The Christian Witness Against Discrimination

Before we all get into the weeds of evaluating the amended “religious liberty” laws in Indiana and Arkansas, it’s important to take notice of the religious groups that have publicly objected to the highjacking of the concept of “religious liberty” by the Right, religious and secular. I’ve taken notice here a couple of times of my own Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination, which got a lot of early attention for pledging to move its biennial 2017 national conference from Indianapolis if the original bill was signed by Mike Pence. But there were others, as Jack Jenkins of ThinkProgress discussed in a good roundup yesterday:

Other Christians groups were also quick to express disapproval with Indiana’s law. Episcopal bishop Catherine Waynick, who oversees the Diocese of Indianapolis, issued a pastoral letter last week saying the state RFRA is “an embarrassment to ‘Hoosier Hospitality’” and noting that other groups — not just LGBT people — could be denied services under the bill. (Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly-gay Episcopal bishop, has also repeatedly denounced the law.) In addition, the United Church of Christ tweeted an image earlier this week with a none-too-subtle criticism of Indiana’s RFRA inscribed over a rainbow flag….

Similarly, the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently voted to embrace same-sex marriage as a denomination, decried the Indiana RFRA in its original form but expressed hope that the governor’s proposed “fix” would prevent people from denying others services by citing religion….

Non-Christian voices have pushed back against the laws as well, many broadening their criticism to include other state RFRAs designed to discriminate. Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said Indiana’s law “permit[s] blatant discrimination against the LGBT community.” The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism decried the Indiana law, saying they were “deeply concerned” about its implications, and had harsh words for North Carolina’s bill, arguing it “undermine[s] the fundamental, bedrock American value of religious freedom.” And the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the oldest and largest rabbinic organization in North America, released a letter blasting bills that use religion to exclude, noting “bigotry in the name of religion is bigotry.”

Not all UUs will be happy to be described as “non-Christian,” but whatever.

There’s one other Christian group taking a stand that’s especially interesting given the Southern Baptist Convention’s very prominent role in promoting laws like the ones popping up in red states everywhere:

Even some theologically conservative Christian groups are speaking out against the new bills. The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which represents 15 different Baptist denominations, published a statement on Wednesday criticizing the laws and debunking the oft-cited claim that they reflect the original federal RFRA.

The Baptist Joint Committee was originally formed back in the 1930s to facilitate cooperation on church-state separation issues–always integral to Baptist identity–across the lines of division between north and south and black and white that emerged before and during the Civil War. Even as these divisions intensified during the Civil Rights era, Baptists remained united in taking a position on church-state separation that was pretty much where the ACLU was and remains. That ended during the 1980s, when fundamentalists took over the SBC and began listening to people like David Barton, who claimed church-state separation is compatible with quasi-theocracy.

The BJC sojourns on, supported by American (northern) Baptists, National (African-American) Baptists, and General (non-Calvinist) Baptists. I’m sure Russell Moore considers them liberal heretics, but in my book, they’re not the ones bending to secular culture.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.