Recently, a couple of state legislatures passed laws to protect religious freedom of expression from the incursion of government social legislation. The fear about the law was it would allow religious people to discriminate and not provide services to people whose lifestyle these religious people did not agree with. In another incident, on a major airlines, a religious man would not sit next to a woman that was not his wife. The incident caused enough stir to make the national news media.
The citation of discrimination was levied upon the religious people in both cases. On one hand we have the rights and privileges of one group of people in conflict with another group of people.
As Catholic Christians how are we to navigate societal cultural changes of today while remaining faithful to our Catholic beliefs?
The most important principle is to remember that God never changes because he does not need to ever change. He is the author of all life. Another Catholic principle is that Jesus Christ is the same then 2000 years ago, today and in the future. He transcends the centuries with his teachings and guidance. As God He knew that societies would come and go along with societal philosophies of mankind, the Middle Ages, Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment come to mind. Culture may change but God does not.
Another principle to embrace, is that we are in the post Christian era in American Culture. 73% of us Americans state we are Christian. In 2001 Christians were 79% and in 1990, 86%. In 2012 a survey indicates that only 4% of Americans claim to be hard core atheists. However , 19% of Americans spurn organized religion and the number is growing faster than religions can recruit. 24% of Catholics state they are lapsed.
Why are so many people leaving religion? It’s primarily a backlash against the religious Right, say political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell. In their book, American Grace, they argue that the religious Right’s politicization of faith in the 1990s turned younger, socially liberal Christians away from churches, even as conservatives became more zealous. The dropouts were turned off by churches’ Old Testament condemnation of homosexuals, premarital sex, contraception, and abortion. The Catholic Church’s sex scandals also prompted millions to equate religion with moralistic hypocrisy.
Just because Americans are leaving organized religion does not mean they no longer believe in something. I cite G.K. Chesterton’s observation a century ago. “When men cease to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing anything.”
My angst about Catholics Christians, including my –self, is that we have lived and represented Christ in such a way that has caused American society and culture to become a post Christian society. Thus, Religious people are becoming more and more challenged and pressed upon by an increasing secular American society. Who would think that there would need to be laws to protect the beliefs of religious people in America in the 21st Century. Jesus warned his followers, if the world hated him it will hate them too. John 15:18, and He was the perfect human.
We believe that Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the light. He Himself said he is the only way to the Father John 14:1-7. By definition truth is exclusionary. The sum of two plus two is always four. Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States. Jesus tells Pilate that he who hears Himself hears the truth.
The citation upon the religious is discrimination. Is all discrimination wrong? Is it discriminatory that criminals are not being released into public from their prison cells? Is it discriminatory that men do not use women’s sports locker rooms? Is it discriminatory to only allow people who pay for movies access to the movies? Is it discriminatory that Jesus is the only way to the Father? Or is it discretionary? Discretion requires some wisdom, some common sense and practical aptitude.
Religious people are often seen as mean spirited because they are not open minded to cultural change. The societal post Christian era mantra is that God loves everyone and we must all coexist. Society today says that you are to be open minded. We as Christians cannot be so open minded where our brains fall out. Everyone can be wrong but not everyone can be right.
As religious people we believe in Jesus Christ is the light and truth. How best can we be Christ light for others? First we must love all people but not the sins that people commit. All people are to be loved believers and non-believers.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Next we must not be discriminatory but we must be discretionary. Our guiding principle is the prescriptions of Christ. Scripture guides us to be as sharp as serpents and gentle as doves. Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
How do you accomplish both of being wise, discretionary and committed to the truth but not come off as close minded, arrogant, prideful and non-welcoming? It was exactly the line that Jesus walked in his day.
Let me cite a few scripture passages to help shed light.
Jesus made it a point to visit with sinners and the rejected. He became one with them not one with their sin. He says the ill need a doctor (Mat. 9:12) The religious leaders of his time were troubled by this behavior. Was Jesus scandalizing the religious leaders? … Certainly not! The religious leaders too needed to be taught a lesson about God. God demands mercy before the prescriptions of the Jewish law. In this case Jesus was using discretion to sinners and to the religious leaders he quotes Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Cause no-one harm by our example. This is using discretion. St. Paul talks about the eating of Jewish unclean foods. He says the Christ has made all foods clean. However if the eating of the unclean foods causes neighbors to be scandalized then it is proper not to eat the unclean foods before them. Romans 14.
Jesus asked the religious leaders is it appropriate to heal on the Sabbath or to do harm? Luke 14. Practically speaking Jesus knew that the religious leaders would rescue an ass that may have fallen into a well why not do good on the Sabbath for ones neighbor in need.
The Good Samaritan parable speaks about balancing practicality, religious prescriptions and discretion. The neighbor in need was relieved by an outcast. Two of the notable people of the time passed the neighbor in need because of religious rules that had really nothing to do with the love of God. Luke 10:25-37 The Samaritan was practical, there was nothing said about his love of God. He saw a neighbor in need and served him.
There are many more examples in scripture and Christian tradition to help us navigate societal pressure, to contradict our faith. I leave with one last final thought influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas. In order to be wise and discretionary with another who does not hold the same Catholic values as you do is to remember that one cannot do the right thing if one does not know what the right thing is. We therefore can be the only Bible another will ever see. Looking at the results and trends in our American post Christian era today the charism of a Mother Theresa or St. Francis has much to accomplish with us believers. Praying for the laying on of their hands upon our spirit (chirothesia) is the prescription I would suggest.