Friday, April 3, 2015

Part of Your Religion, Huh? Prove It!

 I am a bit of a US Constitution geek, I must admit.  I am absolutely fascinated and moved by it.  I have to confess also that I cried during the theatrical presentation at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia when I visited there one summer.  A single actor surrounded by a series of 360 degree projections explaining the massive human social innovation embodied in a document named the Constitution and its amendments, known as the Bill of Rights.  

This was groundbreaking stuff in human historical terms.  Never before seen on the planet Earth.  The kids are now going to run the candy store, folks.  People had been fighting for freedom across the globe for hundreds of years already by this point, yes.  But this was the first time a new government had attempted to build their own egalitarian, democratic country, governed by the people, from the foundation up.  Think of that for a moment.  Imagine that point of time in history.  What did people know of real freedom then?  What awoke in them suddenly and made them say to themselves: Come what may, I must find a new land and forge my own path.  I have a human right to do this.  When an elephant is born it is given a heavy chain.  However, as it grows in size it continues to be shackled with increasingly smaller restraints.  It never forgets the weight of its first chain and the impossibility of freedom branded into its very first memories.  The message from its masters is clear: Resistance is futile.  It never realizes that the strength of its leg far exceeds that of the rope.  It doesn’t even know how free it really is!  It has but to flick its ankle to manage it.  But doesn’t know it.  How did our forebears realize their tether was only a thread?  Where did that courage come from?

Many of us know a taste of oppression in our lives.  It tastes pretty bad.  But here in the United States, and now in many other places on the planet, there are pockets of freedom.  Places where a relatively new society can somewhat safely duke it out with each other for a while as we get used to it, until we grow up.  We’ve only been trying this out for a little over 200 years, remember.  We are infants compared to other societies in the world.  The shift occurred in a very short amount of time relative to the length of human history.   A short time ago in the world there was virtually no where to be free.  Yet today there are places where a person is in charge of themselves. They have their own agency.  They are free to pursue their own happiness, and can earn a fair share for their hard work and creativity.  And when their rights are infringed upon—as they regularly are among squabbling siblings—there is a legal process that, by intention at least, continues through a series of amendments and precedents over the generations to show the arc of justice bending toward integrity.  We created a country of our own designed to allow its citizens to freely pursue happiness and opportunity, where property and commerce is owned by people, not the state.  We may not have it right just yet, but we are definitely working on it.  There’s a very important sentence in our law that gives us the right to make sure we keep improving as a society.  A passage defining a new and innovative code of social ethics, decided upon by consensus, that guides our ability to act as watchdogs and whistleblowers.  A legal course of redress when the code is broken even when the entire culture needs to shift in order to continue to live up to its ideals.  Remember these things take time.  More time that we would comfortably like.  Much more than a single lifetime.

Who had ever thought of gay marriage when these words were written?  But it’s where we now turn when we don’t know what to do with our fear and distrust.  We committed ourselves through a stated ethical code that we mean to act better, think higher, love more.  Words composed while cool heads prevailed became coded into our society from its infancy.  We continue to look to the words of our founding covenantal documents to find the answers to our most troubling questions.  It’s where we turn when change is in order.  It’s how we know the right thing to do, not just the easy thing.  When we forget that we are all equal, there is something to nudge us back on track with the great experiment we started back in the 18th century.

Amendment I to the US Constitution
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Among the entirety of both constitutional documents, the First Amendment is probably the most profound statement of them all.  The right to Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, and Petition.  No king or dictator or government can tell you what to believe, to think, to feel, to say, or can prevent you from publicly disagreeing with them.  But the government can prevent you from using your rights to cause harm or to infringe upon the rights of others.  It’s the difference between being able to say whatever you want and shouting “Fire!” in a crowded building with the intent to cause panic.  Yes, you are free, so long as your expression of freedom does not harm another or inhibit their access to the same rights you enjoy.  We are all created equal.  And I should remind us here of one teaching of Jesus in particular: "It’s not what goes in a persons mouth that defiles him.  It’s what comes out (Matthew 15:11)."  Hatred defiles us.  Inciting others to exclude people and fear the Other, that defiles us.

