Neil Steinberg & Dave Gushee on the damaging idea that ‘hating gays is a bedrock of Christian faith’

William Lindsey points us to Neil Steinberg’s recent column, which I’m tempted to quote here in full. It’s titled “Anti-gay bias loses its legal whip,” but really Steinberg’s topic is sectarian coercion — the ability to require others, by law, to follow the particular dictates of your own sect. That’s a bad idea, Steinberg suggests, and an unjust and unfair thing to do. Your religion will be better off not trying to coerce everyone else to obey your religious law, he says:

The question remains: How can McDonald’s sell cheeseburgers, violating Jewish law? Not a toughie. Answer: Because the laws of kosher don’t matter to anyone but observant Jews. … Jewish dietary law has no bearing on secular law. Jews, a scant minority, are uninterested in trying to force their arcane practices upon non-believers. …

Anti-gay Christians are now approaching their cheeseburger moment — welcome, welcome — after the Supreme Court has tossed out much of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. The legal whip drops from the fundamentalist hand, which strikes them as oppression, forgetting they can still practice whatever private dogma they like regarding gays — never marry their own gender, disown their own gay children — but gay marriage is going up on the menu in more and more states. Society is marching — running, really — off without them, into a future of gay folk living openly without fear.

It hurts, bubbie, I know. Here’s a Kleenex.

You’ll get used to it. Take it from a Jew. You get used to the world not singing along with your religious peccadilloes. (Not that keeping kosher and discriminating against gays are comparable, except as religiously inspired irrational acts). No harm in cleaving to your faith in the midst of a carnival of all you don’t believe. At Christmas, it isn’t like I suffer through all these foreign practices — caroling, wassailing, midnight massing. I accept them with humility — it’s not my party, but it’s someone’s party. It isn’t all about me.

That’s an astute point, but it’s likely to fall on deaf ears among the sort of Christians who have half-convinced themselves that being wished “Happy Holidays” at the mall constitutes a form of religious persecution. “It isn’t all about me” isn’t likely to get through to the foot soldiers of the “War on Christmas.”

Steinberg contends with a typically mendacious statement from the Liar Tony Perkins, then wraps up with this:

There is a bedrock truth below all this, one that would have been unchanged no matter what the court ruled: Gay people don’t make worse spouses, or parents, or friends. If they did, chuckleheads like Perkins would wave any scrap of evidence like a flag. But there is none, so bigots have to try to twist these advances into some kind of religious oppression — that hating gays is a bedrock of Christian faith and to try to change that is persecution.

Good luck with that one. Ask the next rabbi you see if he feels oppressed because the United States government doesn’t enforce Jewish dietary laws. He’ll take a step back — distancing himself from the crazy person — and say, “No, and believe me, we know what real oppression is.” That’s where Perkins et al. will be in 50 years, only their privately held torch will not be a harmless dietary quirk, but a shameful, refuted hatred gilded with a thin, worn and crumbling veneer of faith.

That same twisted claim — “that hating gays is a bedrock of Christian faith and to try to change that is persecution” — also concerns Dave Gushee in his recent Religion Dispatches essay, “Christians v. Gays: The Damage Done.”

Gushee acknowledges the primary damage — that being done to others by Christians, but his focus here is on the secondary damage. He’s talking about the damage done to the church as a consequence of its choosing to be a source of damage for others. He’s talking about the damage of allowing our faith to be reduced to a “thin, worn and crumbling veneer” laid atop a “shameful, refuted hatred.”

Gushee summarizes that damage in five bullet points:

• Christians (understood to mean here heterosexual activist traditionalists) have become identified with actively pursuing the denial of rights and benefits to others that they themselves enjoy. In other words, the “Gospel” has been identified with the cause of self-benefiting social discrimination against a minority group, a losing hand if ever there was one.

• Christians, claiming to follow Jesus, have become identified as the chief enemies of gay and lesbian human beings (some of whom are also Christians), and of the moral and legal rights of lesbians and gays, whereas Jesus’ enemies tended to be people who performed exactly this kind of marginalization on the despised ones of their era.

• Christians have become known for a deeply distorted moral agenda by elevating the anti-gay cause to the top of their public ethics, and this in a world afflicted by war, hunger, ecological disaster and all manner of social injustice.

• Christians have alienated gays and lesbians and their families, friends, and sympathetic allies, driving many away from the love of Jesus Christ and contributing to the secularization of American culture. They have done a great deal to create hostility to the church and closed ears to the Gospel. The saddest cases are the church’s own rejected gay and lesbian adolescents and twentysomethings. They are legion.

