When talk of ‘civil disobedience’ is just masturbation

When talk of ‘civil disobedience’ is just masturbation March 11, 2013

Here is a “news” report from Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network:

Leaders at this week’s National Religious Broadcasters conference warned Christians may soon be forced to practice civil disobedience.

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land and NRB board member Janet Parshall cited same-sex marriage and President Obama’s birth control mandate as the reason why.

Land said those issues are non-negotiable, even at the cost of paying fines and going to jail.

What on earth is Richard Land talking about? Is there any way to make sense of this? What could it possibly mean to say Christians should or could “practice civil disobedience” in reaction against marriage equality?

Richard Land likes to pretend he’s Rosa Parks because that’s so much nicer than admitting that he’s James F. Blake.

Here is the current legal context for Southern Baptist congregations in states that do not yet legally recognize same-sex marriage:

Your Southern Baptist church can celebrate and affirm the marriages of opposite-sex couples while refusing to celebrate or affirm the marriages of same-sex couples. The marriages celebrated by your church are legally recognized by the state.

The Episcopal or MCC or UCC church across the street can celebrate and affirm the marriages of  same-sex couples, but those marriages are not legally recognized by the state.

And here is how that changes in the few states that now do legally recognize same-sex marriage:

Your Southern Baptist church can celebrate and affirm the marriage sof opposite-sex couples while refusing to celebrate or affirm the marriages of same-sex couples. The marriages celebrated by your church are legally recognized by the state.

The Episcopal or MCC or UCC church across the street can celebrate and affirm the marriages of  same-sex couples, and those marriages will be legally recognized by the state.

The change does not affect the Southern Baptists at all. At all. It does not require them to start doing something they have not been doing or to stop doing anything they have been doing. It does not compel or prohibit them in any way. It does not require their obedience and thus it is not subject to their disobedience — civil or otherwise.

And because it is not possible for them to disobey this law, there is no way for them to wind up “paying fines and going to jail.”

So what is Richard Land talking about?

He’s just masturbating — fap-fap-fapping to the self-pleasuring fantasy of being a bold and courageous martyr for his faith.

Land’s statement is only slightly less ridiculous regarding the so-called birth-control mandate. Here, at least, his talk of “paying fines” is not completely irrelevant. Large for-profit companies that refuse to provide minimum standards of preventive health care coverage could indeed wind up paying fines under this “mandate.”

But again this does not affect “Christians” either. The law does not apply to churches, only to large secular employers. It applies to corporations. And while campaign-finance law may insist that corporations are people, my friend, I am not aware of any corporations that have been born again after praying the sinner’s prayer and inviting Jesus into their hearts as their personal Lord and savior.

I suppose some devout Southern Baptist corporate executive might follow Richard Land’s suggestion and refuse to provide the minimal preventive coverage out of solidarity for the religious liberty of Christian Scientists and faith healers, but even then such an executive would not be personally subject to “paying fines and going to jail.” The company would be fined, not the executive. So that’s not so much “practicing civil disobedience” as “screwing over shareholders.” (Those shareholders might, in turn, sue the company for a violation of fiduciary responsibility, and I suppose somewhere down the line that could mean the executive could personally face SEC penalties, but I’m reluctant to say that makes him the moral equivalent of Rosa Parks.)

The CBN “report” includes even more egregious wankery from the head of the National Religious Broadcasters:

Meanwhile, NRB President Frank Wright warned that Christian broadcasters’ religious freedom is at risk.

Wright urged this year’s convention goers in Nashville to unite to defend their right to spread the Gospel.

He warned biblical teachings are being dubbed hate speech — and there’s growing potential for discrimination lawsuits against Christian organizations for refusing to hire non-believers.

Wright told leaders, “Restrictions on religious freedom anywhere are threats to religious freedom everywhere.”

Again, what is Wright talking about? What is the basis for his claim that Christians “right to spread the Gospel” is under attack? His reference to “hate speech” is supported only by discredited urban legends, and his talk of “growing potential for discrimination lawsuits” is utter nonsense following a 9-0 Supreme Court ruling in the Hosanna-Tabor case. So what is the substance of this complaint?

