Religion Today

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Religious Freedom and Christianity


There may be a lot of smoke, but the fire is pretty small. The nationwide political tempest around Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is much bigger than the law itself deserves.The bill’s proponents touted this as law to “protect” the religious rights of Christians (in particular) who do not want to support gay weddings because they do not believe in same-sex marriage. The bill’s opponents argue that it is a license to discriminate.
Neither is correct. An RFRA law is a tool that allows the accused in a discrimination lawsuit to use religious belief as a defense. It does not require the judge or the jury to agree that the belief provides the defendant a compelling reason to discriminate. In the 20 years since the first RFRA was passed (in federal law), no court case has been successful in permitting anti-gay discrimination.
In other words, RFRA laws provide no automatic right to discriminate on a religious basis. All they do is provide the mechanism for a case that would determine whether a person’s belief rises to a threshold sufficient for such discrimination. Never have anti-gay views, in any form, risen to that threshold.
Of course, future court cases may be different. But, it will be a long and arduous legal process, and the outcome may well be that RFRA laws do NOT permit religious discrimination against homosexuals by individuals or corporate entities.
Since the Indiana law gained national attention, a lot of ink (both physical and virtual) has been spilled discussing it. RFRA laws have become a political symbol in the ongoing national debate over same-sex marriage but, given their actual wording, they are a rather hollow symbol.
Why do Christians need protections from homosexuals? The president of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, gave one common answer: “The government shouldn’t force religious businesses and churches to participate in wedding ceremonies contrary to their owners’ beliefs.”
Are Christians so fragile that they are harmed by being employed in weddings they do not theologically agree with? 
Jesus taught his followers to be tougher than that. Should they be oppressed through violence or compulsion, they should not rise up and resist. If hit on one cheek, they should offer the other. If forced to walk a mile, they should go a second (Matthew 5:38-42).
Jesus continued this set of ideas by concluding, “Give to him who begs from you.” How does this apply? When a same-sex couple asks a Christian photographer to photograph their wedding, he or she should say yes, and be glad they are willing to pay!
Jesus consistently taught his devotees to love their neighbors. When questioned about who was a neighbor, he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. A Samaritan, a class of people despised by Jews, stopped to help a Jew who was beaten when no one else would. He even paid for medical treatment (Luke 10:25-37). And Jesus’ moral for this story? This is what a person must do to “inherit eternal life.”
Just so that his followers would not mistake his point, Jesus even required them to love their enemies, saying that otherwise they were no better than tax collectors (Matthew 5: 43-47).
When he describes his role in the Great Judgment, Jesus makes clear that he is on the side of the oppressed, of those who suffer discrimination. He identifies with the oppressed and says, “As you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
So, what would Jesus do? It is clear, from his own words, that Jesus would not approve of Christians discriminating against anyone. Those who do are in danger of losing their access to eternal life. Instead, they should be helping those they disagree with, even when they disagree with the outcome.
In the end, the question facing American Christianity is what do Christians want to be known for? Is Christianity the religion of discrimination, of treating people as second-class citizens, or is it the religion of loving neighbors and enemies as Jesus taught?

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9 Comments:

  • While I am in general agreement about your legal assessment about RFRA, I believe that you are misrepresenting what Jesus taught about engaging with those engaged in activities that He considered sinful. “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” may sound trite but it fundamentally sums up what Jesus taught, especially if you add “and have no part in the sin yourself.” Jesus ate with sinners and reached out to them but that was clearly to turn them from their life of sin. Jesus said things like, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you." "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."; and, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

    Jesus called us to be free from sin and to stand against the sin even if we are punished by a sinful society. Early Christians were murdered by the thousands for refusing to take part in activities that they saw as sinful. They were not killed because they believed in a different god, believing in other gods was not a problem in that pagan society, as long as you took part in “required worship”. Christians were killed for refusing to take part in and for speaking out against activities that they saw as sinful. In the letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

    We are a nation with a heritage of freedom; religion freedom was the first right addressed in the Constitution. Yet now, freedom of conscience is under vicious attack. primarily in support of what Jesus and early Christians defined as sexual immorality.

    Should a Christian participate in acts that are sinful, even if it is “business”? If I am a Christian professional musician, should I be forced to play music honoring Vishnu for a Hindu religious ceremony? If I am a Christian construction worker, should I be forced to build a mosque? Should a Christian doctor be forced to kill a mentally handicapped child at the request of a parent in states that allow euthanasia? Should a Christian actress be forced to play the part of a prostitute in a movie? I am certain that Jesus would not classify any of that work as “loving your neighbor”. This is no different than forcing a Christian photographer to document a homosexual wedding or a wedding of another religion (which were common in the Roman Empire and universally rejected by early Christians) or forcing a baker to make a cake to celebrate a homosexual wedding. Freedom means we should be able to refuse to take work that violates our conscience.

    Jesus called on His followers to be tougher than that, to be free from sin. He called on us to speak the truth in love, even if the world labels that as hate speech and to refuse to take part in the unfruitful works of darkness even at the cost of our livelihood. Let us hope that the United States will remember its heritage of religious freedom and not go the way of the Roman Empire.