Such a unique an idea, this freedom to be oneself!  To think whatever one wishes and to be free to speak one’s mind!  Earth-shattering innovation and risky beyond belief.  What would people do with freedom?  Well, first they would make mistakes.  And they would twist the words and use them to their advantage without consideration of others.  The old ways die hard.  But if freedom is the prime directive of our culture, then even the old ways must be given the freedom to die at their own pace and by their own swords.  Cornered dogs bark the loudest.  And those who are afraid, hoard their resources and their old ways of thinking.  They are the ones living in terror of the old ways dying.  It’s something not to be envied.  We must have compassion for them.  They don’t know what to do with themselves in this new age.  They try to keep the old fears alive even though the world is evolving without them.  And they invoke arguments that no one knows how to debate against, like God.  God has always been the unassailable argument. But as our culture comes to view God as one of Love, we start to use our freedom of speech and religion to object when people say Love yet act Hate.  Our freedom has an effect over time to ferret out the injustices we never even noticed before.  As we continue to grow in a social environment of increasing demand for transparency, it is our Freedom of Speech that gives us the legal voice to demand it, legislate it, and enforce it.

And when those same rights are twisted and used without integrity to curtail human freedom and dignity, we may fall for it for a while.  But eventually we wake up and smell the smoke of it.  It’s time to put our foot down on hate legislation.  Using God as an unassailable argument just doesn’t fly anymore.  You’ll need better ammunition than that.  Don’t even bother.  Ammunition wouldn’t work anyway.  Guns and bullets to get your point across is so old school.   

There is no place for legal discrimination in our society nor our human race.  This is why we built this country in the first place.  When people use the 1st Amendment as a "freedom of religion" argument in favor of legalized discrimination, they don’t yet realize that their case is already fatally flawed by the very point itself.  Eventually everyone will realize it.  All one has to do is say: Prove it.  Please prove to me that your religion prohibits the sale of party pizzas for a gay wedding.  Why does no federal judge ask this question?  Want to play the Freedom of Religion card?  Fine.  Show me where your religion truly asks you to behave in this way and then you may have your law.  And before you start quoting scripture to me, allow me to quote Merriam-Webster (as well as nearly every other dictionary) first.

Here is Christianity, by definition, according to Merriam-Webster:

Chris·tian·i·ty noun \ˌkris-chē-ˈa-nə-tē\ : the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

By definition, Christianity is not a religion based on the Bible, it’s “based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.”  The teachings of Christ.  Did Christ teach Leviticus?  Or did he teach that some of the old laws in Leviticus, among others, were now being amended by his presence?  If Christianity is the practice of the teachings of Christ, why are so-called Christians refusing to actually practice them?  If they were, this legislation would be a moot point.  It wouldn’t have even come up in the first place.  Why do we still continue to practice the old ways when Jesus suggested there is a new way?  Stop worshiping the bottle already and read the message inside!  Then do it!

Rob Schwarzwalder, Senior Vice-President of the Family Research Council, a registered nonprofit with a stated political agenda in favor of discrimination legislation (spun to read “freedom of religion”), says this:

“Yes, Jesus saw the law as unitary (see Matthew 5:17-19). Yet the frequent restatement of the moral tenets embedded in the law, from the earliest pages of the Bible through the last, underscores the permanence of the moral code. New Testament passages like Romans 1 and I Corinthians 6 state, unarguably, that homosexual behavior is wrong in God's sight. Christians should affirm that these passages are as much "God-breathed" as the Gospels and, thus, as authoritative as anything Jesus said.”

