The RFRA and Stumbling Toward Goodness

It doesn’t feel like we’re stumbling toward goodness, does it? Instead, the RFRA has made it feel like we’re stumbling into a vortex of harm, division and fear.

The Bible is a library of books about people who stumble. For instance…

The Corinthians were stumbling. Like Jesus’ first followers, the Corinthian Christians of the first century weren’t following Jesus as much as stumbling behind him and trying to keep up. To make matters worse, in their fear and insecurity about stumbling, they developed a knack for divisive behavior.

In hopes of challenging the Corinthians, a guy by the name of Paul wrote to them and said, “A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good.” In other words, Paul said you’ve got something inside you to advance common good. Paul realized the Corinthians would continue to stumble no matter what. They were human. He wanted them to stumble toward goodness, though, not division.

I hope we can stumble toward goodness, too.

When I reflect upon the RFRA, common good is what has ultimately come to mind for me. But it wasn’t what came to mind first. A bunch of questions came to mind first. Like:

Can we talk with each other anymore?

Do we settle for division too quickly?

Do we sometimes choose politics and ideology over people?

Discrimination…can’t we agree that is has no place in our lives?

Freedom of religion…can’t we agree that the right to freely claim and practice a religion or no religion is a gift?

And can’t we agree that our free practice of religion should never result in harm of others?

These are important questions, I think, but none of them is the question. The question is about this idea of stumbling toward goodness, toward common good. Here is that question:

Is this bill going to cause harm or advance good?

I’m typically skeptical of either/or scenarios. I prefer both/ands. In this case, though, I have read the bill, I have digested legal commentary on it, I have perused opinions, and this bill falls in the category of either causing harm or advancing good. Allow me to explain with a few paragraphs and a scenario.

Since I’ve read the bill (with the help of my wife, who is an attorney) I’ve felt there are disconnects. The first ones fall in the category of “giving the bill a break.” One, I’ve felt there is a disconnect in how the bill is being characterized and what is actually in the bill. Two, I’ve also felt there is a disconnect in how Indiana is being characterized in relationship to other government entities who have passed RFRA.

There are other disconnects, too, and these fall into the category of “I don’t support this bill.” Hear me out, please. For one, Indiana has in its Constitution seven distinct provisions for religious freedom, distinct and in addition to the US Constitution. So why is the bill needed? The bill should explicitly specify, right? Right? Well, it doesn’t. The bill is so broad in scope with “religious freedom” such that it leaves us guessing. It leaves room for harm.

Now, the scenario. A gay man and his partner walk into a restaurant. The manager of the restaurant says to himself, “I do not believe in gay marriage. Wasn’t there a bill passed that allows me to deny service to these men?” The manager, supposing the men to be gay, says to the two men, “Sorry, we don’t have any tables available,” though there are open tables everywhere. The two men walk out. They go right next door and are served immediately. They eat together, both of them feeling less than human, both empty of dignity.

This would never happen in Indiana, right?

But what if it did once? What if it did even though the bill, perhaps, doesn’t actually give a manager license to discriminate? In that case, whether the bill actually gives a person license to discriminate or not, the broadness of the bill gives rise to the harm of discrimination. And as a follower of Jesus, I cannot support that. As a Christian, I believe one of my responsibilities is to advance God’s good for the sake of all of God’s children.

By this time, you know my answer to the question: I believe this bill will cause harm rather than advance good, especially because it is so broad in scope. It’s an either/or in this case, because if one person—just one person—has their dignity taken away because of the unclear specifications of this bill, that is great harm for which no good can compensate. Again, I can’t support that.

I want to advance good as God created me to, stumble toward goodness if I must.

So how can we advance good in the midst of our current division? Yes, we need clarity, Governor Pence. Really, though, we need a commitment to advance good from our politicians and the people they represent. We need people who are explicitly committed to good. We need legislation that is explicitly written to advance good. This is where the both/and comes in.

Perhaps we need legislation that is explicitly written to advance the good of religious freedom. And perhaps we also need legislation that is explicitly written to advance the good of civil rights for all people. Perhaps we need both to advance the common good.

Look, we may not walk upright and perfectly toward goodness, but hopefully we can stumble toward goodness nonetheless. With that hope, let us ask ourselves: Are our thoughts, words, opinions and actions causing harm or advancing good? Are we committed to the good of all of God’s children?

In the end, I believe each of us created for that purpose. I believe each of us is created for the purpose of serving people, even and especially people with whom we disagree. I believe each of us is created for the purpose of loving people with empathy. I believe each of us is uniquely gifted to advance the common good of all people.

Can we do that?

– Ross

P.S. Thanks to all of you with whom I’ve shared dialogue on this. Dialogue is a lost art I’m trying to rediscover.


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