Saturday, July 12, 2014

What is the Theology Behind Religious Exemptions?

7/12/2014—What exactly is the theology behind religious exemptions? The answer seems clear enough when I am directed to do a forbidden act or forbidden to do a required act—for example, a Muslim woman forbidden to wear a head scarf. The answer seems equally plain when the evil involved is extremely serious, a grave matter, as the Catholics would say. So, even indirect aid to commit an abortion would be a very sensitive matter, as is the case in some of the contraceptives in Hobby Lobby type litigation.

The government is apparently not allowed to ask why exactly a religious practitioner objects to participating in certain actions, but the religious communities should be anxious to do so. And those of us who believe we have a stake in the openness of secular society to religious beliefs, should also be anxious to do so.

So, let's leave an employer paying for abortion and birth control out of it. The new issue is discrimination against gay people. Some religious groups are asking for a religious exemption from laws banning discrimination against gay people. This seems theologically indefensible to me.

To change the frame for a moment, why would a landlord not want to rent an apartment to a gay couple? Because the gay couple are committing a sin. But the landlord does not know this as a fact. It is not a sin for two people to live together.

Conversely, the landlord knows for a fact that in his own home, he lives a life of sin. Perhaps he uses artificial birth control or perhaps he commits adultery or perhaps he simply does not love his wife as he ought to.

How about the government contractor? No one is suggesting that clients may be discriminated against—no food for a gay couple from a food bank. So presumably this is a matter of hiring. But it is not a sin to employ a gay person. How could it be? You are hiring a sinner no matter who you hire. Even, especially, if you are a sole practitioner.

Christians are not to judge others in this way, as if others sin and not Christians. It is indeed the other way around. The sin of a Christian is far more serious because it involves the denial of truth the Christian knows. The nonChristian is ignorant of, and potentially open to, the truth.

I thought the ultimate question is always, how is conversion possible? It is obvious that Hobby Lobby has rendered conversion less likely. But, maybe I am mistaken about that. Maybe the Christian witness is under such attack today that conversion is no longer the issue. Maybe today the question is the demoralization of the body of Christ. So, maybe today oversensitivity is to be sought, so that the Church may be heartened. Is this the theological justification I have been missing?

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