You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14
The land of the free and the home of the brave… those oft repeated words from the StarSpangled Banner have become enshrined in the consciousness of our nation, our selfidentity based on the promise of “freedom.” How many battles have been fought with sword and pen to protect and defend our freedom over the years? Yet this past year has left me wondering what “freedom” truly means. Does “freedom” give me license to do whatever I want to do? Does “freedom” afford me opportunities to be “all that I can be?” Does “freedom” demand my rights as sacrosanct? Or is it possible that “freedom” constrains me to care for my neighbor with more vigor than I fight for myself?
This week, Congress is considering H.R.5, known as the Equality Act. The stated goal of the Bill is to extend the protections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prevent discrimination in such basic areas as employment and housing. The goal is to protect the freedoms of our fellow citizens, surely a laudable aim. Yet, the fellow citizens this Bill seeks to protect have a different lifestyle and morality than some of us hold. We worry that protecting their basic civil liberties puts the moral fabric of our society in jeopardy. To compound the concern is a provision in the Bill that disqualifies the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 from preventing the enforcement of the provisions of H.R.5. Some religious leaders have argued that H.R. 5 puts the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections in jeopardy. If all of this seems rather complicated and confusing, try reading the text of H.R.5! That is how I spent some of my Saturday this past weekend. I encourage you to move beyond the internet commentaries, even mine, to look into the Bill for yourself to make your own informed decisions about the Equality Act.
But for now, I want to refocus our attention on the Biblical understanding of “freedom.” Notice Paul’s description of the purpose of freedom in his letter to the Galatians. Instead of fighting for “my rights”, Paul encourages a sacrificial approach, in which the needs and “rights” of the other supersede mine. “Serve one another in love… love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus taught an understanding of neighbor that stretches us outside our comfort zone, and far beyond our own self-promotion. The neighbor can be the “other” who is different than I am… who looks different… and talks different… and comes from a different place than I do. The neighbor might understand the world differently than I do… and lives in the world differently than I do. The neighbor can be someone I don’t know… and perhaps someone I won’t ever understand. The neighbor can be someone I don’t like… someone I don’t trust… perhaps even someone I fear. Jesus even qualified our “enemy” as our neighbor. And then he told us to “love” and “pray for our enemy.” Imagine using your freedom in such a sacrificial way.
The American Way has legitimized the fight for ‘me and mine’, but Jesus calls us to sacrifice for “the least of these.” Imagine using your freedom to advocate for a man who has less opportunity solely because of the color of his skin, or to help feed a struggling family of undocumented immigrants in Warrington, or to care about the people described in H.R.5. I could make a much longer list of those “neighbors” we at times struggle to love… but I think you get the point. When St. Paul quoted Jesus, he was not offering us a suggestion, but reminding us of Jesus’ command to love all of our neighbors. What better use of our freedom of religion than to love sacrificially even those who are radically different than we are. The prophet Isaiah declares:
Then your light will rise in the darkness You will be like a well–watered garden. You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58:10,12
It is my great joy and privilege to join you in sacrificially loving our neighbors!
With you on the mission field,
With you on the mission field,