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Huckabee and the Myth of Christian Persecution
Unless you've been living under a rock or taken one of those “no social media for a month” challenges lately you'll likely be aware of the woman whose photo accompanies this intro. This, for those few unfamiliar, is County Clerk Kim Davis. As an elected official Kimberly took an oath to uphold the law of the land here in the United States and recently failed to do her duty even after being ordered by a Judge to do so. Davis, a Christian, holds God as the highest Judge and would rather give in to God's authority and the authority of her own moral compass than complete the duty she swore to uphold when she was elected. Davis refused to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples even after the Supreme Court ruled that laws which prevent gays from marrying are discriminatory.
In this hub I want to talk about Davis but I also want to speak about the issues raised by this firestorm in a much much broader context and of course I am going to also touch on the ignorance and almost endearing stupidity of Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
A Background on Christian Persecution and Privilege
The authors of the New Testament knew that the unorthodox views it expressed would result in persecution for those who picked up the Cross and followed after Jesus. Scripture warns that the faithful will be persecuted, misunderstood and even martyred for their sincerely held religious convictions. Despite the fact that I am an atheist, and anti-theist, I do not support persecuting anyone for their religious beliefs as long as those beliefs do not somehow advocate wanton violence (I'm looking at your extremist version of Islam Isis).
For the most part even the fundamentalist Evangelical Christians of America want to be peaceful and law-abiding citizens and so while I argue against most of their viewpoints as best I can in various ways I do not, and am not in favor of, trampling on or taking away their right to hold those viewpoints. If the comfort of your faith is what gets you through good times and bad than the fact that I think your beliefs to be false should not affect either of us all that much. Sure it might serve as fuel for a passionate discussion or debate but that's about as far as it could take us. If, however, you try to push those beliefs on others or impose those beliefs via law than I will be all the more vocal and argumentative against those beliefs.
Persecution and Privilege Continued
Rest assured that there was a time in the early history of the Church when Christians were indeed persecuted and even put to death for their beliefs. Ironically the Romans labeled the Christians Atheists because the Christians reject the vast pantheon of Roman deities and held to only their one singular God and his son Jesus Christ. Yes there was a time when Romans killed Christians in brutal executions for not accepting the STATE RUN religion. See Rome was a theocracy and belief in these gods was seen as part of your patriotic duty and if you didn't like that you could either get out of the Empire, renounce your Christian faith or else face the fangs of hungry lions or the pain of execution in some other horrific way.
From the way some far-right Christians talk you'd think that they longed for a theocracy similar to what Rome had and, in fact, I have heard Christians say that, “America is a Christian nation and if you don't like that you can leave”. But here's the thing that sets America apart from ancient Rome, America is NOT a theocracy, America has no State religion and, in fact, Thomas Jefferson intentionally separated State and Religion as a safeguard to BOTH institutions.
In this way America is among the most unique nations in the history of human civilization, our Constitution specifically set up a SECULAR government and a WALL of SEPARATION between church and state so that both institutions could be independent. Christians in America need to understand just how helpful this Wall of Separation is to keeping their own religion successful and keeping it from the corrupting influence of government and vice versa. Religion enjoys an almost unparalleled protected status, shielded not just from taxes but from most other government intrusions as well AND government, similarly, is not in the business of imposing one man or woman's religion onto others.
There are no state run inquisitions in America, no heresy charges in court and, other than a few aberrations (Salem, also at one time they hunted down Mormons believe it or not), no witch hunts or terribly strong religious persecutions perpetrated by the government. This is because Americans agree to live in a civil society where people of any faith or no faith at all can co-exist. Our society is make-or-break based on whether we can get along and survive together, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, New Ager, Wiccan, Witch, Satanist and Atheist alike. As such laws, as well as the interpretation of the Constitution, must take into account more than the religious views of one group, even if that group are the majority in America.
Here is where privilege comes into the picture. For a long time Christians enjoyed a status as the majority group here in America and still today they represent a majority of the population. So for a very long time those Christians who used their beliefs to shield bigotry had nothing to worry about because they had the moral majority and the most votes in the places where it mattered.
Slavery, Christianity as a Sword and Shield
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, the moral arc of the Universe is long but it bends toward justice. In recent human memory this has become a reality more and more as time goes on. While lot's of folks look around and see the world as a mess going to hell-in-a-hand-basket in actuality things have gotten massively better all around the world for nearly everyone. Yes we still have a shitload of work to do in regards to hunger, disease and poverty but if you actually research the progress we've made morally, socially, etc it is absolutely STAGGERING.