• Christians have contributed to the fear in society that millions of Americans are unable to tell the difference between the church and the state, or between the demands of their faith on themselves vs. the demands of their faith on those who do not share it.

I wish I shared Dave’s confidence that “self-benefiting discrimination against a minority group” is always a losing hand. In the long run, yes, the arc bends toward justice, but in the shorter run of a generation’s life-span, privilege using power to defend itself often succeeds. I’m not saying it’s not evil, mind you — “self-benefiting discrimination” against the powerless is pretty much the definition of evil — but in a fallen world, selfish evil isn’t always a losing hand.

But Gushee’s point there — that equating the Gospel of Jesus Christ with such “self-benefiting discrimination” is obscene — is dead on.

He predicts three likely ways Christians will respond to the recent Supreme Court decisions and to future victories for LGBT equality:

One is to dig in their heels and resist every step of the way, with continuing damages along the lines just indicated, and all this in an increasingly hopeless cause.

He doesn’t seem to be recommending that one. Because, again — evil.

Another is to draw a clearer distinction between church and state, and between moral and legal norms, deciding that the place to defend and practice traditional Christian beliefs about marriage is in the church, not the state.

Did I mention that Dave Gushee is a Baptist? You might have guessed that already based on that earlier bit chiding Christians who are “unable to tell the difference between the church and the state, or between the demands of their faith on themselves vs. the demands of their faith on those who do not share it.” This second, eminently Baptist, response seems to be part of Gushee’s prescription, but not the whole of it.

The third is to be open to rethinking the possibility that the core Christian norms of love, justice, and hospitality must be integrated with moral norms related specifically to sexual ethics.

Yes, please, a bit of that too, thank you.

I’m not entirely sure what moral norms could exist or survive dis-integrated from love, justice and hospitality, but that is the weird situation now facing much of the church. We’ve got some vague notion of “specifically” sexual ethics that somehow exists wholly apart from love, justice, hospitality and their corollaries and kin, such as consent, trust, fidelity, mutuality, magnanimity, honesty, kindness, joy, etc.

Those, somehow, are not regarded as integral to “sexual morality” or to Christian sexual ethics, which is what makes our idea of sexual ethics so confused and confusing — an arbitrary set of lines and laws and Rules for Other People. Clanging brass and tinkling cymbals.

The folks Gushee is desperately trying to reach here will likely view this third option as a call to something radically new, but really his call for “rethinking the possibility” here is an attempt to get them to remember something old — something that they seem to have forgotten.

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  • Invisible Neutrino

    Nice writeup. Thank you. :)

    Would that there are more like you among the self-appointed moral warriors who have convinced themselves that siding with the great against the powerless is always a good thing.

    (Unfortunately that level of moral self-awareness appears to be lacking among them!)

  • aunursa

    The question remains: How can McDonald’s sell cheeseburgers, violating Jewish law?

    About 25% of the 160 McDonalds locations in Israel are under kosher supervision. The kosher restaurants are closed on Saturdays and do not serve products that mix meat and dairy, such as cheeseburgers. Some of the kosher locations serve milkshakes and ice cream sundaes in a separate section of the restaurant. During Passover the kosher locations use buns made of potato flour, and Chicken McNuggets are coated with matzah meal.

  • FearlessSon

    Buns made of potato flour and chicken nuggets coated with matzah meal sound delicious.

  • Wednesday

    I can’t speak for the McDonald’s version, but I can confirm that in general, matzoh-meal breading on chicken fingers is tasty and not any more difficult to do than, eg, use Bisquick for breading.

    Since we’re on the subject, I might as well mention that matzoh also makes a very handy substitute for lasagne noodles (and cuts down on prep time and difficulty, since rather than trying to cook the noodles and hope they don’t break, you just moisten your matzoh with water and start layering right away).

  • Lori

    If you’re organized enough know that you want lasagna tomorrow, as opposed to today, and you have enough space in your refrigerator for the pan you can use regular lasagna noodles without cooking them.

    Just put the lasagna together the way you normally would, leaving the noodles raw, then cover the pan well & stick in the fridge overnight. Pull it out an hour or two before you need to start baking it so that it will warm up to more or less room temp, then bake it like you normally would. IMO it’s actually better this way since the noodles are less cooked and more al dente.

  • We Must Dissent

    Another method that I’ve seen (and used) to accomplish the same thing is to simply soak the noodles in warm water while you prepare everything else. They become pliable but definitely not cooked. I agree that the final result is much better than using cooked noodles. It also makes for a firmer lasagna because the noodles absorb some of the liquid from the sauce.

  • Lori

    I’ve never tried that, but it makes sense. I’ll file that away for this winter when lasagna sounds good again (it’s way too hot for it now).

