Freedom of Religion in Indiana

Religion is under attack in America. It has been for a long time. But recently, it is specifically the Christian Faith that has been targeted. The classic example is secularizing Christmas; stripping Christ from the celebration with the use of “Xmas.” Yes. I realize that among scholars this a practice dating back hundreds of years and has nothing to do with secularization. X represents the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet, “Chi”, and has long stood as a symbol for Christ. Therefore, Christmas and Xmas are actually the same—both of them meaning “Christ Mass.” But that’s not the point. The issue is that today it is not just Christian scholars who are using Xmas. So are non-Christians and even non-believers. It’s a little like a family—I can say anything I want about my sister, but you can’t. Infantile? Without question. But there are other, even greater onslaughts against religion.

In more recent years, marriage has become the weapon of choice for attacking the Christian Faith. Everyone knows that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The Bible never says that, but it implies it. In recent years there have been feeble attempts to fight back with slogans such as, “It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” But if homosexuality is the great sin against God that many Christians believe, we need more than slogans. We must fight back with all the ammunition in our arsenal. Enter the great State of Indiana and Governor Mike Pence.

Pence just signed legislation that guarantees the free practice of religion. Bakeries, florists, dress makers, tux shops and photographers, will not be forced to support same-sex marriage. And indeed, why should they consort with sinners? Indiana had to take a stand. Before this legislation was passed and signed by the governor, every same sex couple in Indiana sought out anti-LGBT establishments to provide the food and decorations, etc. for their wedding ceremonies. Why couldn’t they just patronize gay establishments? We needed this law.

There is another, even more important, dimension to this crisis. Indiana is evangelical territory. As such they always ask the question WWJD? Well, what would Jesus do? Better yet, what
did Jesus do?

Jesus frequented the company of prostitutes. I don’t mean that he slept with them. But they did hang out together and share a few drinks. And when it came to tax collectors, Jesus did more than drink. He enjoyed their lavish meals, even though other religious leaders criticized him for it. And let’s not forget the lepers. Jesus not only allowed them to approach him, he reached out and touched them, thus making even the Son of God unclean according to the religious laws of his day.

Does this mean that Jesus endorsed the activities of tax collectors or the life-styles of prostitutes? Of course not. But he did fraternize with them. More importantly he did not condemn them or shun them. As for the lepers, they did not choose their situation and Jesus embraced them for who they were.

On the basis of these and other things that he did it is reasonable to suggest that Jesus would have attended gay weddings. He would have enjoyed the company and the food. He would have shared in the toast and maybe even danced with the two brides. Who knows? Maybe he did. The Gospels certainly do not say that he didn’t.

Hmmm! I may have been terribly wrong about the Indiana legislature and Governor Pence. As it turns out this law is not about the free practice of religion. It is about the free practice of prejudice, bigotry and hate. There is, after all, another way to view the current situation of religion in America. Christianity is, indeed, under attack. But the threat comes from within.

Many Christians have lost sight of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. Whatever answer one offers to the question WWJD, Jesus certainly would not be supporting legislation that condemns, discriminates and pushes people to the margins of society.

This new Indiana law is not so much anti-LGBT as it is anti-Gospel and anti-Jesus. The irony would be comic if it were not so extreme. Every serious scholar acknowledges that Jesus never appeared in ancient America. But there is a new question today: “Will Jesus ever appear in Indiana?”

Burn a Koran--Let's think again

Although the website for the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida lists ten reasons for burning the Koran, it basically comes down to one: the Koran is not the Bible and so it is not consistent with Christian teaching. Well...

In 1960, Stanley Kubrick directed a superb film entitled "Inherit the Wind". It is based on a 1955 play of the same name that fictionalizes the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925. The trial involved a high school teacher accused of teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in his science class contrary to Tennessee law.

The most dramatic scene in the film occurs when defense attorney, Henry Drummond, calls the prosecutor, Matthew Harrison Brady, to the stand. In one exchange, Drummond says the following: "The Bible is a book. It's a good book, but it is not the only book." Far from being a gratuitous comment (Drummond was not commenting on the mere existence of other literary volumes), his declaration attempts to identify that the Bible is not the only source of truth in our lives. This idea should be self-evident. After all, no new writings have been added to the Bible in almost 2000 years, yet new discoveries continue to impact human life on a regular basis. Nonetheless, it is still difficult for fundamentalist Christians to grasp this fundamental concept. It is far easier to reside in a simplistic world of easy answers to complex questions, especially if one can attribute those answers to God's revealed word. The fact that those who claim to interpret the Bible literally are, themselves, given to an interpretive process need not disturb the simple-minded.

The basic truth for such people is that any religion other than Christianity is false. In spite of the fact that Jesus was, himself, a Jew, even modern day Jews are expected to convert to Christianity or be damned. Recently, at a wedding reception for a Catholic who married a Buddhist, I sat next to a Missouri Synod Lutheran who blatantly told me that anyone who was not a Christian was going to hell. From this perspective, not only are other religions false, but it becomes an easy leap to claim that they are the work of the devil, as Dove World Outreach has claimed of Islam. Never mind that there is wonderful truth in Islam that is quite in keeping with the principles of Christianity or that there are millions of Muslims who coexist peacefully with non-Muslims.

One obvious problem is viewing Islam only as an Arab religion and identifying it only with the Middle East Even worse, is suggesting that Islam is coterminous with terrorism. As others have pointed out, the largest Islamic country in the world is Indonesia, half-way around the world from the Middle East, and in that country Muslims have coexisted with Christians, Buddhists and Hindus for generations. It is true that Islam does not acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, reducing him, as Christians would call it, to the stature of merely a prophet. Yet Islam traces its roots back to Abraham and the Koran teaches much of the same morality found in the Bible.

I suspect that Dove World Outreach and similar groups are not really afraid that Islam engenders and supports terrorism or even that it is the work of the devil. The real fear is that Islam challenges their Christian faith, a faith that is as superficial as it is bigoted. Having long ago surrendered their intellects to a literal interpretation of the Bible, they no longer have a reason to think and so have no response to people of other faiths. This uneducated and myopic vision of Christianity prevents them even from engaging in discussion and dialogue. Such fear of ideas eerily recalls the Nazis burning any books that did not adhere to the "German spirit" and the ideology of the Third Reich. Perhaps it is not so surprising that Dove Outreach should use the same strategy. And just as in the book-burning campaign of the Nazis, the press will dutifully be on hand to broadcast the Koran burning as if it were real news.

What concerns me most about Dove World Outreach and similar groups is not their fundamentalism, their ignorance nor even their bigotry. What concerns me most is that campaigns such as "Burn a Koran" take place in the United States, a country that was founded on religious freedom. These actions allow fear and ignorance to triumph over tolerance. Left unchallenged, they destroy the basic ideals of the American Constitution.