Column: Freedom Isn’t a Zero-Sum Game

It’s firmly in the Christian ethos to identify as being persecuted. Jesus stood up to the establishment and was tortured and murdered for it. To be a Christian is to worship a martyr.

So it’s been easy for America’s religious leaders/politicians to convince the devout they too are under assault. That in a country of 300 million, where the vast majority identify as Christian, where there’s never been a non-Christian president, where crosses are as ubiquitous as trees—Christians are being victimized for their convictions. That the almost entirely unanimously self-identified Christian government is going to suddenly go all ancient Rome on the followers of Jesus Christ.

It’s a way believers get manipulated. It makes them malleable and willing to go along with any hysteria that flares up. This week it’s religious freedom. If you listen to those sending out emails asking for donations—it’s under attack!!

How are Christians being attacked? How are their rights being diminished? Apparently if they own a business they’re being forced by Big Government to serve homosexuals. This is what oppression looks like: owning a business and making money off people your religion condemns. GASP!

So to fix a problem that doesn’t actually exist, this week Indiana legislators and Governor Mike Pence passed a law “restoring religious freedom” to Hoosiers. What makes this law different from other religious freedom statutes is that it enables businesses, as opposed to just non-profits or individuals, to get a religious exemption from what we’d identify as civil rights. More specifically: They get to publicly reject gay people.

Apparently, American Christians are now being told liberty is a zero-sum game. That if LGBTs have more rights, Christians then have fewer; if homosexuals are equal, then Christians are second-class citizens; the more for a minority, the less for the majority. They’re being told the most important part of their faith isn’t charity to all—it’s ostracization for some.

Or as the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer put it, “This isn’t about marriage equality, this is about homosexual supremacy!”

It’s a ruse. It’s not how liberty and freedom work.

Slavery is in the Bible. There are even instructions on how to treat one’s slaves. Slavery is not legal—and even the most devout can’t own any human beings. Are Christian’s less free because of this?

Segregation was fueled by the belief that black people had the mark of Cain. Segregation is not legal. Are Christian’s less free because of this?

Mutilations for punishments are abundant in the Bible for various crimes including theft and being a prostitute. This has been a practice of the Christian World for ages. The Eighth Amendment barred them; they are illegal. Are Christians less free?

No, and no one would dare to make that argument. Those battles have been won. American Christians live with a secular government that “forces” them to not live biblically every day and largely they’re fine with it.

But homosexuality is an abomination—an affront to god—according to the Bible, you say?

Usury is condemned as an abomination in the Bible. Charging interest is legal—even egregious amounts to poor people. These moneychangers are on every corner. Are Christians being threatened by this offense to god?

There are plenty of other abominations which are suspiciously glossed over by the modern faithful, like obesity, not covering your head, wearing wool blends, eating shellfish, being rich—all condemned and punished severely in the Christian Bible. None of them are against the law. Christians don’t claim their freedom is being impeded by these facts or that it’s so offensive to their faith they can’t run a business.

Christians turn a blind eye to all kinds of offenses to their religion. So why the hang-up on homosexuality? Why do American Christians suddenly feel like they are being hurt by other people living their lives? Why do Christians who own businesses all of a sudden feel put upon?

To paraphrase Gore Vidal, there’s no gay experience, there’s no straight experience, there’s only the human experience. The rest is politics.

The faithful are being lied to. Swindlers are stoking antiquated fear of gay people to reheat a once reliable hot button issue.

It might be a well-worn fundraising tool, but it’s no victory for freedom. Freedom really means others will be tolerated whom you don’t regard, understand or agree with. That’s the downside of having freedom in a free county—Americans you don’t like have it too.


Image by Chris Yarzab