Rethinking "Religious Freedom" Laws

I have been horrified to see the new wave anti-LGBT laws across the country that have been put forward under the guise of "religious freedom," the idea that freedom of religion requires us to allow people to be mistreated. These laws give a wide range of businesses and services providers the right to deny service to LGBT people if they feel serving LGBT people would somehow come into conflict with their "deeply held beliefs."

This sort of bill is incredibly dangerous.

It creates situations where LGBT people can be denied everything from service at a lunch counter to medical care.

Transgender people are already regularly denied health care. Same-sex couples are already denied housing. LGBT individuals are already denied employment and access to public accommodations. These are real and urgent problems. How much worse could it be when there are legal protections for that sort of discrimination?

It is never a virtue to mistreat or exclude people who are not harming you in any way, and to raise that action to the level of needing the most protection, well, something has gone very wrong there.

I am reminded of the story of Saint Peter and Cornelius the Centurion in the Book of Acts.

Here we have a Roman centurion have a vision of an angel and call for Peter's help. This would require Peter to associate with an unclean person, to make himself unclear by doing so.

Before the centurion's messengers arrive, Peter has a dream. In his dream, a sheet comes down from Heaven covered in all the unclean animals from the Law. In the dream a voice form Heaven says, "Get up Peter, kill and eat."

Peter, being a good, righteous man, says, "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."

Peter has this same dream three times. He woke up just as the Centurion's messengers arrived. Peter went with them to the Centurion's house, and when he arrived there he says one of the finest lines in all of scripture: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean."

What we see here is that Peter's dreams, that God's message, wasn't about keeping kosher, but rather about the simple fact that there are no unclean people, that God calls us to treat all people right, to associate with all people, to love all people.

The danger for Christians is never that we will be good to the wrong person, or that we will treat too many people well, fairly, and justly. There is no risk of loving people too well.

The danger comes when we decide that there are some people more deserving of right treatment than others.

The danger comes when we think that there are some people who, because of their skin, or sexuality, or religion deserve to be treated unfairly, who deserve to be mistreated.

One point that Christ makes over and over is that everyone has value, that everyone deserves love. Christ specifically aligns himself with the most hated and dismissed in society. Jesus demands that Christians love all people, even those that are considered their enemies.

The idea that LGBT people are the enemies of Christians is, of course, ridiculous. I'm a trans woman who's a Christian. I'm blessed to know many gay and bi men and women, many transgender and gender nonconforming people who are Christians.

The Church is full of LGBT people, and always has been.

According to the Book of Acts, the first non-Jewish Christian was the Ethiopian Eunuch. This was a person who was very different from Jesus' first followers. The Ethiopian Eunuch was of a different race, a different class, and was in a different place with gender and sexuality. Still, Saint Philip welcomed him into the faith.

Difference should not be an invitation to discrimination against anyone for Christians. These "religious freedom" laws are antithetical to the Gospel and to the life and work of Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we need to come together to do what we can to stop these laws. As Christians, we need to show love and do justice for all people.

Image via flickr user mind on fire

Comments (4)

Oh man do I love this piece!! I usually pick up our Northwest Christian newspaper when I'm at church, I've been really sad reading the articles lately because the front page has been about "defending Christian freedoms" by protecting those who want to discriminate against the LGBT community. This is so the opposite of what Christianity is, that I'm baffled. LOVE hearing this voice articulating what so many of us have been feeling.

THIS!!! I'm not a Christian, but grew up in that faith, and still pull from all the various faiths of the World. This is beautifully written, and truly appreciated! Hate and discrimination are not values of true family or Faith. as a person in the queer community, I really appreciate what you all are doing, writing and believing out Loud. It gives me faith. Thank you again!!!

Absolutely spot on. We are called to treat others the way we want to be treated. I don't want to be denied my basic rights, so I won't deny them to anyone else.

My promise to you is that I will normally strive to provide matter that provides great value & benefit to you all the time you come to this page.

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