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The folks over at the Acton Institute blog suggest that religious liberty has been given a new name: Christian Privilege. If that confuses you then consider this definition of “White Privilege”

White privilege refers to the set of societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, or economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice.These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; presumed greater social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely.

Now just do something most non-thinking, uncharitable, and knee-jerk secularist could never do: sever “white” from “Christian” and then replace “White” with “Christian” and you see the problem. Where did this linguistic slight of hand occur? at a panel discussion on religious liberty sponsored by the Center for American Progress. C. Welton Gaddy  of the Interfaith Alliance said, “People [are] using the term ‘liberty’ when they really mean ‘my liberty, your slavery,” Gaddy then compared Christian florists who don’t want to provide service for gay weddings to employers who posted ‘whites only’ signs in their windows. I don’t think we don’t want to go down that road again,” Gaddy said.

I hate it when I’m right. A while back I wrote:

Christians who are tolerant of same-sex couples but who don’t want to be complicit in same-sex events as vendors, photographers etc. will claim freedom of religion and they will be ridiculed, persecuted, and hated for it. Christians who simply assert that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christianity for the same reason pork chops are incompatible with Judaism or a glass of wine is incompatible with Islam will be called bigots and worse.

Gaddy is claiming that Christians who don’t want to celebrate what they consider wrongful practices like gay marriage, are compared to those who would discriminate against African Americans. Let’s be clear. Any Christian who refuses to serve a meal to a gay couple is unkind and uncharitable. We cannot and should not segregate ourselves for fear of getting some gayness on us. However, one of the differences between Christian florists and Christian waiters that Dr. Gaddy fails to notice is the distinction between celebration and service. Douglas Wilson makes this point in his blog:

If I had a hardware store, I would be happy to sell a hammer to a homosexual. I would be happy to sell a hammer to a homosexual couple who were going to use it to hammer up the crepe paper bunting at the reception. I don’t care. They give me ten bucks, I give them the hammer, and I am not contaminated by the exchange. . . Certain businesses that surround weddings are celebratory in their very nature, and people who are good at this sort of thing are good at entering into the celebrations of relative strangers who came to them asking them to “do” their event. Christians who are good at celebrating with their customers in this way are being told that it is mandatory for them to celebrate something that God has declared must never be celebrated. And that is why this is an issue.

I suggest this distinction is precisely the reason why Christian refusals are not the same as hanging up “white’s only ” signs. However, when Gaddy invokes Jim Crow, we delve no further. Any association with “White’s Only” is enough to stop our brain cells from firing. No need to discern and question we can simply just nod along because accusations of guilt by analogy dull the brain like a bad Pauly Shore movie.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t hard cases where the celebration/service distinction isn’t clear. Rental houses, health insurance, to name a few. but I will go on record as making the claim that if something like Arizona’s proposed religious freedom bill passed you would not see Arizona turn into gay version of Jim Crow. The bill has several controversial provisions:

– Expand the state’s definition of the exercise of religion to include both the practice and observance of religion;

– Allow someone to assert a legal claim of free exercise of religion regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceedings;

– Expand those protected under the state’s free exercise of religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.”

The fact is that freedoms will clash. A Christian may not be able to do their job and in good conscience celebrate a gay wedding. However, panelists at the Center for American Progress thinks this is a false dichotomy.

“It sets up a false equation of ‘my religious liberty versus same-sex marriage, reproductive rights’ – as if those two are inherently opposed and you’ve got to choose one versus the other,” said Sally Steenland, director of CAP’s Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative. “And we, as we’ll talk about later in the panel, know that’s not the case.”

What struck me about Steenland’s statement is how the dilemma involving Christian florists who don’t approve of gay weddings are at odds with rights–to same sex marriage and reproductive rights. Hold on there. The two are completely separate. My right to marry Dick or Jane has nothing to do with whether or not you have the freedom to cater said nuptials. The only way that rights of marriage and reproduction are impeded is if we make them illegal. Arizona’s law would prevent Christians from being sued or compelled to participate. Furthermore to assume its a false dichotomy–that we should never have to trade Religious rights to prevent running afoul of anti-discrimination charges is staggeringly naive. Even the President’s director of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said there will be clashes between religious liberty and sexual freedom. Guess which has “privilege”?

“There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that’s the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner,”

Sexual liberty has privilege because it is a matter of dignity. Good to know. Good to know we are doing all this close philosophical thinking about terms like dignity. Especially when things like this happen to Christians in the name of cultural sensitivity:

Missouri State University, for example, punished a social work student because she was unwilling to sign a letter saying she supported gay adoption. Meanwhile, at Rhode Island College, a conservative social work student was told he would have to lobby the government for progressive causes in which he did not believe if he wished to graduate.

The worry is that evoking “Christian privilege” is that such statement call up the concept of a historical debt that requires those who have had privilege to give up some of their privilege freedoms in the name of equality. In order to balance the scales, Christians must tolerate impingement of their cherished freedoms as an act of historical and cultural penance.  And that’s the problem. Privilege is seen as something we can and maybe should feel guilty about. Rights, however, now that’s something different. When we subtly accept the slight of hand from “rights” to “privilege” we sacrifice some moral weight. Take it from African American philosopher Lewis Gordon:

A privilege is something that not everyone needs, but a right is the opposite. Given this distinction, an insidious dimension of the white-privilege argument emerges. It requires condemning whites for possessing, in the concrete, features of contemporary life that should be available to all, and if this is correct, how can whites be expected to give up such things?

The Acton blog, ironically, suggests that Christians in this situation may face the same choice that civil rights advocates did in the 60s. Non-violent civil disobedience:

. . . [I]t may become apparent that the only recourse for many who face a violation of their religious conscience may be the kind of peaceful civil disobedience modeled by the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King reminded us that the conscience of the state is the Church. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,” declared King, “it must be demanded by the oppressed.”


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