No, Obama Did Not “Threaten” Christians at DNC Gala

Obama DNC Gala


Occasionally I’ll come across something so journalistically bankrupt that my first instinct is to assume it’s satire. After all, The Onion seems to have many clones as of late. But then I remember we are currently living in the age of unreason, where beliefs hold sway over facts, the church over science, and where a once congenial, cooperative two-party political system has all but dissolved into a struggle between reason and Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

In my defense, the following headline had all the telltale signs of inauthenticity: BREAKING: Obama Issues Chilling Threat to Christians Across America. The caps, the leading adjectives, the fearmongering—it’s all there. Of course, it isn’t satire, just more right-wing agitprop descended from the likes of Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh.

Reliability is something of a lost art these days, with investigative journalism at one end of the news spectrum and clickbait-tabloid-spam at the other. The ability to distinguish between these quantities, granted, may not come easy for those who suspect skepticism a dirty word rather than a savory mark of intellectual probity. Given that the person who shared this did so with a straight face and out of sincere concern for their religious freedom, let’s spend a few minutes decontaminating its inadequacies.

1. First things first. The post in question is a reaction to a speech President Obama recently gave at a DNC gala organized in celebration of LGBT rights. Conservative Tribune doesn’t link to it, of course, even though it’s right there on the White House website, likely because they’d prefer to recontextualize and filter his words so their right-wing audience can tamp down on the opinion they already held before they clicked. I encourage everyone to read his speech in full for yourself. It’s uplifting, bipartisan, progress-affirming and forward-looking.

Unsurprisingly, what appears to have raised some conservative hackles were his statements on same-sex marriage:

“We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions. But we also have to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn’t grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights. (Applause.) And that even as we are respectful and accommodating genuine concerns and interests of religious institutions, we need to reject politicians who are supporting new forms of discrimination as a way to scare up votes. (Applause.) That’s not how we move America forward.”

If this was a “threat”, my detection protocols must need some recalibration. Nowhere in this speech did Obama threaten Christians. What he did was emphasize that we are a nation of laws, and as of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling this past summer, constitutional law dictates that same-sex couples, just like mixed-sex couples, have the right to marriage. Put more accurately, existing state laws which excluded same-sex couples from the benefits of legal marriage were deemed in violation of constitutional protections, specifically the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Those states with same-sex marriage bans on the books are now constitutionally invalid. Case closed.

Should conservative Christians wish to change this legal narrative, they have the same option they have always had: win national elections. Vote folks into office who share their views and who will appoint SCOTUS justices who also share those views. This may prove more difficult than it sounds, however, because as Obama noted in his address, national polls show that the majority of the country supports marriage equality.

What they should not do and cannot do is what Kim Davis did: deny fellow Americans their constitutional rights. You cannot advocate upholding the law in one breath—even going so far as to appeal to a court system you clearly think carries authority—while in the next breath flouting the law when it decides against you. That is not how the legal system in this country works, and it’s why she was sent to jail. Not only did she disobey constitutional law, she disobeyed a direct court order.

I’m sure whichever god she’s defending is very proud of her. But as of June 26th, 2015, her actions are illegal. It does not matter whether she got the memo or disagrees with the memo. As a state employee, you can no longer refuse a marriage license to a same-sex couple any more than you can refuse one to a black or mixed-race couple. If she chooses to not fulfill her responsibilities, she should be promptly recalled. No excuses. If the duties you voluntarily agreed to carry out as part of your job conflict with your religious beliefs to the extent that you refuse to execute those duties, find a job without those duties. Better yet, opt for a line of work that doesn’t clash with your Bible-based bigotry.

2. The OP then takes Obama’s support for same-sex marriage as a clear sign of his religious affiliation, charging him with being “anti-Christian”. In fact, Obama has repeatedly identified himself, and his family, as Christian. Just because someone does not hold the same beliefs and values as you do does not mean they are not a Christian, or that they are “anti-Christian”.

There are thousands upon thousands of denominations extant within Christianity, and some of them formally affirm same-sex marriage. Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist and Presbyterian churches around the country bless unions regardless of the gender of the two people entering into them. Or the United Church of Christ, which is not only open and affirming of gay people but actually filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina for violating their religious right to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies through state law. As Rev. Joe Hoffman said at the time, “[North Carolina’s] Amendment 1 denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in my congregation.”

This accusation is of course also deeply ironic, given that the majority of the Christian population around the world has no problem with same-sex marriage. Statistically speaking, opposition to gay rights is a very American-centric attitude, due to its large and influential base of fundamentalist Christians. Throwing around the “true Christian” card is problematic to say the least when so many members of your own faith disagree with you.

Though hardline evangelicals in America generally deviate from the teachings of Jesus to such an extent that Jesus would hardly recognize their faith, they might wish to heed his words when it comes to scolding others for their alleged sins. In Matthew 7:3-5 and Luke 6:42, Jesus explicitly calls out hypocrites who condemn their neighbors without turning a critical eye back on themselves. It is not our place to police who is and is not a member of any one faith. Live your life according to the principles you find morally commendable and leave the rest to God/Karma/Laws of nature.

Amid the hyperbole, the OP curiously omits one of Obama’s most powerful statements at the event. After he acknowledges progress on LGBT rights and calls for a nationwide ban on “conversion therapy” for minors, he says, “So we’ve got to keep striving every day to treat each other the way I believe God sees us, as equal in His eyes.” The one thing the Christian right could never bring themselves to admit is that Obama’s values stem directly from his religious faith.

3. Finally, continuing with what Obama actually did say, I think he taps into the moral urgency many feel when it comes to marriage equality quite profoundly, particularly in one of his closing remarks:

“We live in an America where a growing share of older generations recognize that love is love, and younger generations don’t even know what all the fuss was about. And tonight, thanks to the unbending sense of justice passed down through generations of citizens who never gave up hope that we could bring this country closer to our founding ideals — that all of us are created equal — we now live in America where our marriages are equal as well.”

For many of us, these are questions of morality as much as they are questions of law. One cannot fully unsnarl judicial systems from the many moral and ethical considerations that often settle alongside rational decision-making. Faced with the legal decision to extend rights to others who are different from us, we must grapple also with considerations of human dignity and self-worth, of justice and equality, and yes, of conscience.

Though the holdouts are louder than ever, I continue to be both inspired and encouraged by the positive attitudes exuded by the younger generations. Their outpouring of support for LGBTs has been quite a remarkable thing to behold, and fills me with great hope for the future. There is so much more room for happiness in this world.

External Link: Remarks by the President at DNC LGBT Gala

Feature image via Parade