That’s not the point. This isn’t about substance or reality. It’s about how saying such things makes him feel.

Wright’s not actually trying to defend “religious freedom,” he’s just trying to feel the buzz of imagining himself as an imperiled and courageous member of some righteous remnant facing persecution from the ungodly because of his awesome godliness.

That’s much more exciting than the rather glum reality of presiding over an industry convention representing broadcasters who make lots of money catering to a privileged and pampered majority.

Talk of “civil disobedience” and supposedly imperiled faith makes people like Land and Wright feel good about themselves. They require such fantasies to feel good about themselves because their reality doesn’t allow that. In reality, they know themselves not to be heroic champions of the underdog. And that reality has got to be depressing.

One option would be to change — to become better people who use their power, privilege and influence to make the world a better place. But that’s hard. It’s easier just to play make-believe.

So they spin out fantasy scenarios in which they’re not privileged and powerful, but rather an oppressed, beleaguered and aggrieved minority suffering injustice at the hands of some other, imaginary powers that be. Then they can imagine that, in this fantasy, they’re just like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and Harriet Tubman all rolled into one and they can imagine just a tiny taste of how proud they would be of themselves if anything at all like that were actually true.

I don’t begrudge them whatever pleasure they give themselves with such fantasies. But that sort of thing really shouldn’t be done in public.

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  • Lori

    Yes, many businesses have those signs, but the signs in and of themselves don’t actually confer any legal rights or authority. You can put up any sign you want, you’re still not allowed to discriminate against protected classes.

  • SergeantHeretic

    ReverendRef, my thinking was thus:

    I would see so MANY of these people being mean and spiteful and selfish and self rightous and clannish and abusive and so on and so forth, and I would think to myself, “Acting that way is demonstrably self evidently wrong. Even if I wanted to do those things I would not need to be a Christian to do those things and be the way they are. shouldn’t the difference between Christians and nonChristians be that Christians act demonstrobly BETTER than non Christians, not demonstrably worse?”

    To quote Tyler Perry, I can do bad all by myself.

  • Lorehead

    Businesses do not actually have, under the law, “the right to refuse service to anyone.”  For example, they do not have the right to refuse service to black people.  That most Americans will defer to these signs anyway is a good example of how social norms are more important than the written laws.

    This is one of the ways in which I think Fred’s thesis about how civil disobedience can only be used for good fails in the real world.  If Chick-fil-A announced tomorrow that it wasn’t going to recognize two men or two women as married or give their spouses any benefits, it would be breaking many states’ laws, and many people would support them, certainly more enthusiastically than a narrow majority would object.

  • SergeantHeretic

    It all ties into the conciet in our culture that religious people are by definition better, more moral more trustworthy people than nonreligious people. This is a perception and a myth contradicted every day in every way by vehemently religious people commiting fraud rape child sexual abuse and everything else.

    My perosnal experience is as follows, I can do bad all by myself and more to the point I can do good all by myself to. and hey I can and do refrain from doing bad all the ime and I do it all by myself without anyone prodding me or poking me or threatening me.

    So why do I need religion again?

  • Madhabmatics

     if you are a D&D player just use grognard, it fits everything. Whiny old white guy who wants things like they were back in his day? Applies to everything

    “Women shouldn’t work or vote” – a gender grog

  • SergeantHeretic

    The worst thing about the whiney old white guys who want thing like they were back in the day is that they don’t want the 90% tax rate on daddy warbucks, or the major national infrastructure and works projects, no, they just want the racism sexism homophobia and crass and trashy public decorations masquerading as Christian piety.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

      You do have to wonder why a benevolent supernatural being lets *his own
    path* go so wrong.  Why, if it were worth some miracles to get it
    started, it’s not worth some miracles to stop it from becoming a source
    of immense evil and suffering.

