Sometimes it feels like the news is coming through some sort of time warp.
Such as: The story this week about how a Christian school in Shoreline is teaching that being gay or lesbian is “unnatural” and is “a result of the failure to worship God.”
Ok, it’s not the year 1959, I’m pretty sure. It’s not even 2009 anymore, when this kind of destructive stuff was, I naively thought, in its last gasps.
The story is that five teachers have left King’s High School, a private Christian school, in protest of what they felt was anti-gay animus at the place. In addition to the above teachings, the staff is required to commit to the notion that marriage can only be between a man and a woman — even though gay marriage is common in all 50 states.
Because it’s a private religious school, King’s has a right to teach whatever it pleases, no matter how retrograde. And even though it obviously has some gay students, it has a right to discriminate against gay people, as religious organizations are mostly exempted from state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
But what’s legal, and what’s just or compassionate, are sometimes two very different things.
A lot of churches have been struggling with how to adapt to society’s acceptance of gays and lesbians in all institutions of life, including, most recently, marriage. This a huge issue in the land. In fact there’s a conference in Seattle coming up in November, held by a group called The Reformation Project, on how churches can be more accepting of gays and lesbians without compromising their beliefs. As well as to try to move past the stale, harmful “Christians versus gays” debate that so marred the past several decades.
For whatever reason, CRISTA Ministries, which runs King’s High School as well as a major relief organization, World Concern, went in the other direction. It recently hired as its director a veteran prosecutor of the Christians versus gays debate.
Back in the 2000s, Jacinta Tegman was the head of an Edmonds-based group called, not subtly, “Sound the Alarm.” It clanged out warnings that gay rights was a threat to traditional culture. The group opposed even granting them protection from discrimination in the workplace or in housing.
It launched a movement of churches to try to repeal what eventually became the gay civil rights law. In the course of that campaign, it released a video that warned of social mayhem, such as cross-dressing teachers, should the bill pass.
“Vote for biblical righteousness,” says its defunct website, reading like a pamphlet from another age.
So it’s not a huge surprise that CRISTA Ministries, now run by Tegman, is still sounding this same siren, only in its classrooms.
There’s definitely an audience for it. The road to gay acceptance is turning out to be less direct than it may have seemed just a few years ago.
The Public Religion Research Institute, a polling outfit that studies faith and policy, recently found that support for denying service to gays and lesbians in the name of religion has nearly doubled since 2014.
It’s still a minority view, but today 30 percent of people say it’s OK to refuse service to gays and lesbians, if the refusal is motivated by faith. Only 16 percent said this was OK in 2014 — a year of peak acceptance, in retrospect. Among Republican respondents, allowing discrimination in the name of religious freedom has soared, from 21 percent in 2014 to 47 percent today.
Some tectonic shifts happened between then and now. Gay marriage passed. Several businesses, such as a floral shop in the Tri-Cities, got caught up in huge legal controversies after refusing to serve gay customers. And then there was the election of President Donald Trump, which if nothing else has hardened the nation more than ever into tribalized camps.
All told, it was naive to think that the fight for gay equality was over, or had been definitively won.
The so-called moral arc of history may still be bending toward justice, as was thought after the incredible breakthroughs for gay rights of the past decade. But it’s clear there are also going to be some switchbacks, some backslides along the way. Sometimes some full-on time warps.