Are the teachings of Jesus equal to those of Paul?  Or of those who have since interpreted them?  If God influenced the authoring of the entire Bible as orthodox Christianity suggests, might not the Son of God’s interpretation of Love at least be possibly a little clearer than that of any of the other messengers?  Wouldn’t Jesus have had slightly better reception?  It seems to me that according to the orthodox view, Jesus was exceptional.  In their view, no other being on Earth can equal him–much less be equally authoritative–for he was the literal embodiment of God on Earth.  Which implies that he was, according to their view, exceptional to everyone.  Not just to those with whom they feel theologically superior.  So, if Jesus is the 'Supreme Human among Humans' in their view, why do they dilute his message by claiming that all the other Biblical teachings (including those that Jesus asked us to now stop) are “as authoritative as anything that Jesus said”?  How can they say ‘Jesus is the way, the truth and the life’ and then say, ‘except when he did things I don’t approve of such as forgiving and loving and caring and welcoming those of whom I don’t approve’?  Who are they trying to fool here?  Why do they give the entire Bible equal value to the recorded teachings of Jesus? Especially since Jesus himself, literally and also by implication, refutes much of it.  Isn’t Jesus the focus of the Christian faith?  It is called Christianity, after all.  Doesn’t he hold the un-trumpable divine wisdom card according to their beliefs and creeds?  But by this same skeptical metric we are not even allowed to wholly accept the recorded teachings of Christ either being that he did not write them himself.  So how do we know what to believe?  Love is the only authority.  Not sure what to believe?  Seeing contradictions everywhere?  What does Love say to do?  Do that.  That’s what Jesus taught.  Jesus left us a code of ethical conduct meant to bring about peace on earth.  Eventually.
Jesus told us that the old laws were not necessarily all still relevant.  Matthew 5:38-48 quotes Jesus thus, 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  This teaching could very well be called the “1st Amendment to the Old Testament.”  And like all amendments, including those of the US Constitution itself, it represents a shift from the original document that either supplants or clarifies outdated ways of thinking and being.  Isn’t Jesus saying here that Eye for an Eye should no longer be the model of justice for the world?  Why do Christians still use it to justify capital punishment as a supposed directive of their faith when their own teacher said don’t do that anymore?  Are they believers in Christ or not?  Do they believe he had a message of peace and love for us to follow or not?  Did they believe God sent him to help them become reborn or not?  Did they think it was going to be as easy as making a confession and then no further action would be required?  I take Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior.  Ok, you’re saved now, you can go home and fear not.  Nothing else to do, just relax and keep on thinking like you always have and hold onto the same old fears and prejudices.  You’re saved now, so those things don’t matter.  You’ve done your part.  Just kick back and enjoy salvation.  Perhaps you can tell by my thinly veiled sarcasm what I think of the evangelism of speaking and not doing.  Ultimately its the doing that gives the speaking any merit.  Act in Love and you’ll always know the right thing to do. You claim he’s your savior, then let his teachings save you from yourself.
Would Jesus have performed the sacrament of marriage on two men who loved each other if he were living today?  I defy you to tell me that he would not.  Jesus would not have rejected them as his followers often do.  Love trumps hate.  The man said so himself.  That is the Christ I believe in.
Christianity is not the adherence or belief in the full content of the Bible.  It never has been.  Full adherence to the Bible is an impossible task as defined by its very own contents.  If full adherence is the mark of a “true Christian” then there are none in existence.  No one can actually believe, support, or practice every single thing it says, not only because of the vast number of places in which it wildly contradicts itself, but how it regularly contradicts even basic common decency and compassion: the teachings of Christ.  Christianity is, and has only ever meant to be, the practice of the teachings of Christ.  So I say again: If you think that discrimination and exclusion are requirements of your Christian religion which must be upheld and given protection under the law, please by all means, prove it.  

And so, to help me with my fear of those who would exclude me from their table based solely on my sexual orientation, I will also turn to the words of Christ quoted in Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  And so I do.  I pray for all those who are lost and afraid.  May they find peace and may their fears dissolve to the point where the spiritual pollution in their hearts clears and they can actually hear the God within.  For now, the message appears to be falling on deaf ears.  Jesus, rescue your followers!  They’ve fallen and can’t get up.

Easter Weekend, April 4, 2015