Indiana has recently followed the example of other states in enacting legislation to allow businesses to discriminate based on religious beliefs. Conservative Christians will applaud Indiana for standing up for religious freedom and will not be bothered that the discrimination will usually be against homosexuals.
And will the world around us admire those Christians for their moral courage in demanding the right to oppose homosexuality? No. Instead the message is that Christians are narrow-minded, bigoted, judgmental, self-righteous, and determined to deny the rights of gays.
It is a messy moral issue, much too complicated for the unsophisticated moral reasoning of most conservative Christians. We conservatives have made little progress in understanding morality since the days of the Pharisees who battled against Jesus 2000 years ago. They, too, thought of morality as a matter of obedience to the rules and regulations.
In a democracy, moral decisions are even more complex and sometimes overwhelming than they were two millennia ago. Now we have to remember that the government is not an alien power forced upon us (though political conservatives in our day continually speak of it in just that way). The government is made of of people who represent us because they are people whom we have elected.
If we wish to be “strict constructionists” in our understanding of the Bible, we will be bound by the fact that the Bible clearly condemns homosexual behavior. Recent efforts (such as by Michael Vine) to make the Bible say something quite the opposite are marked by a high degree of twisting Scripture to mean the reverse of what it says. (See the series of posts called “Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?” in my blog < biblenowandthen.wordpress.com >)
The current debates over homosexuality in our country would be much different, I believe, had the church not been practicing discrimination all along. We seem not to have noticed that the only people against whom Jesus spoke and fought were the ultra-righteous and conservative religious people. Against sinners he spoke gently and lovingly, while crying out against the religious folk who thought they had mastered the mind of God.
The world is a step ahead of us in many matters of justice. This is not new: I well remember from my youth that it was the conservative Christians who fought hardest against the civil rights of Black Americans. In the South, that is still the case in many areas. And it was the conservative Christians who fought hardest against the civil rights of women. And many still do.
Just so, it is the conservative Christians who now make it impossible for the world to conclude anything but that we are a bunch of self-righteous fools who hate anyone who is different than we are.
How, in a democracy, can we be persons who are true to our moral commitments without demanding that the government enforce our own particular — and sometimes peculiar — moral positions? I have no easy answers, of course, but I do have a prayer: “Lord, help us to be people of love who consistently demonstrate your grace and compassion.”