  • Ross

    Nuggets coated with matzah meal do indeed sound delicious, but if it’s McDonalds we’re talking about, once you’ve removed the McNugget breading, you’ve pretty much negated the only worthwhile thing about the McNugget

    (You know the joke about the german who goes to an american McDonalds? He orders a beer, and the other customers all laugh at the funny foreigner who doesn’t knoiw that you can’t get a beer at McDonalds. Suddenly he falls to the floor incapacitated by helpless laughter, and declares “I just realized: you people come here for the food!”)

  • Ben English

    75% aren’t and presumably serve cheeseburgers to non-practicing Jews and non-Muslim Arabs, and the eternal conga-line of tourists from around the world.

  • aunursa

    The other 25% would also serve non-practicing Jews, Muslim and non-Muslim Arabs, and any tourists. Just not cheeseburgers.

  • damanoid

    So if McDonalds decided to go full Chik-Fil-A and lose a bunch of customers in Israel by serving only non-kosher food in all their restaurants, would the government shut them down?

  • aunursa

    McDonalds served non-kosher food in all of their restaurants from 1993 to 1995. I presume that offering some kosher locations is a business decision, not related to any government action. (Note: They use kosher meat in all locations.)

    Useless trivia: The only kosher McDonald’s restaurant outside of Israel is located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  • Charby

    That’s not useless. If I ever win an absurd amount of money from a trivia show because of that, you’re getting a cut.

  • Daniel

    and that was only done to piss off all the nazis that were hiding out there.

  • tricksterson


  • Jessica_R

    For some reason I’m reminded of the line “there are few things more sincere than an orgasm” when thinking of the miserable stunted weeds that pass for most Christian sexual “ethics”.

  • FearlessSon

    There are some people who are insincere about orgasms though.

  • Matri

    Still way more sincere than what passes for Christianist “ethics”.

  • EdinburghEye

    I’m a vegetarian. Sometimes, people who aren’t vegetarian eat vegetarian food right in front of me.

    I feel totally oppressed that they’re enjoying a salad or an avocado sandwich, when that should be just for vegetarians.

  • themunck

    I believe the term is “QFT”.

  • Hexep

    But are they eating food that just doesn’t have meat in it, or that has meat substitutions?

  • Daniel

    I’m not anti-vegetarian myself- indeed one of my best friends is a vegetarian- but I do find myself choking with barely suppressed rage every time she eats a quorn sausage. The definition of a sausage is the insides of an animal ground up and put inside an intestine. That’s not prejudice, that’s just the way it has always been. That’s the definition of the word “sausage”- vegetarians should give it back. They already have carrots, why do they need sausages as well?

  • Hummingwolf

    On a (vaguely) serious note, I have met vegetarians who are convinced that non-vegetarians eat meat dishes and nothing but meat dishes all the time. One of my former housemates used to grab my bags of frozen vegetables from the freezer and use them in his cooking, working on the assumption that even if he couldn’t remember having bought those peas, the peas must be his because nobody else in the house was a vegetarian. Eventually he learned to understand the meaning of the word “omnivore”…

  • aunursa

    I try to eat a little extra meat each day to make up for a vegetarian.

  • Ross

    Do you also idle your car to cancel out hybrids?

  • aunursa

    No. But I’ve heard of people who bought carbon debits to cancel out their militant environmentalist friends and relatives’ carbon credits.

  • Ross

    The man who came up with this is either a con artist or a captain planet villain.

    (This actually seems like a great way to rip off the worst sort of people in the world.)

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Let’s be fair. They could be *both*.

  • tricksterson

    I don’t know. Is anyone on the planet one-dimensional enough in their personality to qualify as a Captain Planet villain?

  • Hummingwolf

    Should I be eating extra bacon cheeseburgers to make up for those kosher McDonaldses? Tempting thought, that.

  • aunursa

    You’re welcome to eat extra bacon cheeseburgers (and especially if you’re not a Jew.) Just not at a kosher location.

    Reminds me of the Lincecum diet.

  • Hummingwolf

    Well, of course I wouldn’t eat them at a kosher location. That’d just be rude.

    As a rule, I try to eat burgers made with real meat (and real cheese or real bacon, if applicable) in order to make up for the existence of McDonalds’ food.

  • Raksha38

    Heh. In all fairness, though, maybe some of those people grew up with people like my step-father, who does indeed eat meat dishes and nothing but meat dishes all the time. If he goes over to a friend’s house, he will bring his own meat or grab a bacon double cheeseburger at a drive-thru if he suspects they won’t have “enough” meat. He even gets passive-aggressive whiny because I won’t add bacon pieces to my chocolate chip cookies!

