Which Rights Are Righter?

I love the United States of America! I won’t say that we’re the greatest nation in the world—so many people believe that about their native land. As soon as we proclaim one to be the greatest, we automatically infer that all others are somehow inferior; a thought I won’t entertain for even a nanosecond.

I do believe that our forefathers displayed noble and brilliant thought in drafting our Constitution. We seem to have forgotten; however, that our system of government was designed with a low opinion of human nature in mind. Our nation’s founders had had their fill of tyrannical governments and their oppressive tendencies. The result is a system of freedoms, checks and balances that, while imperfect, has in many ways been the envy (and inspiration) of the world for over two hundred years.

The First Amendment of our Bill of Rights reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I would be in error to say that all of our forefathers were Christians; although the vast majority held to some type of Judeo/Christian ideal (as evidenced by the Bible passages adorning our government buildings). Still, they stood unified in their perspective that religion had all too often been improperly employed as a tool to oppress people of various beliefs. Thus, the very first article of the First Amendment addresses the freedom of religion, while the second wisely brings freedom of speech into the picture. These two freedoms helped construct the foundation upon which our free nation stands in spite of our natural human tendencies toward control.

Photo by hyku - CC BY-SA 2.0

Here is the fundamental problem: As gay rights (which are not protected by the Constitution) have been championed, our freedoms of religion and speech (which are protected) have been squelched. (Please read my previous post if you have not done so already.)

Having conversed with national college ministry leaders (and Christian legal counsel) at various conferences since the early 1990’s, I have become well aware of the proliferation of illegal anti-discrimination statements and hate speech codes in government funded public universities. According to researcher Gerald Uelmen, “There were approximately 75 hate speech codes in place at U.S. colleges and universities in 1990; by 1991, the number grew to over 300.”[1] These vaguely worded codes (which do not hold up in court) continue to be utilized to discriminate against the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Such trends are becoming increasingly evident in other sectors of the general public.

I don’t believe for a minute that every proponent of the GLBT agenda is antagonistic toward conservative Christianity. Most are concerned more about the freedoms and well-being of the gay community in general. I think the same could be said about the conservative Christian community—most Christians are not anti-gay; nor do they advocate the promotion of hate or discrimination. The majority just wants to preserve the freedom of religion for themselves and their children.

Which rights are righter? The answer is not simple because the pain of the gay community is very real. However, intended or not, the push for special rights for the gay community is steadily eroding our First Amendment freedoms—a terribly dangerous trend.

It’s difficult for us to imagine the United States not being a free nation, but just a few short years ago we didn’t envision this country not always being financially prosperous. Our forefathers knew what they were doing! Removing our foundational freedoms of religion and speech will pry open the door to totalitarian government. If (or when) that happens, I don’t think it will go well for either the conservative Christian or the gay communities!

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18 thoughts on “Which Rights Are Righter?

  1. Bob, I am really writing this in regards to your last post, but it seems to be equally applicable here. Since I moved to our current town, i have consistently heard about how Christians freedoms are being attacked, however, my problem with this line of argument is the degree of attack. While I think Christians should fight for their rights any time we feel that we are being discriminated against for our religion, in comparison to other groups, it is such a small amount, it is very hard for me to hear it compared to the discrimination that the LGBT community faces.

    Thousands of LGBT people get beat horrifically in this country each year because they are gay (I have had two students this year alone in the hospital that were attacked for being gay). These students are bullied from an early age to the point that hundreds commit suicide each year because of the bullying. In our community and other rural areas this problem is especially horrific because there are less option for escape. Watch this video of a boy getting beat horrifically just for being gay and think about the last time you have seen this type of beating in the US for being Christian:

    The sad thing is there are hundreds of these videos. The amount of kids that get beat like this each year are impossible to know, but it is at least in the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. The types of discrimination that we face as Christians, pale in comparison.

    Then, think about wealth redistribution. Married people get 100-200,000 dollars worth of tax breaks over their lifetimes just for being straight and being allowed to marry. Imagine if a law was put out there that allowed gay people to get 100-200,000 tax breaks that straight people could not get – people would be out in the streets with pitchforks!