No more obvious is this fact than when we look at slavery. For thousands of years slavery was practiced by tons and tons of different human cultures but a few hundred years ago things were beginning to change. Societies were becoming far more stable, science and technology were increasing in their reliability and utility and education was becoming something that everyone had a chance at, not just the so-called nobility. There is so much power in letting the common man do his own thinking because it has the chance to make everyone just as intelligent as those who fancy themselves as authority figures. If your IQ and level of being informed matches those of elected officials than the chances of them being fundamentally and totally corrupt decreases compared to if you were totally ignorant, illiterate and relatively uninformed.
With the growth of such stability and intellect came the realization slowly but surely that slavery is wrong. And this where secular morality shows its superiority to religious morality because the fact that slavery is wrong can be seen as a moral truth that was waiting to be discovered in the same way that any other verifiable truth can be discovered. It wasn't relative, meaning slavery didn't start out morally right and then became wrong. Slavery was always wrong and its wrongness was a fact that people discovered.
The fact that slavery is wrong seems obvious to us today but back then it wasn't so simple. Even more complicated was extricating the institution of slavery from the economies that had been built on the backs of slaves but over the course of a few hundred years slavery was abolished everywhere. Slavery is now illegal virtually everywhere on planet Earth.
Here in America many of those in the South arguing in favor of Slavery used the Bible to justify their bigotry and wickedness because the Bible readily endorses slavery especially of those from, “the nations around you”. Anyone the Israelites conquered, at least those who they weren't explicitly ordered to exterminate wholesale, were meant to be taken as slaves, as plunder or spoils of war. And yet up North, using the same Bible, abolitionist Christians argued for the humanity, dignity and spiritual kinship of slaves. God had created us all as equals, they argued, the Negro just as well as the White Man.
Slavery in the Bible
The Bible, Bigotry and Social Progress
Because the Bible is a book of many interpretations, flavors, authors, and opinions believers can use it to justify many different viewpoints and many Southern believers justified their racism using the Bible. In a similar vein those who argued against interracial marriage believed that it went against God and nature, that it was unnatural or abhorrent to God's order. Those Christians no doubt wondered what was happening to their country as they watched the moral majority slowly turn against their views and accept interracial relationships and marriages as natural and perfectly wholesome.
Today the same thing is happening with gay marriage. For decades now America has slowly but surely acclimated and accepted homosexuals for who and what they are, another part of the amazing variety of humanity and a product of natural human biology. The persecution of the past against homosexuals was slowly corrected. There was a time when they were killed, when bundles of wooden branches called faggots would be gathered to fuel the flames that would take these sinners down to the hell they deserved. There was a time when they were seen as mentally ill, in fact that time is frighteningly recent and well within the memory of some homosexuals alive today.
Just as with interracial marriage the Supreme Court (or SCOTUS) has exercised the authority given to it by the Constitution and interpreted the law and has found that laws which prevent homosexuals from obtaining marriage licenses and getting married are Unconstitutional denials of the rights of same sex couples. To people like me who thought this through years ago this conclusion seems logical and makes perfect sense even without homosexuality being taken into consideration. Preventing same sex couples from getting married is gender discrimination plain and simple, the fact that the couple are or aren't gay shouldn't have anything to do with it (what I'm saying is two perfectly straight people of the same sex should ALSO be allowed to get married if they choose).
Those who wish to impose their Biblically based view that homosexuals are sinful abominations who shouldn't get married are shit-out-of-luck because America is not built on Christianity or the Bible and is not beholden to it. The fact that they are unable to impose their views on others because of the Supreme Court decision is what has them crying foul.
Full Circle on Privilege and Persecution
Many Christians, thankfully, see the futility and immorality of legally denying homosexuals the ability to get married. Even some of those who still hold the view that homosexual acts are sinful understand that their religious belief should not be legally imposed on someone else especially someone who is not hurting them. I have had Christians tell me that gays are hurting themselves through their sin but still agree with me that gays should be able to have relationships and get married if they choose to. Using the coercion or force of law of impose a religious belief, to curtail people's behavior and force them not to engage in acts that YOU see as sinful, is wrong.
The Christians that have rallied to the side of Kim Davis and who cry out that this situation is persecution are very confused about what real persecution is. They seem to think that losing their ability to tell gay people that they aren't allowed to get married is persecution against THEM. Ironically they didn't seem to understand when supporters of gay rights explained to them that they were unfairly restricting the desire of same sex couples who merely wanted to enter into a civil marriage contract that had nothing to do with those Christians. In other words the Christians had no problems injecting their religious views unfairly into the lives of homosexuals who did not agree with or hold those same views but somehow they see the marriage of two perfect strangers who happen to be gay as a form of persecution or tyranny.
Yes, how dare 8 unelected judges carry out the very authority granted to them by the United States Constitution. To steal a line from some of the most extreme bone-headed Christians, “if you don't like it than you can get out!”
