Religious Freedom?

I have been hearing with dismay the news from states that are proposing or passing what they call “religious freedom” laws to protect Christians from having to deal with people they find offensive or disagreeable. The notion is that Christians should not have to sell flowers to or cater a meal for or otherwise serve people who hold values that are contrary to that Christian’s convictions. An example is that a catering business run by a Christian should be free by law to refuse to cater a same-sex wedding if the proprietor is opposed to such a practice.

This trend seems at best sad, and a capitulation to the increasing tribalism and divisiveness of our world. To want to be protected by laws from having to do business with people who differ from me seems to make conflict more likely and to decrease the chances for understanding and peace.

But my primary distress over this movement comes from my conviction that Christians are called to welcome strangers, provide hospitality and be servants. Paul does not qualify the call to “look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Jesus does not qualify the new commandment to “love one another.” Monks who kept the door of their monastery and were commanded to provide hospitality to travelers were not asked to inquire into the theological orthodoxy or personal habits of travelers, but were told to say when there was a knock at the door, “Your blessing, please!” and to welcome all strangers as they would welcome Jesus.

We are assured in Christian Scripture that in Christ we have been set free. We do not depend on legislatures to guarantee something we already have from God. And we are commanded to love our neighbor, whoever they are. The desire to be protected from having to deal with people I don’t approve of or with whom I disagree is, I think, disobedient to our Lord and a denial of our responsibility to love and to serve all persons as Christ.