Indiana, RFRA, and Moral Galaxies

The news outlets have been abuzz about Indiana and RFRA. I don’t have time to provide links to all the 5-15 minute clips of heated debates between the “heroes” and “villains” in the country. The civil rights arguments are coming out all over again, along side of “wrong side of history” rhetoric, and adjectives like “ridiculous,” “bigoted,” “narrow-minded,” and the list continues.

It’s fascinating to watch how this RFRA has focused solely on LGBTQ questions in public debate, and virtually nowhere else. I’ll play along for the purposes of this post, but I do think this RFRA is bigger than that.

To the point: what is challenging to watch in these discussions is the fact that the interlocutors are conversing from different, far-apart moral galaxies. Underlying assumptions about what is good, and how we can determine what is good, what we can know about ourselves, how we ought to conduct our lives, and what is an unassailable right are things that are almost never discussed in the forum of an interview. There is only time (or perhaps interest) on TV to argue about the fruit of the ideas, and not their roots. More sadly, I’m not sure many people really care to think through first principles. Maybe I’m just whining, but I don’t think I am. The prophetic voice of Niel Postman is screaming somewhere.

And that’s really where the issue is – it’s much deeper than “You like gay people and I don’t” kind of demagoguery.  People who think RFRA is the mind-progeny of some back room fundamentalist, Christian conspirators scheming ways to keep, for example, our gay friends from pumping gas at a gas station owned by an Indiana evangelical seem to have trouble conceiving of any other potential situation where the government might force a corporation (sole proprietor or otherwise) to violate a reasonably held religious belief in the public square. In other words, I think many in the public forum still can’t recognize how anyone could really believe marriage and the proper design for human sexuality is well-preserved within the union of one man and one woman. I mean…really? That’s moral universe number 1.

And then others who don’t empathize with the initial outrage may have trouble understanding the world that our gay neighbors or relatives have grown up in. And let’s be clear: for anyone that has a same-sex attraction, the world writ large has not been compassionate. In many cases, downright awful. The outrage is understandable, particularly when it’s coming from a different moral galaxy. That is to say that advocates for the LGBTQ perspective can’t understand how anyone could think that marriage is an institution of due privilege and right for one particular kind of human relationship. It is, they suggest, absurd and arbitrary and burdensome to exclude any persons from access to a federal, tax filing status. What’s the big deal? And this is moral universe number 2.

The collision in the public square isn’t the result of people who like gay people and those who don’t. That’s what it seems like based on the news outlets and temper tantrums thrown by corporations exiting their commerce from the state. It’s the consequence of fundamental conceptions of what human beings are, what we ought to be, and how we know what we are and what we ought to be. That discussion won’t make it to a prime-time segment. But it sure would bring some clarity, and it might cool some heads because we could recognize that we’re in a democracy wherein people are free to live in different moral galaxies, be they 1 or 2, 3 or 4, etc. The role of our government is not to force us into one or the other, but to ensure that we don’t unnecessarily use the power of the state to force each other from galaxy 2 into galaxy 1 or galaxy 1 to galaxy 2. The trouble comes when we refuse to understand our moral identities, and therefore portray each other as insidious or through and through villainous. The calming effects of reason and working to recognize fundamental presuppositions aren’t catchy nor do they make for sellable news headlines. But they are soothing.

Pastors, remember your call to see through the noise, and address the heart of the matter. Remember the core issues involved and that you have been shown infinite grace. Be gracious in turn.

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