Sunday, July 17, 2016

Gay discrimination is not a right, even for the 'religious right'

There is a childlike phenomenon among Christian conservative commentators, namely the indignation they express at the fact that their business-owning brethren cannot use their 'faith' as an excuse to discriminate against gay customers. And in order for their followers to buy into their logic, these commentators engage in intellectual dishonesty by way of conflating gay discrimination with Christianity itself.

This isn't the first time I've written about this phenomenon, and I thought I had already said what I had to say last year, but a recent opinion piece on the Charisma News website by Janet Boynes (Gay Agenda's Attacks on Christianity Leave Former Lesbian 'Frustrated') betrays more of the same dishonesty, and so I think the time is ripe to revisit this topic and clarify my thoughts in this regard.

In her piece, Boynes laments that Christian Mingle (a 'Christian' dating site), has been 'forced' to accept gay singles as members and to pay a fine to two gay men who had previously been denied membership on the basis of their sexual orientation. In keeping with the same logic espoused by others (such as Breitbart's John Nolte), Boynes wrings her hands and wails in despair at the prospect of the “Christian businesses/organizations that have been targeted and shut down or people who have lost opportunities because of their Christian beliefs”.

For one thing, discriminating against or publicly insulting one's gay brothers and sisters does not constitute practicing one's 'Christian' beliefs. Furthermore, engaging in or encouraging homophobia is not made any better or more noble if done under the guise of 'Christian' beliefs. In fact, there are some branches of Christianity who are more accepting of the gay community than others. Here in Canada, in fact, some churches even allow gays to join the clergy. And so it cannot be said that anti-gay beliefs are consistently promulgated across the Christian denominational spectrum.

As for the Christian Mingle case, the dating service in question is a business operating in the public sphere. Anyone should be able to be a customer without being discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality, even by businesses marketing themselves to the wider Christian community. But if 'Christian' beliefs are truly being targeted here, let's look at this case in a larger context by posing some questions:

  • Does Christian Mingle vet its members to ensure none of them will have pre-marital sex with each other? Do prospective members have to click Agree or Disagree in a pop-up window containing the statement: “I promise not to pass second base with fellow Christian Minglers”? (I don't know the answer to this, as I do most of my mingling with fellow Christians after Divine Liturgy during coffee hour in the church hall.)

  • If Christian Mingle members are using that service to engage in the sin of pre-marital sex with each other, then wouldn't that fact alone render a ban on gays in the name of 'Christian' beliefs somewhat hypocritical?

  • Does everyone who becomes a member of this service do so with the explicit purpose of having pre-marital sex, or do some use it to engage in platonic relationships? If the latter is true, then how 'Christian' is it to prohibit gay people from participating in a community that is Christian (in name, at least)?

  • Suppose a similar service was being run by a business whose owner(s) belonged to a heretical Christian sect that considered it a sin to be black (as offensively incompatible with any true Christianity such a notion would be), and thus made it their standard practice to ban blacks from doing business with them. Would this be easily forgiven as a simple matter of the business owners practicing their 'religious' beliefs? Would this be considered a 'freedom of religion' issue? If not, then why should it be any more acceptable to discriminate against gay people in a similar fashion?

And no matter how justified business owners feel in discriminating against gays, such practices have a deeply negative impact on the human beings on the receiving end. According to www.reference.com (in answer to the question What are the potential effects of discrimination?):

The potential effects of discrimination may also affect work and social relations between people of differing religions, cultures, gender, race and sexual orientation. For example, if a Muslim is discriminated against by a Christian, he may be less likely to interact, cooperate or associate with other Christians as a result. The feelings associated with discrimination can lead to stereotyping, which can discourage people from networking or associating with those who are related to a particular group based on race, gender, religious preference or culture.

The potential effects on a person's health and well being are also significant if discrimination continues. For example, the stress of being excluded and passed over for a promotion or job opportunities can lead to financial stress, mental strain, anxiety or depression. Self-confidence and self-esteem are potentially affected by discrimination as well. Stress can further ignite physical health symptoms due to discrimination, such as a rapid heartbeat, cold sweats and even stomach pain associated with ulcers.

Furthermore, the way I see it, when you discriminate against someone you assault their basic human dignity, and as seen above you are potentially causing mental, emotional and/or physical harm to that person. This would not seem to pass the What Would Jesus Do? test.

For additional evidence of how misguided Boynes' logic is, look no further than two of the other 'examples' she cites of businesses or individuals being persecuted for so-called 'Christian' beliefs:

  • “Twin brothers David and Jason Benham lost their opportunity to host their own HGTV show.” These guys lost the chance to host their own house-flipping show on HGTV after one of them made disparaging remarks about gays during a rally. But here's the thing – because the two were tapped to host an HGTV program, from that moment on they would be deemed to be representing HGTV when in public. Even though they wouldn't have necessarily been speaking explicitly on their new employer's behalf, anything they utter in public could nevertheless be seen as a reflection on HGTV. And with anti-gay comments tending to polarize the viewing public, HGTV was well within its right to act in the name of its own best interests by giving the Benham twins the boot. (Make that two identical boots.)

  • JONAH, who ran the largest Jewish gay conversion therapy organization, was sued and shut down.” Firstly, I'll ignore the obvious fact that this organization was Jewish, not Christian. Secondly, however, Boynes doesn't go into any detail at all about the facts behind the story. To do that, after all, would entail revealing that the key 'therapist' in question was not a licensed therapist, had no post-secondary education beyond an undergraduate degree in music and theatre, and often had his young clients strip in front of a mirror and touch their genitals while he watched. The organization also hosted weekend retreats in the woods that featured group nudity and creepy 'rebirthing' ceremonies. If you ask me, it would appear that 'gay conversion therapy' was but a thin pretext for targeting vulnerable adolescents for sexualization, which in itself seems to be sexual abuse of a sort. Maybe I'm wrong. Boynes should understand that this 'gay conversion' group was not shut down for promoting values in keeping with her own 'Christian' beliefs, but for consumer fraud and commercial practices that the courts found “unconscionable”. Boynes further omits the fact that, based on new information gleaned at the trial, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America concluded that it could no longer endorse JONAH, as the organization no longer met its standards.

In short, before lobbying for the 'right' of businesses and individuals to engage in dubious practices in the name of 'Christian' beliefs, Janet Boynes and her colleagues on the religious right would be much better off to first get the hang of more basic Christian values, namely respect for other human beings (gay or straight), respect for the laws of the land (especially regarding discrimination), and of course honesty, inconvenient though it may be.