    Agape,
    Jim

    By Blogger virginiajim, at 4/02/2015  

  • While I am in general agreement about your legal assessment about RFRA, I believe that you are misrepresenting what Jesus taught about engaging with those engaged in activities that He considered sinful.

    “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” may sound trite but it fundamentally sums up what Jesus taught, especially if you add “and have no part in the sin yourself.” Jesus ate with sinners and reached out to them but that was clearly to turn them from their life of sin. Jesus said things like, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you." "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."; and, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

    Jesus called us to be free from sin and to stand against the sin even if we are punished by a sinful society.

    Early Christians were murdered by the thousands for refusing to take part in activities that they saw as sinful. They were not killed because they believed in a different god, believing in other gods was not a problem in that pagan society, as long as you took part in “required worship”. Christians were killed for refusing to take part in and for speaking out against activities that they saw as sinful. In the letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

    We are a nation with a heritage of freedom; religion freedom was the first right addressed in the Constitution. Yet now, freedom of conscience is under vicious attack. primarily in support of what Jesus and early Christians defined as sexual immorality.

    Should a Christian participate in acts that are sinful, even if it is their “business”? If I am a Christian professional musician, should I be forced to play music honoring Vishnu for a Hindu religious ceremony? If I am a Christian construction worker, should I be forced to build a mosque? Should a Christian doctor be forced to kill a mentally handicapped child at the request of a parent in states that allow euthanasia? Should a Christian actress be forced to play the part of a prostitute in a movie? I am certain that Jesus would not classify any of that work as “loving your neighbor”. This is no different than forcing a Christian photographer to document a homosexual wedding (which were common in the Roman Empire and universally rejected by early Christians) or a wedding of another religion or forcing a baker to make a cake to celebrate a homosexual wedding? Freedom means we should be able to refuse to take work that violates our conscience.

    Jesus called on His followers to be tougher than that, to be free from sin, even at great personal cost. He called on us to speak the truth in love, even if the world labels that as hate speech and to refuse to take part in the unfruitful works of darkness even at the cost of our livelihood.

    Let us hope that the United States will remember its heritage of religious freedom and not go the way of the Roman Empire. We saw how that ended.

    Agape

    By Blogger virginiajim, at 4/02/2015  

  • Very good. I have found in this area we all love our neighbor as long as he believes as I do and does what I think is right and remember that only my opinion is the correct way. LOL
    -J

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/02/2015  

  • Very good. I have found in this area we all love our neighbor as long as he believes as I do and does what I think is right and remember that only my opinion is the correct way. LOL
    -J

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/02/2015  

  • Great article. very helpful. It was impressed on me by faculty early in my seminary career that clergy are never forced to do a marriage. I've turned some down because of obvious incompatibility. I really don't find that Jesus had a whole lot to do with marriage anyway. At Cana he simply attended the wedding and then turned the water into wine to make a better party. so it goes.
    -W

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/03/2015  

  • Jim, Teachers must teach whoever is in their class. They cannot pick and choose on any basis. Doctors and nurses must treat any patient that comes before them. And few would even consider doing otherwise. Those jobs strike me as much more intimately supporting of members of other religions than bakers, photographers or construction workers. I think the real problem here is that these so-called "Christians" mistake their comfort zone for their religion.
    PF

    By Blogger Paul Flesher, at 4/03/2015  

  • Jim, you wrote: " If I am a Christian professional musician, should I be forced to play music honoring Vishnu for a Hindu religious ceremony? If I am a Christian construction worker, should I be forced to build a mosque? Should a Christian doctor be forced to kill a mentally handicapped child at the request of a parent in states that allow euthanasia? Should a Christian actress be forced to play the part of a prostitute in a movie?"

    Jim, as I understand it, you do not have to provide a service you do not normally provide to anyone, but if you normally provide a given service, you have to provide it freely to the public. So as to the first example: I think it would be unlikely that a christian musician would be familiar with the music of a Hindu religious ceremony. And if the Christian musician doesn't normally play that type of music, I think they can reasonably and legally say no.

    But, say they are approached to perform at a Hindu wedding. I have no idea whether a Hindu wedding would use music that is typical of a Christian wedding, but let's say the answer is yes. If a Hindu couple asks a Christian musician to play "The Wedding March" and "Pachelbel's Canon", and that Christian musician would normally play that for any wedding they were asked to play at, then I think the Christian should say yes, provided they are available. Same thing with building a mosque. I can't imagine why that would be considered sinful. You're doing a job you normally do.

    The other two examples, euthanasia and acting as a prostitute--as far as I know, no doctor is required to perform euthanasia if it is against their conscience, and no actor is required to take any role they feel uncomfortable with. These are general rules that apply to everyone.

    Do you see the difference? The questions are: Is this service one you normally provide to the general public? Is this a rule that applies generally to someone in your position? If the answers to those questions are yes, then a Christian is not exempt if they serve the public.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/03/2015  

  • Paul, you conclude this article with 2 questions. I suggest an even greater question should have been the first one, i.e. "Will Christians be known for loving God and His truth as their first priority?" Don, Powell, WY

    By Anonymous Don R, at 4/23/2015  

  • I want to be known mostly for loving God as revealed through Jesus the Christ and this means loving His truth too!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/27/2015  

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