KEVIN LEININGER: As Americans celebrate their freedoms, religious liberty is under attack

AP Photo
Carl Loesch
Phil GiaQuinta
The Rev. Daniel J. Brege l

Forty-four years after his 1776 Declaration of Independence America celebrates every Fourth of July, Thomas Jefferson took a razor and glue to the New Testament and was left with something he called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth — a condensed “Jefferson Bible” that excluded Christ’s miracles, resurrection and even his divinity.

There is a connection between the two, as the recent debate over Indianapolis Catholic high schools’ response to teachers in same-sex marriages illustrates. The city’s archdiocese severed ties with Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School when it continued one of the teachers’ employment, which was followed by Cathedral’s termination of its teacher to avoid a similar split.

“The Archdiocese of Indianapolis is propagating hate and homophobia in central Indiana by walking in lockstep with the church’s bigoted treatment of the LGBTQ community,” wrote Indianapolis Star columnist Suzette Hackney while describing herself as a former Catholic who has rejected the church’s “flawed dogmas” and embraced “what I consider some of the strongest tenets of the church: to love — not judge — and to show acceptance, respect, kindness and compassion toward my neighbors.”

Written at the end of “Pride Month,” Hackney’s words enthusiastically endorse Jefferson’s selective view of Scripture but somehow miss the Declaration’s stirring proclamation of individual liberties granted not by government but by God himself.

“Freedom of religion cannot and should not be reduced to freedom of worship on Sunday. It’s also about how we live our lives. We work with parents to get kids to heaven and serve the community. We try to form the whole person,” said Carl Loesch, secretary for Catholic education for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which operates 39 elementary and four high schools. “We ask, and our founding documents allow us, to serve the common good in line with our religious beliefs. Imagine if our government did not allow religious liberty as currently exercised in the teaching, health care, and social-service ministries in our community. Our community would be lessened, and the neediest among us might not receive the help that they need.”

But pressure is building to do just that. Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, suggested the state could reconsider providing vouchers to parochial schools because “Again, we see a public institution engaged in a obvious act of discrimination because of sexual identity. We do not have to sit by and watch this happen.”

GiaQuinta may be wrong about that. A unanimous Indiana Supreme Court upheld the voucher program in 2013 because, as Loesch noted, parents — not the state — choose where to spend those funds. Presumably, parents who choose Christian schools know the Bible might be mentioned. With teachers, there’s no doubt: Local Catholic and Lutheran schools both require teachers to pledge to work and live in accord with the churches’ specific doctrines. It’s really pretty simple, a matter of personal freedom and responsibility: If you don’t want the rules, don’t take the job.

For obvious political purposes, this debate is usually framed in the language of civil rights. But the church isn’t targeting gays; it’s fulfilling its Christ-given obligation to preach the Gospel and call sinners — all mankind, in other words — to repentance.

“It’s not a sin to be gay, but you are called to be chaste,” Loesch said, noting that when Catholic teacher lives publicly in a way contrary to church teaching, it undermines the credibility of school and church alike. The diocese paid former teacher Emily Herx $403,000 in 2015 after firing her for undergoing in vitro fertilization, but as I wrote at the time, the church’s problem was not that it tried to hold Herx accountable for failing to follow its teachings but that it did so selectively. If the church were to fire openly married gay teachers while turning a blind eye to, say, public heterosexual affairs, the critics would have a point. And never mind the clergy sex-abuse scandal.

But the church is not ruled by public opinion — or shouldn’t be, at least. “Our standard is the word of God, that he made male and female at creation to be united in marriage and that this was reiterated by Christ,” said the Rev. Daniel Brege, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Indiana District, which operates 18 schools in the Fort Wayne area. “All are sinners; we speak the truth in love.”

In today’s society and even in much of the church, any talk of sin is considered old-fashioned and unwelcoming. But sin is the very reason Christ created the church in the first place. If there is no sin, there is no need for a savior. There are plenty of churches that disagree with Loesch and Brege, and American have the right to believe as they see fit. But, as Brege noted, the Bible makes it clear that those who remain faithful can expect persecution.

Loesch made a less theological but no less accurate assessment: “Those who call for diversity can be the most intolerant.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.