    Yep.  For someone who claims believing in Him is so important, God stinks at PR.

  • P J Evans

     AFAIK, the places that usually do that are food service, and it’s usually something like ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service’. The only other reasons I can think of are things like smoking in a no-smoking zone, and using cell phones or cameras after being told that it’s not okay to use them. (They’re not likely to call in the police, but they will escort you out.)

  • Edo

    So they create this elaborate fictional context in which the poor, and the outsider, and the outcast and so forth are actually oppressing and marginalising THEM! that way it is really THEM that jesus needs to lift up and empower.

    Or am I giving them too much credit?

    A big part of that elaborate fictional context is called “the Left Behind franchise,” I think. So no, you’re not giving them too much credit at all.

    Thank you, SergeantHeretic, for posting this comment. As someone who reads critical theory and theology for fun, I’ve been bouncing around an idea like this for the last night or so, and wondering if it’s just me being a half-baked theorist and playing with words. Your thoughts suggest that it’s not just me, and I’m really thankful for that.(I’d be glad to discuss it further, but it’s usually a bad idea to launch into a postliberal/narrative critique of political theology unsolicited.)

  • I think that the anti-equality RTCs are correct when they say that marriage equality threatens their marriages. Because for them, “marriage” is a sex-based hierarchy. One partner automatically has “headship” because penis.

    Which, of course, does not apply to same-sex couples.* And as same-sex marriage becomes more accepted, more people will notice this.

    So not only might RTC culture get it into their heads that same-sex marriages are the same as opposite-sex marriages, they may conclude that this means marriage does not have an automatic, penis-based hierarchy.

    The fear isn’t just that LGBT people might get marriage equality. It’s that women married to men might get equality too.

    *The idiotic “So which one of you is the guy?” questions aside.

  • Hexep

    You know, now this very specific topic is essentially concluded, and I feel like, since you will get a little ding when next it pleases you to check, we can use this opportunity to discuss our considerations in this space. I want to disclaim myself first, by saying that despite appearances, I am approaching this from a genuinely inquisitive perspective. On the one hand, I am of the belief that the only field of study that really matters is ‘why do people do what they do,’ which will ultimately lead me to the answer to the ultimate question, ‘why do I do what I do.’ So, that is my first and obvious motive. I must confess a darker one, however, which is the belief – possibly onerous – that because yours is the religion of my father and of my race, I would be… more comfortable with myself if I believed in it? Rather than the one that I adopted later in life, which is personally quite fulfilling but is often socially troublesome. We can discuss that later.

    So, I would like to begin with a topic that I find personally troubling, which is the Incarnation. Let me know if I’ve got the story straight:

    At one time, the human race was free of sin. But then, Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, and for that reason were cast out of the Garden of Eden. Since then, every human being has an essentially sinful nature, due to free will. This means that without the grace of Jesus, we are all doomed to Hell – whatever that means, but it’s not as good as Heaven. Is that essentially right?

    Because what troubles me here is that it is a fundamental statement of irresponsibility. Like many people, I live in a universe that is fundamentally out of my control; in matters of work, health, finance, housing, and legal status, I am dependent – despite my best proactive efforts to the contrary – on the assistance of others. My destiny is not really in my own hands. The one thing in my life that I can control, though, is my own sense of personal morality and ethnic integrity.

    Living as I do where all I have that’s mine is my good name, how can I, with dignity, accept this notion that I am due for a massive, cosmic demerit, and that it is simply being rescinded for matters that are above my head? If I deserve to go to Hell, then shit, let’s go – I’ll go there proudly, with the knowledge that I am better than all the people who skipped out due to friends in high places – that I am truly the owner of my actions, in a sense that nobody in Heaven is.

    What am I seeing wrong here?

  • ReverendRef


    This could be fun. I’m currently in the middle of Holy
    Week and otherwise occupied, but will get back to you next week. Rather
    than do this through the comment section, though, feel free to e-mail me directly at revtoddyoung at gmail dot com. If you shoot me an e-mail, I will respond that way.