Aspiring clerical aristocrats debase the idea of religious freedom when they use it as a tool to seek exemptions from the generally applicable laws of the United States—particularly those that prohibit discrimination.
Religious freedom and civil rights are complementary values and legal principles necessary to sustain and advance equality for all.” —Fred Clarkson, January 3, 2017
In her book Enfleshing Freedom, M. Shawn Copeland argues that freedom is an enabling state: it liberates us to step more deeply into community, to interact with other people and with the world around us. It enables us to mutually care, serve, and be served. As free people we are free to live with more vulnerability and less fear.
I’ve been baffled by ongoing Christian attempts to carve out legal permissions to withdraw from community, to reject opportunities to serve people in our society, and to deny calls to hospitality, generosity, and compassion.
I’m also not all that different from the people I’m talking about.
A few months ago I mentioned that one of my recurring clients had folded into his work some text from a church official who had spent the preceding few months campaigning for the continued criminalization of LGBTQ people’s relationships in his country. The official is the kind of person who wants non-heterosexual people to slink away to the edges of society, and as such he’s not the kind of person I would want a client relationship with.
Rather than dumping the project and disadvantaging my client, however, I decided to breathe through it, and not charge them.
I’m not sure whether this is the only possible community-preserving solution I had, and I’d love to hear how others have handled similar scenarios.
But what I did helped me to respect the relationship I’ve had with my client, do something kind for a third party, and apply a few of my beliefs. Community, real community, is awkward, unpleasant, and grey from time to time. It’s not always as clearly defined as it sometimes looks in retrospect, or from a distance. In the moment, a confrontation might absolutely be the right thing. It also might not.
In community, we can vigorously disagree. Some members of my family, for instance, have horrendous beliefs about me and my groups. That has consequences. For a start, it makes fellowship difficult: toxicity isn’t easily repressed.
So whereas I no longer feel compelled to spend all my free time with people who can only digest slivers of my life, I’m also not at peace with doing what some Christians are striving to do—get a government pass to turn the Other away at the door.
There’s something about Christianity that calls me to serve without partiality. And this isn’t even a modern teaching; it’s part of the book of James.
So that’s one area where I part ways with the Christians seeking to carve out state exemptions for themselves and asserting the “right” to refuse to serve.
Here’s another: they’re not evaluating the quality of the relationship between two people who want to commemorate their anniversary with good photographs. They’re looking at the genders and/or legal status of the couple and making assumptions about what those facts mean. In the end they don’t care whether the couple’s relationship is sound; they’re only distressed that the couple has a relationship at all.
I empathize with artists as much as I value my own skills. I’m careful about the projects I apply my skills to and not every opportunity fits for me. But I can’t imagine using someone’s social categories as my basis for choosing. And I can’t imagine asking my government to back me up if I did do that.
The state should have better things to do than facilitate our prejudices. There’s also no turning back now: we’re very firmly post-1964 and living in plural societies with the ability to have neighborly relationships that draw our prejudices from unconsciousness into broad daylight.
We live, study, form families, and work alongside people who may appear vastly different from us, and we also have the blessed opportunity to learn from and with those people. Shutting them not only out of our personal lives but also out of our commercial lives is a bold way to squander connection and to waste the freedom that frees us to be more tender-hearted to one another, not less so in the name of God.
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” —James 2:8