You’re a nice state. I mean, you’ve got Bloomington and the Colts, dunes on Lake Michigan, cornfields, windmills, country concerts and the world’s best funnel cakes at your county fairs. You have a lot going for you.
But if there’s one mark against you, its last week’s signing of ‘The Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ by Governor Mike Pence. The act allows for the citing of religious beliefs as a defense for anyone prosecuted by a private party for discrimination. The main concerns with this legislature regard treatments of same-sex couples. Because Indiana business owners now are legally protected from ramifications for their refusal to serve, sell, aid or cater to gay persons on the basis of personal convictions.
“I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Governor Pence said in a very private, quiet ceremony last week.
Which is ironic. Because this is not religious freedom.
The legislative mandate that I am able to deny someone else goods or services because I judge their beliefs as being in opposition to mine, creates a dangerous paradigm. As a Christian, I am now protected in openly and publically refusing mechanical assistance, food services, and even banking to someone, just because they are gay. Take a moment to tinker with that sentence; remove the words “Christian” and “gay” and insert “Aryan” and “Jewish” in their stead. Try it with “white” and “black.” Are you nervous yet?
This is why history books will one day recognize the gay rights movement as another sad chapter in the story of the American Church.
Because we, as American Christians, have proven once again that we will go to great lengths to avoid our oppression. We’ve proven that our knee-jerk reaction to the slightest scent of persecution is to rise up and pull whatever political strings are necessary to ensure that we are safe. It doesn’t matter who isn’t protected, just so long as we’re left unscathed.
Thus, in an effort to avoid being oppressed, the Church willingly takes on the role of oppressor.
This is not religious freedom. And it certainly is not Christian.
We would be wise- in debates such as these- to reconsider our earthly role as the body of Christ. Because the calling of the Christian is not to legislate our beliefs. The Biblical mandate for Christian relationships with earthly kingdoms is not to force them into alignment with our personal journeys of sanctification. Rather, God commands that the church be a city on a hill, a vibrant example of Christ’s love in contrast to the world’s corruption, evil, oppression and hate.
We ought not say: “let us ensure that our’s is a Christian government.” Because it never will be.
Rather, what we should be saying, what we should be living, is a life that tells the world: “Look at how nations go to war and kill each other- we Christians love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. Look at how the kingdoms are enthroned with power and money- we Christians share possessions openly with everyone. Look at how governments close borders to refugees in need- we Christians open our houses to anyone. Look at how people discriminate and hurt, we Christians love and cherish the marginalized, broken and yes- even the sinful. Lest we forget the log in our own eye.”
But we cannot say this. Not right now, anyway. We’re too busy protesting, arguing and advocating for our ‘rights.’ When we’ve accomplished that, we might see to those of others. Maybe.
Which is to say every Christian in Indiana and the rest of America should look upon this law with ominous shudders because of the precedent it establishes for those Christians across the globe who really are facing persecution. Today, thousands of Christians live under the oppression of radical religious rule (have we forgotten the plight of Iraqi Christians under ISIS who are forced to pay a hefty tax or convert?). Christians live in fear, many unable to attain basic services or earn a living. They are boycotted, robbed, beaten and sometimes killed. All this because a radical Muslim’s expression of their religious convictions is protected by their judicial law.
And that’s not religious freedom.
True, refusing to serve someone at the local diner doesn’t equate to beating them and taking their wallet. But history tells us- again, Germany circa 1935- that its not too far behind. And it’s a slippery slide.
To many of us, this law will be of little concern. We will never feel its ramifications. Maybe this is because we don’t live in Indiana. Maybe it’s because we’re part of the religious status quo. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy making sure that religious freedom means: “I’m safe and I’m free.”
But -if we’re being honest, Indiana- we know that this is not religious freedom. It’s the tyranny of self-interest. And it’s been the go-to reaction of American Christians for far too long.
The issue of homosexuality is a real one. It is an issue of moral and theological implications that all Christians should grapple with. But someone else’s conviction regarding their sexuality has nothing to do with Christ’s mandate that- above all else- I am to show love, hospitality, generosity, empathy and care.
We must come to value the freedom of Christ more than our ‘freedom of religion.’ The freedom of Christ moves us to find new ways to love all others at all times. And it certainly doesn’t allow us to go on a legislative binge whenever we get the sense that culture is treading on our toes.
My hope is that one day the American Church will be known, not for the legislature we erect in self-defense, but for the dividing walls we destroy with our love. It can happen. And in the grand scheme of things, Indiana, you’re not a bad place to start.
After all, you have funnel cakes.
A Christian in support of freedom
P.S. And, by the way, what exactly is a ‘Hoosier??’