President Obama took a huge step earlier this month when he signed an executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination in workplaces that receive federal contracts. In response, the National Catholic Reporter took a surprising stance:
Obama’s exemption was especially contentious among faith groups because it did not expand religious exemptions (though he did respect a Bush-era executive order allowing religious groups “some leeway” in hiring and firing on religious grounds). That’s why it’s so refreshing that in a staff editorial, NCR praised the executive order loudly and proudly, a far cry from the expected (and observed) Catholic response.
For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the new rule was “unprecedented and extreme” and should be opposed. The Reporter editorial openly dissented:
Sentences like “With the stroke of a pen, it lends the economic power of the federal government to a deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality, to which faithful Catholics and many other people of faith will not assent” show a willful misunderstanding of the contemporary discussion around human sexuality. The statement will not advance the bishops’ cause beyond a small band of true believers intent on finding another front for the culture wars.
The editorial also called out the Conference for being blatantly un-Christian in its homophobic response, which so many Christians are afraid to do:
More distressing, however, is the failure of the nation’s bishops to reflect deeply upon their own teaching. The church clearly distinguishes between homosexual persons and homosexual acts or inclinations. We have problems with that distinction on other grounds, but think it bears on the issue at hand.
So this isn’t quite an acceptance of “homosexual acts,” but rather an assertion that an employee’s value has nothing to do with, and should be considered separately from, their personal life. This could be interpreted as a call for a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” manner of hiring, but the later parts of this article convinced me otherwise.
Along those same lines, here’s my favorite part of the piece:
A religiously affiliated organization does not hire an inclination or an act, it hires a person, and the church has affirmed, repeatedly, that the homosexual person is to be loved and is not to be unjustly discriminated against. On what basis, then, should we decline to abide by a government regulation that we not discriminate against LGBT people in hiring? This is not just about legal or political strategy, but about being true to what the church actually teaches, instead of joining the latest culture war battle.
And regarding the role of religious exemptions in workplace discrimination, the writers here actually seem to understand that LGBT people aren’t as scary and threatening as some of their fellow Catholics make us out to be:
A Catholic ministry should be able to employ people who advance the religious identity of that ministry, and no group should be forced to hire someone whose presence is a counter-witness. But we all know far too many wonderful gay and lesbian Catholics who are already engaged in ministry to believe there is any threat, per se, from this new nondiscrimination rule.
Granted, the last paragraph of the piece does make clear that some members of the Church are worried about its reputation as LGBT issues take the forefront of political and social discussion, probably a motivating factor for writing this editorial. And on principle, I’m hesitant when anyone uses the phrase “culture wars”:
At risk, rather, is the church’s reputation by continuing to look like the infantry in the culture wars. Surely, the words and gestures of Pope Francis suggest a different, less litigious approach to the culture than that advocated by the U.S. bishops’ conference. We hope the culture wars will end, but if not, and in this battle, NCR is happy to stand with its LGBT brothers and sisters.
So NCR’s take on workplace equality is at least partially driven by its desire to keep up appearances. That’s a given, but it doesn’t negate this article’s affirmation that LGBT people are not inherently dangerous, predatory, or toxic, as so many other religious groups perpetuate. The next step I’d like to see is a mainstream Christian publication openly advocating for the hiring of LGBT people — not to save face, but to see firsthand how valuable diversity is to any organization or workplace.
I am rarely pleased by the things I read in Christian publications (on the rare occasion that that happens), but this is a welcome exception. It shows you can hold traditional conservative beliefs without being an asshole. Take note, Bachmanns.