Religious Freedom? Freedom for what?

In case you missed the news from the Supreme Court yesterday, religious freedom is back in the news:; and, as a Christian, I can’t say I’m happy about it.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for religious freedom, but it seems like every time “religious freedom” is at the heart of a public debate, it quickly morphs into something that I don’t quite recognize–like when my brother dressed up as Edward Scissorhands one year for Halloween [it was epic, believe me!].  For me, the problem is that the way I understand religious freedom–that is, the purpose and meaning of the whole idea–is as “freedom for” [and here my Lutheran roots are showing, right?].  That is, “freedom” in a religious context is not best understood as a right one claims for self-protection and self-validation, but as a welcome green-light for service to God and the neighbor. This means that true Christian freedom is about being liberated from concerns of wealth, status, and self-preservation such that one is able to dedicate one’s life to the care and welfare of all God has made and loves:  friends and enemies, animals and trees, neighbors near and far.  All that is needful for us God provides, enabling us to be about the business of providing for others–radically, joyfully, and abundantly. This is Christian freedom at its best.

But, I’m afraid that this isn’t what most people–especially those outside the church–think of when they hear the term “Christian freedom.”  Instead, I’m afraid that what comes to mind is, “Oh, there go those Christians again, trying to make everyone else believe what they believe, and punishing those who don’t.”  [And, I could write an entirely separate post about how those who get punished somehow always seem to be women whose ethical [read:  sexual] choices are at odds with conservative “Christian values.”]  Where are the Christian executives who exercise their religious freedom by paying their workers more than minimum wage, to help lift them out of poverty?  Where are the Christian businesses who exercise their religious freedom by refusing to deal in weapons manufacture and trade?  Where are the Christian companies who exercise their religious freedom by choosing to buy meat only from farms where the animals are treated humanely?  Sure, these “freedoms” may be costly, but that’s part of the point–religious freedom isn’t cheap, and it isn’t meant to shore up either the wealth or the morality of Christians themselves.  Christian freedom is a gift meant to be spent on others, not a treasure to be horded for one’s own sake.

I’m all for Christian freedom–but only insofar as it works love and justice in the world, only insofar as it builds bridges, not walls between Christians and the world.

2 thoughts on “Religious Freedom? Freedom for what?

  1. If you are speaking of Hobby Lobby (seems that you are), they are providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. In fact, 16 different varieties (just not the four they see as being abortifacients). Also, they pay much higher wages than the minimum wage, significantly higher than most retailers.

    I'm sure Hobby Lobby could do a better job in many areas ( as could we all), but I am in no position to judge the family that owns it.


  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kristin, for your comments. They remind me of how Martin Luther's writings remain relevant in our time. “Religious freedom” has become so distorted in our culture. It would seem that as Christians who are led by the gospel of Jesus, it is time for us to proclaim and live out religious freedom/the freedom of a Christian as taught in the gospel – as a gift “to be spent on others” as you describe. Thank you again.


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