A biblical alternative to ‘religious objection’ laws: submission

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The Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs held a hearing Feb. 17 in the Senate Chambers at the Capitol to examine measures to protect religious beliefs. (Ralph Barrera / American-Statesman)

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other leaders of the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature want to protect the religious liberties of Texans who oppose same-sex marriage. To that end, Patrick has charged the Texas Senate’s State Affairs Committee to study and recommend so-called religious objection measures for lawmakers to consider during next year’s legislative session. In essence, Patrick wants the Legislature to let those who feel their “sincerely held religious beliefs” are under assault to decide for themselves which laws and Supreme Court rulings to follow.

The State Affairs Committee met Wednesday, and it quickly became apparent, as the American-Statesman’s Chuck Lindell reported, that protecting one person’s religious beliefs risks opening discrimination’s door. (When is a religious belief “sincerely held” and when is it not, and how can you tell the difference, is anyone’s guess.) The American-Statesman’s editorial board urged caution in an editorial published Sunday. It will not be easy keeping religious freedom and faith-based discrimination separate.

I can’t speak for other religions, but allow me to indulge here in the common practice of cherry picking biblical verses to point out that the Bible offers a remedy for conservative Christians who feel the federal courts and other government entities have infringed on their religious liberties by upholding gay rights and passing various nondiscrimination laws. Submission.

Take the opening verses of Romans 13, for example:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

This call to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” as it is written in 1 Peter, Chapter 2, is repeated elsewhere in the Bible, most famously when Jesus says in Matthew 22:20-21 to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Let’s ignore for the sake of this blog entry how the powerful throughout history have used these passages to justify the divine right of kings, slavery or genocide to say that if it’s true that “there is no authority except from God,” then submission to the authorities is submission to God. If you read the Bible literally, then who’s to say the Supreme Court isn’t “instituted by God” and it’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage wasn’t granted through God?

Perhaps conservative Christians should be content rather than press lawmakers to carve out exceptions for them. Perhaps they should, as Paul instructs in 2 Corinthians 12:10, delight in being insulted and persecuted. God gives strength in weakness.

Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times last week in which he observed how since the beginnings of the republic conservatives typically start cultural battles, but liberals almost always win them. Any religious objection law that the Texas Legislature might pass next year will be a rearguard action fought for a lost cause. But losing, not winning, makes a culture warrior righteous, Prothero wrote. “Each defeat proves that America is in fact going to hell and is desperately in need of a defender,” he continued.

The thing is, those who hold themselves up as defenders of lost causes often win elections. And electoral wins are the wins that matter. Those are the causes the defenders of lost causes verily serve.