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Just because you tolerate your own oppression, doesn’t mean we should
I’ve tweeted and TikTok’d about this but I’m not quite done yet. On Sunday, in her weekly religion column, Tish Harrison Warren wrote about 303 Creative LLC, a Supreme Court case that is determining if a website signer is legally bound to make a website for a gay wedding. This is immediately threatening to Warren who uses her platform to try to justify her own bigotry.
To begin her piece, she recounts a story about a gay friend who celebrated Obergefell, a case which ruled that gay marriage is a right protected by the Constitution. He sympathized with her gay friend’s experience and decided that she wants him to have the right to visit his husband. She ends this nice story with a quote:
Near the end of our conversation, I said, “I will genuinely celebrate with you that you have less to fear. And will you promise to write on my behalf if my church or my kids’ Christian school ever loses its tax-exempt status over opposition to gay marriage?” He laughed and said he would.
Unfortunately for Warren, the SCOTUS case in question, has nothing to do with the tax-exempt status of her church or school. It has to do with an individual’s right to discriminate. It’s an entirely different issue. But nevertheless, to Warren, the spirit of mutuality is what we need in these discussions. Of course, I think it’s fine for her and her friend to have their ‘mutuality,’ but her friendship cannot be a template for safety for queer people. It’s a luxury that she has a friend like that, but she cannot entitle herself to a friendship, or let their unusual circumstance be guiding wisdom for the rights of queer people.
Warren argues that it is not pluralistic not to allow a website designed to not make a website for a gay couple. Because the designer’s beliefs are rooted in the Christian tradition, it is a normative belief that should be protected by the constitution. It’s an expression of freedom of religion. She clearly doesn’t believe that it is wrong to oppose gay marriage and that it is just a matter of her Christian conviction.
Prepared for the response that some Christians deeply hold white supremacist views, Warren says that we can’t “map the current conflict over gay rights and religious liberty onto civil rights decisions about racial discrimination and Jim Crow.” She acknowledges that religious liberty was used as an excuse for racial discrimination – and if that is true of gay rights, “then there is no debate to be had.” “We cannot ‘both sides’ opposition to Jim Crow.” She’s of course, correct.
But she goes on to say that it is a “novel theology” that justifies racism, and it is not novel to oppose gay marriage. That the sexual ethics that lead to homophobia, transphobia, and purity culture are normative in our tradition. But the thing is, slavers made the same argument. And slavery has been justified using the Bible, even before American racialized chattel slavery. Warren simply has a moral opposition to racism, but she doesn’t to her homophobia. The crux of her argument lies in the fact that her homophobic prejudice is Christian but racism isn’t. Unfortunately for Warren, her faith is a cover for her prejudice. And plenty of homophobes profess no faith at all! Should their rights be protected?
Warren goes on to argue that the website designer isn’t refusing service because the person is gay, but rather, because she doesn’t want to participate in a gay wedding. (This is like when Evangelicals like Warren say that a gay person is welcome in their church, they just can’t get married.) She then says that this is similar to other allowances: a feminist should be allowed to refuse to make a website for someone who thinks of her body as an incubator, a BIPOC should be forced to make a website for a white supremacist, and a queer person shouldn’t be forced to make a website for a church that hates them. Not only is this a ridiculous argument, it’s patently racist, sexist, and homophobic. It is not comparable to deny service to someone who discriminates against us, as it is to discriminate against someone because of who they are. None of the people she thinks it is allowable to deny service to are being denied service because of who they are. But the website designer wants a right to deny service to someone just because they are gay.
Warren uses her own body to justify discrimination against queer people. She says she is a supporter of women’s ordination. While some people oppose women’s ordination because of misogyny, she knows kind people who do it because of their religious beliefs. But there is no difference between the source of one’s prejudice! It is still a prejudice. Warren is fine having friends that oppose her ordination, but her tolerance of sexism does not mean we must tolerate homophobia and transphobia as a society.
Tish Harrison Warren uses her body to further heteropatriarchy. And her commitment to her bigotry exceeds her commitment to her own God-given dignity. Her tolerance of sexism showcases that she desires the same tolerance for her homophobia. She writes:
We also need to ensure that religious people are not compelled to participate in an event or voice approval of a marriage they object to and that they can form churches, schools and other ministries in line with their beliefs.
The only reason this rationality doesn't apply to racial prejudice is that Warren thinks Christianity is incompatible with racism. But apparently, she thinks it is compatible with sexism and homophobia. That is just a matter of interpretation though.
In a previous generation, Warren would have made this argument about civil rights, about forcing someone to marry an interracial couple, or providing services for black or brown people. Many people argued that was against their religious liberty – and today, there are Christian cases being made for White Christian nationalism.
The fact is that God loves and cares for queer people, and it is a novel theology, that suggests they are less than others and should not live full lives. Warren participates in that hatred and in that novel theology.