The push for religious freedom is rising. It is coming to a head in Australian politics and is being debated abroad in other western democracies. Support for LGBTQI+ affirmation and acceptance in society and in our churches has happened so quickly that it has taken many of us by surprise. Major problems have arisen, particularly around legislation, largely because we are still trying to get our heads around the changes and what they mean for us corporately and individually.
Church, I know this shift in society has been a struggle for us to come to terms with. Questions are being asked of our institutions and our theology from inside and outside our walls. Our pastors and church boards have spoken strongly against this apostasy, and yet some of our friends in the pews are still changing their views and defecting from the mainstream dogma. Many are leaving our fellowship over this issue, and are either joining other congregations who have embraced LGBTQI+ inclusion or are leaving the Church outright.
This rejection of the Bible’s “clear teaching” is very unsettling to many of us. It’s not that we hate gay or transgender people, it is that many Christians believe that we must hold true to "what the Bible says regarding human sexuality" and that affirmation of LGBTQI+ inclusion is a rejection of God’s Word. It is as simple as that. That standard must be upheld in our Christian churches and schools or the sanctity of scripture will be lost. And so we find ourselves in this undesirable position of fighting for religious freedom. Holding to the truth as we see it is necessary, even if it puts us at odds with the world we are called to love and serve.
We need Religious Freedom
Religious Freedom is vital to our faith. We must be allowed to uphold the sanctity of our beliefs in our churches and schools, or we will lose them forever. If we fall under the public sway of acceptance then we will lose our grip on the clear reading of scripture and on Christianity itself.
So it might seem understandable that Christians are refusing to bake wedding cakes and are posting on social media despite the risk to their employment. For many believers, these things are central and vital to the continued existence of Christianity as we know it.
Except that they aren’t.
None of it is.
Christianity does not rely on specific teachings on homosexuality to define it. It relies on Jesus being the Word of God, the greatest physical example to humanity of God’s love, forgiveness and grace to a humanity that has lost itself in selfish pride and ego. It is defined by the restoration of relationship, between God and mankind, between man and his neighbour, and between humanity and the rest of creation. It is marked by God’s initiation of that restoration. It is patient, selfless and loving to this end, imitating the patience, selflessness and love of God in centring itself in that desire for restoration.
God abides the diversity of Christian thought and belief found in the thousands of Christian denominations. Religious freedom has given us the ability to abide these differences in peace and realise that our union incorporates our differences. Religious freedom has also provided security for those of other religions in our western democracies to practice their faiths without fear of persecution. It should provide those same protections to gay Christians wishing to practice their faith.
We have gotten it wrong
Church, it is time to admit that yes, Christianity has a diverse range of interpretations of scripture as evidenced by the large number of denominations in the world. We accept these differences, even if we disagree with them, because at the core of each belief system is a reliance on Jesus as the saviour and redeemer of the world. Christianity has grown over the centuries, and in recent times it has grown to include an LGBTQI+ affirming theology that is just as reliant on Jesus as saviour as ours is. Yes, it looks a little different to the standard evangelical perspective, but so do Anabaptist and Pentecostal expressions of faith.
When we stand up for “religious freedom”, we should be standing up for what it is intended to mean: the right for all people, regardless of belief, to worship and pray how they see fit. We are free to worship in our churches, to meet and pray in our homes and in public, just as Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists are. This has never been threatened. But at this current moment in time, it is we who are attacking the freedom of gay Christians to worship Jesus. Every time one of us says that homosexuals are going to hell, we are fighting against, not for, religious freedom. Every time we make a Christian feel uncomfortable in church because of their sexuality or fire them from their workplace for their gender identity, we are attacking religious freedom. Every time someone commits an act of violence towards a gender or sexually diverse person, it is because we have fueled intolerance towards religious freedom. And every time we ostracise our gender-fluid children because of “God’s” disapproval for how they see themselves - wherever our words or actions have developed in them such a despair or self-hatred that they end their own lives - we have already destroyed religious freedom.
Yes Church, religious freedom is very much under attack in our modern age. It is under attack from us. We are the ones at the front lines, whenever we condone or advocate for such intolerance. If gay Christians are not free to worship God or to even simply live without fear of physical, spiritual, financial or social persecution, then religious freedom is already dead. And we are the ones that have killed it. If we are going to truly stand up for religious freedom, we need to be the first to stand up for the right of our LGBTQI+ brothers and sisters to worship God as they see fit, even inasmuch as we don’t agree with their specific beliefs. That is the heart of religious freedom. That is the heart of Christianity. That is the heart of Christ.
Russell has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft