Thursday, April 2, 2015

amid the crowd

Indiana, the home of my beloved Wabash College and my father's ancestral land, is splitting apart right down the middle.  I know folks on both sides of the RFRA conflict--because let's face it, that's what it is--and, quite frankly, it's frightening. Since this is an Internet forum, it seems appropriate and necessary to start with the internet backlash against the legislation.  On that note, please consider:

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:

If we cannot see the venom with which the mob--in 1965 or 2015--reacts against dissenting views, then our public discourse--the exchange of ideas and policies in a democratic forum--is truly lost. That's one of the reasons why I will not give further voice to the RFRA critics;  this crisis has quickly and perhaps irrevocably spun out of control.  Intransigence and moral indignation now rule the day. Borrowing from Brene Brown, anti-RFRA criticism has shifted from assigning guilt (you've done wrong) to assigning shame (you are wrong).  The implication is that this latter designation is irrevocable and, for those assigning it, justification for violence.  It goes along Rod Dreher's notion of "merited impossibility:"  it will never happen, but when it does, the opponents will deserve whatever they get. This is not an improvement.

 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.

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