    Yes, his cholesterol levels are terrifying. We’re all legit worried for him, at this point.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    *small voice*

    Bacon on cookies?

    That sounds like an Eldritch Abomination to me. D-X

  • Ross

    Turns out that with bacon, there is a direct proportion between how much something sounds like an utterly batshit idea and how UNIMAGINABLY DELICIOUS it is.

  • Monica Swanson

    Something that’s always bugged me about people who claim to defend “traditional Christian values about marriage:” isn’t the fact that 50% of all marriages end in divorce a bigger threat to the “sanctity of marriage” than the 10% of people who want to marry someone of the same gender?

    Just as true “pro-life” values should include support for women’s rights, true “sanctity of marriage” values should include proper pre-marital and marital counseling, and support for those who need help leaving an abusive relationship, so that ALL marriages are between loving, caring adults who are ready to commit “until death do us part.”

  • dpolicar

    IME, when cornered on this they typically reply as though divorce were a symptom of our lack of respect for blah blah blah, so if we just change whatever it is they are currently complaining about to be the way they want it to be, the divorce rate will start to get better.
    Which is why the divorce rate in Massachusetts, for example, which led the country in recognizing marriage equality in its laws, is a whopping ~2.5 (divorces per thousand residents), while the divorce rate in, say, Nebraska, which led the country in passing constitutional amendments disallowing the recognition of same-sex marriages, it’s a mere ~3.7.

    Oh, no, wait… 3.7 is higher than 2.5, isn’t it?

    Hm. That’s odd. It’s almost as though they’re just making shit up.

  • Wednesday

    Excellent point.

    Self-described pro-lifers should _really_ be concerned about domestic abuse, because the two things that drastically increase the risk of a female abuse victim being murdered by an abusive male partner are when she tries to leave… and when she’s _pregnant_.

  • J_Enigma32

    Nah. the “pro-life” point boils down to this: it’s her fault for being a woman. If she weren’t a woman, then maybe we’d stand up and do something about it.

    And in that situation, we try the man for two murders, and shake our head at how fallen society is while huddling up tighter in our gated communities, as removed from reality as Alice’s Wonderland is.

    These are Orwellian terms. Newspeak given live. Whenever I hear someone say “Pro-family”, my automatic response is “oh, so you hate gates and women.”

  • J_Enigma32

    Damn. I cannot type today.

    live = life
    gates = gays

  • Hummingwolf

    I was wondering what the “pro-family” types had against gates.

  • Daniel

    They don’t hate all gates. Just ones that swing the wrong way.

  • Pjs8200

    Thanks Monica, these are the two main issues I use as well, neither of which ever seems to illicit any kind of response from the other side except for maybe a “You’re going to burn in hell”. As a member of the LGBT community, as well as supporting a woman’s right to choose, I’ve begun comparing these people to the Taliban and referring to them as the Christian Taliban. Since we live in a secular society, they can take their biblical rantings back to their church and STFU.
    I’m tired of fake ass wanna be “Christian’s” trying to dictate how the world should be according to some skewed bullshit religious view. They also seem to be completely missing the fact that one thing God bestowed on ALL people, is free will. Believe in Him or don’t. The choice is yours and yours alone to make. They’re also giving good and decent Christian’s a really bad name.

  • Lliira

    50% of marriages do not end in divorce. That statistic was from a time when the divorce rate was exceptionally high, and even then it wasn’t as high as 50%. The statistics done to get that number were absolutely appalling.

    Here is what the best studies on the subject I’ve seen have found: 25% of women who marry at age 25 or over, have some education beyond high school, and have their own source of income, get divorced. The highest rate of divorce for women is 40%: women who marry young, have little education, and do not have their own source of income. Even these rates are pushed up by people who marry and divorce multiple times.

    Wealthy celebrities may have a 50% divorce rate, but that’s about it.

  • Ross

    25% of women who marry at age 25 or over, have some education beyond
    high school, and have their own source of income, get divorced. The
    highest rate of divorce for women is 40%: women who marry young, have
    little education, and do not have their own source of income

    But that would indicate that it’s not uppity women getting edumacation and them unwomanly Real Jobs instead of taking their shoes off and going back intothe kitchen as God intended that’s destroying the family! And keeping women uneducated and unemployed doesn’t stop them from getting ideas above their station like that maybe they shouldn’t stay in failed marriages?

    That’s unpossible! Next you’ll be telling me that tax cuts for the rich and lowering minimum wage doesn’t make everyone employed and wealthy!

    Hm… Maybe it’s the gays that are destroying the family instead.

  • Baby_Raptor

    So, wait. You’re telling me the anti-gays actually did something good?

