Walk the second mile

Jan 30, 2017 by

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The 2016 election results have renewed interest in laws to protect religious freedom. Among them are the First Amendment Defense Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Their ostensible purpose is to protect people from legal obligations that offend their moral convictions or religious beliefs.

While most Christians agree moral convictions should not be subject to civil laws, these acts are fraught with hazards. They gained national attention when service providers such as caterers and bakers refused to serve same-gender weddings. However, these laws also raise questions about such situations as medical practitioners exercising the right not to treat people who have had sexual relationships outside of marriage.

Unfortunately, the RFRA and FADA are becoming the face of religious discourse in our society. This gives an impression that our faith includes protecting people who believe that some of our society’s moral standards, such as serving the LGBT population, violate Christian beliefs.

Our faith is not about reducing profound moral decisions to nuanced legal interpretations. Jesus appealed to the moral integrity of his followers, trusting them to discern what is pleasing to God. When religious leaders attempted to condemn a woman for adultery, Jesus agreed they were legally correct but appealed to their moral integrity, leading them to conclude they were not worthy of condemning her. When Jesus addressed a law that required carrying the baggage of a soldier one mile, he instructed his followers to walk a second mile. The first mile was a legal obligation, the second an exercise of moral freedom to serve an adversary.

Even if we believe laws against discrimination violate our religious beliefs, we should muster the moral integrity to walk the second mile. We should serve people who offend our moral convictions, not due to legal obligation but to exercise the moral freedom to serve those we might consider adversaries — or even to love our enemies, as Jesus taught.

Our response to the RFRA and FADA should be to muster the moral humility to exercise the freedom to practice the teachings of Christ. The greatest of these is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and our neighbors as ourselves. We have no reason to believe our LGBT neighbors are exceptions to this teaching, and we don’t need laws to protect us from fulfilling it.

Bruce Bradshaw
Nashua, N.H.

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