Monthly Archives: February 2014

Whose Religious Freedom?

“While these Christians (the majority in a recent poll) are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, “they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture,”―David Kinnaman

Most people are now at least aware of the alleged “religious rights” bill awaiting Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s signature or veto. I understand both senators and one of the bill’s original supporters want her to veto the bill, as do a large number of major businesses and–get this–religious people of all types.

Of course Arizona isn’t the only state that has considered this type of legislation. According to an article by Jaime Fuller in the Washington Post, there is a flood of similar “religious freedom” legislation in various stages from dead to close to passing both bodies of state government. Fuller even missed a few states in the article like Indiana, Georgia and Missouri. With that in mind, my best estimate is that “religious freedom” legislation in one form or another has been or is being considered in at least 15 states. Why?

From Fuller’s article:

“As states and federal courts have slowly expanded gay rights, groups pushing for increased religious protections have tried to coax momentum in the other direction, through both law and lawsuit…The catalyst for the recent flood of religious exemption legislation seems to have been a number of court cases that were decided in favor of LGBT clients who were denied wedding services.”

I agree with this assessment. In fact, I’ll take it a bit further. I think religious conservatives know that they have most likely lost on the issue of marriage equality. Their world is changing rapidly, and they are desperate to maintain any semblance of control they think they might have on society by playing the “religious freedom” card.

Supporters of such legislation insist it isn’t about discrimination but about protecting freedom. While I strongly disagree with these people, I want to take this conversation in another direction.

For me, “religious freedom” legislation isn’t about religion at all. It isn’t even about Christianity. As I pointed out earlier, there are many faithful Christian people who oppose this type of legislation. No, this type of legislation is meant to legalize the bigotry of a small, twisted branch of conservative Christianity to whom politicians desperate for attention pander. Impotent to govern on the larger issues of healthcare, the economy and so forth, they focus on an issue they think they can control.

If you disagree with me, from Fuller’s article, consider these words from Mississippi state senator Hob Bryan, where the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” has passed the Senate, but not yet the House:

“State Senator Hob Bryan said he was worried because the legislation’s expansive decree would protect all religions during floor debate on the bill. “This bill applies to all religions, including Islam, Buddhism and New Age religions,” he said soon after the bill made it through the Senate, according to the Associated Press. “We need to think carefully about the implications of it.”

Did you catch that? the good senator is concerned because their proposed religious freedom legislation would protect all religions. Of course the funny thing is I haven’t read about large numbers of non-Christian religious people who support this type of legislation anyway. Can you imagine, however, the uproar if a Muslim business owner refused business services to a conservative Christian based on religious objections? Or better yet, what if a liberal Christian refused business services to a conservative Christian based on religious objections?

I recently read a quote attributed to one of our founding fathers, John Adams:

“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”  

And if the religion to which he was referring is the type protected by “religious freedom” legislation, all I can say is, “Amen, brother!”

We’re better than this, folks. Let’s show the world the beautiful side of religion–whichever religion(s) you choose to practice. For such religion needs no government protection.

Blessings on your journeys!

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Woogie Church

One of the things I love about moving to a new area of the country is all the new “fun facts” you learn. For example, since moving to Northern Virginia, among other things, I’ve learned: 1)Highway 66 is its own little special slice of hell–day or night. In fact,  66 made me briefly re-consider the possibility of hell being a real place. 2) Avoid the Beltway as often as possible–unless you have an E-Z Pass–and even then beware.  3) If it snows more than one inch, work from home–period. 4) Before leaving home make sure the gas tank is full and your bladder is empty.

My education, however, has not been limited to traffic flow–as nerve (and bladder) saving as that education has been. My vocabulary has increased, too. I’ve already shared my thoughts on one new word: Christian-ish. Today I’m sharing a recently new (to me) word: “Woogie.”

I learned this term from yet another colleague (I have such fun and interesting colleagues!).  Unlike with Christian-ish, this time I asked for a definition. Are you ready? From my colleague: “I don’t know that  there is any official definition. For me, I suppose…maybe it would be what would happen if “Weird and “Spooky” had a kid…out there.”

Of course, as is the case with beauty, woogie is in the eye of the beholder.  What is cool, creative and perfectly fine for one person is woogie to another. And to me there is no better example of the “great woogie divide” than church world.

Historically conservative traditions (Church of Christ, most forms of Pentecostalism, Baptists and the Anglicans for example) consider the more liberal traditions (i.e., United Church of Christ, Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans and some Presbyterians) rather woogie. And then some (yet not all) of those liberal counterparts point to the Unitarian Universalists and the denomination where I serve–Metropolitan Community Churches–and say to our conservative friends, “You think we’re woogie?  Consider the UU’s and MCC. Now they are woogie!”

Of course the more conservative folk among us don’t think they’re woogie–they prefer to think of themselves as “the faithful remnant.” And let’s be fair, OK? We religious liberals don’t usually like to think of ourselves as woogie, either. We prefer “cutting edge.” Plus we tend to think of our conservative counterparts as pretty woogie, too.

So what makes a church woogie–in a good way? Well, as there is no official definition of woogie, neither is there an official “woogie characteristics list.” So here are my thoughts.

Consider my colleague’s definition; “weird”; “spooky”; “out there.” Using those descriptors, woogie can have a negative connotation, or it can simply represent something quite different–perhaps even in a good way. One thing woogie is not, however, is neutral. Neither, do I believe, is woogie always fashionable. With those thoughts in mind, let’s return to our question, “What makes a church woogie–in a good way?”

For me, woogie churches are inclusive. Inclusivity includes welcoming agnostics, atheists and people of different faiths into full, healthy participation in our churches, as well.  Inclusivity includes the embrace of a variety of social justice issues as resources permit. Inclusivity means an openness to other theological perspectives–whether or not we ultimately accept those perspectives. And just so I’m clear, woogie churches aren’t inclusive to be fashionable and/or increase their attendance and improve their financial positions–although those things could happen.

Now, you may be read this and think, “Wait! Doesn’t that mean you’re neutral–anything goes?” Not at all. Every church has its own culture–its own “vibe,” if you will. And different communities appeal to different people. For example, I pastor a church that is considered culturally Christian; yet we are not neutral in our position that everyone without exception is welcome to participate in positive ways in our church. Most of our folks are not big on cross imagery or atonement theology.  We love Jesus and read from the bible each week in our services. And we read from the writings of other faiths as well as other sources and incorporate those ideas in our reflections.

While we’re culturally Christian, we do not require baptism or a confession of faith in order to receive communion or to become a “voting” member of the community. We feed hungry and homeless people. We march for justice and contact our legislators. We raise money to fight HIV/AIDS. And we don’t do these things to be fashionable. We don’t do these things to punch our tickets for a sweet afterlife or to avoid eternal damnation, either. These–and other–characteristics are simply part of our communal identity. And as much as I love our community, we are far from perfect and realize we can’t be all things to all people. We’re too Christian for some people; we aren’t Christian enough for others. And for other folks, we’re just “right.” You could say we’re both Christian-ish and woogie.

And to me, that’s a good thing…

Blessings on your journeys!