Go the second mile, serve our adversaries

Go the second mile, serve our adversaries

The political shifts of the past several months have renewed interest in First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The central purposes of these ccts are to protect people from legal obligations that might offend their moral convictions or religious beliefs. For example, if a city has an ordinance that prohibits us from giving food or money to beggars, the RFRA restores our rights to feed the hungry or give to the poor as many religious and moral convictions inspire. Also, if pharmacists are morally opposed to selling birth control medications, the RFRA might protect their rights not sell them.

While the RFRA and FADA are ostensibly designed to protect our religious rights and moral freedoms, both of them have discriminatory implications, especially the FADA. This act focuses on limiting the definition of marriage to the union of one man and one woman, and defines sexual relations as "properly reserved to such a marriage." It defends the rights of service providers to refuse service to people who do not adhere to these standards of marriage and sexual relationships, placing moral convictions and religious beliefs above our legal obligations to serve all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

While I am among the religious leaders who believe that our beliefs and moral convictions should not be subject to civil laws, I am concerned that these acts are fraught with moral hazards that will exacerbate the problems they are purported to solve. For example, if service providers, such as caterers, have the right not to serve same-gender weddings, should medical practitioners have the right not to treat people, such as single, pregnant women, who, evidently, have had sexual relations outside of marriage?

To prevent the proponents of the RFRA and FADA from embarrassing themselves and misinterpreting the religious traditions they are attempting to protect, they might consider applying some principles of ethical engagement to their legislative efforts. The ethical concept of "leading function" might be a good place to start. Leading functions define the purposes and scopes of the services that institutions and individuals provide to society. Simply stated: Leading functions define why we pay service providers to do what they do for us.

The moral integrity of the RFRA and FADA engages the extent to which the leading functions of various enterprises allow service providers to evaluate the moral capacities of their customers before serving them. For example, bars and pubs have the legal right, if not the moral responsibility, to deny service to people who are intoxicated, but should gynecologists have the right to define their leading functions as treating only people who have sexual relationships within heterosexual marriages? There might be a conflict between the leading functions of the services and the religious beliefs and moral convictions of the service providers.

The politicians who advocate legislation, such as the FADA or RFRA, are undoubtedly aware of the legal and moral conflict that are inherent in these acts, but they seem to be using the legislation to appease a politically significant segment of voters.

Unfortunately, this legislation is becoming the face of religious discourse in our society, giving an impression of what religions in our society, especially Christianity, are concerned with; namely, protecting people who feel persecuted when their religious beliefs and moral convictions clash with the mores of our society, such as anti-discrimination laws.

However, these clashes do not necessarily characterize the faith of everyone who affirms Jesus Christ as Savior. Christianity, like other religions, has several traditions of interpretation.

The major traditions of Christianity prefer not to legislate moral convictions or religious beliefs, realizing the hazards of reducing profound moral decisions to nuanced legal interpretations. Instead, we strive to follow Jesus, who appealed to the moral integrity of his followers, trusting them to exercise the moral maturity to discern what is best and to act on it.

For example, when some religious leaders attempted to stone a woman to death for allegedly committing adultery, Jesus agreed that they were legally correct, but he appealed to their moral integrity, influencing them to conclude that they were not worthy to condemn her. Also, when Jesus addressed a law that required subjugated people to carry the baggage of occupying soldiers one mile, he instructed his followers to walk a second mile. If the first mile was a legal obligation, the second mile was an effort to exercise the moral freedom to serve their adversaries.

If Christians believe that civil laws, especially those against discrimination, violate our religious beliefs and moral convictions, maybe we should muster the moral integrity to fulfill the leading functions of our enterprises by walking the second mile. We should consider serving people who might offend our religious beliefs and moral convictions, not because of legal obligations, but to exercise the moral freedom to serve those who we might consider our adversaries, or even to love our enemies, as Jesus taught. Of course, until we muster the moral integrity to serve them graciously, we might feel persecuted, but Jesus also taught us to consider persecution a blessing, especially for the sake of righteously following our religious beliefs and moral convictions.

Let’s consider that one Christian response to the RFRA and FADA is to garner the moral humility to exercise the freedom to practice the teachings of Christ.

The greatest of these teachings is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We have no reason to believe that our GLBTQ neighbors are exceptions to this teaching, and we don’t need laws to protect us from fulfilling it.

Rev. Bruce Bradshaw is the pastor at the Arlington Street United Methodist Church.