Christian dominance and so-called 'Religious Freedom'

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I've been thinking quite a bit this Easter season about the controversies surrounding so-called "religious freedom" legislation in Indiana and Arkansas. In a recent interview on the Family Research Council radio program, "Washington Watch with Tony Perkins," former Arkansas Governor and potential 2016 Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee discussed the backlash against these two pieces of legislation.

Huckabee asserted that gay-rights activists are seeking the eradication of Christian churches. According to Huckabee, "It won't stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel." 

Christianity has been and continues to be the dominant form of religious practice and expression in America. Often the rhetoric used by members of dominant groups insinuates that when people outside of their dominant group ask for equal rights and the opportunity to participate fully in American life, they are actually seeking to eradicate the existence of that dominant group.

Many Christians have asserted that homosexual marriages are a threat to traditional heterosexual marriages. Advocates for homosexual marriage, however, are not promoting or advocating for the eradication of heterosexual marriage or the eradication of Christian churches. They are simply that homosexuals be afforded the same opportunities as heterosexuals to participate fully and equally (without discrimination) in American life.

When Governor Huckabee and others insinuate that requests for equal rights and full participation in American life represents an attempt to destroy the Christian church, what their rhetoric clearly reveals is that for them the destruction of their dominance is equal to the destruction of the church itself. For such people, dominance is an inherent part of the church's identity.

Under the guise of protecting "religious freedoms," it appears that some Christians believe they should have the "freedom" to legally deny certain people the rights, privileges and benefits experienced by other people. 

Many Americans believe that one of the responsibilities of government is to ensure equal opportunity for all people and to ensure that no one group of people exercises any sort of legally sanctioned dominance that grants them the right, power or ability, to deny to other groups of people access to the same rights, benefits and privileges experienced by all people.

The U.S. government—on both the federal and state level—already provides corporations, small businesses, churches, clergy and many religious organizations certain benefits that are denied to a majority of Americans (tax benefits being the most obvious). It appears that some of the recipients of these benefits also desire the "religious freedom" to not be compelled to provide benefits and/or services that "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion."

The U.S. government cannot and should not provide governmental support and protection for "a person's exercise of religion" when that exercise of religion grants that person the "freedom" to extend rights, privileges and benefits to certain groups of people while denying the same rights, privileges and benefits to other groups of people.

As many people reflect on the historical significance and meaning of the Christian celebration of Easter, it's important to recognize that implicit within early beliefs regarding Jesus' death and resurrection was the notion of challenging political and religious dominance.

Despite the unwarranted claims of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, challenging and questioning so-called "religious freedom" legislation is actually about eradicating the religious dominance of the church rather than eradicating the church itself, unless of course—as Huckabee and others seem to believe—religious dominance is an inherent part of the Christian church.

Guy Nave

Guy Nave

Guy Nave, professor of religion, has been part of the Religion Department faculty since 2001, focusing on the topics of Christianity, biblical studies, religion and social justice, the social construction of religious meaning, and race-religion-and-politics. Professor Nave is currently researching the power, politics and meaning behind the rhetoric of "change," as well as the role of Christianity in bringing about social "change." In addition to writing for Luther College's Ideas and Creations blog, Nave is the founder of the online social media platform Clamoring for Change and is a guest contributor to a number of online sites, including Sojourners Commentary blog series.

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  • April 8 2015 at 11:10 pm
    Peter B (former student)
    My views changed substantially on gay marriage because of my time at Luther and for a lot of reasons. I would like to add the following to the topic though and it reflects what I used to think to what I think now. I used to think that marriage was inherently a Christian thing, because I was in favor of equal rights for the LGBTQ community, I did not see why they thought a civil union was not enough in terms of right. I think when those of the faith realize just as I did, that the marriage is not inherently owned by Christianity, than it is just a question of basic civil rights. I feel that there is a large contingent that think marriage is owned by the Church and Christianity and continue not to see around that in the general discourse that surrounds marriage equality. That being said, I still read all your blogs and think you are one of the best profs I ever had, Peter B
  • April 19 2015 at 7:50 pm
    Guy Nave


    Thanks for your response. Your comment reflects the importance of being open to "process" of change that is part of life. I only wish our various religious traditions were as open to accepting change. As a result of experience, we are constantly changing. Our religious traditions need to be open to accommodating the changes experienced daily by members of those various religious traditions.

