Like so many others, I’ve struggled to understand the recent debates over religious freedom and discrimination. There are the corporations like Hobby Lobby that are perfectly willing to pay for contraceptive coverage for their employees until the ACA came about. There are Catholic institutions like the Little Sisters of Mercy who assert that even filling out a form offends notions of religious freedom (tell that to all of my relatives who filed for Conscientious Objector status over the decades). There was the Federal Court smackdown of Notre Dame this week.
Then there are the efforts to give cover to businesses that want to refuse to sell or provide services to LGBT clients. On the one hand, I don’t know why anyone would want to have their wedding photographed or buy a wedding cake from a vendor that didn’t want to honor their relationship. On the other hand, I worry about the analogies with Jim Crow and with the idea that the state can permit bigotry and hate. That Governor Brewer has vetoed the bill in Arizona, and that legislators in other states like Ohio have withdrawn their bills begs the question.
There have been some interesting perspectives from Evangelicals and political conservatives that have criticized or rejected these efforts to enshrine bigotry into law. But the question that’s perhaps most interesting is how these vendors deal with other issues. Willamette Weekly asked some difficult, embarrassing, and silly questions of two vendors who refuse to provide services to LGBT couples. It turns out they are happy to provide cakes for divorce parties, baby showers for unwed couples, and the like.
The incredible pushback over these laws–from the business community, from the NFL, even from politicians who initially voted in favor of the bills, shows that something fundamental has changed very quickly. Even in Arizona, polls show that slight majorities are now in favor of gay marriage.
The courts are moving even faster. In the midst of this enormous sea change, it’s quite likely that many social conservatives are simply losing their bearings. The old answers and responses no longer resonate as they did even a few years ago. That’s true for politicians but it’s also true for people in business, in local communities, even in churches. The ground has shifted and it’s hard for them to get their bearing in this changing landscape. That they might seek legislative help to help them negotiate is hardly surprising. But it’s clear that the politicians are as disoriented as the ordinary population. A vote that they thought was safe and a nobrainer even two or three weeks ago suddenly is revealed to be absurd. That explains why Arizona state senators suddenly ask the governor to undo something they could have prevented with their no votes.
It’s easy for opponents of such laws to ridicule these efforts. But I think it’s important that we understand where they are coming from and help those who are feeling such disorientation to make sense of the world in which they now find themselves. For those of us who are Christian, it’s our responsibility to help our brothers and sisters who are struggling in this new context to figure out how to express their faith consistently and openly and to engage this rapidly changing culture in ways that witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ.
I think much of the same could be said of the conflict over contraception.