    Because culture getting more secular is only a good thing. The more separation between culture and religion, the better.

    You’d think a proponent of the separation of church and state would consider this a good thing; whereas Mr. Gushee is bemoaning that the anti-gays have hurt Christians’ chances at keeping their religion soaking the country.

    And, no thank you. Please keep your Christian values in your personal views on sex, not the country’s. We already see how well that is working out down here in the Bible Belt.

    Seriously. Just keep your religion in your life, Mr. Gushee. It’s better for everyone involved.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    I think when Mr. Gushee refers to the increasing secularisation of the U.S., he means not a strengthening of the separation of church and state but rather the simple decrease in the number of U.S. citizens who are religious. To me, as one who is religious but whose religion mostly disapproves of prescribing religious choices for others, that’s a neutral thing; to Gushee, who believes that (to put it simplistically) all humans are in need of Jesus in their lives, it’s probably a negative. But I think if it is considered by many a positive (again, I’m talking simply about the diminishing religious population in the U.S., which is what I think Gushee means), that too is a damage wrought by the most visible mainstream religion in the country having elevated ugly anti-gay bigotry above the social justice concerns that Jesus himself was said to preach.

    Which isn’t to say that the PR damage caused by anti-gay bigotry in the name of Jesus is the worst cost of that bigotry, but it certainly is a cost.

  • schismtracer

    There’s a fourth option also, to refocus their wrath on another, more socially-acceptable target (transfolk or immigrants, for example) and therefore kick the can a few decades down the road.

  • chgo_liz

    These Christians who use Leviticus as the excuse for vilifying homosexuality should be following the dietary laws from that same book, right?

    So, no cheeseburgers for Christians, either.

  • Charby

    No, that’s way too hard. The only parts of the Bible that are ironclad are the ones that are personally easy for them to follow.

  • Daniel

    Jesus suffered so they don’t have to.

  • aunursa

    The prohibition against mixing meat and dairy is not found in the Bible. It’s a rabbinic extension of the prohibition against boiling a young animal in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Deut 14:21).

    Now if you said, no shrimp cocktail, no crab omelette, no (pork) bacon, no pepperoni for Christians — that would be a Biblically based prohibition.

    (The Jewish perspective is that the 613 Commandments apply only to Jews; only 7 laws given to Noah apply to all humanity. So we would neither ask nor expect a Christian to observe the dietary restrictions in her daily life.)

  • chgo_liz

    No, silly, Christians get to decide which parts of the Old Testament (not the Tanach, of course) apply to everyone and which don’t.

    But you’re right: I used the shorthand of Leviticus, but the passages are actually in Exodus and Deuteronomy, as you said. Which are part of the Tanach. Oh, I mean, the Old Testament.

  • aunursa

    I didn’t realize that you had cited Leviticus in error. I intended merely to correct your implication that the meat/dairy prohibition is Biblically based. Whether the prohibition in question comes from Exodus, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy is not a meaningful distinction. For Jews, in general the five Books of Moses that are in the Torah are equally authoritative.

    In other words, I was responding to your citation of a book from the Torah for the prohibition, and not to the specific book that you cited.

  • Michael David Barber Moghul

    Screw religitards and their ignorant churches and dogma. You lose if you live according to 2000 year old BS.

  • Truthspew

    And something else to consider, and this impacts ALL Christians. Much of what they believe is basically, and I’m being charitable here FICTION, or more accurately myth. Consider the gospels about Jesus and his death – the nearest one was written 20 years after the alleged event. And it was passed on not in print by via oral tradition of the time.

    Just think about stories you heard from 20 years ago. I bet a lot of the details are left out and some details are actually embellished.

  • tricksterson

    Oh yipee! Disqus is letting me communicate again!

  • Kagi Soracia

    Anytime a Christian like you writes something like this, something that’s not inherently designed to hurt or reject people like me, it makes me cry a little, and feel a little less like a living oxymoron for being a gay person of faith.

  • AnonymousSam

    *Hugs, if they are appreciated* Fred’s done a wonder of good for reconciling me with Christianity, too. This is where he earns his place.

  • Kagi Soracia

    Ahhh, thanks. :) I wasn’t sure even Fred would see that comment, given how old the post is – I’m still working my way through old LB posts, using the archives now that I’ve run out of ones that are indexed, and I keep getting distracted along the way.

  • AnonymousSam

    Fred has never directly replied to a comment in the comments section that I’ve ever seen, so I don’t know how frequently he reads them. The community itself, though, there are a number of us who subscribe to threads (especially now that Disqus makes it a pain to go through threads with a lot of comments) and will often reply to old posts. ♥