    There are many other ways that they suffer discrimination, but I think about some gay couples that are close to me in our community. One couple has been together over 30 years, and even though both her and her partner work in Indiana, they will not go out in public together in Indiana out of fear of getting fired or facing discrimination. They have faced horrific discrimination in the past – so they literally drive different cars to meet in places more accepting than our community. I know of multiple other couples that will not go out in public because of their jobs.

    So, my point is, while discrimination against Christians exists, it is so much different from the horrors that the LGBT community faces daily that it is difficult for me to even read a comparison that sets them up as near equals.

  2. I did mention this briefly, but i do want to emphasize that I am referring to America. Christians in other parts of the world to face the types of beatings and killings that LGBT people face hear, which is why I think we should work especially hard to help them have safety and justice when these awful events occur.

  3. Jeff, I genuinely appreciate your heart of compassion. It’s in this area more than any other that the gay community has my ear. I recognize that there are real issues that need to be addressed with care and compassion. This a primary reason that I don’t see this as a simplistic issue. But when I weigh all of the issues and their ramifications, I am convinced that we will do far greater long-term damage to both groups by restricting the rights of Christians in favor of “gay rights.” I also think that more Christians would work to protect those in the gay community if they didn’t feel as though their own faith was being constantly attacked. Yet another reason for real and honest dialogue without inflammatory propaganda!

  4. Bob, I have been a Christian my entire life and have never once experienced “my faith being attacked”. Am I just naive? Matter of fact, I think that we have many more rights than most other groups, even on campus. For instance, every day the Oak grove preacher yells in the Oak Grove (who I respect and am glad the college allows him to do that), but imagine for a minute if every day a Muslim man was yelling out verses from the Koran? I would guarantee he would not last one day before he was kicked out of the Oak Grove.

    But back to the faith being attacked argument – I argue that many times these are trumped up rhetorical arguments used to get money – for instance, Bill O’Reilly and Fox News have made 100’s of millions of dollars on “The War on Christmas”, and they cite example after example of Christians being discriminated against or Atheists bringing suit against Christians. What O’Reilly never reports on is that none of the suits ever go to trial and if they do, the Atheists usually lose. They only report one side of the story to make enormous amounts of money. Unfortunately, many television preachers raise money this way too (I am not going to name any specific preachers because each would take a full explanation), however, I am often saddened by pastors on television that raise money off of this “War” rhetoric or fear of other people.

    Finally, I would just ask you to rethink your last paragraph when you talk about eliminating “inflammatory propaganda”:

    “It’s difficult for us to imagine the United States not being a free nation, but just a few short years ago we didn’t envision this country not always being financially prosperous. Our forefathers knew what they were doing! Removing our foundational freedoms of religion and speech will pry open the door to totalitarian government.”

    This statement is full of inflammatory propaganda – for instance, suggesting that we may not be a “free nation” or that we will become a “totalitarian government”. Even the main point of it is built on a false premise, that we are not “financially prosperous” – we are the richest nation in the history of the world, we have a higher GDP than we have ever had, and even our debt to GDP ratio is low compared to western nations and low compared to much of our history (and could be easily made better from my view taxation and probably your view from cuts). So, I appreciate all of your thoughtful blogs and think these are incredibly important conversations to have, but asking for no inflammatory language and then citing totalitarianism and losing our freedom as reasons to justify your cause seems to negate your argument.

    Let me be clear here (because tone is impossible to get across on-line), I mean this last part in a helpful way and would hope you would help me with my language in the same way. I think your points get lost in that kind of inflammatory language that I would argue is more political than anything else.

  5. Jeff, I get the “tone” issue so hopefully we can take these things into account in our dialogue.

    I’m in total agreement with your second paragraph–I made that very argument in an earlier post. But that abuse, in addition to your personal experience, does not change what has become a very real issue for many Christians–especially in a university environment. Being somehow involved with campus ministry for almost 20 years, I have spoken with many vulnerable students who felt bullied by professors with a strong anti-Christian bias. I’ve been able to see first hand the damage done to individual lives. These are very real issues with eternal consequences.

