Indiana’s new law and the succeeding uproar – my thoughts

Unless you are one who doesn’t pay any attention whatsoever to news on a national level, I’m pretty sure that you have at least heard something about a law that Indiana passed late last week and the succeeding uproar from different groups regarding that law.  This law is Indiana’s own Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In the uproar, there have been accusations leveled that this legislation will allow individuals, institutions, and businesses to discriminate against a particular group of individuals, like allowing a bakery who bakes wedding cakes to refuse to provide service to a same-sex couple.  On the other side, Governor Mike Pence and Republican state legislators who supported this bill state that it would not allow any such discrimination and that, in fact, they say, this piece of legislation is modeled after the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act which was signed into law by President Clinton back in 1993.

There is a lot of rhetoric from different groups, both for and against this law, rhetoric that alludes to absolutes, and what this piece of legislation means.  So, I did what I typically do in these types of situations – I went to the actual pieces of legislation.  I wanted to look at the actual language contained in both.  And here is what I found.  Yes, Governor Pence, Indiana’s legislation is modeled on the 1993 RFRA, but there is one important addition your legislation has.  Second, there are different motivations for the passing of each of these acts.

This important addition is found in section 3 of Indiana’s law where it describes what is included in the term “exercise of religion.”  Here is what it says: “The term includes a person’s ability to: (1) act; or (2) refuse to act; in a manner that is substantially motivated by the person’s sincerely held religious belief, regardless of whether the religious belief is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”  Given the fact that this law gives personhood to a business entity, to me, this wording would indeed open the door to a business owner refusing service, in another word, discriminate, to a particular group based upon his/her religious convictions, even though the request for a particular service, like baking a wedding cake, is one the business offers.  (I very intentionally say a “service the business offers.”  This means that someone could not go into a Jewish meat business, demand that business sell him pork, when that is not something that particular business offers.)

Second, this wording speaks to the motivation for this law, which is different than the stated reason for the 1993 RFRA.  Because of this language, I believe it is clear that the motivation for this law is found in the reaction to recent cases from others states (CO, OR, NM come to mind) where a Christian business owner has refused a service, normally provided to heterosexual couples, to a homosexual couple.  That is why “refuse to act” is included in this law.  This is different from the motivation behind the 1993 RFRA which is stated in the Congressional Findings that “in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) the Supreme Court virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion.”  Therefore, the purpose behind the Act was to “to restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened.”

The 1990 SCOTUS decision in the Employment Division v. Smith changed the test requirements which had been adopted in the Sherbert v. Verner decision.  The elements of this test from this decision had 4 criteria.   According to the test, first the court has to determine:

1. whether the person has a claim involving a sincere religious belief, and

2. whether the government action is a substantial burden on the person’s ability to act on that belief.

Secondly, the government must prove that:

1. it is acting in furtherance of a “compelling state interest”; and

2. it has pursued that interest in the manner least restrictive, or least burdensome, to religion.

So, the motivation, as stated at the beginning of the RFRA was to re-establish this test, in response to the 1990 decision from Employment Division v. Smith which severely lessened the need for the government to demonstrate a “compelling state interest.”  That is different from the motivation behind Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Because of the differences of motivation and the inclusion of “refuse to act,” it is easy to come to the logical conclusion that Indiana’s new law was created for the purpose of protecting a business owner who, due to religious grounds/convictions, wanted to refuse service to a same sex couple, or in other word, discriminate.  Hence the uproar at the passage of this piece of legislation.

“As He is, so are we in this world”

There is a passage that the Apostle John writes in his first epistle that has incredible implications for us who are saints.  (A saint is one who is called, meaning, has believed, by God)  The passage is from chapter 4, verses 7-19 (my translation)

“Brothers, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who is loving has been born from God and knows God.  The one who is not loving has not known God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest in us, that God sent His only unique Son into the world that we should live through Him.  In this is love, not because we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son, a means by which sins are forgiven, for our sins.  Beloved, if in this way God loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has beheld God at any time.  If we should love one another, though, God abides in us and His love is in us, having been perfected.  In this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He gave from His Spirit to us.  And we have seen and testify that the Father sent the Son, savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.  And we know and have believed the love which God has in us.  God is love, and the one abiding in love abides in God and God abides in him.  In this, love has been perfected with us, that we should have boldness in the day of judgment, because just as He is, we also are in this world.  There is not fear in love because perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment, and the one who fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because He first loved us.”

