Freedom From Religious Entitlement

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Jesus, knowing that He had come from God and was going away to God, stood up from dinner and removed His outer garments. He then wrapped Himself in a towel, poured water in a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with His towel –John 13:3-5.

Can we talk about religious freedom for a minute?  I’ve heard the term bantered about for the past several months, and I believe we’ll be hearing more of it as more and more states examine the role of religious beliefs in the private and secular sector.

What does the Constitution guarantee?  We can worship whatever god in whatever religion we choose freely and without government intervention.  Unless that worship includes animal or human sacrifices, sexual abuse of children or adults, physical abuse of children or adults.  You get the idea.  We do not live in fear that we will be arrested, killed or fired from our jobs because of the church we attend.  The government cannot force a non-profit, religious organization to perform activities which go against their religious beliefs.  For example, no church or pastor is required to perform wedding ceremonies for couples with whom they disagree theologically.

However, as the tide turns toward accepting gay relationships and marriages, I’ve noticed a development in ‘religious folk.’  A determination to cry religious freedom in secular, for-profit businesses.  It takes a huge leap of logic to turn a bakery, a restaurant, or a tailor shop into a place of worship that requires protection from the government.  Most people see the obvious flaws.  Will those businesses hold a consistent standard, or will they single out one group of people?  A baker who has no problem baking a wedding cake for a couple who have lived together for years or who have children outside of marriage, cannot cry religious freedom and then deny baking a cake for a gay couple.  What about serving a Buddhist, a Muslim or another religion/denomination outside the owner’s belief system?  If the standard isn’t consistent, then the argument isn’t valid.  As the arguments of what the Bible ‘clearly says’ crumble around staunch traditionalists, many now hide illogically behind the Constitution–a sign of desperation and a tool used by people who feel threatened and, in desperation, circle the wagons.

If we follow Jesus and watch Him wash the disciples feet, heal the Centurian’s son, welcome Samaritans and eat with people on both sides of the tracks, why do we feel so entitled in our religious rights that we single out only a few of the people we believe unworthy? Because if we’re honest, there are a whole lot of people we find unworthy.  On any given day, any person we meet.  But we’re not great at honesty in Christian churches.  We excel in presuming we know how God views people whom we’ve chosen to focus on one or two aspects of their lives, all the while we diminish our own unworthiness by showcasing our donations to charities or hiding dangerous heart attitudes behind pious ‘bless their hearts’ and singing hymns on Sundays.

Jesus asks us to be His Body and come alongside those who are outcast and let them know they don’t have to face their accusers or healing alone.  Just as He protected from societal shame every outcast mentioned in the Gospels by taking the heat from the religious leaders, so we should stand in front of our societal outcasts and shield them from the religious beating or bullet of shame aimed at them.  It’s hard to teach people the abundant life of Christ while throwing stones of public shame at them.

Jesus never insisted that the disciples wash His feet.  We cannot use our power to force others  to accommodate our perceived rights.  That attitude leads to slavery and shame-based systems of worship.  Jesus set an example of humility, and He lived life free from societal shame.  The religious leaders couldn’t threaten Him with loss of reputation or social standing, because He lived under God’s acceptance of Himself.  He had nothing to lose, so no threats could harm Him.  He was free to serve all equally, because He saw people the way God sees them–not the way our human condition labels them.  Jesus gave up His rights for us and humbled Himself for others.

Then He told those who follow Him to do the same.

I’d love to hear from you!  Have you experienced religious entitlement either in yourself or in others?  How can we treat all people–even those who seem entitled–with dignity, respect and grace without compromising our beliefs?

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