This is the Faith & Politics Institute's 2010 Civil Rights Congressional Pilgrimage. Every March Congressman John Lewis (D, Georgia) leads the members of the US Congress to Alabama churches and museums that participated in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. On March 7, 2010, the 45th anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" Selma March attack, wherein a much-younger John Lewis led a peaceful march across the Pettus bridge straight into a planned, coordinated assault by Alabama state troopers, the Faith and Politics participants marched across the same bridge.
In the middle, wearing the light grey suit and standing next to Congressman Lewis, is Mike Pence, now Indiana's governor and then the only Republican--House or Senate--to attend the pilgrimage.
So, when RFRA opponents assail Governor Pence for the legislation he signed (which proceeded lawfully through Indiana's state legislature) and/or for mixing religion and politics, those claims ring quite hollow. Is Pence a good governor? I don't know--I don't live in Indiana any more. However, this photo challenges times like the presen twhen anybody--Hoosier or not--claims religions should only have freedom of expression "within their own walls" (and thus stay of out of the public square wherein policies, procedures, and values are discussed).
Modern American discourse favors "religious freedom" when it fits convenient, comfortable, externally-established guidelines and boundaries. Dr. King's challenge to that convenience and comfort--quite frankly arrogance--was the bedrock on which the Civil Rights movement based its claim for freedom.
That same discourse, though, reacts quite negatively when that same religious freedom refuses to remain domesticated. Therefore, in the modern internet age, the mob forms online. Thus:
Indiana's Roman Catholic bishops have issued a statement on RFRA, making the standard but all the more needed reminders about human dignity and the common good. While I think he makes a good point here, I am not quite willing to go as far as R. R. Reno does in criticizing the bishops' statement. Reno:
I'm all for sober, dispassionate, and non-partisan church leadership that stays focused on core moral and religious principles rather than allowing itself to be drawn into the partisan fray. But connection to reality is important too. Right now the propaganda against the Indiana RFRA has made it clear that any resistance to the magisterium of the gay rights movement will be denounced as anti-American bigotry. Can the Church survive as a public institution in such a context without capitulating?
If there ever was a time for the Catholic social justice tradition to gather its vital forces and testify to the truths it espouses, folks, this is it. A Roman and Catholic voice would seek peace amidst this metastasizing conflict. It would of course defend, vigorously and joyfully, the Church's teaching on marriage and sexuality, but it would also reach across the public square to the RFRA opponents. It is a spiritual work of mercy to admonish sinners, but that's not the point here. We are, after all, asked to pray for our enemies. (And even that is probably too much; these are our friends, parents, and siblings "over there.") Will the other side, though, listen to the call for true religious freedom? Because that is what is at stake here--not just within the walls of worship spaces but in the public square. Can public discourse authentically tolerate religious diversity? Right now in our social media-fueled frenzy, the prospects do not appear encouraging. That does not, of course, abrogate the call to go forth.