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Photo by WallyG/Flickr. Some Rights Reserved
SCOTUSThe Supreme Court of the United States of America.
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GalileoThe Rev. Joey Reed says he's not among those Christians who want to decide the fates of others, such as when Galileo faced the Roman Inquisition in this painting by Cristiano Banti.
You likely have an opinion.
I do, too. I’d like our opinions to meet, have coffee, and learn from each other.
Here’s mine. The ruling of the Supreme Court makes perfect sense if you understand that the Constitution is the operative document.
The ruling of the Supreme Court makes no sense if you think that the Constitution is based on Scripture as the operative document.
The ruling of the Supreme Court makes some sense, but adds a great deal of tension to our legal, ethical, and moral understanding of the Constitution, a document influenced by Scripture and written by men who were at least familiar with the principles contained therein.
That said, I think it is time for a clear distinction between legislating our beliefs and legislating ethical behavior. We’ve spent far too long on the former and ignored the latter.
A Developing Philosophy of Government
The business of legislating is designed for the common good. I know enough about the Constitution to understand that. Laws are not about making people agree with a cultural or religious position. Our society no longer has the ability nor the desire to enforce the broad cultural norms that once predominated.
For many, that’s a good thing. But for others, it is a moment of panic. It is a time of desperation. And legislation seems to be the last-ditch-effort weapon of choice.
As much as I would like people to agree with me on every subjective matter, I can’t see that happening. The reason is plain: I don’t agree with the growing majorities in society on a broad raft of issues. Should I mount some sort of morality crusade and get people back to behaving like “God-fearing Americans?” No, not really. Because God-fearing Americans disagree on some of these issues. And, as a matter of faith, it can be very difficult to bring an argument that doesn’t collapse under the weight of empirical evidence.
Most of these issues are subjective, which means that interpretation and choice is very much involved. In my way of thinking, this means that free-will Christians (if they are willing to put their money where their mouth is) should get busy wishing people well on their chosen path in life, even if it is a moment of disagreement.
One of the truest measures of our character is the manner in which we disagree with someone. Jesus forgave the very men who killed him. Jesus was civil to the men who were turning the political wheels that meant his death. He saved his anger for the moment when the system was forcing itself upon those who could not resist it and could not comply with it without detriment.
In this country, there are plenty of objective issues that have been ignored for a very long time. We have passed multiple laws to force compliance with our beliefs. Yet we’ve failed to control behaviors that are self-serving to a pitifully small number of people and harmful to the nation.
Deregulation of industry has created an environment of laissez faire. And plenty of corporations are busy “laissezing it up.” This isn’t a subjective issue, though we like to say that we prefer a free society where businesses allow the market to determine behaviors. That means, “whatever makes me the most money must be okay.”
In the current polarized culture, money keeps us from acting as a united people. We are manipulated by one side and then the other. And the ones with the most money usually take the day rather than the ones who are best able to support their ideas.
We loan billions to insolvent financial corporations. We charge nightmarish rates of interest to the future leaders of this country when they obtain student loans.
Is that a religious issue? No. Is is a justice issue? Yes.
So where does this leave the Church? Not where some people seem to think.
Religion Is Not For Everyone
While I would love to think that we are all gonna climb under one big tent someday soon, I know better. And I think you do, too.
Scripture says that one day, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.” And when that happens, it will be because Christ has returned and God has made it happen.
It will not be because the Church has usurped that authority and made it the law of the land.
In fact, the passage, in context, says this:
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
The Role of the Church
I’m not an enforcer. I’m a proclaimer. No, not the Scottish duo from the 80′s.
I’m a prophet. The job is to share the news, to bring the truth, and to help folks to understand it.
Every time the Church has gotten into the enforcement business, it has resulted in horrific mistreatment of the innocent and the not-so-innocent. I see no reason to bring back the Inquisition. I want nothing to do with Pharisaic codes that require people to check up on each other and report back to the leaders of the Church.
Jesus did not die for this kind of behavior.
He died to offer salvation, not to force it upon you. He died to make you free, not to free you “whether you like it or not.” He died for your sins, not so you could sin against your neighbor just because he sins differently than you do.
Think about it: Jesus freed us from the law, and here we are two thousand years later trying to create a new set laws to force our beliefs on those around us.
The more we push, the more folks will push back. Clamp down and people will resist and revolt.
Why is this lesson so hard for us?
Share the good news. Offer them Christ. Be prepared to do so at a moment’s notice.
And be prepared for folks to say, “No.”
The Rev. Joey Reed is pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.