Ross Douthat – Imaginary Interview with A Christian on Indiana ‘Religious Liberty Bill’

Ross Douthat
Ross Douthat

I must confess I did not follow very closely the hot debate in the American media on the Indiana ‘Religious Liberty Bill’. The characteristic pathological excesses on the American political and religious scene put me off most of the time. Yet, I wondered from time to time what is this fuss all about. Until today, when I found this Op-Ed article in The New York Times, which helped me make some sense of it.

Ross Douthat, a The New York Times Op-Ed columnist, is the author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, published in 2012.

Although I do not necessarily agree with everything that Ross writes here, or in other articles, he actually represents quite well what I think on these matters.

Here is the beginning of this imaginary interview.

* * *

AFTER watching the debate about religious freedom unfold over the past week, I decided to subject myself to an interview by an imaginary — but representative — member of the press. Here is our conversation:

Happy Easter!

Thank you.

O.K., enough pleasantries. You’re a semi-reasonable Christian. What do you think about the terrible Indiana “religious liberty” bill?

I favored the original version. Based on past experience, laws like this protect religious minorities from real burdens. As written, the Indiana law probably wouldn’t have protected vendors from being fined for declining to work at a same-sex wedding. But I would favor that protection as well.

Seriously? Shouldn’t businesses have to serve all comers?

I think they should be able to decline service for various reasons, religious scruples included. A liberal printer shouldn’t be forced to print tracts for a right-wing cause. A Jewish deli shouldn’t be required to cater events for the Nation of Islam.

But those are issues of belief, not identity. Denying service to gays is like denying service to blacks under Jim Crow.

None of the businesses facing sanctions are saying they wouldn’t serve gay people as a class; they just don’t want to work at nuptials. This isn’t a structural system of oppression, a society-wide conspiracy like Jim Crow; we’re talking about a handful of shops across the country. It seems possible, and reasonable, to live and let live.

I think discrimination is discrimination. What about you? Would you bake the cake?

Honestly, since so many of my friends aren’t religious or conservative, I’ve always taken for granted that being part of their lives meant accompanying them through life choices that belong to a different worldview than my own. (And I’m very grateful that they’ve accompanied and tolerated me.) My family has its share of divorces and second marriages; my friends’ romantic paths are varied; my closest friend from high school just exchanged vows with his longtime boyfriend. I’m going to a party celebrating them next month. If they asked me, I’d bring a cake.

So why can’t other believers do the same?

First, these issues are difficult and personal, and I don’t presume that my approach is always right. Second, details matter. My closest gay friends are fairly secular. But I would be uncomfortable attending same-sex vows in the style of a Catholic mass — or being hired to photograph such a ceremony. I don’t think that discomfort should be grounds for shutting down a business.

* * *

Read the entire article on The New York Times website.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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