Monday, August 31, 2015

Freedom of Religion? YES! Freedom to Discriminate? NO!

Vos vestros servate, meos mihi linquite mores (Latin)
You cling to your own ways and leave mine to me.
--Petrarch, 14th century poet and humanist

Religion is a funny thing. 

By funny I don’t just mean, “A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a bar…” Yes, faith can be funny.  But religious faith can be funny too: as in odd, strange, difficult to explain or understand, especially when the faith you profess is different from the faith your neighbor holds on to, or visa versa.  Times when faiths clash in the world, with the world.  It’s the old “my God is better than your God” argument.  Just read the news. Jews against Muslims. Muslims against Christians.  Christians versus the Muslims.  Buddhists rejecting Hindus.  Atheists mocking believers. Yada, yada, yada…

That is funny, because you’d think God would not take sides amongst God’s people, right?  That instead God ultimately wants all folks of faith, all people, regardless of faith or no faith, to live in peace. You’d think at its best, religious faith would respect other faith paths and traditions, remember that as religion moves through this amazingly pluralistic world, from the sacred to the secular, religion should do so with humility and not so much hubris.  As Elvis Costello sang, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” 

After all, this is God we are talking about. GOD: as in the creator of all things, eternal, always was, always will be, beyond any human comprehension. Who can know the very mind or will of God? In my little human mind and opinion, no one. So as a person of deep faith, I get really nervous when my fellow believers insist that everybody else is supposed to believe exactly what they believe, live just like they live. I get annoyed when they then take what are private beliefs into the public sphere and demand that the rest of society get on board. 

That’s not funny.

Just ask same sex couples seeking to be legally and lawfully married in Rowan County, Kentucky these days. Newsflash: as of June, same sex marriage is a constitutionally protected right in all fifty states. I don’t think there was an asterisk in the Supreme Court’s ruling exempting this one place.  But apparently the clerk of that county, Kim Davis, thinks the law doesn’t apply to her. Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses to any couples, gay or straight. She cites her religious faith and her struggle for religious freedom as the reasons for her defiance.  

Davis certainly has a constitutionally protected right to express her beliefs freely and fully. To worship as she wishes. To bring her God inspired ideals into the world and then try her best to get others to believe what she does. Organize.  Preach. Vote. But here’s the problem, the not so funny thing. Davis apparently also believes she has a legal right to insist that her private beliefs trump her public responsibility as a government employee, a duly sworn representative of the Kentucky state government, bound by all of the laws of the United States of America.  

As a fellow Christian I wish she’d take a real stand and resign her position immediately. Be true to her conscience and step down. Take her place in a long line of faith inspired folks who have the courage to accept the full cost of discipleship.  Then I’d really respect her stand, if not her specific beliefs.

This is what I believe, as a Christian and person of faith. All my life, as a citizen and pastor, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of living in a nation which reveres the separation of church and state, the Jeffersonian ideal that government has no business promoting, or preventing, religious practice. As a Christian, Uncle Sam can’t tell me what to believe or what not to believe. My responsibility is to live side by side in respect, with folks of my faith, other faiths, and no faith. Religious freedom does not give me or Davis or any other person of faith the legal right to discriminate against a fellow citizen, or deny their legal rights.   

So here’s a serious suggestion to my fellow believers. Be as convicted and sure of your beliefs as you desire, but then live and let live. Live and let live. The United States is an incredibly and increasingly diverse nation, a secular democracy, not a faith based theocracy. Therefore if a person’s religious practice (or lack thereof) does not impinge on the rights of others to practice religion, or directly hurt others, I say live and let live. When we who are religious carry our beliefs into the public sphere, we must abide by the same laws which apply to all the people.  Especially for those of us who are people of faith: maybe we need to worry more about how well we are doing with our God and less about how our neighbors live their lives. As Jesus once said, we need to watch out more for the log in our own eye than the speck of sawdust in the eye of a fellow citizen.

A Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, an Atheist and an Agnostic walk into a bar and guess what?  They all get along.  They respect each other. They live and let live.  

Wouldn’t that be funny?


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