"Reclaimed" is perhaps the better word. Many have maintained it, but they seem inherently less intolerant, loud or militant than the self-appointed defenders of religion. Religion does not need a defender; G-d does not need a champion over Him. The founding fathers of the United States knew this; the one on the $100 bill observed and warned:
- When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
- You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
- Who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day.
- If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
- Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.
- For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.
Jesus was not a crusader for religion. He did not condemn the Good Samaritan for not converting to Christianity, or even Judaism; instead he said the Samaritan was saved because for loving his neighbor, for welcoming someone who was different. It was the self-righteous in positions of religious authority who refused to do this that were condemned. Jesus did not tell people to be unwelcoming in any circumstance. Instead, he welcomes a felon convicted of capital crime (identified as Mary Magdalene), rebuking not her sin but the people who abuse her for it. Jesus did talk about people being unwelcoming though:
- If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them
- But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you...I say to you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city
Jesus was the champion of the marginalized people the self-righteous would destroy. Even if he had championed religion instead, you are not Jesus. Those who are inhospitable to others considered sinners are absolutely nothing like Jesus.
Though not as loudly as the hypocrites, plenty of religious people maintain the teachings of the Bible. Two millennia ago, there was a man who realized that maintaining the tradition is not enough and it must be reclaimed with the same fire and brimstone as used by those who abuse it.
Though the Indiana Episcopal Church's response to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act avoids the fire and brimstone Jesus promised hypocrites, it goes a long way to reclaiming authentic religion, which has and hopefully continues to be constructive force in lives and society rather than a destructive mockery.
You know by now that the Indiana State Assembly has passed a measure called The Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This bill purports to protect persons and businesses from government reprisal if their decisions to treat groups of people differently (in the provision of services and goods, for example) stem from what they claim to be religious beliefs – even if those beliefs are not part of the formally professed teaching of any established religious group.
Proponents of the bill say it is not about discrimination. Discrimination, in its truest sense, is about drawing distinctions. To discriminate is to make considered decisions, and is not in itself either morally or ethically good or bad. But when decisions are being made about who will be entitled to what, and on what basis, the potential for discrimination to become a relational weapon in a culture and society is tremendous. None of us has to think hard to come up with examples in our own history as a nation.
The language of the bill does not identify any specific group of people – either as needing protection for their beliefs, or as possible targets in decisions to withhold services or goods. What this means is that there is no legal boundary placed on who may decide to discriminate, or who may be discriminated against, so long as the 'decider' claims to be acting out of religious conviction. The possibilities for mischief are tremendous!
Though the group most likely to be singled out in our thoughts is the LGBT community, it is clearly possible for many others to be told they are unacceptable to receive whatever services or goods a person or company has on offer. Consider the possibility that only Christians will be served in some places, only Jews in others, while no Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, or Druids can purchase merchandise in some stores, and only Latinos will be included here, only Blacks excluded there....you see the point. This legislation gives the appearance of tolerating and protecting overt bigotry in any form so long as it is dressed up as personal religious fervor.
That this is terrible for business is already being made exquisitely plain. That it is an embarrassment to 'Hoosier Hospitality' is undeniable. It is also an affront to faithful people across the religious landscape. Provision of a legal way for some among us to choose to treat others with disdain and contempt is the worst possible use of the rule of law.
For Episcopalians, whose lives are ordered in the Gospel of Christ and the promises of our Baptismal Covenant, it is unthinkable. We are enjoined to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love others as Christ loves us. We promise, every time we reaffirm our baptismal vows, to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves." We promise to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."
The God we worship became Incarnate, and waded into the unfaithful realities of human life. We follow a Master who associated with sinful, unacceptable people, both Jew and Gentile, all the while challenging as hypocritical the religious leaders who held themselves aloof from the general populace.
As I write this letter to you we are approaching Holy Week and Easter – seasons of deep reflection and joyous celebration in which we rehearse the saving acts of God throughout human history and in the death and Resurrection of Jesus. We claim for ourselves the transforming, reconciling love of God in Christ; not as treasures to be hoarded, but as gifts to be shared with the whole world in the name of the Lord we serve and worship.
Please join me in prayer for all those who have experienced demeaning behaviors, and those who have chosen to treat them so badly. Both in our individual and our common lives, may we become faithful advocates for justice, and reconciling examples of the indiscriminate love of God.
+Catherine M. Waynick
Bishop of Indianapolis
March 26, 2015