The reality is that Christians in America are the privileged majority, not some oppressed minority. So as the moral majority – including many Christians - begins to approve of homosexual behavior and marriage and accept and be tolerant of the vast spectrum and variety that humanity has to offer equality will improve and Christian privilege will decrease. The perk of being able to impose those views on others will be slowly stripped away and as society tends toward equilibrium that small minority of bigoted or ignorant Christians will be left bitching and moaning about tyranny and how this country needs to get back to their fictitious narrative about God, Guns and Gluttony.
Martian Mike Huckabee
Presidential candidate and Conservative Evangelical Christian Mike Huckabee has been one of the most vocal and rabid of Kim Davis' supporters even doing the Christ-like thing of offering himself as a vicarious sacrifice when Mrs. Davis was put in prison. Hearing some of things Huckabee has said you wouldn't think he's a big time politician and Presidential candidate you'd think he'd been living on Mars and only just been introduced to the way America works a few days ago.
In a recent clip on MSNBC Huckabee shows a mysterious ignorance as to how the Supreme Court works after he asks the hosts to show him the law that says homosexuals can get married. Apparently grade school civics knowledge has fled Huckabee's mind in favor of faith-based mush and basic ignorance. The Supreme Court interprets the law, the Executive branch carries it out and the Legislative writes and creates it, is this not how it was taught to Huckabee?
Huckabee then side-tracks everything to talk about how people are trying to re-define marriage, apparently speaking as if God had defined marriage and our legal definitions of marriage can only be based on the godly definition OR ELSE. Once again, that's not how America or the Supreme Court or religious liberty work. In America the Supreme Court interprets the law and the Constitution and God, when the word is even used in any official capacity, is just a general word for Creator meant to set us apart from the Communists (this is why Under God was added to the pledge as well as In God We Trust). We are a religiously pluralistic society, Mr. Huckabee, and your narrow Evangelical interpretation of God's definition of marriage means absolutely nothing to the Supreme Court or the law.
The Supreme Court ruling is that states cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender when it comes to issuing marriage licenses to couples, it doesn't matter whether or not there is actual language on a piece of Legislation that specifically says gays can get married.
The Founders understood that the Constitution had to be a living document, an interpretable framework around which we could build a complex and functional society that could also evolve and change with time. That's why even the first 10 Amendments, the Bill of Rights, are still AMENDMENTS, they are still open to alteration, repeal and interpretation. It is the job of the Supreme Court to interpret the law and Constitution and if you think that fact should be changed than by all means petition the government to do so. If you think that this decision of the Supreme Court is tyranny, however, than you simply need a dictionary because you don't understand the word tyranny.
Theoretical Bullshit being Brilliant as Usual
The Law of the Land VS The Law of God
One of the more arrogant revelations of this Kim Davis ordeal has been the number of Christians who have doubled-down on her decision to hold the law of God above the law of mankind. People seem to think that its tyranny if they are not able to exercise their sincerely held religious beliefs in a way which violates laws against discrimination. The whole thing comes crashing down however when we consider the laundry list of religiously held convictions that can be derived from the Bible whether you take it literally or not.
Something tells me that a police officer who obeys the law of God above that of man arresting someone for working on the Sabbath is not going to last long at his or her job no matter how sincerely held that belief. Your sincerely held religious beliefs cannot be used as an excuse to treat others differently when your job calls for fairness and might involve trampling on the rights of others. In the case of Kim Davis this is exactly what is going on, she is an elected official who took an oath to uphold the law and by denying homosexuals the right to marry she is using her religious beliefs to ruin other people's happiness.
It doesn't matter to me or make me feel sorry for her one bit that she might go home and night with guilt in her heart for allowing gays to get married under her watch. If you serve a version of God whose idea of justice and love is being needlessly cruel or discriminatory to others you do not have a right to impose that belief on people, you are shit-out-of-luck friend. The decision of some gay people in your county to get married does not in anyway interfere with your conviction that homosexuality is immoral anymore than your belief that gambling is a sin should allow you to forbid people from entering a Casino.
The Bible says many things. Jesus never says a word about gays or gay marriage but strictly forbids remarrying after divorce and doesn't want people to get divorced AT ALL. In Romans the Apostle Paul tells folks to follow the laws of the land for all authority, even Earthly authority, comes from God.
There is no reason for your religious beliefs to be imposed forcibly on another person especially if you are breaking an oath, violating a judge's order AND failing to do the job you get paid for in the process. To call what happened to Kim Davis persecution is so wrong it's hilarious.
And to that vocal subset of Christians still hurt by the fact that they can no longer hide their anti-gay bigotry behind the Bible rest assured that the moral arc of the Universe is bending ever faster toward justice as society becomes more secular and more open to more types of people. Be assured that your privilege will continue to vanish as we drag you kicking and screaming into a more tolerant, more moral and more equal future.