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A Sad Day for Religion—Rick Warren and the Letter to the President

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Dated July 1, 2014 a letter written by conservative religious (largely Protestant, along with Roman Catholic) leaders in the shadow of the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby’s tells us so much about what is wrong (and potentially right) about religion as practiced in these United States.

Here’s the Wrong:

Religion is an excuse to discriminate because, hey, my right to be a bigot is sincerely held and religiously sanctioned. As critics of organized religion have been claiming for centuries and more, that’s what religions are all about—discrimination, and worse, against others who look, act, and believe differently. As a religious leader with sincerely held religious beliefs, I know that to be a simplistic criticism of religion. I think it is narrow-minded and wrong.

What is so troubling about the current political rhetoric and posturing is that religions leaders seem to be getting on board with it. They seem to be hell-bent on showing us that religion does indeed stand for promoting and engaging in discrimination. Read this central claim from the Warren letter:

"Without a robust religious exemption…this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom."

Really? That’s astounding. Unless the government provide for the rights of religious organizations to discriminate against anybody they choose when it comes to hiring, then our national “common good” and “unity” will suffer, as will our “religious freedom.” Unless organizations have the “religious freedom” to discriminate at will, then the whole USA suffers. Hmm.

It’s a sad day when the government has to teach religious leaders a civics lesson. People and organizations are, for sure, at liberty to say and believe and promote virtually anything they want to. That’s what makes the US great. But to actually do anything they want? No, that’s another story. It’s religion at its worst that wants to and tries to harm others in the name of religion. It’s government at its worst that supports such harmful action. That’s among the reasons why the recent Supreme Court ruling is so troubling and why this letter is so troubling.

Here’s the Right (as in, opposite of Wrong):

Warren and the other religious leaders state in their letter to the POTUS, “We have great appreciation for your commitment to human dignity and justice, and we share those values with you.” Great.

They continue, “With respect to the proposed executive order, we agree that banning discrimination is a good thing. We believe that all persons are created in the divine image of the creator, and are worthy of respect and love, without exception.” Now that sounds like they’re paraphrasing Jesus. What did Jesus say? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Good for them! I wish they had remembered that and continued doing so throughout the letter, “without exception.”

Now, what is the beef that Warren and the co-signers have with the POTUS? It has to do with, as they put it, “LGBT employment policies.” Now, what does Jesus have to say about LGBT employment policies? Absolutely nothing.

But let’s take this one or two steps further. What does Jesus have to say about LGBT anything or anyone? Absolutely nothing. Now, what does Jesus have to say about discrimination and economic justice? A whole, whole lot! Try to read the Gospels without running into story after story about Jesus breaking through boundaries of discrimination—against women or outcasts or foreigners, etc. And try to read the Gospels without reading about how Jesus tells those in power, those who use law and custom to stiff others, to stop it. You can’t.

Or maybe you can. If you’re goal is to use religion to discriminate. Which is why this letter is so sad.

Here’s to what is right with the letter. Here’s to what is right with religion. Let’s pray that those impulses and beliefs and actions which Jesus taught and modeled so emphatically win the day. Let’s pray, and act accordingly to make it so, that the peacemakers—those who work to make us all whole—will indeed be blessed, and through their work will be a blessing to all of us. That’s religion at its best! Jesus said so.

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