On Indiana's RFRA, Discrimination and Sex

03/31/2015 09:11 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2015

A few thoughts keep rolling around in my mind as I listen to updates regarding the passage of SB101 in Indiana last week. They tend to circulate like this:

1) What kind of discrimination was it intended to allow, if not against members of the LGBTQ community? To rephrase: what forms of religious freedoms was it intended to protect? I could use a few examples, please.

2) Wouldn't it just be easier for people to come "out" about their discriminatory preferences, instead of having legislation to protect them in the aftermath? Instead of people having to grudgingly serve others they deem to be judgment-worthy, they get to take a pass, keep their integrity and signal to everyone who doesn't embrace the discrimination to keep their distance. I am as averse to forcing someone to do something they do not want to as they are to being forced into it. Isn't being honest about it, instead of relying on legislation, something of a win-win?

3) Aside from this being a terrible step backwards, in terms of legal rights for the LGBTQ community, the issue here is not really a legal one. It is a religious one.

4) See #1.

It seems to me that the underlying point of discussion ought to be about the fact that there are religious traditions that explicitly, and more often implicitly, deny the full personhood of some of our fellow travelers on this planet. There are religious traditions that endorse discrimination. That is worth our attention.

As a biblical scholar, I am quite interested in thinking about how sacred writings contribute to these conversations. I am keen to raise awareness about both the inherent problems with some of the biblical passages -- those that are not simply being misinterpreted to have hurtful messages but that actually have hurtful messages -- and the issue of perpetuating 2000+ year old world views today, if we are not thoughtful about what we find in these sacred texts. There is, of course, a great deal of overlap there.

But what I find most troublesome in these public discourses is that people end up turning to ancient texts to find guidance and "the truth." It is not the issue of valuing an ancient text that troubles me, though. There can be incredibly helpful wisdom contained in those tomes. The troublesome part is that some people are taught that the ancient scripture trumps human experiences and realities. This approach to sacred writings will cause a person to defend, instead of raise a question about, any of the patriarchal and heteronormative elements within them.

The thing is, what we know about those ancient patriarchal and heteronormative worldviews and beliefs do, at times, unsettle me to my core. I am not fond of the belief that I (being a female, biologically) am simply a not-fully-formed male, for instance. (My clitoris just didn't quite make it to the penis state, apparently.) As for that belief that males are by default more intelligent and more logical than females? Just don't even get me started on that one. But all of these beliefs were alive and well at the time in which much of the sacred writings were produced and canonized. And these three ideas are just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Some of the ideas at the time about sex, procreation and emotions or passions might shock you.

As for the matter that might really be at the center of this issue, regardless of how it is dressed up: what undergirds religious folk's resistance to embracing the LGBTQ community is sex. How people have it matters, in this conversation. Whether or not it can lead to procreation (Gen 1:28) or looks like all the couples having approved-of sexual relations in the Bible is actually at the core of this debate. As I have argued previously here on HuffPost Religion, and more fully in Permission Granted (ch. 4, Sex: Who, What & Why?), the role of sex in the bible and its role for us today are quite different things.

The fact that some people really do care about how everyone is having sex is actually a significant part of this discussion. Please stop and think about that bit for a moment. That they think it should always and only be between a man and a woman conveniently leaves out the other primary biblical reason/role of sex, which is procreation. Not only do hetero-couples not always have sex that could cause fertilization, but also our global village is having overpopulation issues. Our procreating all too well might be our downfall.

People who grow up being told that sex is only to happen between a man and a woman will quite naturally have discomfort about versions of sex that look different. But their discomfort does not mean that only hetero-sex is okay.

I am tired of hearing people say that Christianity, for instance, is about love. No. I am sorry, but not all versions of it are. Thus we can safely say that there are elements in the Christian scriptures, doctrines, and/or traditions that allow for some unloving beliefs, and thus unloving actions and interactions.

If you would like to treat a group of people differently, as if they had a deadly virus that you could catch if you interacted with them, based on your religious beliefs, then I say it is time to rethink your religious convictions. You may have come by them honestly, from your sacred scriptures and the congregation you have known since childhood. I understand that. But that does not mean that your beliefs or the sacred scriptures you turn to cannot handle some honest soul-searching or reconfiguring in light of present day realities.