    I'm glad you are open to accepting the changes that you are experiencing, and I'm glad that we had an opportunity to share a brief moment of our lives together.

    Keep well.


  • April 23 2015 at 10:00 pm
    I think Huckabee has a point. There is a war on Christians whether by Muslims or the secular left. Why weren't Muslims criticized for ipnot baking gay wedding cakes? Why doesn't Obama, a left wing guy, speak out on the murders of Christians in the Middle East?
  • April 25 2015 at 2:58 pm
    Jonah Luebke
    Dear Dr. Nave, As much as I want to disagree with you (I am a supporter of traditional heterosexual marriage), I think that what you are saying is accurate. The role of God's church in today's society is not to act with a sense of entitlement; for, that would be ignorant and a misrepresentation of God's love. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to rethink my views. Tolerance not dominance. -Jonah Luebke
  • April 27 2015 at 2:30 pm
    Guy Nave


    While I appreciate your comments and questions, as an Army veteran, the language of a "war" on Christians seems extremely strong to me. Many might say there is a "war" against homosexuals that seeks to deny them the rights, privileges, and liberties that heterosexuals are guaranteed in our society. I don't know of any homosexual or gay-rights activist who is seeking to deny Christians any rights, privileges, or freedoms. Are you suggesting that denying Christians the "right" to discriminate against homosexuals is "a war on Christians?"

    I do hope you are able to realize that many Christians accused the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of transgressing Christianity by engaging in "civil disobedience" on behalf of oppressed black people in America (and eventually on behalf of oppressed Vietnamese).

    As you are aware, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee does not make a claim of hypocrisy in the interview I cite in my blog. Instead, he makes a blanket (and unfounded) assertion that gay-rights activists are seeking the eradication of Christian churches. As a gay-rights activist who is an ordained minister, I am not seeking the eradication of Christian churches.

    Since my post says nothing about Muslims, I'm concerned about your blanket accusation that Muslims are engaged in a war against Christians. Again, there are BILLIONS of Muslims (many of whom may even live in your community) who are not engaged in a war against Christians.

    I assume your "bakery" reference is to the decisions in Oregon or from Judge Robert N. Spencer of the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts ruling that Masterpiece Cakeshop violated Colorado law by denying service to customers who wished to order baked goods to celebrate a same-sex couple’s wedding? Longstanding Oregon and Colorado state law prohibits public accommodations, including businesses such as Masterpiece Cakeshop, from refusing service based on factors such as race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation.

    Discrimination is wrong rather practiced by Christians or Muslims. Similar to the cases in Oregon, Colorado, and elsewhere, those who were denied service by Muslim bakeries can file a lawsuit. As far as I know there have been no court cases that have upheld the right of Muslim bakeries to deny service on the basis of sexual orientation (if you know of such court cases, I'd appreciate hearing about them).

    Finally, while your criticism of White House silence on the killing of Christians by Muslims might be warranted, that still does not invalidate the critique I make against Huckabee. If you want to criticize me for not writing a blog condemning silence in the face of Muslims killing Chrisitians, you have the right to do so. That, however, still does not make discrimination against homosexuals valid. As far as I know, no American is advocating for the passing of legislation in America that seeks to legalize the killing of Christians by Muslims. Unfortunately, however, many Americans are advocating for the passing of legislation in America that allows for discrimination against homosexuals on the basis of religion. Such legislation should be opposed, and that is the ultimate point of my blog (On a side note, earlier this month, the Obama White House strongly condemned the murder of 28 Ethiopian Christians by ISIL terrorists). 

  • April 27 2015 at 2:37 pm
    Guy Nave


    Thank you for sharing. It would have been easy for you to change your point of view without sharing. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your response. I know from personal experience that changes in perspective are often difficult to embrace in one's life. Thank you for welcoming such a change and for sharing.

    With much respect and appreciation,


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