COMMENTARY: A parched patch of prejudice

(RNS) Conservative Christians are claiming that their religious freedom requires free rein for legalized discrimination. That’s a clever argument. It seems to claim the moral high ground, to align itself with basic constitutional principles, and to put bigots in the victim role. The argument is utter nonsense, of course. Freedom of belief has nothing to do with compelling other people to bow to that belief. If anything, freedom of belief should lead to a broad umbrella of diversity, not a parched patch of prejudice.
The U.S. Constitution with an american flag.

The U.S. Constitution with an American flag. Photo courtesy of Mark Hayes via Shutterstock

The First Amendment to the Constitution, after all, sought to guarantee freedom — of religion, speech, the press, assembly and petitioning the government — not to grant freedom to some and not others, depending on the whims of the powerful or pious. What’s next? Disobeying traffic signs because a gay-friendly city government put them up? Drawing down on a policeman because he happens to be gay? Obeying only those laws that no gay person supports or benefits from? “Religious freedom,” as used by the right wing, is like earlier shouts of “America first” and “states’ rights” and “Christian nation.” It is a bullying slogan to justify dragging others down to their level of fear and loathing. Faith isn’t about building walls, but opening doors. Faith isn’t about naming and smiting enemies, but loving all, even enemies. Faith isn’t about judging others, but setting aside the instinct to judge and trusting God to be just. Faith isn’t about denying services and rights to people who are different, but setting a table where all are fed. But even if these conservatives have a firm religion based on discrimination and sexual identity, that is their business, not public policy. They can shout their convictions as much as they want, but they cannot impose them on others. The only “freedom” at stake here is their desired freedom to bully and badger fellow citizens whom they detest. That isn’t religious freedom. It’s a violation of the Constitution and the laws of this free land. It is also an offense against a Savior who died for all, not just for the like-minded. I don’t suggest we shut down anyone’s beliefs or convictions. That’s the nature of a free land: Someone is going to hold a view that I consider heinous, but that is her right. We have fought hard in this country, however, to clarify that private beliefs and public policies are different and that one’s private beliefs don’t confer any right to take away another’s rights. Christian conservatives, after all, aren’t speaking the absolute will and word of God any more than I am. Christianity is a broad umbrella, and they are just one cohort beneath it. America’s wild decision to have open borders and a democratic form of government means we will always be a rainbow nation. We will have people speaking different languages, eating different foods, worshipping and serving God in different ways, making different consumer decisions, working in different fields and celebrating unique identities.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich


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This works because we have a common currency, common laws, public services open to all and common respect for the rights of others. I realize that many Christian conservatives feel strongly about homosexuality. But those feelings aren’t the law of the land. Nor should they be. (Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)  patch of prejudice appeared first on Religion News Service.

24 Responses to “COMMENTARY: A parched patch of prejudice”

  1. nick batt

    I wouldn’t think this commentary would be very good advertising for his consulting business. Anger doesn’t sell, unless it’s in Big Time wrestling. Rev. Ehrich seems very angry. Also given the recent history of the Episcopal Church, advertising that credential doesn’t seem too helpful either.

    • Gold

      Text is an interesting format. Nick Batt reads this and hears anger. I read it and hear frustration.

  2. nick batt

    A little kid who wants to take his marbles and go home. is frustrated too. Anger is a common response to not getting your own way.

    • Gold

      So… Are you now comparing this adult to a little kid?

  3. Michele Joseph

    That is so true,Gold’s observation about text.
    I hope we develop a broader, more sophisticated collection of emoticons.
    I have experienced so many misunderstandings with people because text is
    not enough.
    But, I didn’t hear anger at all. He’s saying what needs to be said.
    And look at that guy’s smile ! Does he look like an angry guy to you ?
    Not to me !
    Thank you ,Tom !
    Now, I agree with Tom & if I had said it, it would have sounded angry.
    I glad Tom said it nicely.

  4. Christy Besozzi

    Odd thing about anger, especially when it is a man showing anger: the anger is actually fear masquerading as anger to “save face”.

    Since men are supposed to be fearless and bold, many cannot accept when they feel fear, so they lash out in what they might describe as ‘anger’. That’s why women do not have such a problem confusing fear and anger – because we are ‘expected’ to be fearful. Indeed, there are some common circumstances that we grow up learning to be fearful of – e.g. walking down a dark street alone.

    This is not my conclusion only. I actually first heard this in a psychology course I took many years ago.

