Christian Living

Jim Crow Comparisons Are Not Apt

Author Melinda Penner Published on 07/05/2015

I watched a conversation on one of the morning political talk shows today that was disturbing. The discussion was about religious freedom in the aftermath of the same-sex marriage ruling. Both people, on opposite sides of the marriage issue, agreed with religious freedom to dissent. But how they defined that was significant.

The SSM advocate heartily agreed that Christians have a right to disagree with the ruling, but he proscribed that freedom to the private realm and church. Churches have a right to teach what they wish with no repercussions. Individuals can believe what they want. But this freedom ends once a Christian enters the public square. Once a Christian enters the business world, they cannot discriminate. And he compared the efforts to protect religious freedom in business to Jim Crow laws, exceptions to the law that allowed discrimination and bigotry to continue.

There is no comparison to Jim Crow laws. So-called Christians who found ways to continue their unjust discrimination despite equal protection laws had no sound basis in the Bible or in Christian history. Bigotry had no widespread precedent in the teaching of the church in any place or at any time. Their use of the Bible was the exception, not the rule. In fact, the abolition movement came from Christian churches—and reaches back to the very beginning of Christianity and throughout history. The civil rights movement came from the churches and challenges those Christians who abused the Bible to excuse their racism and abuse of human beings. I watched the movie Selma a couple of days ago. It shows how support for civil rights was based in the church and supported across racial and denominational groups. The bigots were the exception in Christianity, not the rule.

Marriage between a man and a woman, on the other hand, has sound basis in the Bible and has been the universal teaching of the church at all time and in all places. It has been the rule of teaching.

Comparisons to the civil rights movement have very powerful persuasive power. But the comparison is unfair.

The First Amendment provides for the religious freedom of individuals to practice their religion in the public square. It’s an individual right, not just a right given to churches. It’s a right at all times, not just in private. This is how the man on TV this morning gave lip service to religious freedom but actually was in favor of restricting it.

Christian bakers and photographers have a right to follow their religious conscience in their businesses. They are not required by the Constitution to leave their religion at their front door once they step into their business. They do not discriminate against individuals of any kind. They do not want to participate in events that their religion says are wrong. This has sound basis in Christian teaching and is in no way similar to Jim Crow laws that were hideous violations of the Bible’s admonition that all people have equal value.

There’s a shift in the way the First Amendment is understood and being applied that actually undermines it. Rather than protecting religious freedom of individuals, the new interpretation will restrict religious freedom. Religion is being pushed from the public square and relegated to private, personal belief and churches. This isn’t the robust, free public square our Founders had in mind.