Seen any good Hollywood movies recently?
Sarah and I recently saw 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. It was a good movie: great cinematography, great action, and pretty close to the actual story.
Hollywood got that movie right.
But Hollywood doesn’t get everything right. Far from it.
And I’m not just talking movies (Transformers, anyone?).
Last week, we learned that Hollywood got religious freedom wrong: very wrong.
Last Monday, after pressure from Hollywood film companies (and other large corporations), the governor of Georgia (USA) decided to veto a Religious Freedom bill that granted legal protections to pastors and faith-based organizations.
1) The Concern
The bill was labelled by critics as ‘anti-gay’.
The L.A. Times writes:
The bill, dubbed the Free Exercise Protection Act, would have given faith-based organizations in Georgia more leeway to deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.’
It’s a serious charge: and Christians should be very wary of any law that discriminates unjustly against any group of people.
(And we’ve heard this criticism before when a similar bill was introduced last year in the state of Indiana).
But was that the reality? Not at all:
2) So What Does The Offending Bill Actually Say?
You’d be surprised.
The bill contains the following legislation that was considered too contentious by Hollywood:
- a measure giving clergy the right to refuse to perform same-sex weddings;
- registered faith-based organizations have the right to hire and fire people who violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs,”;
- registered religious non-profits (not businesses) don’t have to provide services that violate their faith, unless they agreed to do so in a contract or grant application;
- the right for religious organisations to refuse to rent facilities for events they find “objectionable.”;
- people are not allowed to be coerced to attend weddings (same-sex, or otherwise).
This list is even more limited than many other similar bills already in operation across 20 states, and at the Federal level.
Is it really that contentious?
Using an Australian example, I would have thought the actions on this list are uncontroversial: as uncontroversial as a hotel’s gay owners refusing to host the Australian Christian Lobby’s annual dinner.
Which is why this situation is so concerning. It now seems that:
3) No opposition (either real or perceived) to LGBTI liberties will be tolerated.
Erotic liberty trumps religious liberty.
This bill is about as limited as one gets: it only protects pastors (or other faith professionals) and faith-based organisations from having to do things that violate their conscience.
(And even then, the government still has the right to limit that freedom, if there’s good reason to).
If that’s not a bare-bones definition of religious freedom, then I don’t know what is.
But even that’s too much in this day and age.
And we were told that same-sex marriage would never bother this long-standing and (up until now) respected freedom.
How times have changed.
This brings with it a growing challenge for Christians. And I think we need to think through some of the issues.
Here are some of my reflections:
4) Religious Freedom Means Different Things To Different People.
For Christians, it’s the right to live all of life as Christians: for growing number of secular elite, it’s limited to attending church on Sunday.
For a growing number of secular elite, ‘freedom of religion’ means nothing more than the freedom to worship: whether at church, or at home. But either way, it’s a private thing, with no public consequences.
5) We Need to Convince Our Society That Freedom Of Religion Is A Good Thing.
We can start by showing them what it looks like to not have this freedom.
Gay activist Peter Tatchell is now convinced that freedom of religion (as we understand it) is a good thing.
Here’s what he says:
[S]hould Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? ‘
In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses [or faith groups] to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas. [emphasis added].
6) Religious Freedom is Worth Defending: It’s an Important Way to Love Our Christian/non-Christian neighbour.
It doesn’t penalise human beings who come to different convictions about life.
Let’s face it: humanity is very diverse.
We’re made up of different races, cultures, and religions.
From a Christian worldview, we’re all made in God’s image, meaning we’re rational (we think), moral (we have a sense of right/wrong), and we’re religious (we worship something/someone).
We’re also finite, and we’re sinful.
Throw all those things together in 6 billion human beings, and what do you get?
And so here’s the question:
How do we live with this diversity?
How do we live with these deep differences, in a fair and equitable way?
We can force people to believe the same as us: be ‘anti-diverse’.
Or we can give people the freedom to believe and practice whatever they want (unless there’s a good societal reason not to).
That’s what free societies have traditionally done.
And here’s the thing:
7) Religious Freedom is also good for social cohesion
It stops people feeling resentful and alienated.
If we allow people to live out their deepest convictions (as much as possible), then they won’t feel oppressed and violated: they’ll feel included in wider culture.
Which is more likely to lead to a stable society.
8) The Next Stage of the Revolution:
Big business uses its (anti-democratic) might to push for change
When Hollywood and other big businesses start using their economic might to oppose freedom of religion for pastors, then you know religious freedom is in dire straights.
And as Christian commentator Albert Mohler has said:
If this can happen in [conservative] Georgia, it can happen anywhere’.
Which is why I’m writing this post from Australia. We need to watch developments in America closely. Because what happens in America, doesn’t stay in America.
So what do you think? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below: