Saturday, 4 April 2015

of Religious Freedom, the LGBT, and A Better Way

"What shall we conclude then?
Are we any better?"
(Romans 3:9)

In the March 28, 2015 issue of The New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an excellent piece entitled, "A Little Respect for Dr. Foster." The article began with the claim that in a recent poll 53% of Americans approved of gays and lesbians versus the lessor 42% approval for evangelical Christians. He goes on to say,

"That's partly because some evangelical leaders were intolerant blowhards who give faith a bad name. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson famously blamed the 9/11 terror attacks in part on feminists, gays and lesbians, and doctors who perform abortions. After a public outcry, both men backed off."

Has there been a shift in public attitude and opinion?

As in most areas of life, there are always a few loose cannons that destroy the landscape for the rest of us; evangelical Christianity is no different. However despite the damage Falwell and Robertson created, they by no means represent the norm in evangelical Christianity; there are many silent and often missed voices in the evangelical camp that put their faith into action in practical ways. Enter Kristof's article on Dr. Stephen Foster, a 65-year old missionary surgeon who has lovingly served and lived with the people of Angola for 37 years, often despite terrible persecution. Read the full Dr. Foster story here.

Fast-forward +/- fourteen years.

As I write this, a new (and I would argue) foolish new law has just made its debut in the US state of Indiana. Essentially this unpopular new Religious Freedom Restoration Act gives businesses the right to refuse to serve potential customers based upon their religious convictions. It's not surprising that the gay and lesbian community was quick to jump all over this, and perhaps rightly so, claiming that it discriminates against them. The fact is, as much as I do believe in religious freedom, the new law does discriminate, not just against the gay and lesbian community, but indirectly against a plethora of others as well. By way of example, I cannot help but wonder how well our Muslim neighbours will fare under this law. Will they be refused service too? At the risk of digressing too far, the infamous late Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church fame must be smiling from his grave at this one (I'm being facetious).

Despite our (legal) religious freedoms in this land, sometimes I think we Christians are our own worst enemies. We often make a lot of noise about our opinions and views, you know, those "religious" ones that we like to say we don't have. This is especially true when it comes to our pet sins. As Phillip Yancey is quoted to have said, "Christians get very angry towards other Christians who sin differently than they do." Hmm, let's stop an chew on that one for a while.

Yes, we can build a biblically-based argument against homosexuality and call it "sin," but we can also build biblically-based arguments on a host of other "sins," such as divorce and remarriage. Ouch! I'm sorry if that struck a nerve with some of you, but it serves to illustrate my point. I wonder how many businesses in Indiana will now refuse to serve divorced and remarried "Christian" people and call it religious freedom? Or what about people who drink too much, or perhaps those who are obese; can they expect to be refused service too? Do we have religious freedom to discriminate against them as well? Biblical arguments can be made against all sorts of things if we were so inclined. Maybe Jesus himself would be refused service under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, for after all, He was often known for dining with sleazy prostitutes and those evil tax collecting "sinners." Was He then guilty by association? Of course not! Yet sometimes I wonder if we have forgotten what Jesus said about first removing the plank in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3; Luke 6:41) before concerning ourselves too much with the affairs of others. Hmm.

Maybe there's a better way.

Recently I read an article about a church group that effectively squashed a planned protest against them by the LGBT community simply because the church folks were "too nice." Let's stop and think about that for a moment. "Too nice?" What does that mean, "too nice?" Whatever it means, I suspect that it includes treating all people (regardless of religious beliefs or sexual orientation) with the same grace and love that God treated us with through Jesus Christ. What if ALL Christians suddenly became known for being "too nice" instead of this tendency to sometimes be religious intolerant noise-making blowhards?

Let's take this one step further and consider this discussion in light of the ultimate mandate of the church; the Great Commission's call to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). Now I may be wrong, but it seems to me that making disciples is a whole lot easier for a nice Christian than a cantankerous one.

This doesn't mean that we have to reduce our beliefs to the lowest common denominator. This doesn't mean that we have to water down our faith. This doesn't mean that the Christian has to embrace the LGBT's agenda or lifestyle any more than it means that the LGBT community suddenly needs to embrace evangelical Christianity. Quite frankly, there have been times when neither side has been "too nice" to the other. The point is, we do not have to agree with each other's lifestyles, but it seems to me that we would all do better if we learned to play a little nicer in the sandbox of life.

"Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God."
(Matthew 5:9)

Something to think about. Peace.

Photo Credit: Craftivist Collective, Flickr Creative Commons

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