Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Christian Misconception: Change the narrative

There was recently a debate brought up on a friend's Facebook page asking members of the LDS Church to describe why we felt that our religious freedoms are being attacked. The most common reasons presented in the comments (in support of an attack, anyway) is because there are currently things present in the world/done by the government that are contrary to the beliefs and practices of the Church. Mentioned at one point was an article posted on labeled, "Why Religious Freedom Matters: What's at Risk." After reading this article I can understand how people might feel as if there is an attack on their religion/religious freedom... that is, I can if everyone dramatizes barely substantiated fears and the realities of living within a modern non-religious society as much as the author of the article. And so, today, I shall try to dispel the fears and exaggerations encouraged by the original article. The initial information will be my opinions of the specific examples brought up by the article and the  latter will be my description of why Mormons (and Christians as a whole) should not fear that their religious freedoms are being threatened, at least not in the good old US of A.

"Why Religious Freedom Matters: What's at Risk"

Now, just starting out in this article, I am concerned by the language and situation presented. "Freedom to choose," or "agency," is displayed as being the most important aspect of the War in Heaven and the language immediately tries to put a person in the mindset that this freedom is under attack. I disagree. People are more free to choose (in America) than they have been in the past, including being free to openly be themselves. It isn't perfect but our freedom to choose is hardly under threat. The author (whomever it may be) then transfers into the freedom to practice one's religion "how, when, and where" they will and makes the claim that this freedom to do so is under attack. I find it interesting/telling that this concern of attack only comes after there is disapproval of the Christian faith and is nowhere to be found after similar (or worse) disapproval of Judaism or Islam (more on this later).

The article brings up 13 "potentially severe consequences" that he/she/it believes may/will occur if people (note: Mormons or Christians) lose the ability to "worship, speak, and live" according to their beliefs. I went through each example and analyzed it for content, truth, or outright exaggeration. The author's points are in red (main point is bold, qualifiers and examples are in italics).

