With recently failed attempts to enact discrimination laws against LGBT persons under the guise of “religious freedom” in Kansas, Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota and Tennessee, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognize a concerted effort to roll back LGBT civil rights gains. Right now, Joe Blow and his wife can walk into any business and get the services they want. But if Joe and his husband walk into the same business, the Christian right-wingnuts want to make it legal to discriminate against them by declining services that would be available to any straight couple.
But these things must be done delicately. WWJD? More to the point, does what does a particular Fortune 500 financial services organization do?
Enter the Ethics and Public Policy Center run by a cabal of religious extremists to save society as we know it. The EPPC’s new American Religious Freedom program, run by Brian Walsh, is actively pushing this latest legislative poison to legalize discrimination against LGBT couples and individuals in the marketplace. Under the guise of “religious freedom” these laws would prohibit services, facilities, counseling, or employment to LGBT citizens. The proposed laws would allow discrimination by religious business owners, religious employees, as well as religious groups ranging from Christians to Muslims to homophobic Wiccans -- in short, just about anybody with a "religious" objection to dealing with LGBT customers. You’ve really got to hand it to the EPPC’s American Religious Freedom program – it’s an equal opportunity purveyor of discrimination.
Thankfully, “religious freedom” laws are thus far an epic fail. No harm done, right? Well, not necessarily. Once the idea of discrimination in the name of “values” is out there, this thinking has a way of creeping into the the public marketplace - especially as LGBT equality advances at a record pace.
One such “values” skirmish is happening right now in the Minneapolis boardroom of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a Fortune 500 company. Thrivent Board members recently decided that there just weren’t enough Lutherans to invest with them any more, so they decided to increase their market by re-branding as Thrivent Financial for Christians. That’s fine as far as it goes, but then the board took a closer look at one of their hallmark programs, Thrivent Choice Dollars, a charitable program that allows investors to designate “choice dollars” to a charity based on one’s choosing (based on one’s level of investment).
To its credit, Thrivent gave away $49 million dollars last year to member-designated charities. But under a new “neutrality policy,” the wizened Thrivent board has lately decreed that member-designated donations to groups striving to end anti-gay animus are henceforth eliminated. There will be no Thrivent monies going to wicked gays (even if it was earned by some of Thrivent’s own wicked gay investors). Citing “shared values” as Christians, Thrivent has announced it will no longer forward “choice dollars” to such organizations as Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) (which supports LGBT Lutheran clergy and seminarians), or Reconciling Works (a 40-year organization that’s worked tirelessly for the acceptance of LGBT Lutherans in the pews), or to any religious organization that seeks justice based on “sexual orientation.” The Thrivent board says they did this because such organizations "distract" from their "identity as an organization of Christians."
Really? Aside from the fact that there actually are devout LGBT Christians with an army of supporters, Thrivent’s board is decidedly not neutral to them. Apparently, their idea of choice is no choice. Especially if you’re LGBT-friendly. Fortunately, the board left donations to animal rights groups in tact, because after all, animals do not “distract” in the same way as the LGBT community. (Wow, talk about distracting from your Christian identity.)
Shared values, religious freedom. See the pattern here? If the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Arizona legislature and their ilk can’t (yet) pass discrimination laws aimed at LGBT Americans, why wait for pokey politicians? Why shouldn’t religious conservatives in powerful positions seek out every policy opportunity to enshrine discrimination against LGBT people a la Thrivent for Christians' "shared values"? It's short, to the point, and just might work.
As a Fortune 500 company, Thrivent trumpets the career accomplishments of board members on its website - as well as telling us where each one attends church. A quick review tells you that these folks by and large attend conservative churches and a number of them reside in Red states, where the Ethics and Public Policy Center is most actively pushing its so-called religious freedom agenda.
Now I'm not suggesting that the Thrivent board is specifically dancing to the EPPC tune, but I am saying that the climate created by these proposed laws makes it more likely that "policy" decisions like Thrivent's will increasingly pop up in businesses across the country. They may not have the force of law, but they are still an insidious means to a discriminatory end.
Oddly enough, Thrivent's hiring and personnel policies forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation, but apparently this has not distracted from their shared values -- yet.
What would Jesus do, indeed! Well, for starters, I bet He'd have little to do with Thrivent for Christians.