Religious Freedom? Really?

This week, Indiana’s legislature passed a bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101), which is now in the hands of our Governor, Mike Pence. He has said that he will sign this bill into law. This act would allow private parties — including businesses open to the public — to invoke a religious defense in legal cases involving refusal of service. Many folks think that this legislation is focused particularly on protecting refusal of service to gay and lesbian people. The implications of this legislation certainly include, but also reach far beyond, this particular community.
This paragraph is found in the social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” adopted by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

While Lutherans hold various convictions regarding lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, this church is united on many critical issues. It opposes all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. It supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. It has called upon congregations and members to welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their families and to advocate for their legal protection.

 In the spirit of these shared commitments, the day after this legislation passed in the Indiana House, I wrote and submitted this letter to the Indianapolis Star newspaper:

What is religious freedom? Is it free range to do whatever we want, regardless of the possible negative consequences for others? Is religious freedom the “right” to use our business enterprises as shields from people and circumstances that we think might taint our own moral purity? Is religious freedom the unmitigated permission to impose our own moral codes on others and to keep them at a distance so our own moral purity won’t be compromised? Not according to the Christian scriptures, the very scriptures invoked by some supporters of the misguided and so-called religious freedom legislation.
At the heart of Christian faith is the good news that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven and saved by grace (not through our own moral purity or works). By this amazing grace we are set free from trying to keep ourselves pure and holy and are called, rather, to follow Jesus into the dark places no one else will go and to love and serve – to touch, eat with, and welcome as Jesus did – those whom others turn away or whom the powers that be push aside.
The apostle Paul put it this way in his ancient letter to the Galatians (chapter 5): “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
This is the religious freedom Christians are called to embrace in their daily, workaday lives and in the businesses they run.

The Rev. Dr. William O. Gafkjen



18 comments:

Rick Pryce said...

Thank you for your articulate witness. Well done.

Pastor Rick Pryce
Zion Lutheran Church, Lunenburg
Grace Lutheran Church, First South
Nova Scotia

Christine Potts said...

Thank you Rev. Gafkjen. That is what Jesus would do! God bless you.

Bill Gafkjen said...

Thank you, Rick and Christine, for your affirmation. These are challenging days to navigate through in many ways. We really need to help each other find good and faithful ways forward. Thanks again!

Nancy Walter said...

Thanjs Bishop Bill. Well said!

Karen Torrez said...

Awesome witness, thanks for sharing the Gospel! These events have almost made me ashamed to say that Indiana is my home state, but your words are verification of why I'll always be proud to say that I-K is my home Synod!

Steve F. said...

As one of those who would be refused service, I can only say thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks. Your example - especially given your position - is a bright light in a sadly-darkened world. It is *so* good to be able to say to my GLBT sisters and brothers, "THIS is what Christianity is called to be. The rest of what you're hearing is nothing like Christianity."

Tim Fisher said...

Thank you, Bishop Gafkjen, for your witness and work for justice.

-Tim Fisher, ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation

Gregory W. Smith said...

Thank you Bishop Bill. Sometimes the gospel can be an offense to the very people who believe it, but use their bound conscience to justify discrimination. Thank you for calling people back to the heart of the Gospel. Blessings in your ministry. Pr. Greg Smith, Brodgewater, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said! (PS: I'm Jewish. I saw this because a high school classmate who's an Episcopal bishop posted it on her Facebook page with kudos.)

Evelyn Touhsaent said...

Thank you for this article, and I totally agree.

Kristin Luana Baumann said...

I am so very grateful for you posting this, Bishop. We, the proclaimers of the Gospel of love and grace, have to be at least as articulate and outspoken as those who, to my great sorrow, interpret Christianity to be a religion of hatred and exclusion.
Rev. Kristin Luana Baumann,
Sudbury, Ontario

Anonymous said...

That was beautiful. Thank you.

Bill Gafkjen said...

Thank you, each of you, for your positive responses to this. It is good to know that it's helpful for folks across religious traditions, geography, and life situations. We are all in this together as we seek to craft safe, spacious, gracious space for all!

John Schleicher said...

A bold and clear response. Thank you for speaking out.

Bill Gafkjen said...

Thanks, John! I hope you are enjoying retirement!

PattiAnn Mikesell said...

Thank you Bishop for posting this. It will help us all to witness to the Gospel when asked why as a christian we cannot support this legislature.

Anonymous said...

What if you are an obstetrician and a homosexual couple wants you to inseminate them or a surrogate so they can create an unnatural, unbiblical "family"? Is that doctor required to compromise his belief and participate in this act? Or you are a surrogate or sperm donor...are you forced to provide your services/product to this couple? Civil rights are guaranteed all people, including gays. We should not deny them these rights. But religious people have rights to their beliefs and should not be forced to participate in this sin--yes, I said sin. Read what God thought of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Andy Smith said...

Thank you, Dr. Gafkjen. This has moved me in a way that others have not on this subject; very well spoken.

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