    It makes me wonder about all these religious authoritarians. It appears to me that it is their fear of those who are different that makes them angry and on the offense.

    • Michele Joseph

      For me, very, very often, anger happens when I am hurt.
      Which, now that I think about it , does lead to a fear, I suppose you could say.
      If I feel like I need to defend myself-you can’t defend yourself from a place of weakness.
      But I didn’t hear any in this piece.
      But some other people did. Makes me wonder how much of reality is external
      how much of reality is created by our own perceptions?
      This guy Tom looks happy to me.

    • Gold

      “Odd thing about anger, especially when it is a man showing anger: the anger is actually fear masquerading as anger to “save face”.

      Since men are supposed to be fearless and bold, many cannot accept when they feel fear, so they lash out in what they might describe as ‘anger’.”

      These are broad and simplistic generalisations.

  5. Zappa912

    Well said Tom Ehrich. We are truly a rainbow nation, an umbrella of many freedoms that we all enjoy. We are free to believe, or not. We are a nation of many faiths and religious beliefs, and for some, no religious beliefs at all, as is their right. I thank my God every day for our First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and all the great freedoms it provides. It is what sets us apart from every other nation. Not just words, but freedoms that are vigorously fought for and protected under our rule of law. Though we may differ, sometimes very strongly, on our personal religious beliefs, they are protected in this place, the United States of America. Not to be imposed on any other person. God bless the USA, this land of Liberty, of thee I sing. Peace to all.

  6. Denis Eble

    “I realize that many Christian conservatives feel strongly about homosexuality. ”

    I wonder why that is? What’s it to them, anyway? Are they the judgmental Pharisees of the 21st century? The oh-so righteous interpreters of morals?

    What a pitiful lot of hypocrites!

  7. Zappa912

    Why are so many of you wasting your time on anger here? Because Nick says Tom Ehrich is angry. Nick has baited you into his trap once again to detract from Tom’s message. Enough of this nonsense about anger please. If you want to beat something to death, debate Tom ‘s message about the real meaning of freedom of religion in this country, not whether Tom or Nick are angry. I am done here, I hope. Peace.

  8. Michele Joseph

    O.M.G. You are right ! He has baited us again ! I hate that he does not.
    Now that just really pisses me off .

  9. Patrick O'Gara

    Legalising religious discrimination would be a total waste of time. People will discriminate whether it’s legal or not.
    We all discriminate about everything, don’t we – and, if we don’t – we ought to.

    Tom is discriminating – in this case – between himself and other varieties of Christian.
    And so he should, if that’s how he sees it.

    Best leave things the way they are.
    …And try to put a cheerful face on it.

  10. Zappa912

    Michele, my apology for my naïveté about these commentaries. My career was spent trying to keep on point, and maintain focus on the subject at hand. I am just starting to figure out that these commentaries//blogs are so free flowing, and can easily get off topic and diverge down totally paths. In the future, if I have a comment about the subject of an article, I will state my point and stay out of the rest of the theological, philosophical, theoretical, existential, and for me irrelevant part of it. Just as this comment is in part. Wow. I meant for this to be very brief and it quickly got away from me. This time, I think I really am done here. Peace.

    • Patrick O'Gara

      “I am just starting to figure out that these commentaries//blogs are so free flowing, and can easily get off topic and diverge down totally paths. “

      I suggest you think of these commentaries, as a typical dinner party conversation, Zapp.

      We start off agreeing, say, what a nice man Nick Batt is, and somehow, mysteriously, within a few sentences – we find ourselves discussing Adolph Hitler.
      …Just the way it goes.

      AndMichele is right – best to keep it all light-hearted, like she does.

      • Michele Joseph

        No, Patrick, I think that, in general, I do not keep it light-hearted, and I think you know it.I’m sure your comment was, once again, sarcastic.
        No, I take this very seriously.
        I have noticed that part of David’s title is “Community Manager”
        so I guess it’s safe to assume that part of the goal is to build a community.
        There are times that I have reflected ” Wow, that Patrick must HATE David”
        Here’s why:
        I am a very sensitive persom, but I am not alone in this town.
        There are a lot of very sensitive people hear.
        I’m betting you know that there is an organization here called “The
        Multi-Faith Council if Northwest Ohio. That’s been around quite a while.
        Recent developments : Multi-Faith has produced a child named The Greater Toledo & Northwest Ohio Compasssion Community. This group has been successful enough to have had Toledo declared a Commpasionate City, which will , among other things, improve the economy in the area.
        So, it’s a no brainer to know what we value around here. RESPECT.
        COMPASSION.
        I have mentioned that I am on the board of MFC, so I know how people feel about the mean streak that runs through our comment line, mainly you & Nick, and I can tell you that they find it about as attractive as they would find somebody sitting there typing the n-word over & over again, or watching somebody eat their own feces.
        It has offended more people than just me, and I can tell you that potential readers are just not tuning in.
        I guess we really are a Compassionate City, because I have talked to people who find it offensive.
        This may be all fun & games to you, but there are a lot of people here in Toledo who are working 24/7, 365 days a year to try to make this a kinder, more peaceful world.

