In-Sight: The Path to Freedom

The April 13th issue of Time magazine featured a look at the various Religious Freedem Acts that are in place in the country, as well as those being proposed.  The magazine rightly showed how complex and divisive the matter has become.

Perhaps a magazine like Time can only go so far in reporting, but at least for me, the articles left readers to figure out where they fall on the spectrum of positions.  I am continuing to do this, even while recognizing that my position will not be universally held or affirmed.  Nevertheless, I want to share where my post-Time magazine reading has placed me.

First, it evokes gratitude for the protection of law.  For example, I am glad that I am protected from waking up one morning and finding someone building a house on my property.  The law protects us from being harmed by others.  And that is a good and necessary function of law if a sense of society is to be established and maintained.

Second, my reading evokes awareness of the responsibility of law.  I am not free to build a house on someone else’s property either.  The very nature of law is to remind us that we are part of the larger community, not free-standing, isolated individuals.  Good laws not only protect me from the harm of others, they protect others from me harming them.

In society, this occurs through personal and corporate civility.  As a citizen of the country, I am not exempt from participating in and contributing to civility.  In fact the very nature of society is threatened if I do not.

In his book, ‘Becoming Human,’ Jean Vanier captured this truth in these words:  “If we commit ourselves to the making of a society in which we are concerned with our own rights, then that society must become more and more closed in on itself.  When we do not feel any responsibility towards others, there is no reason for us to work harmoniously toward the common good.”  (p. 6)

Vanier’s words have become the bridge for me from Time magazine to the Gospel.  He writes as both an astute observer of society, but also as a Christian.  And that is what I seek to be.  So, his words help me.  They lead beyond law to Gospel.

There are many Gospel words that I could quote, but these have become my landing pad on the ground where common life is necessary for society and for faith:  “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).  Based on the example of Jesus himself, these words from early Christianity reverse the flow from “me” to “thee.”

In society and church, my disposition is to be toward the other.  All the words in Colossians are words that put the flow from me to you–from being served, to serving (cf. Matthew 20:28).  Otherwise egotism makes it about me or my tribe.  And that is where judgmentalism, partisanship, greed, sectarianism, selfishness, animosity, and schism are born and cultivated.

The potential peril of religious freedom acts is that they leave individuals and/or groups authorized to decide and encode what “religious freedom” means.  That is a documented failed attempt in history–one we must not fall prey to, most especially because Christ himself is the end (interpreter and fulfillment) of the law (Romans 10:4), and he shows us the way of loving service rather than the way of legislated separation. 

I come out of my reading of Time magazine believing that the Gospel charts my course, and recognizing it is the path that leads to Calvary, not to Congress.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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One Response to In-Sight: The Path to Freedom

  1. J Russell Williams says:

    Thanks Steve for this concern dealing with the protection we enjoy under the law. Although at first, as a Christian, the laws to protect the Christian’s rights might sound right, if applied to other religious groups, such as the sharia of Islam(and might refer to Judaism as well), we would see legal practices totally in contradiction to Christian law as well as the freedoms enjoyed under the constitution of the U.S. As we move well into the second decade of the 21st century. America is indeed a pluralistic society and we must be ruled by law that neither encourages nor denies freedom of religion. Now that may sound divisive but I had rather there be no prayer before a sporting event rather than the risk of having a prayer by a Muslim, a hate group, or any number of religious groups. How we must admit “we are no longer in Kansas!”

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