Anti-Gay Christians Now Unironically Claim They Face Employment Discrimination

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
July 8 2014 12:43 PM

The Christian Persecution Complex Moves Into the Workplace

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A scene of martyrdom.

William Perugini / Shutterstock.com

In America, LGBTQ people face persistent, systemic, widespread employment discrimination. Christians do not. In many states, LGBTQ people have no legal recourse to redress employment discrimination. Christians do—in every state in the country.

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

Given this set of facts, you might be surprised to see conservative Christians panicking that the country is entering an age of anti-Christian discrimination—they might even use the rather biblical-sounding term, persecution—in the workplace. But panic is precisely what coitus-obsessed anti-gay professor Robert P. George is inciting his conservative brethren to do. In a recent blog post, George described a survey reportedly sent out to JPMorgan Chase bank employees asking them whether they are:

1) A person with disabilities;
2) A person with children with disabilities;
3) A person with a spouse/domestic partner with disabilities;
4) A member of the LGBT community.
5) An ally of the LGBT community, but not personally identifying as LGBT.
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Companies send out questionnaires like these all the time for benign and banal reasons: gauging diversity, benefits needs, mentorship programs, and so on. They’re utterly unremarkable and common to many workplaces—especially on Wall Street, a corporate leader in LGBTQ equality. Yet here is George’s apocalyptic interpretation:

The message to all employees is perfectly clear: You are expected to fall into line with the approved and required thinking. Nothing short of assent is acceptable. Silent dissent will no longer be permitted.

Conservative commentators quickly drew from George’s hysterical paranoia to whip up a brief news cycle of outrage. Breitbart's Austin Ruse—who once described gay people as “intrinsically disordered and abnormal”—penned a frenzied rant describing the questionnaire as an “LGBT loyalty test.” The collapsing and hypocritical National Organization for Marriage fundraised off of it, labeling the survey “tactics of intimidation.” Ruse doubled down in Crisis Magazine, claiming “Christians…are now in hostile territory at work” thanks to the “dominant sexually correct mafia.” Then the American Conservative’s Rod Dreher stepped in, asking, “Is JPMorgan Chase saying that no traditional Christians, Orthodox Jews, or Muslims need apply?”

All of this is extravagantly silly, and I respect Dreher and George’s intellects too much to believe that they’re actually taking it seriously. But for the unhinged Ruse and his acolytes, I’m sure the story plays right into a developing narrative on the far right: LGBTQ people, they insist, are the true oppressors, and conservative Christians an embattled, discriminated-against minority.

This persecution complex—which actually began long before the Brendan Eich controversy—is so asinine that I almost regret wasting space refuting it. But the fear needs a rebuttal, because, daft as it may be, it’s also dangerous. Recasting a tiny, historically despised minority as a covertly powerful conspiracy of puppeteers is a time-honored smear tactic used to vilify Jews and other disfavored demographics. It’s a darkly clever strategy here, especially given Americans’ traditional love for an underdog. Suddenly, gays aren’t a small minority fighting for basic equal rights; they’re unduly influential string-pullers, using behind-the-scenes machinations to persecute Christians.

What’s shocking isn’t that George and Dreher are lending support to such a trite and vile narrative, but that they’re able to do so with a straight face. Their theory isn’t just wrong; it’s laughably absurd. In 29 states, gay people can be legally fired simply for being gay. Federal law, as currently interpreted, offers no employment protections for gay people. And a horrifyingly high number of LGBTQ people report workplace discrimination and harassment. For Christians, the picture is completely flipped: Federal law outlaws religious discrimination and harassment in every state, and even requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to suit employee’s religious needs. Christians, who make up an overwhelming majority of the American populace, face no widespread discrimination in the workplace—instead, some are arguing for their own special right to discriminate against gay people with legal impunity.

The most generous reading of Dreher and George is that they fear Americans who oppose gay rights will soon become unemployable, or at least disfavored in the workplace. If that’s truly their concern, the solution is simple—extend employment protections to cover political convictions. That, it seems to me, would be the best of both worlds, allowing both LGBTQ people and those who oppose their rights to work free of harassment due to their views or identity. Arguing that political views should be protected from workplace discrimination while sexual orientation should remain a fireable offense, however, is probably too hypocritical even for Dreher and George. And because they can’t let their logic bring them to that sensible resolution, their concerns linger in the realm of rambling paranoia.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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