Over the past few days, have spent more time than I care to admit absorbing the debates about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act recently passed in Indiana. Suffice it to say, the situation troubles me deeply. Let me not mince words. The situation at once deeply saddens and angers me.
While there are a lot of issues in play concerning legislation supporting the idea of “religious freedom,” lets be honest. The bulk of people supporting RFRAs–especially those potentially giving BUSINESSES the freedom to discriminate based on deeply held religious beliefs–are doing so because they are afraid Christians might be compelled by the state to offer services to same-sex weddings (or some similar situation). This is what boggles my mind. It makes me sad to see my brothers and sisters in Christ choose to value ideological purity over basic kindness to fellow human beings–whether or not one agrees with their sexual identity.
On the other hand, proponents of the right to discriminate on the basis of religious belief are an easy target for criticism. Not to mention, Jesus has some things to say about avoiding planks in our own eyes. If I am being honest, I must admit that the quest for ideological purity that trumps basic human decency is not restricted to the right and it is not restricted to people of faith. It is a universal human temptation. Recently, Richard Beck has written about the tendency for progressive Christians to present the same puritanical impulses as the conservatives they (we) so passionately criticize. A failure to live up to the standards of “social justice” becomes a moment for public shaming. Though not an example from the church, just look at how quickly Jon Stewart’s Daily Show replacement fell from hero to villain when potentially racist tweets surfaced. Now, I think it is perfectly legitimate to call someone, especially a public figure, out for problematic statements. But the black and white mob mentality troubles me. Tevor Noah could only be “good” or “bad”, there is no room for him to be a nuanced, complicated human being with room to gradually mature (note the most troubling tweets were several years old).
Whatever our political perspective, it is fair to say we are, as human beings, naturally drawn defending our concept of what is RIGHT. Obviously, that impulse manifests itself in a number of ways, some of which are more problematic than others (like when you start taking about effectively legalizing discrimination. For the record, that’s not cool). But it is the same impulse nonetheless.
As we move into the final days of Holy Week and meditate on the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I find myself wondering what would happen if we all–across the political spectrum–allowed ourselves to be wrong(ed) one in awhile. What kind of witness would it send if conservative business owners in Indiana said–“We cannot condone homosexuality but we will refuse to shut our doors to gay and lesbian couples in the name of Christian hospitality”? Letting go of the need to be “right” and morally “pure” — isn’t that a radical image of the sacrificial love Christ calls us to show one another. What if those of us on the more progressive end of the spectrum refused to write others off completely when they fail to live up to our expectations. To see people–even those with whom we disagree–as fellow human beings made in the image of God and not disembodied opinions flashing across the screen on Facebook?
In this most dramatic of liturgical moments, it is worth remembering that our faith as Christians is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ, who humbled himself for us to the point of a shameful death on the cross. And we are called to have “that same mind” in us that was in him–to do nothing out of selfishness, but to regard others as better than ourselves (as St Paul says in his letter to the Philippians):
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
“Rightness” never enters into the Christian faith. The role of Jesus Christ in the Christian story is fundamentally unfair, not right. Our Christian faith is one that affirms strength in weakness. It is a faith that finds its greatest victory in defeat. We can’t (and shouldn’t) expect to win every battle if we are truly following in the example of Christ. I’m sure all those who are zealous on any extreme, and especially those supporting the legislation in Indiana hold the convictions they hold out of a desire to be right. But I wonder if maybe they would actually be serving the faith better by letting go–by allowing themselves to give up their “right” to be right all the time. To allow the possibility that they might be wrong. It would certainly win them more credibility with the public and maybe be a better Christian witness.
So where does that leave us? Most of us probably aren’t inclined to fight political battles all the time. But I’m sure we all have those little places in our lives where we want to make sure everything is fair, everything is right. Perhaps one of the simplest ways to live out our Christian vocation (and to embrace the commandment to love one another which we hear on this Maundy Thursday) is simply to let ourselves be wrong sometimes. Not to be consumed with making sure everything is “fair” and putting our emphasis on how to love our friends, our spouses, our co-workers in true humility. This is what it means to have the “mind of Christ.”