There is a HUGE implication in this passage, which John wraps it up in one particular statement: “…as God is, so also are we in this world.”  Because of the mutual abiding reality of those who have believed (God abiding in us and us abiding in God), even though no one has seen God at any time, when a person looks upon us, they should see and experience the nature of God because God is abiding in us.

Notice John didn’t say “one who is moral” or “one who is morally opposed to something.”  He said love.

We who are believers are in an awesome position for it is through us that God has chosen to have His nature flow.  And what flows from us reveals how we know God and how we have experienced Him.

Have we experienced His love?  Then that love will flow through and from us.

Have we experienced God’s favor?  Then that favor will flow through and from us.

Have we experienced God’s grace (His empowering presence)?  Then that grace will flow through and from us.

Have we experienced God’s goodness and kindness?  Then that goodness and kindness will flow through and from us.

This is the result of God abiding in us and we abiding in Him.  His nature flows through and from us.

One last thing to note.  Many of the verbs John uses to describe this relationship are in what is known as the Perfect tense.  For example, when John says, “In this, love has been perfected in us,” “love” is in the Perfect tense.  This is significant because this tense means that an action was started in the past, was completed in the past, and has present results.  That means the perfecting has been completed already, placed within us, and we are now experiencing the results of that completion.  So, God isn’t still working to make the perfection complete; He’s already done that.  He is now working to have us experience that completed perfection to a greater extent with each passing day.  We don’t have to work to help make it complete.  We need to open ourselves up to experiencing it and having it flow through us.

I will wrap this up with one last thought.  Because of this mutual abiding relationship with God, no one in our presence is safe, safe from a blessing, or an experience of love, or grace, or goodness, or kindness, that is.

Is today a good day to die?

Yesterday, out of my study of Scripture, I came to a realization about something.  There is a particular quote of Jesus that has been spiritualized and, as such, the force of what Jesus said has been greatly mitigated.  It is a quote which is found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and a related quote is found in John’s gospel.  What is this quote?  “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me, for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:33-35; Luke 9:23-26)  There is also an additional time in Luke’s gospel where Jesus says something similar (Luke 17:33).  In John’s gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, “The one who loves his life loses it, and the one hates his life in this world will keep it unto eternal life.”  (John 12:25)

I have seen many who have view and interpreted these words to be, in some way, speaking about the denial of one’s wants and desires; in other words, quality of life and giving that up for Christ’s sake in order to follow him.  Allow me to share why I now struggle with this approach.

The context in which Jesus said these words is that of physical death, that of his own on the cross. (Luke 17:33 is the exception because Jesus is talking about his return, not his death on the cross, but physical death is still the context because he references Lot’s wife)  By connecting these statements with his own actual, physical death, he is making a connection to the reality that any who follow him must be willing and prepared, each and every day, to give up his/her physical life for Jesus’ sake, just as Jesus would give up his life, and Jesus wasn’t talking about giving up his life in terms of desires and wants, but in not actually breathing any longer.  He’s talking about his followers being required to be willing and prepared, on a daily basis, to be martyrs for him.  He’s talking about a person denying his/her actual, breathing life, not some aspect of quality of life.  This speaks to the commitment level Jesus expected of any who would follow him.  Spiritualizing this statement actually lessens the severity, force, and extreme nature of what Jesus said.

So, if you are a follower of Jesus, when you arose from your bed this morning, were you ready and willing to be a martyr for the cause of Jesus today if God called you to be one?  Were you ready to take your last breathe today if that’s what God deemed would move forward the cause of Christ?  Tomorrow, will you be ready and prepared to die for the cause of Christ?  How about the day after?  Our level of readiness and willingness reveals the true depth of our belief in and commitment to Christ.

As Lt. Warf said in one of the Star Trek movies (the Next Generation editions), “Maybe today is a good day to die!” for the cause of Christ (italics mine).