“Freedom of religion” is an important principle in the constitutions of the United States, and of many other countries. It has also been firmly endorsed in Catholic teaching. It is right and proper that Catholic Bishops should be speaking up for religious freedom, wherever it is threatened.
In the debates over marriage equality, however, their appropriation of the mantle to support their arguments is appalling Orwellian newspeak. They are not defending religious freedom here, but undermining it.
None of the marriage equality legislation anywhere, already passed, or under consideration, imposes same -sex marriage on anyone. To repeat the obvious, if your religious beliefs leave you opposed to same-sex marriage, the remedy is simple: don’t marry the same sex. If, as a minister of religion leaves you unable to conduct a same-sex wedding, don’t do it. Equality legislation will no force you to do either of these things.
However, prohibiting legal recognition of same-sex nuptials restricts the religious freedom of those religions who value equality. In January this year, two senior lesbian priests of the Episcopal Church celebrated their wedding in Boston Cathedral. Last year, the British Quakers made direct representations to government, for approval for full, gender-neutral religious weddings. Many other religious groups, including the MCC, the United Church, some dioceses of the Episcopal Church, and local congregations of other denominations, are practicing full marriage equality. Their numbers are growing. LGBT atheists too are entitled to religious freedom, and expect civil (not religious), discrimination-free marriage. Where does enshrining marital discrimination protect religious freedom?
“Freedom of Religion” is about respect by the state for people to practice their religion, and to live their lives, in a manner congruent to their religious beliefs. It does not confer the right of one religious group to impose their beliefs on others – which is what some Catholic bishops are attempting to do.
Notably absent from the bishops’ claims on gay marriage, is any supporting references from the Gospels. (Not surprising. There are none). At “What Jesus Did Do”, where Brandon Parks has a strong emphasis on precisely this, I found a post on the topic from May this year, but which has particular relevance now to the Catholic bishops. Here’s an extract:
Jesus broke down walls that the religious leaders of his time built up in order to exclude people. The Temple in Jerusalem which served as the center of worship for Jews at the time was set up with different divisions. The farther in you went, the more exclusive it was. In the outside of the Temple, all people were allowed. In the next level in, only Gentile men and all Jews were allowed. In the next level in, only Jews were allowed. In the next level in, only Jewish men were allowed. In the next level in, only priests were allowed. Eventually, when you got to the Holy of Holies, only the High Priest was allowed.
When Jesus overthrew the moneychangers at the Temple, he was showing his harsh disagreement with such an exclusive system that held people back from entering into the presence of God. When Jesus said he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, he meant he would destroy the current system of exclusion when he died, and would institute a system of inclusion when he rose from the dead and would unite people as the body of Christ. Finally, when Jesus ascended up into heaven and gave us the Holy Spirit, we became the Temple. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Being that each person that accepts Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior immediately receives the Spirit and therefore becomes the Temple of God, there is now no exclusion. Jesus is the God of inclusion, and to withhold that grace from gays and lesbians is to do dishonor to the grace we receive from Him. Whenever there was a situation in the Bible where a system of exclusion took place, Jesus turned that system upside down and instituted instead a system of inclusion where everyone felt loved and accepted for who they were.
If you are worried about your religious freedoms being impinged upon, think of the religious freedoms being excluded from gay Christians. Think of the religious freedoms being excluded from those of other religious bents that see nothing wrong with homosexuality. And think of what Jesus did. Jesus made people feel welcome, he made them feel loved, and he made them feel accepted. That is the least we could do.
– Full post at “What Jesus Did Do”
- “Equally Blessed” Petition to US bishops on Bullying (queeringthechurch.com)
- Catholic Bishops, Gay Marriage: “the Outer Fringes of Crazy Town”
- Responding to the “Continued Harm Our Bishops Cause” (The Wild Reed)
- “Enemies of the State”? Or Just Sore Losers? (The Wild Reed)
- Making Love is Making God: Gays and the NEW New Testament of Jesus (gaymystic.blogspot.com)
- The Jesus Seminar Renewed My Faith (shuckandjive.org)
- U.S. Catholic +Bishops Meet, and Michael Sean Winters Blogs (Bilgrimage)
- Updates from Michael Sean Winters on USCCB Meeting (Bilgrimage)
- Michigan Republicans Gut Anti-Bullying Bill, Using Religious Freedom Arguments Echoing U.S. Catholic Bishops (Bilgrimage)
- Laura Bassett on Growing Behind-the-Scenes Political Influence of U.S. Catholic Bishops (Bilgrimage)
- Making Love is Making God: Gays and the NEW New Testament of Jesus (Gay Mystic)
- The Jesus Seminar Renewed My Faith (Shuck and Jive)