The Indiana RFRA: An Assault on Christian Religious Freedom and Integrity

In the days since Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed and defended Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a storm of outrage and offense has rippled through the political and business worlds, decrying the law’s rather obvious anti-gay discriminatory intent. In the wake this public anger over the law, a variety of disingenuous or just mistaken defenses of the law have emerged. All of these defenses revolve around the idea that the Indiana RFRA isn’t really different than either the corresponding federal legislation, or statutes enacted in nearly half of the other states.

However, the Indiana law departs significantly from existing federal and state “religious freedom” statutes, for two reasons. First, it has specifically extended religious freedom protection to for-profit businesses that have no religious purpose or connection. Second, it allows a “religious freedom” legal defense for an individual or corporation that is sued by a private party (i.e., not the government). (See Garrett Epps’ excellent explication of these issues here). The relatively plain purpose of the law is to explicitly allow businesses to enact a variety of doctrinal tests governing their business, and then to be able to defend themselves in court from the inevitable discrimination claims on the basis of exercising their religious freedom. The Indiana RFRA was passed for a very different purpose than its federal cousin, and it is the underlying discriminatory motivation for the legislation – an intent that is clear in the alteration of its language – that makes it so pernicious.

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Paul, Romans, Pagans, and Gays

I’ve been writing a bit recently on a somewhat personal note about where the church stands (or where I would like it to stand) in its response to gay Christians who are asking for full inclusion and acceptance in the church. That was motivated in part by David and Maria’s outstanding reflections on their own experiences, and a desire to step a little outside of the pure theological realm and address the real people that I see around me every day. But today I want to get back to some more exegesis, breaking down further why I think the biblical arguments against homosexuality in the church are untenable.

st paul homosexuality romans

Hmmm, what would be the best way to demonstrate my scorn for those filthy pagan idolaters?

I haven’t done a thorough search to confirm this, but I’d wager that Romans 1:24-27 is easily the passage that is most frequently cited as a biblical warrant against permitting, or even embracing, open gay and lesbian relationships within the church. It’s a powerful source for several reasons. It’s not from the Old Testament, and so can’t be disregarded as a legal demand that should no longer hold sway within Christian communities. (I don’t love these kinds of dismissals of the Old Testament, but they are a reality in the thinking of many Christians.) It’s quite explicit in its language, and so difficult to ignore on account of vagueness. And finally, it’s a substantial part of Paul’s opening argument in Romans about the nature and quality of Christ’s gospel. Romans, and particularly its first few chapters, is inarguably one of the great theological bedrocks of Christian theology; its logic and rhetoric have been central to the articulation of the faith since its beginning. (It is, indeed, a theological tour de force.) So the attention paid to these verses is understandable, since if Paul condemns homosexual actions and orientations here, then surely such a rejection cannot be elided from the church’s teaching. Right?

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In Memoriam: Fr Thomas Hopko

About the Author
David Wagschal

It’s with deep sadness that we learned of Fr Tom’s death earlier today. (See his family’s blog.)  Fr Tom was dean and instructor at St. Vladimir’s Seminary when Tim and I were seminarians.

He lived a good and long life and yet somehow it still seems like he left us a bit early!  I wish we had had a little more time.

Rest in peace, Fr Tom!

“Christ is the morning star
who when the night
of this world is past
brings to his beloved
the promise of
the light of life
& opens everlasting day.”

Homosexuality and the Bible

About the Author
David Wagschal

To get it right on homosexuality means that we need to get it right on a lot of other things.

I think the dark and deep fear that many Christians harbour about homosexuality is that, if we’ve got this wrong, maybe we’ve got a lot of other things wrong. If we have to challenge the churches’ traditional teaching on this point, does this mean that we have to challenge the whole, broader structure? If we concede an error on this point, do we have to concede an error on a lot else too?

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In Memoriam: Fr. Matthew Baker

About the Author
David Wagschal

I have just learned, with much sorrow, that Fr Matthew Baker, a friend from seminary, died in a tragic car accident last night. Miraculously, his six children, who were in the car with him, survived.

Our prayers, love and sympathies, go to Katherine and the family.  I have numerous fond memories of evenings with Matthew puffing on Hal o’the Winds pipe tobacco and sipping good Scotch as we discussed his research and pondered “great and weighty” theological matters. I’m not sure how much we would have agreed on these days, but I always appreciated his intensity, creativity, and clarity.  What I especially remember was that he was always insistent in those discussion that theology remain conversant (his word) with the culture around it  — which was somehow my “take away” from knowing Matthew.  Thanks, Mat.

Matthew was really just embarking upon his theological and priestly career to serve the church and the communities that, as he often noted, he felt so nourished and loved by.

We’ll miss you Matthew.

A fund has been set up to help the family — please see www.gofundme.com/nizf2g.

– David