Thursday, April 2, 2015

Religious Freedom Restoration?

Merriam-Webster defines "restoration" as:

: the act or process of returning something to its original condition by repairing it, cleaning it, etc.

: the act of bringing back something that existed before

: the act of returning something that was stolen or taken.

By this definition I cannot understand what "religious freedoms" are being "restored". In the United States of America we live in what is surely among the most religiously free countries in the world. To get to my chosen place of worship, I drive past a variety of other places of worship (of various faiths)--each of which is "subsidized" by our society by not paying property taxes and having participants' contributions receive a favorable tax treatment; and each of which is allowed to open their doors to the public any time they want. So what needs to be restored? What has been stolen or taken? What needs to be repaired or cleaned to be returned to the original? What no longer exists that needs to be brought back?

Some might point to the general lack of vitality in the American church as something that needs to be restored. While I would tend to agree with that assessment, recent legislation has nothing to do with the renewal of people of faith. Recent legislation seems to be directed at allowing "people of faith" to disrespect those who hold a worldview or value system that at one or more points diverges from their own, under the guise of religious freedom. At the very least, it is the inconsistency that makes my blood boil.

The Indiana pizzeria that is representative of this issue refused to cater (provide their publicly-available, secular business service) a wedding for a same sex couple. The reported rationale was because the Christian business owner believes that same sex marriage is sin. Query: Does the pizzeria owner refuse to serve fat people? Isn't gluttony a sin? Does the pizzeria owner refuse to serve non-Christian people? Isn't not believing in Jesus a sin? Does the pizzeria refuse to serve adulterers? Drunkards? Greedy folks? All sinners in the pizzeria owner's worldview.

Looking back a couple of thousand years, did Jesus refuse to associate with (his publicly-available business service) sinners? Not at all! It seemed like wherever he went he was engaging with sinners (being cordial and civil) AND religious folks (being confrontive and even harsh). Might it have been that Jesus expected or hoped for higher and more noble actions from those who claimed to be people of faith? Sometimes I wonder what things would be like if people of faith spent as much time developing, growing, building, and living out their faith as they do attacking the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of those with whom they disagree.

We Americans do not live in a theocracy--never have and most likely never will. Even if our Founding Fathers were people of faith or were influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition, they did not set out to establish a nation built on a particular religion. They set out to form a democracy that included and had a vital place for people of any faith or no faith. We need look no further than the Bill of Rights -- the behaviors and actions described here are the basis for a civil society, not a Christian, or Muslim, or [fill in faith tradition] society. As a multicultural and multi-faith society, rich and strong in its diversity and variety, we must all maintain a higher level of civility and respect of each others' thoughts and values.

Only then can all of us--those of one faith or another or of no faith--live out the Apostle Paul's words:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18); and

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3)