Conscience, and objections

A wilderness firefighting crew of conscientious objectors in 1945, who were clearly doing it all wrong. (WikiMedia Commons)

There’s an emerging strain of thought in contemporary, politicized U.S. Christianity, which holds that freedom of religion logically must permit pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills if they believe that birth control is wrong; or, more lately, for people who provide wedding-related services to refuse to serve gay or lesbian couples if they oppose same-sex marriage. These refusals of service are an expression of conscience, the reasoning goes, and you can’t just force someone to violate their conscience, even if it’s in the course of doing their job.

This thinking would have come as quite the surprise to the Christian tradition in which I was raised. Mennonites know something about conscientious objection, since they’re pacifists—so, rather than take up arms, my grandparents’ generation spent the Second World War doing alternative, nonviolent service in forestry and soil conservation, in public health and psychiatric care, as wilderness fire fighters, and even as human guinea pigs. That is to say, they felt it was wrong to kill, so they opted to do hard, unpleasant, even quite dangerous things rather than take a job that required them to kill.

But clearly what those COs should actually have done was sign right up for the draft, work their ways through boot camp, ship out to the front—and then lay down their arms. From what I can tell, the current generation of “dissenters” would say it was only a free exercise of their Constitutional rights.◼

Zombie meme: The church of false apology

Forgiveness? Photo via

So, lately there’s been a story percolating through the gay and gay-friendly blogosphere, about a church that went to Chicago Pride to apologize:

I spent the day at Chicago’s Pride Parade. Some friends and I, with The Marin Foundation, wore shirts with “I’m Sorry” written on it. We had signs that said, “I’m sorry that Christians judge you,” “I’m sorry the way churches have treated you,” “I used to be a bible-banging homophobe, sorry.” We wanted to be an alternative Christian voice from the protestors that were there speaking hate into megaphones.

There’s even this photo of a guy in short shorts, so overcome with emotion at this “alternative Christian voice” that he stepped out of the parade for a hug. It sounds beautiful—as they say, almost too good to be true.

Regrettably, that’s because it is too good to be true.

The story’s not new—I first ran across it, complete with that photo, back in 2010, when Dan Savage posted about it. Dan said it made him “tear up” … and then he learned that things were not as they seemed. The group mentioned in the story, the Marin Foundation, has a history of taking this apologetic stance—but they’re not apologizing for saying that being gay is sinful. They’re just sorry that other fundamentalists have been a bit rude about the whole going-to-Hell-for-loving-who-you-love thing. The fellow behind the foundation, Andrew Marin, has a history of self-promoting bullshit going back at least to 2006, and he’s right at home with the fundamentalist bigots when it suits him to be.

It doesn’t matter how polite you are when you say it—the position that same-sex relationships are inherently sinful, that gays and lesbians are somehow undermine the “sanctity” of other people’s relationships by loving the people we do, is inherently and inexcusably hateful. It’s the root of the more overt bullying and hatred that the Marin Foundation is ostensibly repenting for. There are lots of Christians who have truly repented and repudiate fundamentalist homophobia, and all of them acknowledge this link: Fred Clark and John Shore are two sterling examples; or see the religious groups who are rallying against Minnesota’s proposed constitutional ban on marriage equality.

I can certainly understand why the Marin Foundation story keeps popping up; it’s a poignant one, and it’s one we’d like to see happen for real. And stories like it are happening for real, all the time and all over the country. But Marin’s flashy, two-faced stunt at Chicago Pride distracts from quieter stories of real repentance, love, and acceptance. ◼

Not that I watch Monday Night Football, either

Slacktivist Fred Clark, as ever, draws an apt comparison:

This suggests that anyone who hopes to become an ethical person would be better off watching football on television every Monday night than attending worship at a Southern Baptist church every Sunday morning. Monday Night Football might not make you a better person, but the Southern Baptist Convention has long employed an “ethics” spokesman who seems determined to make you a worse one.

Actually, now that I think of it, much of what I like about the Slacktivist is his apparently limitless ability re-frame Christianist bigotry as a failure to behave by standards of basic human decency. Jesus said of simple courtesy, “even the pagans can do that.” Fred Clark says, “Hey, folks? The pagans are doing it better.” ◼

Preach it!

Dan Savage has had it with moderate Christians who complain about his emphasis on the bigotry of the fundamentalists.

