Back on February 24th, 2014, I wrote a post on the Arizona “religious freedom bill,” which was vetoed by the governor two days later. Now, two years later, we find ourselves somehow in the same situation, except that both the North Carolina and Mississippi governors have signed similar bills into law. Just to be clear, “religious freedom” is defined this way: for example, if a person believes, on religious grounds, that marriage is between a man and a woman, on the basis of this belief an individual or organization can deny LGBT individuals marriage, adoption, housing, employment, the use of a bathroom, and a wide variety of commercial -services. [See one article here: Mississippi Religious Freedom Bill]
Here is what I said about such a bill then:
While Jesus didn’t say anything explicitly about gays and lesbians, he did have a great deal to say about one’s neighbor and the obligation a Christian has in regards to her neighbor. In a word, that obligation is love. Let’s take just two of the most famous examples. First, in the Gospel of Matthew, a lawyer asks Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” [Matthew 22:36-40]. The second example comes from the Gospel of John, in the hours before Jesus’ arrest. After Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet and is preparing for his betrayal and death, he says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
True Christian Freedom vs. "Religious" Freedom
These two verses make clear that love is a primary (if not the primary) mode of being in which Christians are to live their lives: it suffices as a summary of all the other commandments and prophetic words of the Lord; it is an indispensable core component of fidelity to God; and it is the defining characteristic of one’s identity as a follower of Jesus. Elizabeth Johnson writes that since God is present in the whole of the world, “profoundly present and committed to the world and every person in it,” “loving God means loving the world.” Thus, it can be argued persuasively that it is impossible to love God without loving one’s neighbor, and that calling oneself a Christian while hating others is a fundamental contradiction. And, let’s be clear about Jesus’ understanding of “the neighbor:” Jesus was insistent that the category of neighbor even includes one’s “enemy,” and that Christians are commanded to love them as well.
So, how does this relate to this situation? Well, when Jesus wanted to concretize what love actually looks like in real life, he pointed to service: he makes the connection for the lawyer with the parable of the Good Samaritan; and he makes it for the disciples by washing their feet. So, one can make a strong case that for Christians, the paradigmatic way in which they express love for their neighbor is by serving them: giving them food when they need it, clothing when they need it, coffee, a marriage certificate, a hotel room, medical attention, a pedicure, etc., etc.
I still feel exactly the same way, and, as I have continued to think about it, as a Lutheran, I am particularly frustrated with the use of “religious freedom” language. Luther had quite a bit to say about the “freedom” of a Christian; and one of his key points was that at its core, our Christian freedom means that we are able to joyfully and radically serve our neighbors, without concern that we are somehow putting in peril our saving relationship with God. The basic point is that our Christian freedom is not first and foremost for our own well-being and protection, it is a gift for the sake of the neighbor and the stranger. Christian freedom is not a treasure to be horded, but a blessing to be used for the protection and care of others; and you don’t have to agree with every decision an individual makes to be able to serve them in Christian love.
And really, let’s think about this for a minute: do we really want to go down this road? What’s to stop people from serving and supporting Muslims, or Jews, or atheists? What if someone comes in for a marriage license who is divorced–does he get turned away as well? We all stand under the same condemnation, and we all have received the same gift of salvation–and “all” really means “all.” It’s not that complicated. “Free” Christians should reject the hate and prejudice that is being protected under the guise of “religious freedom.” It’s a lie.