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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Sincerely Held Religious Belief

I’ve been hearing a lot of news lately about efforts in many states across the country, including our own, to pass laws which purport to “protect religious freedom.” These legislative initiatives would allow businesses to cite “sincerely held religious beliefs” for refusing to provide goods or services. Some even would expand their reach into the public sector by trying to allow government employees to make the same choice; they would allow a civil clerk, for example, to choose whether or not to issue a marriage license to a couple legally permitted to obtain one, if the couple’s marriage would be objectionable by the clerk’s personal religious standards. None of these laws have passed (although one version is sitting on the Arizona governor’s desk for consideration as I write this); but the efforts continue.

As a minister of the Gospel, religious freedom is a particularly precious right to me, so these ongoing efforts have my concerned attention. Let me be as clear as I can be: these actions are NOT what protecting religious freedom looks like. In fact, it is precisely the opposite. Passing these sorts of laws would allow people to force their particular religious views on the rest of society. They would render U.S. citizens constantly unsure of whether they could trust equal access to government services or public businesses, solely because of someone’s idea of religious propriety. And it would establish an area where businesses could use the language of religion to exempt themselves from public laws everybody else has to follow.

It really does not matter that these laws have been aimed primarily at LGBT people and same-sex marriage. Over the years, people of strongly held opinions have had the same arguments over interracial or inter-religious marriage, or even remarriage after divorce. We’ve disputed in the same way over serving people of different races and ethnicities-- and indeed, religions. Over and over again, we’ve determined that the public marketplace is not the place to demand our individual views be upheld.

This movement is simply antithetical to the principles of religious freedom upon which our country is founded. Not incidentally, I believe it is also contrary to the gospel message of embracing love which Jesus Christ offered to all who came to him. But my local grocer doesn't need to agree with me on that in order to sell me apples and bananas.

I am grateful from the bottom of my heart to live in a country where I am free to proclaim the ridiculously all-encompassing nature of God’s love from our pulpit each and every Sunday. If another pastor wishes to proclaim a different message in another pulpit— well, the guarantees of our Constitution permit that, too. However, a public business owner or government employee who cannot serve everyone with equal respect, does not have the right to use “religion” as an excuse.


Blogger Jennifer said...

I could leave aside my continuing struggle to come to terms with my own sexuality, and my response to this post would still be simply, "Thank you, Mother Jane." As a preacher's kid, I know that when a member of clergy speaks, more people tend to listen. Everything about these kinds of laws ignores one simple statement--"Come unto me, ALL YE..."

February 26, 2014 3:24 PM  

Blogger Ecgbert said...

Just checked in; I blog less now too partly due to the demands of my job on my time and partly because Facebook has taken over from blogging.

Anyway, as you can imagine, my view is different but not extremely so.

Money is money (no such thing as gay vs. straight money), so discrimination is ultimately self-limiting, because it's self-defeating for a business, for example.

And everybody ought to have the right to freedom of association. The person doing the discriminating may be a jerk and even hurting himself by so doing, but that's his right. Just as the homosexual couple has the right to live without violence against their person, just like anybody else. (No such thing as "hate crime," which would be "thoughtcrime.")

I've been sympathetic to the idea of having the state opt out of this culture war, and protecting the individual rights of homosexuals, by legally kicking all marriage down to boring old contract law. And by the way, you and other ministers wouldn't have to be agents of the state in marriages anymore. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, straight, or gay, it's just a contract according to the law; break the contract and you have to pay.

That said, a nation has an interest in the common good. Marriage as traditionally understood, as meant to produce children, works toward that good. Other definitions of marriage, be they a straight one of contraception and no-fault divorce, or gay, don't. Mutual happiness and all that are nice, but they're not why the nation cares about marriage. And that's as far as I'll go here with the conservative case.

April 07, 2014 1:34 AM  

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