected minority.” The female employee says: “And I’m a woman.” The elder employee says: “You fire me, sonny, and I’ll hit you with an age discrimination lawsuit so fast it’ll make your head spin.” To which they all turn to look at the helpless young, white, male employee, who thinks a moment, then responds: “Uh … I think I might be gay …”
I remember the first time I heard the term “LGBT.” One of my high school students referenced it. I thought she was talking about a sandwich. Once corrected, I found it hard to believe that gender could be dissected into so many categories.
Then I got a Facebook page. And with it, 70 self-identifying gender options, like “asexual,” “gender fluid,” “polygender,” and “two-spirit person”; a veritable gender bender Babel.
It is no surprise, then, that on July 21, 2014, President Obama signed an executive order protecting LGBT employees at federal contractors and in the federal government from workplace discrimination. “In too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fire-able offense,” Obama announced to a group of activists in the East Room of the White House. “I firmly believe that it’s time to address this injustice for every American.”
The executive order is considered highly significant. First, it applies to nearly 30,000 companies that employ nearly 30 million workers, representing 20 percent of the U.S. workforce. But secondly, the order is ambiguous as to how it exempts religious organizations from the mandate, thereby opening the door to possible litigation which could affect adversely religious non-profits such as Catholic Charities and World Vision.
But for many of us, this issue is so much more than employment statistics or even religious freedoms. We find ourselves utterly baffled by how things like homosexuality and gender identity have achieved such a sanctified status in our political and pop cultures. Why is it those who hold dear to the distinctives of classical Christian morality are now considered such bigoted and hateful homophobes?
A recent episode of America’s Got Talent featured two men, John and Andrew, dancing together as a salsa couple. After their performance, Howie Mandel, one of the judges, had this to say:
“[This dance] is about the spirit of what America is. America is about freedom; America is about equality; and this dance says freedom and equality. It is very brave of you.”
Talk about a new twist on “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Similar to Obama’s language in the East Room, LGBT anti-discrimination measures are popularly presented as a matter of equality versus inequality, liberty versus oppression, tolerance versus intolerance.
However, what seems to go unnoticed is a very simple fact: every act of anti-discrimination entails new forms of discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 discriminated against racists; it discriminated against those who wanted white only schools; it discriminated against those who wanted color-designated water fountains.
And so, as it turns out, LGBT anti-discrimination measures are not about equality and freedom versus inequality and oppression, but rather about new forms of equality and inequality, freedom and oppression, tolerance and intolerance.
With these new anti-discrimination measures, who then are the recipients of new state sanctioned oppressions and inequalities?
Notice the words of Barry Lynn of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State after Obama signed the executive order:
“Religious groups have no right to accept taxpayer money and engage in rank forms of discrimination. Faith-based groups that tap the public purse should play by the same rules as everyone else and not expect special treatment.”
Translation: those of us who live by and perpetuate historic Christian social norms “need not apply.”
This raises a fundamental question: if it is the case that anti-discrimination laws and orders by their nature create new victims of oppression and exclusion, then what is the basis for determining the justice of legally sanctioned discrimination? How do we know it is right to discriminate against certain groups?
For example, when Christians historically sought to overturn Roman abortion practices, oppression of women, and slavery, they did so from within a Christ-centered moral order. These forms of social oppression violated the character and will of God and were thereby sinful.
But what precisely is the moral order that justifies discriminating against traditional Christian social norms? Is there a god on behalf of whom these laws are made? Is it merely a matter of mob rule, I mean, majority vote?
Simply put: there is no objective moral order that can be appealed to that justifies this new form of state sanctioned oppression.
What then is the justification for discriminating against people of faith? Absent a clear, discernible, intelligible moral basis for state sanctioned discrimination and oppression, the only justification for such discriminatory practices is, well, we deserve it. We are hateful, intolerant, and bigoted; we are phobic, neurotic, and, yes, dangerous.
Christians are the new villains because secularists have no moral law. There is nothing just about their conception of justice.
How should Christians respond to this?
Rosaria Butterfield was a lesbian professor and queer activist. After receiving a loving yet challenging letter from a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in response to her critique of Promise Keepers, she sat down with him for dinner. For the next two years, Rosaria met with the pastor and his wife, sharing meals and recipes. One Sunday morning, she woke up next to her lesbian lover, rose from bed, and went to the pastor’s church. Fifteen years later, Rosaria is a devout Christian, married, and a homeschooling mom.
What happened? Rosaria credits the power of Christian hospitality.
For two thousand years, the church has fostered social arrangements that transcend the world’s ethnic, social, and sexual identities with a reconciling unity found only in Christ. As St. Paul taught the Corinthians, by partaking of the Eucharistic meal, the Corinthians become “one body” (1 Cor 10:17). And because the meal involves Christ’s own body and blood, the Corinthian community learns to give up their lives for one another, to live a life of self-sacrificial mutuality and fellowship that considers the needs of others as more important than their own.
By living out faithful shared life-worlds that operate not according to the entitlements of self-centered individuals but rather according to self-sacrificial love and mercy, we can expose the moral arbitrariness and one-sidedness of modernist political projects. In this way, we have the potential to overwhelm contemporary hostilities with societies of grace and gratitude.
Perhaps then we will enact a true equality and freedom, resolving real discriminatory barriers erected by self-centered infatuations and pandering political fads.
Perhaps then, hate will transfigure into love.