Christian Freedom Revisited
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
This past week, on Sunday, June 26, my congregation hosted our second annual Pride worship service, held the last Sunday in Pride month to celebrate all God’s beloved children, no matter their sexuality or gender identity.
I spoke at that service about what freedom means for the Christian, drawing from the Epistle reading appointed that day in our church’s lectionary, from Galatians 5, where St. Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
This week, on Christian Mythbusters, given everything going on in our country, I’d like to try once more to break some of the myths regarding what freedom does and should look like for the Christian… and what it shouldn’t look like.
If you live where I do, here in Ottawa County, Michigan, you may have noticed lately an increase in banners and yard signs promoting a set of political candidates who believe in “freedom and family.” “Who can disagree with that?,” you might say. Well, if you go to the website of the group running these signs and candidates, you will see what sort of freedom they believe in: their freedom to tell other people how to live their lives. This group, known as Ottawa Impact, believes in their freedom to insist that their religious views control what sorts of books children have access to in the library. They believe in the freedom to dismantle the county department of diversity, equity, and inclusion, because it runs counter to their personal beliefs.
Groups like this, people who believe in “Christian Freedom” (so-called) like this also believe in their freedom to tell women what to do with their bodies, a freedom that found its fulfillment last week in the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Now a woman cannot make her own conscious decision, but the government has taken that freedom from her. This is the opposite of freedom. This is the tyranny of a far-right religious view, and it has no place in our country. It has no place in the church.
The candidate running county commissioner in Grand Haven Township, where I live, has on his flyers his commitment to his freedom to insist that a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl, his freedom to declare the gender identity of children, to erase the biological reality of intersex people whose gender cannot be clearly identified, his freedom to erase the reality of children who do not yet know, who have not yet claimed their own gender identity. This is the opposite of freedom. This is the tyranny of a far-right religious view, and it has no place in our country. It has no place in the church.
In Galatians 5, Paul is clear that Christian freedom is not biting and devouring one another, not using Scripture to bind up and dehumanize others. Paul is clear, right here in this text, that the whole of the law can be summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the heart of Christian freedom: love of neighbor.
And that means, freedom is willing to be constrained by the good of the other, to seek the best of your neighbor ahead of your own personal privilege, or views or opinion. Freedom for the Christian produces the fruits of the Spirit, Paul says in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control.
Sadly, though, as so many Americans work to push their own particular understanding of Scripture into the law of our country, we are seeing American Christians celebrate the way they have robbed women the right of making decisions for their own bodies. And Justice Thomas was clear, he wants to rob gay people of the right to marry. You see, Christian freedom, for far too many people today is, in actuality, religious tyranny.
But it is for freedom that Christ has set us free and far too many people today live under a yoke of slavery. And make no mistake, any form of Christianity which enslaves another human being is false. That was true when Christianity supported the freedom of white landowners to enslave black people, not much more than a hundred and fifty years ago. It’s true when Christians want to enslave an undocumented immigrant to a system that doesn’t recognize their humanity. It’s true when it’s Christians wanting to enslave a woman so that a small group of religious men can control her body. And it’s true when Christians want to enslave the queer person by telling them that they need to be celibate or they need to hide, they need to be anything else than who God created them to be. All of these systems of slavery have nothing to do with the Gospel of freedom in Jesus Christ. And Christianity today must repent of them.
It is for freedom Christ has set us free. And I long for the day that is what Christians are known for.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.