        • Patrick O'Gara

          Don’t be so silly, Michele.
          Me “Hate” David? David? Hate?

          You are still running that unfortunate high temperature, I suspect.

          I shouldn’t have to bother pointing this out, but I take issue with ideas, not people.
          (Except for Nick of course, and he doesn’t mind.)

          You might consider trying that yourself.

          • Michele Joseph

            No, I am not running a temperature, and that was a disrespectful discounting thing to say.
            And no, you do not just take issue with ideas alone, you ridicule entire FAITHS.
            You have said highly offensive things about Bahai & Bahai’s.
            Don’t be gas-lighting me, Patrick.
            On another post regarding Lent, you have said yourself you know you are “viciously, brutally , unkind to religious believers”
            If I were the only person I know who felt the way I do, I would take your point of view under more serious consideration, but I am not.
            Many people find your style extremely offensive, and I have talked to people who have dropped in & left because if it.
            For many people, their Faith is what they hold closest to their heart.
            Nobody likes to be belittled or ridiculed, but when it’s in regard to their Faith, it’s intolerable.
            I challenged you to get into such an irreverent exchange with a Jew, and you turned tail and ran.
            You know you are out if line.
            Cut the B.S.

  11. Michele Joseph

    Hi Zappa, I don’t know why you are apologizing. I don’t feel like you said anything wrong or offensive .
    Did you think I was being sarcastic ?
    I wasn’t.
    I do agree with your statement about the baiting, I was just feeling light-hearted.
    I enjoy your comments & don’t feel you need to adjust your style in any way.
    I think this is a misunderstanding; at least I don’t understand.
    It seems like I have offended you & I’m not sure why.
    Maybe you have misunderstood me.
    Maybe this is one of those cases mentioned earlier about the inadequacy of text.

  12. Michele Joseph

    “Greater Toledo & Northwest Ohio Compassionate Community”

  13. Michele Joseph

    Patrick, There is nothing that can’t be expressed in a kind, polite , and respectful manner.
    I don’t have a problem with your IDEAS.
    My problem is with your MANNERS. You don’t have any.
    And, yes, if people are dropping in & leaving because of your rudeness, you are
    hurting David.
    Knock it off.

  14. Zappa912

    Thanks Michele for your kind words. No offense perceived. As I said, I am new at this blogging thing, and freely admit that I find it difficult to follow the rationale behind the discussion when it strays so far off the original topic. Also, thanks Patrick for your comments. I believe Dave Yonke has done a wonderful thing in creating this website for discussions on topics of religion, morals and values. But I do not agree with him giving Nick a platform for his commentaries. I strongly support free speech, and Nick’s right to his opinions, together with the freedom of religion commentary which is the one of the primary purposes of this website, and specifically this commentary by Tom Ehrich. Giving Nick his own platform certainly represents a protected form of free speech, but I think it will turn out to be a big mistake. We are both Catholic, but his brand of Catholicism and mine could not be farther apart. I continue to pray for Nick at Mass each week. His comments have embarrassed me as a Catholic many times, I regret to say. In closing, I am the first to admit that I have personally struggled with my faith because of the priest sex abuse scandal that has plauged my church for far too many years, and for the unequal treatment of women by the Catholic Church. But still I hang in there. Viva Papa Francis! Talk about digressing. Peace to all of good will.

  15. David Yonke

    Folks, we’re not going in a good direction here. Let’s take a deep breath and regroup. I encourage and value diversity of opinion on this site but there’s no place for negative comments about individuals. We won’t ever agree on everything, but we should respect one another’s opinions. Let’s try to keep our comments to constructive, civil and positive thoughts. Thank you for your cooperation!

  16. jules of Holy Toledo

    Life is an echo. What you send out, comes back. What you sow, you reap. What you give, you get. What you see in others, exists in you. Remember, life is an echo. It always gets back to you. So give goodness.

    — Unknown

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