For Religious Freedom

I am a Christian. Simply put, I believe in God, Jesus, and the veracity of the Bible. I also love science. I do not think those two things are mutually exclusive. You may disagree. That’s fine with me.

I am deeply troubled by what certain Christians are saying. I hereby declare that they don’t communicate for me. I do not presume to speak for anyone other than myself, but I have confidence (based on conversations I’ve had with friends) that my thoughts and feelings are not unique.

It seems that some Christians think that they are fighting for religious freedom when in fact they are propagating prejudice.

I believe that all people should be free with regards to their religious beliefs. Freedom of religion is important to me, not just for myself, but also for those of every faith. However, those religious freedoms should not extend to harm. On the extreme case, you should not be allowed to hurt my body. Across the spectrum, however, there are more manners of harm than just the physical, and they are numerous—emotional, economical, psychological, et cetera, and often at the core of each lies discrimination.

To me, religious freedom is the right to attend the church of my choice without having to worry that I’ll be the victim of harassment or violence. Religious freedom means that I can publicly and privately kneel and pray to my God. It means that I can share my faith freely with others. It means I don’t have to hide my Bible.

Consider the Christian who doesn’t want to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding or give two men a marriage license. I do not believe that refusing service is expressing religious freedom in either of those cases. I used to think so, but I don’t any more. You may not agree with the way certain people are living their lives. You’re entitled to that opinion, but punishing them is not your right.

If you replace “LGBTQ” with any ethnicity, religion, or sex, I think it becomes obvious rather quickly when there is a problem. Consider these examples: I will not bake cakes for Jewish weddings. I will not invite blacks to my church. I will not hire women. I will not give a marriage license to someone who is Muslim. To demand the right to such refusals of service and inclusion is to effectively attempt to make discrimination legal. It is not about maintaining one’s religious freedom.

If you don’t want gay friends, if you’re afraid of black men, if you think women should be paid less, that’s your right—the belief. You’re entitled to your racism, sexism, and homophobia. Refusing to serve or include others because of such biases, however, is participating in discrimination, not expressing your faith.

Jesus ate with and spoke to and touched those that the religious elite showed disdain for. He did not shun them or deny them access. And his acceptance of them as people did not mean he condoned all of their actions. He said, “Sin no more.” But he did not say, “You’re not welcome here—go!” You can love without endorsing. You can serve without sanctioning.

Let me pause here to say this: You are not the judge of what’s right or wrong for anyone else. When I decide how I want to live, I am only deciding for myself. I am utilizing my God-given free will.

As a Christian, I believe we are all sinners—i.e., imperfect beings who (intentionally and accidentally) hurt others, harm ourselves, and offend God. And when I say “we all,” I truly mean all of us.

So, in my opinion, it is pretty hypocritical of a Christian to say that one group of sinners shouldn’t be served or included. Christians are sinners too, they’ve just asked for forgiveness. And your sin isn’t more serious than mine in God’s eyes or vice versa. We all have our unique menagerie of weaknesses, but we all fall equally short when it comes to avoiding sin. And even if what one person calls “lifestyle” another calls “sin,” that difference is not grounds for discrimination.

And before you confuse my meaning, let me also say this: I believe we’re all sinners for one reason and one reason only, because we’re human. It’s inherited. It’s innate. So any Christian who thinks he or she deserves the right to express his or her faith by refusing to serve, love, acknowledge, or include another person is not practicing the faith that I believe in.

I am not a biblical scholar. I do not have every passage committed to memory, but I do read my Bible every day, so I’m not completely ignorant of what it says. And I cannot think of a commandment or passage in the Bible that compels Christians to refuse to do business with or provide a service for others because of their different beliefs.

A Jewish storeowner refusing to conduct business on the Sabbath, that is an expression of faith. (For example, B&H does not operate on Friday afternoons and Saturdays—not even online—not even on Black Fridays.) When the Muslim woman braiding my hair stops her work to pray to Allah, that is an expression of faith. However, that storeowner cannot refuse to serve me because I’m black or because I’m a Christian. And that woman cannot refuse to braid my friend’s hair because she’s a lesbian. That would be imposing faith, not exercising it.

According to Jesus, God’s chief commandments are about love—love God and love your neighbor as yourself. And who is your neighbor? It is not just the people who look like you or live in your neighborhood. It is not just the people who share your faith or attend your church. No, Jesus makes it rather clear that your neighbor is everyoneall of humanity.

And there is a third encouragement to love that has been given to Christians. In the Bible, Jesus tells us that (if we want to go beyond the capacity of sinners) we are to love our adversaries.

Jesus does not tell us to deny service or inclusion. Jesus does not tell us to hurt or hate. Jesus gives simple imperatives: Love God; love your neighbors; and love your enemies. Every person on earth falls into at least one of those categories. So before you fight for religious freedom, ask yourself: Is this loving?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” ~ Matthew 22:37–39

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” ~ Luke 6:27, 31–36

for-religious-freedom-by-aabsofsteel

When speaking about God’s commandments, Jesus emphasized love.

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One thought on “For Religious Freedom

  1. Pingback: Protest Is Patriotic | Write Away

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