The rhetoric of religious freedom and the 'war on Christianity' -- so often used as a justification for discrimination against LGBTQ people -- has nothing to do with religion or faith. While it is painted to look like an argument for the freedom of conscience, it is a medieval attempt by a group of people with money and power to assert control. How do I know this? Just ask yourself how many times right-wing 'religious freedom' activists stood up for the rights of Muslims. Oh, wait, you can't remember the last time that happened? Is it because the people who shamelessly claim to be victims are the same who opposed the Ground Zero mosque? Or burned Qurans? Or sponsored armed rallies in which white people gleefully resisted radical Islamists by drawing racist cartoons of Mohamed? Or created and fostered the idea that our president was a Muslim, with no other evidence beside his skin color and his father's country of origin?
Or, let's look at the story of Josh Duggar. Multiple Republican presidential hopefuls were photographed with Duggar, as far as I know these all happened before the story of his molestations broke. To be fair, these candidates take pictures with an insane number of people. Also, I would note that conservatives from the CNN commentator Ben Ferguson to Rick Santorum have made strong statements repudiating Duggar. But the condemnation of Daggar's actions by conservatives does not negate their approval of his politics or those of the Family Research Council -- a group recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. They are happy to tout the scientifically disproven idea that children are best off with opposite-sex parents. Moreover, Diggar's story highlights some of the many reason why the United States is growing more tolerant, even among young Republicans, and why conservatives are increasingly desperate to cling to the delusion that they haven't completely and utterly lost the culture wars.
The Duggar family, the Republican hopefuls and their conservative base like to promote the idea that opposite-sex couplings are required to raising healthy and successful children. They ignore multiple long-term studies that show children are most successful with same-sex parents than with opposite-sex parents. This same talking point -- that kids "deserve" a mom and dad in a committed marriage and only an opposite-sex couple can make a "real" family -- is echoed by most of the fringe groups these hopefuls pander to and it contributes to the hostile environments that lead to so many LGBTQ teen suicides. While the Duggars encouraged the idea that gay people are somehow morally suspect, inferior or outside of 'God's plan,' they kept their own son's predatory behavior a secret until after the statute of limitation expired. Perhaps they were trying to protect their child. However, they also succeeded in protecting the family's brand and the political brand of its patriarch and former member of Arkansas' House of Representatives. Instead of facing the allegations and granting dignity to Duggar's victims, they chose to allow his predation to remain hidden and exposed their children and community to the danger that Michelle Duggar would later project onto trans people.
Despite how hollow their anti-LGBTQ rhetoric becomes, they persist in offering a self-righteous and judgmental version of Christian 'compassion' in which they condemn the 'sin' of homosexuality. This view is rooted in bigotry rather than religion. Jesus ate with prostitutes, lepers and sinners. He said those who suffer and are downtrodden would be welcomed into the kingdom of God. He withstood the judgments and condemnation of those who rigidly enforced the old religious laws, who were the ones to later turn Jesus over to Pontius Pilate. He said to obey the Ten Commandments, but that the complicated religious laws used to govern society at large (Mosaic laws) were not relevant to worshiping God. While there are passages in the New Testament that may refer to male homosexuality, female homosexuality is conspicuously absent. And, despite whatever condemnation the Bible may have for homosexuality, or how people may interpret these things, none of it came from Jesus.
The above list is arbitrary and selective. So, too, are those of people who quote the Bible in saying that homosexuality is an unforgivable sin while ignoring the similar prohibition on eating shellfish. While right-wingers love to pretend that marriage has been defined the same way by all cultures throughout history, that isn't only inaccurate in our current world, but it is absolutely contradicted by the many ways marriage is defined in the Bible, not just in behavior and the roles of husband and wife, but even in the composition of a marriage.
Biblical scholars and people of Christian faiths have denounced the idea of a single Biblical definition of marriage in recent years. Some Christians also make compelling cases that the Bible doesn't condemn homosexuality, and even supports marriage-equality. Whatever your personal interpretation, it is clear that the kinds of judgments made by the Duggars are absolutely against Christ's message of love. Arguing that you are 'loving' a gay person by praying for them is passive-aggressive and condescending. It often is accompanied by dehumanizing condemnation of LGBTQ, which completely invalidates any argument of 'loving the sinner...' Note recent calls for a state-sponsored execution of gay people, the association of marriage-equality with the Biblical end-of-days and punishment from God in the form of natural disasters and the also scientifically disproven idea that gays are all pedophiles and trying to recruit and rape your children (particularly your sons), all from "Christian" pastors and public figures.
The real question for me, then, is what purpose does condescension and condemnation by the Duggars, conservative pundits and Republican hopefuls serve? It isn't religious freedom. No one is infringing on the Duggars' right to worship or free speech. On the other hand, many people who hold similar beliefs don't run for office or get in front of a camera. This is then about power and control. Their use of their fame as a tool for expanding their platform in the field of politics makes that clear. They could, instead, be drawing attention to our broken foster care and adoption systems, the suffering of starving children here and abroad or bring attention to people suffering under unjust authoritarian regimes. Instead, they're interested in elections and imposing their conservative social values on public policy.
Michelle Duggar's equating trans people with sexual predators directly contributes to the climate of intolerance that leads to violence against trans people and suicide. It also reeks of hypocrisy when she and her husband hid their son's sexual predation from their community and the law. Them declaring same-sex spouses and parents - and by inference all LGBTQ people -- inferior reinforces the homophobia so obviously and aggressively expressed by conservatives and right-wing politicians. They quoted Rick Warren's overtly defensive comment that being anti-gay isn't about hatred or fear, which is contradicted by the words and actions of people who echo Warren's statement.
What's worse, they exploit the ignorance of their audience, people who may not know any gay people or whose opinions are shaped by rich white corporate plutocrats like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. They encourage their followers to vote for empty suits who cut taxes on rich people and corporations, cut nutrition programs for poor children and yet identify as people of faith. The Duggars demean and vilify people, make no effort to call out self-proclaimed Christians advocating for imprisoning and murdering gay people, immigrants and Muslims, but then claim to be victims. This isn't about religion, scripture or faith. This is about power, an insidious bid for control that directly harms LGBTQ people and families. That's the dangerous hypocrisy of the right.