    Regarding my last point, I definitely hear what you are saying. I thought long and hard about whether or not to include those statements. This is where the “tone” issue is critical. I was trying my best to look objectively at the consequences of our current course. Taking all that I know into account, I believe what I said. There’s no fundraising involved. I’m not sounding a call to arms. I’m just trying to present what I see happening. I realize that we are all subject to personal bias, and In a one-on-one conversation it probably would have come across differently. Whether I wrote with the best choice of words and the right tone is certainly open to question. Please do note that there are additional arguments I could make, but have chosen not to address because of the inflammatory potential.

    In spite of our imperfect efforts, I would agree that this has been a valuable blog series. My plan is to take another week or two to wrap things up and then to move onto something else for a while.

  6. I kind of feel like the move of the last 2 blogs into the issue of free speech is either an excursus or an illumination of the real focus of the discussion of homosexuality as a case in point for the trend of censorship. I suspect the wrap up will answer my hunches.

    I suspect that the university anti-discrimination language is a way to shield the university from the threat of inflammatory language and its fallout. If anyone thinks the primary purpose of the university is anything other than self-preservation, then I might have a bridge for sale.(teasingly inflammatory language) As a Christian I have seen the bias of some faculty both for and against Christianity and homosexuality in the classroom. As far as I’m concerned none of which was necessary.

    I think as people, we have opinions and it is a gray area as to when it is appropriate to voice them. My sense is, if a campus ministry wants to give it’s take on homosexuality at a campus meeting that is fine. I don’t think the classroom is an appropriate place for it. I feel the same way about Christianity. I certainly support campus ministry, but I don’t think it’s right to evangelize in the classroom.

    On a blog, I suppose language is fair game. Since I know Bob personally, I’m less likely to engage him in a flame war.

    While I agree with Jeff that I think gay people have it way worse than Christians, I also probably agree with Bob that the government is moving toward fascism/totalitarianism/something less than absolute freedom.

    At the same time, this logic that it might be ok to (offend/censor/deny some rights to) some people for the greater good, is also a bit troubling. How is this any different from discrimination? What is really the difference between that and a move toward fascism or social engineering? My sense is that it is more or less the same thing using different words.

    In the issue of Homosexuality, in particular, I find this logic troubling because it doesn’t really have any impact on people who are not gay. It feels like the imposition of the will of one group over another. I don’t think a straight person can ever be converted to being gay, or vice versa. I think Gary is evidence that behavior can be regulated, but that isn’t really the same thing. (and as far as I’m concerned–if he’s happy, then I’m happy. Honestly, Gary gets all of my respect for coming forward with his story. He is braver than certain people I know.) What then, can the Christian response be to a gay person who isn’t interested in changing his behavior? I suppose that’s the question I really want answered.

    1. J, I think the reality is that somebody is going to feel as though they are discriminated against. I just don’t see a way around this–thus the appeal to the First Amendment. I’ll try to address your final question (at least to a degree) as I wrap things up.

  7. Thanks Bob and I respect your thoughts and decision; however, I respectfully disagree. Any time the words Fascism / Totalitarianism / loss of freedoms, etc are used in regards to America, it is immediately a conversation ender. I mean, those are phrases that both sides of the political spectrum use to throw flames at the other side – and I know this because I consider myself a reformed flamethrower (that I am sure still messes up regularly). For me, it was the lead up to the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, the Patriot Act, etc. that led to my frequent use of “loss of freedoms”, “totalitarianism”, “Fascism”, etc. Now, though, a few years later, after I have have had some time and perspective (especially from the close friend that died in Iraq), I have decided that for years I was guilty of this flame-throwing. Regardless of the fractions of truth involved, the most important thing was that it was objectively false and a conversation ender, not a starter.

