Republicans and religious conservatives in Indiana expressed bewilderment after a state bill they supported — designed, they said, to protect their religious liberty — instead drew brimstone on their heads from every point on the U.S. map.
Gay marriage activists, the Indianapolis Star, the chief executive of Apple and even the NCAA, among others, expressed outrage at rightward tilting Hoosiers.
"Was I expecting that kind of backlash?" Indiana Gov. Mike Pence asked. "Heavens no."
He pointed out, rather feebly, that a number of states already have similar religious-freedom laws on their books. Critics see these laws as thinly disguised efforts to legalize discrimination against gay people and other social minorities.
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For instance, religious-freedom laws could shield evangelical operators of small businesses if they refuse to bake cakes or take photographs for gay weddings.
On the opposite side, some religious people say such protection is necessary. Without these statutes, they could be forced to participate in what they see as others' sins.
I've weighed these religious-protection laws since long before the Indiana dustup, and still have mixed emotions; in that regard, I'm clearly a minority myself.
Here, in no particular order, are my disjointed thoughts:
■ The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion. Like its partners, freedoms of speech and the press, freedom of religion should be zealously guarded by everyone, including those who find a particular sect's beliefs odious.
Religious freedom, as the founders foresaw, in the long run serves everyone's interests. Thus, I always err toward granting wide latitude to church groups or devout individuals, even when doing so allows them to exclude people.
Of course, the right of free speech guarantees those who feel excluded an equal freedom to loudly shame those same religious folks. Freedom cuts both ways.
■ I don't have room here for details (maybe that's another column), but in my past I endured blatant exclusion from certain religious folks, on grounds other than sexual orientation.
Still, I decided it wasn't necessary I be welcomed or treated kindly by people who'd made up their minds to dislike me. Trust me: there's always another clergy member, denomination or business-owner more than willing to take you in.
Usually it's simpler, and more peaceable, to just go elsewhere.
■ An exception is when those excluding you represent the state or provide vital services. A cop should have to protect you whether or not he agrees with your religion or your bedroom habits. Same with an ER physician. Or a public schoolteacher.
But baking you a cake? Taking your picture? Nah. Find another vendor — then, if you must, tell all your Facebook friends what happened at vendor No. 1 and how much better vendor No. 2 treated you. Vote with your feet.
■ I do believe gay people are sinners. Of course, I also believe straight people are sinners. Even married straight people. And all those straight couples living together without benefit of clergy. And rich people. And poor people. And Christians. And Buddhists. And Republicans. And Democrats. And Socialists. And drunks. And teetotalers. And egotists. And little old blue-haired grandmas. You're a sinner. So am I.
I don't subscribe to the "I'm OK, you're OK" school of theology. I subscribe to the "I'm a train wreck and you might be worse" school.
Human beings are royally messed up. That's why we need a gracious, merciful savior who forgives abundantly.
■ It bothers me, then, when Christians single out one category of sinner for special opprobrium. You Christians who own a bakery: You won't bake a wedding cake for a gay couple? Would you bake a cake for a straight couple already living together before the wedding? Would you bake a cake for a couple if they tended to swear or were overly ambitious or had been previously divorced?
If so, you're probably a hypocrite. Not to put too fine a point on it.
I may defend your right to withhold your business' otherwise public, commercial services — but you're wrong. Either serve all sinners or reject us all (in which latter case your bankruptcy is assured).
■ What pains me most is that the larger public increasingly regards Christians as petty, smug bigots. This is some Christians' own doing, I'm afraid.
We're supposed to be known for our love, Jesus said. Truth is, most Christians — both right-leaning and left-leaning — are wonderful, decent, broad-minded folks. That gets lost in all the posturing and name-calling on both sides of the culture wars.
But 25 years ago I warned repeatedly, right here in these very pages, that if conservative Christians kept aligning themselves with the right wing of the Republican Party, if they kept defining themselves by all the types of people, social trends and supposed moral misdeeds they opposed, they eventually would find themselves universally loathed and marginalized. They would run the unchurched away from the Lord instead of drawing them to him.
This has come to pass. It's sad, because Jesus' real message isn't a toady to any political dogma, of any stripe. Too many Christians who should have known better were duped. Jesus' message isn't the screeching voice of perpetual no.
It is, as the Bible tells us, Good News.
We serve a God who loves the whole world. He loves gays and straights, men and women, geniuses and morons, blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats. He loves his entire creation, down to the squirrels and caterpillars and mussels.
Try preaching that. Trying living amiably with everyone, as St. Paul commanded. See what happens to the culture.