1.     You could lose your job or leadership positions for expressing religious beliefs—even outside of work. The examples given are of people in various professions being intimidated, fired, or forced to resign due to their beliefs in the "nuclear" family. I am not saying that these things have not happened, but it is illegal for any business or job in America to fire you based on your religious, political, or personal beliefs. If it happens, sue the company and either get your job back or get money from them breaking the anti-discriminatory laws. I cannot guarantee that there will not be pressure from co-workers or management to find another job if your beliefs contradict the majority of your peers or that you won't be fired for some other reason, but you cannot be fired solely based on your beliefs. No religious freedom is being threatened, no one is preventing you from acting in accordance to your faith.
2.     You might be required to hide your religion or perform tasks at work that go against your beliefs. Such as a doctor being forced to perform an abortion or a worker forced to don an immodest work uniform. First off, welcome to having a job! If you work in the public sector, where religion has no place, you might have to set aside personal beliefs/religious practices in order to continue working. That is life in America if you want to earn money. Your religion can be a part of your personal life and beliefs but you cannot refuse to do your job because it interferes with your personal beliefs. If this is a problem, don't go into a job that might require you to do so. As for the examples, no doctor can be forced to perform an abortion unless the life of their patient is at risk (but by denying to perform it the doctor is basically removing the ability of the woman to exercise her own "freedom to choose"). You could simply refer your patient to another coworker who will perform the procedure. The second example is much more straightforward: unless you work for Hooters, a pool, a bar, or something similar I cannot think of any reason why an immodest dress code would be enforced. If you do work for one of the former, why are you complaining, the dress code was probably pretty clear when you got the job? If you don't, make an internet protest or petition to get the dress code changed (public awareness/outcry is a potentially beautiful thing for you). No religious freedom is being threatened, you are simply being held to the same standards as your co-workers and perform the tasks as a part of your job description.
3.     You may be required to work on the Sabbath or religious holidays. First off, see above about having a job. Now, unless your boss is coming up to you specifically and saying, "You have to work this day because of your religion," your religious "freedoms" are not being threatened. It is not illegal for a boss to require an individual employee to work the days which they are assigned. If it is a problem, get a different job where your place of business is closed on all weekends and mainstream religious holidays (this way you will get the Christian holidays off).
4.     Your children in public schools may be required to learn about sexual and gender theories that contradict basic Church teachings. My only response to this is: Good, about time! The Church places such a high focus on abstinence only sexual education and creates such a fear and stigma against any form of sexuality that it is no wonder that the pornography use in Utah is the highest in the country. The truth is that such approaches to sexual education and conversations is extremely damaging and can lead to unsafe sexual practices, unintentional pregnancy, and even emotional disorders. As for teaching differing gender theories or exposing children to other "sexual" content, either opt your child out or just accept that not everything in the "real world" will match the Church's teaching and use this as an opportunity to open a dialogue with your child. Nothing in this scenario is preventing you from worshiping or living how you wish, it is not necessary for the entire world to conform to your ways of life in order to allow you to never be threatened.
5.     You may not be able to adopt children or become a foster parent. Has this ever actually happened? Honestly, unless you are adopting through a private religious organization (other than Mormon) or the birth parents/child have specified the religion they would prefer their child/themselves to live in. Since adoption is not a right or even a specific part of religion, this is not an attack on your religious freedom. (Also, are we not going to mention the families that the LDS adoption agency have prevented from adopting because of religious beliefs and/or lifestyle or the times when the US government wouldn't allow gay couples or single parents to adopt? No? Alright, then.)
6.     As a business owner or professional, you might lose your license or be fined if you refuse to perform services that are contrary to your religious beliefs. This is technically true. If you don't perform the tasks required in your job you could be reprimanded for this refusal. It is a part of living within a society and having to abide by the standards of the majority (or even those of the reining political force). Civil protest is always allowed but there can be repercussions. However, if the organization is not forcing you to abandon your beliefs entirely, persecuting you specifically for your beliefs, or forcing you to convert to another set of beliefs then your religious freedoms are still intact.
7.     You might not be able to create faith-based clubs on college campuses without being required to let people become club members—or even officers—who oppose the club’s religious beliefs. The qualifier here does make this statement true, an official college campus club should be open to any who wish to join and membership should never be exclusionary. This does not impinge your religious freedom for others, not of your faith or belief system, to join your club. They are actually expressing their freedom to choose.
8.     Churches may be forced to employ people who disagree with or refuse to live core values of their faith. While not positive, I am pretty sure that the US government cannot force any religious institution to hire anyone, as they are not allowed to dictate how religions are run (unless a myriad of laws are being broken). Even if the Church is forced to hire people who disagree with the faith (assuming they would even work for a religious institution to which they were fully opposed), the members would be relentless in trying to convert them. I am not seeing the threat to religious freedom in this example.
9.     Churches could lose their tax-exempt status by maintaining doctrines, policies, and standards that conflict with secular beliefs regarding marriage, family, gender, and sexuality. This has been a threat for years. It was decreed before the new LGBTQ legislation and will probably continue to be a large "threat" hanging over every church until decisions are made about it (one way or another). However, so long as every religious group loses the tax-exempt status to the same degree, no religious freedom is threatened because no religion is being singled out and no one is prevented from worshiping their religion.
10. You might lose tax exemptions for charitable donations like tithes and offerings if the Church loses its status as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. This is a conditional statement that would only come to pass if the previous statement were true. That being said, so long as tithes and offerings go to charity, there is no reason that they should suddenly be deemed ineligible for exemption. 
11. Churches may not be able to access government lands for camps on equal terms with other groups. Pay the government for the use (if required) and I cannot imagine what the problem would be. Seems like a lot of hassle for the government to suddenly stop allowing any religious group to use government lands for camps when there are so many different church groups using them.
12. Housing units, such as dorms, at religious colleges could be forced to abandon moral standards that protect privacy, modesty, and morality. Why would a dorm at a religious college be forced to abandon moral standards? Firstly, it is a religious college and so, unless there is illegal activity, the government will allow it to function. Secondly, so long as the moral standards are not discriminatory (preventing people from getting an apartment in the first place), no laws are being broken that would give validity to government involvement. Lastly, the US government and judges don't seem to care about dorm policies so why are you even concerned? (And, yes, that last statement was a jab about the way rape is handled by judges.)
13. Religious schools that maintain honor codes may lose their accreditation and be denied research funds and even federal student loans and grants. Yes, this would be bad... if it were even remotely likely to happen. Why would an honor code cause a school to lose all accreditation? So long as the honor code is not requiring students to agree to break a law and is respecting the property and physical safety of students it is not illegal. 

What you should take away from all of these examples is that it is the author's attempt at fear mongering and creating issues where none exist. As phrased, almost every statement is accurate, all of these things could happen, but the likelihood of them happening in such a way that it actually threatened religious freedom is very extremely unlikely. All these scenarios require is that people co-exist within society, respecting everyone's individual rights and following the laws and regulations of their jobs and/or schools.

Christianity is the unofficial official religion of the US. The major holidays are generally observed, religious items and places of worship are easily located in every city in every state. (Yes I am including Mormons within the generic wording of Christianity) Very rarely is a Christian church burned to the ground or vandalized or defiled. No one is proposing a ban on Christians in the country. Christians are not randomly set on fire or attacked because of what they wear. There is a mistaken aura of fear that some Christians have propagated that they are being persecuted or their rights are being threatened; the scenarios refuted here are examples of that fear. But many of these same Christians feel justified in denying the religious rights and safety to others because they view them as terrorists, cheats, un-American, etc.

If we are truly a country, if we are truly Christians, that is/are concerned with observing and continuing the practice of religious freedom then we need to modify our dialogue. Instead of fearing that the government is going to come in and take control of all of our churches and limiting our rights, let's work together to make sure that the rights of other religions are upheld, by the government and by us. This should be our narrative as followers of Christ, a call for acceptance and inclusiveness, not a call of fear and division.

Change the narrative. 

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