    I mean, no one can objectively say that the US is on the road to Fascism / Totalitarianism and be telling the truth. However, for the last century, those terms have been used to demonize and tear down political ideology that you disagree with. Father Coughlin used those words against FDR, many used those words against JFK (arguing that the Pope was going to take over America), used the words against Reagan when he was breaking up unions, used them against Bill Clinton regularly (and he was even accused by major political commentators of murdering people), against George W. for his wars and war policy, and now for Obama for health care (which was actually an idea from the Conservative Heritage Foundation from the 90’s) and whatever other reasons that conservatives have (I am sure you are more aware than I am).

    Those words are political words – and not intended to have a useful conversation. They are used to demonize the opposing political party and in the world of 24 / 7 news, they are sadly being used more frequently.

    While I am not questioning your heart, because I have plenty of close friends (and of course my wife) that would testify to the goodness of your heart and in my interactions, I would have to agree, instead, I am arguing that those words come from a blind political ideology that stem from something – for me it was my friend’s death, a war I disagreed with, and a political ideology I disagreed with, etc.

    The most important thing is that saying America is becoming Totalitarian (Definition: Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through an all-encompassing propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that is often marked by personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror.) or Fascist (Definition: Fascists advocate the creation of a totalitarian single-party state that seeks the mass mobilization of a nation through indoctrination, physical education, discipline and family policy (such as eugenics). That state is led by a supreme leader who exercises a dictatorship over the fascist movement, the government and other state institutions. Fascist governments forbid and suppress opposition) is *objectively False* and a *Conversation ender*.

  8. Jeff, I’ve done a fair amount of reading about the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and (without going into a lot of detail) I do believe that we are heading in a similar direction. If that actually happens, how long the process might take is anybody’s guess.

    And while I believe that the loss of First Amendment freedoms as described in this post serves as a contributing factor, I don’t for a minute believe that it is the only factor. The relationship between Christianity and homosexuality just happens to be our topic.

    In no way do I buy into some type of blind political agenda of the “right.” Thus, my motivation is not to blame everything bad on the “left.” (From my understanding it was Richard Nixon who first made wide spread use of negative political advertising in our modern era. It makes me always think poorly of him during election season!)

    All too often the political process is defined by efforts to control rather than by real leadership. (Sometimes it’s even difficult to discern the line between the two.) If it were not for our Constitution, I don’t think either the right or the left would hesitate to move in a more oppressive direction to accomplish their agenda.

    I know that we can seek to minimize the conflict, but I’m not sure that it’s possible to remove all inflammatory potential when dealing with some of these things. No matter what our intent, taking a definitive stand on a sensitive issue is going to somehow inflame the passions of those who disagree. How can we talk about the issues when we can’t really talk about the issues?

    1. Bob, While I have an enormous amount of respect for you and appreciation for the role you’ve played many of my friends lives, I honestly don’t know how a rational debate can be had when you honestly think that we are heading in a “similar direction” as “Nazi Germany”. To me, that is just a whole different universe than I exist in – so I do not know how a rational conversation can be had.

      I mean, I have just had an international student speak in my class about the mass killings (somewhere between 3-30 thousand dead so far) in her home country, Syria, that she witnessed first hand and I could understand her making such claims, but a straight white guy in America? I just can’t see it. I had a guest speaker from China talk about censorship in her country – could I see it being talked about there? Yes, though less credibly as they are becoming more Democratic each decade. I have a close friend from Rwanda whose river next to his house turned red from blood during the genocide there – could i see him making such claims? Yes. But a straight white American claiming we are on our way to Nazi Germany? That just seems absurd to me – I honestly cannot even imagine that as a rational thought that an American could have.

      I just played a civil rights video in one of my classes that showed mass lynchings of African Americans in the 1940’s, 50’s, and even into the 60’s. In almost every picture, there were hundreds of white people staring at the lynchings (including children) with smiles on their faces. I played audio of the day that MLK Jr. was shot and reaction from all over the country of people cheering (even one from a YWCA in my hometown, Buffalo – where the cheering was extremely loud). So, if you were an African American, could I maybe understand your Nazi comparison? Maybe… Though that would even be tough.

