Washing our hands of religious liberty

The debate over the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act has brought us clarity. If you have wondered to what extent some advocates for “tolerance” will “tolerate” genuine pluralism of opinion about the nature of marriage, gender and human sexuality, you have your answer: very little.

Exhibit A, the now (in)famous small-town Indiana pizzeria owners who said they could not, in conscience, cater a same-sex wedding, and who have since shuttered their business indefinitely due to media onslaught and harassment by activists.

Exhibit B, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni’s April 5 op-ed titled “Bigotry, the Bible, and the Lessons of Indiana.” In it, Bruni argues orthodox (or what he calls “conservative”) Christianity is the biggest impediment to the advancement of “lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-questioning” rights.

Bruni approvingly cites one author and gay philanthropist who chillingly commands that “Church leaders must be made to take homosexuality off the sin list.” Doing so will allegedly prevent further “harm” to LGBTQ persons, who, according to Bruni, should not have to wonder whether they are “saved” or “damned.”

We can thank Bruni for confirming that the ultimate aim of same-sex marriage activists is to completely silence the voice of conscience. Both the fear of having one’s reputation destroyed and the fear of financial loss to persons and institutions are tools that some activists acknowledge will be used against those who do not embrace their new “orthodoxy.”

Is there a response?

Ten years ago, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) wrote the Good Friday meditations for the Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum. Ratzinger’s meditation on the First Station, in which Jesus is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, is particularly noteworthy in light of the mob of irrationality and hatred that we see around us.

He says:

“Pilate is not utterly evil. He knows that the condemned man is innocent, and he looks for a way to free him. But his heart is divided. And in the end he lets his own position, his own self-interest, prevail over what is right. Nor are the men who are shouting and demanding the death of Jesus utterly evil. Many of them, on the day of Pentecost, will feel ‘cut to the heart’ (Acts 2:37), when Peter will say to them: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God . . . you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law’ (Acts 2:22). But at that moment they are caught up in the crowd. . . . And in this way, justice is trampled underfoot by weakness, cowardice and fear of the diktat of the ruling mindset. The quiet voice of conscience is drowned out by the cries of the crowd. Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.”

Many are uncomfortable with the intolerance coming from those attacking religious liberty, including some supporters of same-sex marriage. Most people do not embrace the zealotry of the few who claim that a belief in marriage as between a man and a woman is the same as racism. But the campaign to undermine these voices and views by depicting Christians and others as bigots unworthy of protection under the law will continue.

As Christians we must remain in the truth of Christ and strengthen the voices of those arguing for religious liberty by being credible witnesses ourselves — never succumbing to hatred or fear, never shouting in anger, but in everything showing charity. We must be the voice of conscience in our homes, schools, communities and in the halls of government.

In closing his meditation on the first Station of the Cross, Pope Benedict gave us the following prayer that can serve as our own examination of conscience:

“Lord, you were condemned to death because fear of what other people may think suppressed the voice of conscience. So, too, throughout history, the innocent have always been maltreated, condemned and killed. How many times have we ourselves preferred success to the truth, our reputation to justice? Strengthen the quiet voice of our conscience, your own voice, in our lives. Look at me as you looked at Peter after his denial. Let your gaze penetrate our hearts and indicate the direction our lives must take. On the day of Pentecost you stirred the hearts of those who, on Good Friday, clamored for your death, and you brought them to conversion. In this way you gave hope to all. Grant us, ever anew, the grace of conversion.”


Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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