Every week I drive into the same local Shell gas station to buy gas because this is where the cheapest gas prices are in town. The manager is a Muslim and I think he originates from Pakistan. Then about once a month I get my hair cut at one particular barber shop because the barber not only does a good job but also offers the cheapest price for a haircut in town. The barber is a Buddhist who migrated to the United States from the nation of Laos.
I wonder how I would feel if either that gas station manager or the barber refused to do business with me because as a Christian, my religious and moral values differ in some way from their own convictions? How would you feel if either of these businesses refused service to you because they do not share your Christian religious and moral convictions… because in doing so, they feel they would be violating their own religious convictions?
Us vs. Them
As you most likely know, their is a firestorm erupting in American culture over the State of Indiana’s passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). You can read the bill, officially known as Senate Act 101, right here. Whatever the intention of this bill actually is, which is still not entirely clear (evidenced by the fact that Indiana legislators have already amended the law), the application of the law seems to single out LBGQT people over the issue of gay marriage. Consequently, a restaurant owner has the right to refuse catering service for a gay wedding because doing so violates the religious conviction of the restaurant owner who believes that gay marriage is morally wrong.
The firestorm has continued to spread with one restaurant owner, who professes to be a Christian, calling into a radio station to freely admit that he does discriminate against gay people. Then another restaurant owner, responding to a hypothetical question (which seems unwise), has said according to this article “If a gay couple was to come and they wanted us to bring pizzas to their wedding, we’d have to say no.”
So it seems that regardless of the RFRA intention, the issue has singled out the moral issue of homosexuality. That is, once again some Christians have found another way to elevate the moral issue of homosexuality above other moral issues and religious convictions. I wonder if those same Christians would refuse to provide catering to a wedding should they learn that the ceremony will include something such as a Wiccan prayer ritual or if the reception to follow should have alcohol where inevitably some people will become drunk? My point is simply to say that by singling out gays and gay marriage, something else appears at work beside mere religious and moral conviction. That something else is a cultural war waged by political power that continues fostering an “Us vs. Them” scenario where exclusion − both implicitly and explicitly − is the result.
This is a Christian problem! Some Christians seem to insist upon the rest of society conforming to their beliefs and values, even if it means relying upon state political power to ensure that conformity. Those within society that do not embrace the beliefs and values of these Christians are then marked for exclusion. This was the way of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who were quite accustomed to practicing exclusion themselves. Yet the more that Christians embrace an exclusionary practice, the more Christianity drifts further and further from Jesus. Only this time this drifting is not due to the theological liberalism that characterized some mainline Protestant Denominations throughout the 20th century; this drifting comes from Christians maintain the political privilege of a Christendom culture is coming to an end.
Good Friday and the Gospel
It seems as though the gospel is failing among us… the gospel that was and is salvation for both the Jew and Gentile (cf. Rom 1:16)
Today is Good Friday. It’s the day when Jesus was nailed to the cross for the sake of the world, to set the world free from the burden of sin and death. Jesus’ death was that inclusive moment when God destroyed the barrier that excluded Gentile from Jew, by making the two into one…
But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. – Ephesians 2:13-16
Jesus’ death was that act of grace on the part of God that said my sin and your sin will no longer separate us from God or each other. It doesn’t negate the fact that we are sinners, as we most certainly are, it just means that Jesus has atoned our sin by making peace through his death so that our sin would no longer exclude us.
We praise God for that act of grace, as we should. We gather together around the Lord’s Table to sing hymns, offer up prayers, hear from God’s word, and ultimately remember through the partaking of bread and wine, which represents the body and blood of Jesus, that we are now included. So why then should we turn around and maintain a practice of exclusion, singling out certain people for their religious, moral, and lifestyle choices? Do we think their behavior somehow taints us, indicts us as guilty? Or do we just need to keep our culture sanitized of that which offends our Christian sensibilities? Were these the concerns of Jesus when he embraced the sinner… when he was lifted up upon the cross as a scandalous and shameful spectacle?
True Religious Freedom
Jesus died to include those whom his followers sometimes exclude. This has to change. Here’s how…
In his book Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf writes, “We would most profoundly misunderstand the Eucharist, however, if we thought of it only as a sacrament of God’s embrace of which we are simply the fortunate beneficiaries. Inscribed on the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if do not resist being made into its agents; what happens to us must be done by us” (p.129). That is to say that as we gather around the Lord’s Table to remember the very grace of God which includes us who are sinners, we must also become practitioners of this inclusionary grace. We are to be agents of this grace with our fellow believers whom we are communing with around the Lord’s Table and with our neighbors, regardless of whether or not they are believers… or whether they share our same beliefs and moral values. However, the way we live as agents of this grace will differ in each particular setting we find ourselves in.
When it comes to discerning how we should live as agents of this inclusionary grace in the market place, we should look at how Jesus, whom we follow, did this in his life. For the sake of space, let’s just recall that Jesus sat among and engaged in life with the “sinners and tax-collectors.” In doing this, Jesus was neither approving of their sin nor becoming participants in their sin and it seems that should be the case with us. Neither by eating a meal with a gay person nor by providing them with a meal, even in a gay-marriage or same-sex civil union, means approval or participation in the actual relationship. To say otherwise is believe in guilt by association and it that’s true then we are guilty of another sin just about every time we engage someone else with just a simple smile. Rather than incurring guilt participating in life with someone who is gay, what we are doing is removing the “Us vs. Them” barrier that we have built up. We are saying that even though we may not agree with their certain aspects of their life, we will not let it become a hostile barrier that stands between us because our God let his Son, Jesus the Messiah, be crucified to demolish such barriers.
As we, who profess to be Christian, remember the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, let us become conduits of the very grace we are recipients of. Let us give up the political power we use as an attempt in conforming the rest of society to the beliefs and values we choose to live by… And let us instead serve our neighbors regardless of whether we agree with their lifestyle choices. For to do is to embrace true religious freedom!
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23.
“So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” – Galatians 6:9-10.
May it be so among our neighbors whether they be Christian or not, White or Black, Strait or Gay!