Hi. My name is Eli Irvin, webmaster of “The Website High Atop The Thing”. I’m taking some time to come down from “high atop the thing” so that I can address something that is very close to my existence. In 2015, Americans began learning more and more about the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts of Indiana, Arkansas and Georgia. One could say that the rhetoric is starting to come to a head, and it disturbs me. I’ve certainly done my fair share of feeding the beast as it were. My hope is that I’ll keep it civil as I often try to do and that I’ll continue to work for justice, freedom and peace for all persons, not just those that I agree with. Rather than write a regular blog, I felt it necessary that I dedicate a page to this that I’ll make it my front page for a while.
Before I go into too much more detail, I offer a little about me. I currently live in Charleston, South Carolina and have since January 2013. Previously, I lived in Savannah, Georgia and before that I grew up in a small town in Southwest Georgia called Americus. I am a former Benedictine monastic in the Episcopal church, work for a software development company in Charleston and I’m gay. My boyfriend, Jay, and I were married on April 26th, 2015.
As you might imagine, I’ve been paying particularly close attention to the news, reports and debates associated with the various versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, Arkansas and Georgia. Jay and I wonder how this will affect us long term as we seek to make our way in this country as responsible citizens. Because of what he’s faced in his life, Jay is grimly unsurprised with the direction the discourse has taken thus far. I think it’s fair to say that the temperature of issues like RFRA, same-sex marriage, insurance benefits for same-sex couples is about on par with his expectations. Me on the other hand, I have to work at being able to truly understand the debate, whatever it happens to be. Even having grown up in red South Georgia, a non-accepting community and unloving family were not things that I’ve had to face. Even in my religious life, I’ve been encouraged to ask questions about that which I didn’t fully understand. At a young age and as an adult, I was led to things to read by people who were much more scholarly than I am. I was never chastised for who I was and what I represented. I’ve had the privilege of having friends and family stand by me, loving me into being without regard to my sexual orientation.
I think it’s clear enough for everyone to see that these bills feel like they’ve been well aimed, given the timing. Same-sex marriage is legal in all states now following a ruling by the United States Supreme Court. South Carolina passed their own version of the RFRA 16 years ago, and it wasn’t even noticed. That being said, people who are resistant to the change in defined civil rights in this country are scrambling to come up with a vehicle which allows businesses to not get sued every time they refuse to bake a cake or arrange some flowers for a lesbian or gay couple. I don’t think this is about cakes and flowers though, honestly.
I consider myself lucky to work in a sector of industry and for a company that has a tendency to embrace infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Jay, on the other hand, doesn’t enjoy the same security in the food and beverage industry. While he works for a company that is fairly open and fairly welcoming, we’re both of the opinion that if the right customer were to flap their wings at exactly the right time for just about any reason, he could find himself unemployed in a sacrifice for the good of the brand.
Rather than to rely on what I am fed through the news media, I’ve taken it upon myself to read as much as I can that has led up to the existence of the RFRA bills in their 27-March-2015 form. What I’ve found in my reading is that the proponents of these bills are predominantly persons with deep ties to fundamentalist and evangelical Christian organizations, churches and lobbying groups such as Advance America and The American Family Association. For the purpose of edification, the American Family Association has also been declared to be a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The vitriol that is rife in both their publications tells me that the RFRA bills aren’t about religious freedom and religious liberty for all religions. The bills appear to have a birth rooted in the idea of a “fundamentalists Christians only” club. They were never intended to specifically grant religious liberty to Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, or even Jewish persons. I believe that the bills do what they do for all religious persuasions purely by accident. This, in my opinion, makes them even more heinous because you create a culture where if, for example, I were a male Islamic business owner, I would be well within my right to deny public accommodation to white Christian women who don’t conform to my interpretation of Quranic law. Another good example would be if I were a hair stylist and denied service to a straight person who I knew wrote letters to the editor exclaiming how gays should be put to death because they are all pedophiles (bearing false witness).
Now I’m by no means an Islamic scholar. I can tell you though that the persons and entities pushing for these RFRA bills aren’t either. Bearing the above in mind, and bearing in mind that we’ve already seen lawsuits brought against businesses by members of the LGBT community, it seems plain to me that purpose of these bills appear to be specifically for the benefit of fundamentalist Christians against the LGBT community.
Without getting into a theology lesson, one which I would be horribly under-qualified to give, I feel like that people on both sides of the issue, purporting themselves to be Christian seem to be missing two important aspects of the religion on the whole.
- Love the Lord your God
- Love your neighbor as you would yourself.
It’s generally accepted that these are the two major commandments of Jesus as told in Luke’s gospel. So, the question I’m left with is “Why?”
I generally don’t get my dander up for politics anymore. Politics and political debate really does give me a belly ache because of everyone’s unwillingness to meet in the middle. I’ve felt led to throw my hat into the ring for this debate though because I think I have some skin in the game, however unwillingly. After all, I am Christian and I happen to be gay. I know that God doesn’t need me to defend him, but I feel like I’ve been given the gift of free will so that I can defend myself against oppression. For this, my blood pressure rises. Like an old 1950s television though, sometimes it takes a bit for the tubes to warm up if I’m not directly affected by whatever it is that I’m observing and talking about.
I was just about finished with this essay when I asked Jay to read over it, as I often do with the things that I write. I depend on his counsel anymore when it comes to offering commentary on a wide variety of subjects. One of the things that he pointed out was that the language that I used towards the end of the essay implied that the left and the right in this debate were on equal footing. While this document is about a specific subject, it relates to so many other subjects that LGBTQ community faces daily. The things that come to mind as being inextricably linked to the debate include:
- Psychological horrors introduced into youth who have been forced into conversion therapy
- Parents who have tossed their children out of the house because they are gay
- The possibility of either Jay or me winding up in the hospital while visiting Georgia and not having any authority of care over the other
At the end of my post, I had written some fuzzy words that amounted to “we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone”. Much as I am someone who detests the idea of having to burn down the house to get the point across, I think Jay is right. We didn’t start the fire, but we’re damn sure being tried and convicted for wanting nothing more than to live in peace and love and with the same benefits afforded opposite-sex couples.
As for me, I’ll keep reading. I’ll keep abreast of new developments. I’ll keep praying and I’ll keep talking. When the moment calls for it, I’ll let people smarter and more articulate than I am, speak on my behalf in defense of my right to exist. When needed, I’ll also get my dander up and argue for my own right to exist. As in any lively debate though, I’ll hold myself accountable for my actions or lack thereof especially when others don’t.
Unlike those that went before us, we have so many tools at our disposal to fight oppression. I’m frequently amazed with the power of social media on the internet. Given the available tools, fighting fire with fire seems appropriate, especially by doing what we do best. Where some may give gluttonously to a GoFundMe campaign for one family, we’ll keep doing all the things that they don’t like. We will…
- Feed ALL the hungry (Donate to Feed America)
- Heal ALL the sick (Donate to an HIV\AIDS Service Organization)
- Give shelter to ALL the poor (Donate to the National Homeless Coalition)
- Protect ALL the Meek and ALL the Innocent (Donate to Indiana Youth Group Here – They also have a GoFundMe campaign underway)