Duke and its fans are celebrating this morning after winning last night’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game. But the larger story is the venue. The Final Four was played in Indianapolis, Indiana, the epicenter of the earthquake that is the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) debate.
Coaches at the University of Connecticut, winners of last year’s championship, protested the law by refusing to attend the game. Arnold Schwarzenegger is said to be “furious” about the law. Miley Cyrus says supporters of the law “are dinosaurs, and they are dying off.” The lead promoter for Indianapolis tourism says he has been in “full crisis mode” since furor erupted over the law late last month. Tens of millions of dollars in conventions and other tourist events are in jeopardy.
When did this fight begin? Not when Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the law, but months earlier, when rumors of such a bill began circulating. According to Time magazine, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal and others began organizing late last year to create the strongest backlash they could. Activists enlisted major Indiana employers such as Cummins, Eli Lilly and Alcoa. They joined the ACLU and American Unity Fund to create a group called Freedom Indiana, coordinating their opposition more effectively.
Civil rights groups had been privately courting Apple CEO Tim Cook, who tweeted his opposition to the measure. Angie’s List and the NCAA condemned it as well. Such fierce opposition caused the Indiana legislature to amend the law. The Human Rights Campaign has also enlisted American Airlines, Microsoft, Wells Fargo and six other major businesses to denounce similar measures around the country.
What was a debate has become a vicious crusade for some. Last week, the owners of Memories Pizza in tiny Walkerton, Indiana were asked by a television reporter if they would cater a same-sex wedding. They had never been asked to do so, and had served gay customers for years. Nonetheless, they politely told the reporter that their religious beliefs would prevent them from serving at a gay wedding. The resulting furor, with death threats and calls to burn down their restaurant, forced them to close.
We who believe the Bible is right about marriage face unprecedented criticism and opposition today. Cultural commentator Rod Dreher recently quoted Adlai Stevenson’s prescient statement, “A free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” Dreher then notes, “We do not live in that society.”
How should we respond? In last Sunday night’s first episode of “A.D. The Bible Continues,” there is an extrabiblical scene in which Simon Peter meets a Zealot. This band of assassins fought the Romans vociferously, trying to force them from Jewish land. The Zealot speaks with Peter on the day after Jesus’ crucifixion, imploring him and his fellow disciples to join their movement. But Peter refuses to abandon Jesus’ ethic of transformation by love for the Zealots’ ethic of transformation by hate.
Peter was right. As we face escalating criticism and worse, it is vital that we speak God’s truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and going the extra mile (v. 41) to serve in grace. When our faith is most opposed, it is most needed. (Tweet this) And most obvious to all.