An Evangelical Response to David Gushee’s RNS Essay “On LGBT Equality”
In his August 22, 2016 Religion News Service essay “on LGBT equality, middle ground is disappearing,” evangelical ethicist David Gushee rightly announces that “middle ground” on the issue of LGBT equality is quickly disappearing. Americans, including Christians, are increasingly polarized over it. That’s more or less acknowledged by most people. I have tried to explore and recommend some middle ground myself, here, on my blog and in the local newspaper, but it hasn’t found much acceptance.
But the real “meat” of Gushee’s essay seems to be something else and more than that rather obvious claim about disappearing middle ground. Throughout most of the essay he seems to be announcing that people, including conservative Christians, who continue to resist granting full equality to LGBT people even in private religious organizations will find themselves persecuted if not prosecuted—in the same way that people who continue to resist full equality for people of all races are persecuted if not prosecuted.
The practical implication is clear. Just as the IRS, for example, threatened to take away a Christian university’s tax exempt status when it failed to treat African-Americans equally, so the IRS will eventually take away tax exempt status of religious organizations that exclude LGBT people or fail to treat them equally with straight people.
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The pendulum is swinging especially since the Supreme Court decision mandating that every state and county grant marriage licenses to gays. According to Gushee, and he seems to look forward to this, in the future churches and other religious organizations will be forced to accept and hire LGBT people or lose their tax exempt status (or worse). Religious colleges and universities that discriminate against gays will lose their federal funding including access to student loan programs. Gushee doesn’t get that fine grained in his predictions, but these seem to be what he is predicting.
I agree; this seems inevitable.
And now a quick glance backward and then one forward.
I well remember when the federal government threatened to financially punish a large Christian university in the South because it did not treat white and black students equally. As I recall, although there may have been more to it, it had a rule forbidding dating between students of different races. Some accused it of discriminating against black students in other ways. It caved in to the threat and abolished rules the government targeted. Almost everyone applauded both the government’s threat and the university’s response (I included). I wondered at the time, however, what precedent this set for future government controls of religious organizations.
Once the government forces religious organizations to become inclusive of LGBT people without hindrances or discriminatory rules (e.g., forbidding gay marriage among its employees and/or students) by withholding tax exemptions all non-profit organizations receive, what will happen next? Does Gushee or anyone think that will be the end of government control of religious organizations?
There are influential people in American society who believe religion itself is deleterious to the well-being of society and individuals. I attended and graduated from a private secular research university’s Religious Studies Department. There were people in that university who believed that such a university had no business including such a department. Some of them were openly hostile to religion and expressed belief that religion itself is toxic. A few years ago I heard a theologian argue publicly that theology’s only legitimate task is to deconstruct itself. Many vocal and influential atheists make no secret of having only disdain for religion and believing it to be dangerous. One atheist former theologian declared publicly that while he was once in the “detective mode” discovering the dead body of God (1960s “God is dead” movement) he later moved into the assassin mode—attempting to kill people’s mythical gods. He said that people with gods are dangerous.
Can we see beyond the day when religious organizations are forced by government to become “welcoming and affirming” to a day when they are forced by government to drop all confessional or lifestyle requirements for hiring or admitting (students)? I can see it—in my mind’s eye. And I don’t think that’s just paranoia.
At least two Christian colleges I know of have already stopped accepting all federal money even for student loans. They did that to cut the strings the Department of Education attaches to such money. I don’t know how they manage to survive, but so far they do survive.
Given the inevitability of Gushee’s prediction coming true, and given the inevitability of government’s intervention in, even control of, religious organizations, perhaps religious organizations in American need to reconsider their tax privileges. Perhaps the time has come already for American religious organizations to bow out of all relationships with government including accepting money and tax exemptions that come with any strings attached (and they all do).
Perhaps Christians in America need to begin to regard themselves as on the cusp of living in the same situation in which Christians in the Roman Empire prior to Constantine found themselves—except for the occasional violent persecutions (yet)—and on the cusp of living in the same situation in which Christians in the former Soviet Union found themselves. Perhaps we are deluding ourselves by thinking we can go on acting as if our government values us (except when we kowtow to its expectations and demands).
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