      As a straight white (married) male (as I am as well), we have so many rights and privileges that others do not in our own country, I just cannot imagine the thought even in the realm of slight possibility that we are on a road similar to Nazi Germany. That just seems of a different universe than what I exist in that i cannot even comprehend it. I really think you need some historical and world cultural perspective here.

      I mean saying that the US is on a road similar to Nazi Germany seems to me that you are letting something really color your thinking in a really strange way (i have no idea, but when I was having similar thoughts at the start of the Iraq war, for me it was anger and fear) – I mean I am so proud of our country that even though I have many criticisms and even believe it is patriotic to dissent (Thomas Jefferson said that the “dissent is the highest form of patriotism”), I cannot even comprehend putting the US and a similar road to Nazi Germany in the same sentence.

      That is just a different universe than I exist in.

  9. Jeff, I do not for a second question your perspective that our nation has wealth, rights, privileges and freedoms that are absent in many places across the globe—the vast majority of which I contend is founded upon our Constitution (which was founded upon Biblical principles). I have enough world cultural perspective to know that on our worst day our current government stands head and shoulders above some of the oppressive regimes around the world.

    I think it’s dangerous; however, to assume that what we’ve always known is what we will always have. My viewpoint is due in part to my cultural and historical perspectives. War and oppression have been common to mankind throughout all of recorded history. Even in relatively peaceful cultures, oppression of the poor by the rich has been more the norm than the exception. Human nature has always had these tendencies.

    Most of this dialogue is probably best suited for a face to face conversation, but one factor I will cite is economics. Traditionally this has been one of the primary factors to influence what people will accept. (For example, we could better stomach CEO’s getting outrageous salaries if unemployment was low and we were all making amazing salaries.) While we are still highly prosperous compared to many other nations, we’re living on a bubble.

    At some point something is going to have to give with the national debt—the current trends simply cannot continue forever. When that happens, the economic landscape will be vastly different from anything we’ve ever experienced—and the consequences will be far reaching. During times of pain and crisis (especially economic crisis) people become increasingly willing to sacrifice freedoms and principles for the sake of financial well-being.

    Jeff, I can assure you that I am motivated by neither fear nor anger. In fact, my message to Christians is the exact opposite—faith and love. And while my perspective may seem “out there” to you, I can also say that it has been developed over a long period of time through considerable reading, thought and prayer.

    Is our nation close to being Nazi Germany? Certainly no! But things can change quickly if our constitutional freedoms are eroded and our economic landscape unravels.

    1. Thanks Bob for your thoughtful and patient answers and it seems this debate has probably played out to where it can go. Unfortunately, I think the conversation got caught up in words – totalitarian, fascism, and Nazi – rather than a discussion of the ideas, but I admit, I played an equal role in that. Hopefully someday we can have that coffee that we discussed and I am betting it would be a better result than this imperfect medium (I have a much easier schedule in Spring, so after this semester perhaps we can arrange something).

      Again, I hope that none of my comments came off as disrespectful, because I do greatly respect you – as you have helped shaped the lives of many people close to me and have bore great fruit through them. God has provided me with a great blessing that I always am outspoken for the disenfranchised, but God and I still have some work to do with when and how to speak out (something I am constantly work on and God has blessed me with a wonderful wife to help me with!). Thanks again for your patience, and I hope to talk soon.

  10. Jeff, I have to be honest that I struggled with your intensity when we first began to dialogue several weeks ago. Through the process; however, I’ve come to appreciate your passion for the disenfranchised, which I think is truly reflective of Christ.

    In the end I think that a primary question is one which I’ve been asking for several months now: “What does love look like?” At first glance the answer might seem simple, but I find myself praying a lot for the wisdom to understand the practical expression of God’s heart to the world around us.

    For example, I lean right in politics for certain moral reasons, but it’s been my contention for some time that the tendency of the religious right to align with big business is a dangerous trend. This too is a moral issue, as I’m sure you would agree.

    I do also wholeheartedly agree that is a less than perfect medium for dialogue.

