Religious freedom? What did Jesus say?

//Religious freedom? What did Jesus say?

Religious freedom? What did Jesus say?

I know my Bible pretty well. I used to read it for personal devotions from Genesis to Revelation at least once a year for twenty-two years. In addition there’s all the additional study I did as a preacher. So when I hear Christian individuals and organisations refusing service to LGBT people because of their Christian ‘beliefs’, I feel like I need to give them a lesson in Bible 101.

There was a time when LGBT people were forced to live restricted lives as they could lose jobs, housing, and promotions if their orientation was discovered. This fear of loss kept many in the closet, afraid of the consequences of being honest about who they were. But anti-discrimination laws changed in western countries to include sexual-orientation along with gender and race. Our societies are better and fairer places with anti-discrimination laws. People are treated equally.

This has not stopped Christian organisations and individuals from treating LGBT people differently based on their Christian beliefs, claiming that religious freedom gives them the right to discriminate, “I can’t/won’t serve you”.

Let me give some examples.

In Australia, a Christian Brethren owned camp site refused to take a booking for ‘Way Out’, a Rural Victorian Youth and Sexual Diversity Project, who’d planned to run a camp for young people experiencing bullying and homophobia. The manager of the camp site said, “Our Christian faith, does not support or include the promotion of homosexuality”.

In the UK, gay couples have been refused accommodation by Christian B & B owners who said, “We are not prepared to have that sort of activity under our roof”.

“After Much Prayer” a Christian paediatrician in Michigan refused to treat a lesbian couple’s newborn baby.

Gay and lesbian couples planning for that special day are finding that some people won’t hire them venues, cater, bake their cakes, take photos, print their invitations or sell them flowers.

Marriage equality has caused even more drama. Gay and lesbian couples planning for that special day are finding that some people won’t hire them venues, cater, bake their cakes, take photos, print their invitations or sell them flowers. And who is refusing these services? ‘Bible believing’ Christians in the name of “religious freedom”.

Jesus told a story (Luke 10:25-37

Actually, he told many. They were called parables and intended to teach a simple but valuable lesson to his followers. Enter the parable of the Good Samaritan. A story that people who went to Sunday school or Christians who read their Bibles are very familiar with.

We’ll pick up the story here

25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

26 He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

27 He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbour as well as you do yourself.”

28 “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

29 Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbour’?”

30- Jesus answered by telling a story.

The story is of a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, which was notoriously dangerous. So much so, that it was known as the “Way of Blood”. Like many others, he was attacked, robbed and beaten by thieves and left wounded by the roadside. A priest passes by, sees him, and then crosses to the other side of the road. Then a Levite, religious man showed up; he also avoids the injured man, making a conscious decision not to help.

The third person to appear is a Samaritan. Yes, that meant they were from a geographical place, Samaria, but it also meant so much more. It’s hard for us to comprehend exactly what this meant unless we understand the background and tells us why Jesus chose the Samaritan in this parable. It was not like Sydney versus Melbourne or East Coast versus West Coast rivalry, the word Samaritan was loaded with many centuries of intense religious, tribal, political and ethnic hatred, hostility and bitterness. Samaritans were hated by the Jews even more than their Roman oppressors. A modern day equivalent would be the Catholic/Protestant conflict in Ireland or the constant conflict between Sunnie and Shiite Muslims. So intense was the Jews hatred of the Samaritans that they would add miles and miles to their journeys in order to completely avoid going through the area and having any contact with them. The Jews referred to Samaritans as “dogs” and “half-breeds”.

The first two men who passed by were just like Jesus’ audience and also like the religious scholar who stood up with a question to test Him. It was the despised Samaritan man who took the beaten man, tendered to his wounds, found him lodging to recuperate and covered ongoing expenses. The parable must have made it decidedly uncomfortable for the self-righteous Jewish leaders.

Jesus then asks

36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers?”

37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religious scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

The radical “Christian love” that Jesus talked about in this story means treating others with kindness and helping them when they needed it. Baking a cake for their wedding is not a huge ask.

The message is clear. The first two religious passer-by’s had the opportunity to demonstrate “love your neighbour as well as you do yourself” but chose to reject the opportunity. They are rightly perceived as arrogant, elitist, self-righteous.

The radical Christian love for your fellow man, that Jesus talked about in this story, means treating others with kindness and helping them when they needed it. Baking a cake for a wedding is not a huge ask.

I’m not sure how any Christian can read this well-known parable and then cry “I want religious freedom. Because of my beliefs I can’t hire you a venue, cater for your wedding, bake your cake, take photos, print your invitations or do your flowers”.

Jesus also gave other directions to Christians who want to claim “religious freedom”.

“If anyone hits you on one cheek, let him hit the other one too; if someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well”. Luke 6:29

“Give to everyone who asks you for something, and when someone takes what is yours, do not ask for it back. Do for others just what you want them to do for you”. Matthew 5:42

One last thing. 

In Galatians 5:22-23 Christian’s are encouraged to be filled with God’s Spirit and then their lives will demonstrate the character of God. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these”.

Love, kindness, goodness and humility NOT rejection, nastiness, self-righteousness, arrogance.

If marriage equality has created anything, it has created another opportunity for Christians to actually BE Christians and embody the true meaning of the Christian message. When beliefs trump simply loving others, then the essence of true Christianity has been lost.

© Anthony Venn-Brown

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By | 2017-11-15T22:58:18+00:00 November 14th, 2017|Categories: Church|Tags: |4 Comments

About the Author:

Anthony Venn-Brown

Anthony Venn-Brown is one of Australia’s foremost commentators on faith and sexuality. His best-selling autobiography ‘A Life of Unlearning – a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith‘, detailing his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s growing mega-churches, such as Hillsong, to living as an openly gay man, has impacted 1,000’s globally. Anthony was the co-founder and former leader of Freedom 2 b[e], Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony is the founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International and has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009).

4 Comments

  1. William Sillyman November 14, 2017 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    Thank you Anthony. I hope you don’t mind, I use many of the posts you send when I run into the people whom you describe. It makes them stop and think.
    Many times I so wish you were not half a world away. We could talk for hours and probably solve the worlds problems very quickly. Lol. Thanks again. If you ever make it to America, please let me know, I would love to meet you in person.

    • Anthony Venn-Brown
      Anthony Venn-Brown November 14, 2017 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      Thanks William……it thrills my heart to know that the work I put into these posts is being of value around the world and being recycled.

  2. Ian Horner November 14, 2017 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Anthony — so elegantly and simply put! And this is the perfect day to say it.

    • Anthony Venn-Brown
      Anthony Venn-Brown November 14, 2017 at 10:41 pm - Reply

      thanks for your encouragement Ian and sharing the post. And yes this is the perfect day to be reminded what #ReligiousFreedom is really all about.

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