I’m sick of tolerant, accepting Christians whispering to me that “we’re not all like that.” If you want to change the growing perception that “good Christian” means “anti-gay”—a perception that is leading many people to stop identifying themselves as Christian because they don’t want to be lumped in with the haters—stop whispering to me and start screaming at them. Until there are moderate and “welcoming” Christian groups that are just as big, well-funded, aggressive, and loud as the conservative Christian organizations, “welcoming” Christians are in no position to complain about the perception that all Christians are anti-gay. Your co-religionists have invested decades and millions of dollars in creating that perception. You let it happen.

Memo to Solid Rock Church, Monroe, Ohio:

When you rebuild the enormous Jesus-idol that just burned to the ground after being struck by lightening, it probably wouldn’t make it any more sacrilegious if you add a couple of lightening rods.

The graven image, before it experienced the wrath of static electricity. Photo by DRust.

“It sent goosebumps through my whole body because I am a believer,” said Levi Walsh, 29. “Of all the things that could have been struck, I just think that that would be protected. … It’s something that’s not supposed to happen, Jesus burning,” he said. “I had to see it with my own eyes.”

“I can’t believe Jesus was struck,” said his brother, who noted the giant Hustler Hollywood sign for the adult store across the street was untouched. “It’s the last thing I expected to happen.”

Whether jostled by the incident, or ready to call out zingers, all agreed the statue is what makes that stretch of I-75 in front of the church special.

Via Dan Savage, who correctly identifies the violation of the second commandment; and Slacktivist, who implicates Zeus.

The brood of vipers

NY Times:

Citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to civil disobedience, 145 evangelical, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders have signed a declaration saying they will not cooperate with laws that they say could be used to compel their institutions to participate in abortions, or to bless or in any way recognize same-sex couples.

They say they also want to speak to younger Christians who have become engaged in issues like climate change and global poverty, and who are more accepting of homosexuality than their elders. They say they want to remind them that abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom are still paramount issues.

This, of course, is on the heels of the threat by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. to discontinue charitable work if the city council passes a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Photo by jikido-san.

Christianity was founded on stories of a man who preached sacrifice of self to the needs of others, went drinking with prostitutes and other social outcasts, and was executed as a common criminal by the government. The figure of Jesus as described in the Christian scriptures is, to me, an ideal I can only hope to emulate. Yet many of the people who take his name for their moral identity — and the loudest, most vehement and visible of those who do — would evidently react with disgust if they met their Lord on the street, and condemn his teachings as un-American if they actually understood them.

I wanted to write something more scathing than that. But I’m just tired. I’m going to hand the mic over to that guy they keep claiming to follow.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
(Matthew, chaper 23, New International Version.)

The first church of taking offense

Heard about R. Crumb’s comic-book adaptation of Genesis? The Slog passes this along from the Daily Telegraph:

“It is turning the Bible into titillation,” said Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, a religious think-tank. “It seems wholly inappropriate for what is essentially God’s rescue plan for mankind.

“If you are going to publish your own version of the Bible it must be done with a great deal of sensitivity. The Bible is a very important text to many many people and should be treated with the respect it deserves.”

Thing is, Crumb’s adaptation is an entirely straight-faced illustration of the text. (Check out NPR’s excerpt, if you want to see for yourself.) So, yes, Adam and Eve are naked, and Lot has incestuous (and unwilling) sex with his daughters. But these are straight out of the text! That’s right: a Christian “think-tank” is objecting to the very concept of illustrating the Bible. Slacktivist is right, in spades.

Walking the Jesus Trail

The Washington Post has a great piece, with photos, on the Jesus Trail, a hiking path through northern Israel that connects the wealth of Biblical-historical texts related to stories in the Gospels. Although the subject matter is the life of Christ, it’s an attempt to bring together all three of the Abrahamic faiths — the guesthouse that anchors the trail in Nazareth is a joint venture between an Israeli Jewish manager and an Arab family that’s been there since before 1948.

One of the trail’s architects is my old college friend Dave Landis — we were on a university cross-cultural trip to Israel and Palestine together back in 2002, and spent a week backpacking in the region the Jesus Trail now traverses. Dave’s had a special interest in the much-contested Holy Land ever since. His site has lots more photos.