    At any rate, I’m good if you’re good and would very much enjoy some discussion over a cup of coffee in the spring!

  11. Sounds good Bob – look forward to it, in the mean time, just a few words on where I come from philosophically:

    Somewhere along the line I heard a sermon about how Jesus often challenged his followers much more than people who didn’t follow him because he expected more of them. That was a long time ago and my reading of the New Testament is much more nuanced now, but I think that is the way my heart pulls me – I expect those who don’t know Christ to not act Christ-like, whereas, I expect Christians to try to act Christ-like.

    So I am always pulled towards defending those who don’t know Him or who are being condemned by the institutional Church, because I feel that if Christ were on Earth he would be going Church to Church challenging the Churches as he did in the New Testament (often using tough words – iron sharpening iron) and not standing in the Church condemning outward. However, much like I wrote in the previous paragraph, a good reading of the New Testament is more nuanced than that. So, I am still learning where that nuance lies.

    This is just a glimpse of where I come from that I hope helps you understand any future debate – I tend to only challenge those that I deeply respect and I try to do it through love, but on the internet, it can sometimes sound coarser than it is meant.

  12. Jeff, I appreciate your heart for the disenfranchised for a couple of reasons. I believe that it echoes the heart of Christ. I’ve also been among that number so I know the pain involved. It’s always helped to temper my perspective.

    At the same time, I have two words of caution that I think will help in your efforts:

    1. When our hearts are moved by a particular issue such as injustice, we have a tendency to view God and the Scriptures from a one-dimensional perspective. God is unquestionably the God of love, but He is also the God of justice, of holiness, etc. In order to be truly effective in our particular mission, it’s important to work from the big picture so to speak. Otherwise our limited perspective leads to various errors.

    For example, I have a particular vision for the universal church. There’s a philosophy and overall plan to accompany this vision, but I need to always keep in mind that God puts other burdens (which are no less important than the one I carry) in the hearts of His people. It’s our combined effort that fully reflects the heart of God and accomplishes His purposes.

    2. When moved by passions such as ours, there is a strong temptation to become hardened toward those who either oppose us or seem to be uninterested. This is a huge trap from which I must continually guard myself. We want to wisely walk with God on a daily basis–not just fulfill a mission. This requires a tender and forgiving heart toward all regardless of how they respond to us–another huge challenge which compels us to lean heavily on God Himself.

    I hope this all makes sense and that it find my thoughts to be helpful. These have been hard-learned lessons!

    1. Thanks Bob – I definitely appreciate your advice – having a broader perspective is always important to me and I consistently strive to learn more – learning more is even my career – I often say that my students and I learn together. I have read all of your words carefully and have consistently prayed on these topics.

      One last word here though – I really think this medium is difficult, especially between yourself and I that know each other, but have not had the opportunity to be close. For instance, at no point in any of our debates on here did I feel angry or hardened in any way. I enjoy debating and find it a good experience to learn more from people that have different perspectives and different areas of expertise than I do (for instance, the vast majority of my friends and family are conservative and I am definitely liberal, so I have these debates pretty regularly). I think that most people that know me would read my words in the tone that was meant – a friendly, challenging, joking (sometimes sarcastic) manner; however, because we are not close, it definitely could come off differently. If we were having coffee and discussing these topics I would be smiling the vast majority of the discussion with the same words that I have written (picture a person smiling and laughing saying “c’mon a middle class white guy…”) and that gives a better picture of tone.

      Just as an example of this – when you were writing about Nazism, my first reaction, was picturing the only other person I have seen speaking that way – Glenn Beck frothing at the mouth about how Obama is Hitler. However, before I responded, I reflected on the person that i know you to be (through the testimony of others) and knew that was not the case, so I tried to respond appropriately (and again picture a smile on someone’s face as they say “I think we exist in different universes”).

      Before we wound this up, I just wanted to make sure you knew the tone. And lastly, I always appreciate your thoughts and always pray for God to push me in the right direction, so, perhaps he will use you and your writing in that process. Thanks again.

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