Editorial: And Jesus Wept

The passing of Indiana’s religious freedom act yesterday–along with similar laws already on the books–is eerily familiar to the civil-rights’ era which scarred our nation and still leaves an open wound to this day.  To say that it is not discriminatory flies in the face of human sinfulness (called ‘ethnocentrism’ by sociologists)–the need of one group to have another group it can judge, look down upon, and refuse to serve.

To say that yesterday’s law is compatible with Christianity suffers from the amnesia of history, allowing us to forget that Christians put “No Coloreds Allowed” signs in their store windows.  Racist political leaders, mayors, city council members, school board members, and law enforcement officials belonged to churches, and were considered dedicated members and fine upstanding citizens in their communities.  The Ku Klux Klan dared to call itself a Christian organization.  And in our darkest moments, lynchings and murders were justified by some Christians as ways to solve the race problem.

No, yesterday’s law is discriminatory, because anytime in the public square we allow anyone to be treated as “less than,” we make that square less safe for us all.  History supplies libraries full of evidence to support that lesson.  We are a weaker people and a lesser Church to divide person from person and use a counterfeit claim to “religious freedom” to justify it.

When 5,000 men gathered on the hillside–with additional women and children besides, they doubtless came from every walk of life and all stages of faith.  Jesus fed them ALL.

When crowds lined up outside the house where Jesus was staying to be healed, they had all kinds of diseases brought on by all sorts of causes.  Jesus healed them ALL.  And when he sent the apostles out preach and to heal, he did not tell them to go to some, but not to others.  They went everywhere and ministered to ALL.

All either means ALL, or any of us are only one law away from being on the outside, passed by anyone who uses an ideology, religious or not, to justify prejudice.  All of us are only one law away from being the rejected group.  And whenever that happens, we will no longer like the “religion” that was used to cast us aside. When we are the oppressed rather than the oppressors, it won’t feel like “religious freedom” that locked the doors and told us we were somehow less than the rest.

We are a weaker nation today, and to the extent we have called our weakness “religious freedom,” we are a weaker people of God.  Jesus wept whenever man’s inhumanity to man won the day.  He still does.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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