Paul’s Letter to the Galatians about living in a community

Throughout the pandemic, and now with the easy availability of life-saving vaccines to slow the spread of Covid-19, I have genuinely struggled with how people of faith, who are often in church or other places of worship  multiple times a week, claiming that not wearing a mask, gathering shoulder to shoulder, and now not being fully vaccinated, is a personal choice.

In some regards it echos the philosophy of Ayn Rand. We have seen the tragic results in both Christian and Hasidic Jewish communities when members acted on the premise of personal choice. I know people who have gone this route and infected family and friends, some too young to be vaccinated.

Recently someone told me about a newsletter from St. Albans, a church just north of Charlotte, that addressed the challenges, and obligations, of being fully engaged in a faith community, where the health of the community, literally, is the responsibility of every member of that group.

The message from the Associate Rector is drawn from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

“The on-going and polarizing debate about getting vaccinated during this time of pandemic calls to my mind Paul’s words about “freedom”, especially in his letter to the Galatians. I say this because many who are refusing to get vaccinated are appealing to the notion of individual freedom: “Nobody else should have any say in my personal decisions about my own health.” On the face of it, this seems perfectly reasonable and in keeping with the principles upon which our nation was founded.

Many Christians will point directly to Paul’s words in his letter to the Galatians to support their understanding of individual freedom: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). A mere twelve verses later, however, Paul contextualizes his understanding of Christ-enabled freedom with these words:

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal. 5:13).

This is a critically important caveat that we do well to remember. Paul is clear on this point: the freedom that we have in Christ is not meant to encourage a life of libertine self-interest. Quite the opposite! The freedom that we have in Christ calls us away from being enslaved to pure self-interest towards a life that is committed to mutual love and care for others. Paul hammers home this point with the rather shocking words to our 21st century ears, “…through love become slaves to one another.” Professor of Religion Bruce Longenecker says it this way: “Christians have been set free from the enslavement of chaos-inducing self-interestedness in order to allow the self-giving Christ to become incarnate within their own self-giving way of life.”

The decision about whether to get vaccinated, like many decisions in life, is undoubtedly a personal one, with various factors at play. That said, it is important that we, as Christ-followers, try to make such decisions from a place of neighborly love, and not from a place of unfettered self-interest. Instead of thinking only about how a decision is going to affect me personally, we are called to also give serious consideration to how a decision is going to impact the lives of others. Instead of, as Paul says, using our freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, we are called to use our freedom in the service of others and for the common good; that is, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Yours in Christ,
Kevin+

I hope, as the Rector writes, others will feel called to be of service to others and act for the common good of those they know and love.

Galloway and Wingfield weigh in on the outcry over proposed mosque in Newton County

Jim Galloway and Kyle Wingfield are spot on in their Atlanta Journal Constitution columns today.

Wingfield begins with, “Plans for a mosque in Newton County — and some loudly negative reactions to those plans — pose some uncomfortable truths to people on both sides of Georgia’s religious-liberty debate.”

Jim Galloway, the leader of Political Insider at the AJC, writes,’White Christian Protestants, the religious demographic group that has dominated American history and culture for nearly four centuries, are losing their grip on the machinery of this nation. Even in the South, we WASPs are being supplanted by multiracial Catholicism, old religions brought newly into our midst, and the rise of the unaffiliated and unchurched.”

Newton County’s county seat, Covington, is a popular location for movie and television filming. The uproar over the mosque, plans for which haven’t been submitted, or a construction permit granted, as Wingfield points out, looks like another episode of angry white Christians in any given news cycle. The cameras on location in Covington aren’t there to film stories of fantasy and fiction. Instead, the cameras have been turned around to expose a fear that brings out the worst in people.

Newton County woman too cowardly to claim her own words

The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s coverage of yesterday’s public hearing in Covington, Georgia, about a building permit request for a new mosque in Newton County, brought out the worst in many local citizens, according to an article by Meris Lutz.

Lutz quotes a woman who said, “To say we wish to disallow this project based on religious discrimination … is ludicrous and hypocritical,… They are discriminating against us by calling us infidels who do not believe in their religion.”

Lutz includes that the woman did not give her name.

Think about that- an adult woman took time to go down to the county’s public hearing on a building permit, she said that Muslims discriminate against “us,” but she refused to tell the reporter what her name is.

In today’s America, and especially in the South, when people show up like this over anything to do with a mosque, I’m confident that the “us” she’s talking about are right-wing Conservative Christians. They qualify as one of America’s most paranoid groups.

What I find curious, is that if you aren’t willing to put your name on your convictions, then what are your beliefs and convictions worth anyway?

Read Paragraph Six

I am reposting this post written by attorney Jessica Eaves Mathews. The sixth paragraph, which begins with, ” In fact,” makes several important points.

Jessica Eaves Mathews:
I say this with sincere love to my many friends who are passionate fundamentalist Christians who believe that the SCOTUS’s decision yesterday on marriage equality is an abomination to themselves and to God: As a lawyer, I need to attempt to set the record straight.

Our country was created by our founding fathers very deliberately to prevent the establishment of a national religion from our governance. The Church – Catholic or Anglican – was central to almost every other country in the world historically, especially England from which our founding fathers separated. It was critical to our founding fathers that one central religion NOT be declared and NOT be incorporated into our Constitution or governance. They understood that an establishment of a national religion would ultimately abridge the very rights they believed were fundamental and were meant to be recognized and protected by the Bill of Rights and ultimately the Constitution.

Religion-based loss of basic rights had been their experience in England and they wanted to prevent that here.

The fact is that this decision yesterday was a LEGAL decision about the scope of our Constitutional rights as humans and US citizens. It was not about religion, religious beliefs or religious freedom. It is about equal rights, just as the decisions to give women the vote and the decision to abolish slavery were about equal rights.

Rights are not and should not be up for a popular vote or up to the states to determine. Rights are absolute and cannot be dependent upon anything other than the fact that the person is a human being and is a citizen of the US. If those two conditions are met, YOUR belief system about what is MORALLY or spiritually right or wrong does not matter and should not. You should be glad that is the case, because it would be just as easy for another religion to take over and curtail your rights as a Christian (something that has happened throughout history).

In fact, one religious party believing they know the truth for all humans is how terrible oppression starts – that is how Naziism started, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Klu Klux Klan, Al-Qaeda and now ISIS – the most destructive, hateful, murderous periods of human history have arisen directly out of one religious group (ironically, most of these examples were lead by Christians) believing their religion and religious beliefs were THE truth, and therefore they had the right to take away the rights (and lives) of those who lived or believed differently than them.

Our founding fathers wanted to prevent that outcome. So does our current Supreme Court. THAT is the law of the land and I could not be more grateful to be an American than when human rights are protected. I don’t have to agree with you to believe with all my heart and soul that YOUR rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be protected against oppression or prejudice. LGBT US citizens deserve exactly the same treatment. God Bless America.

p.s. Those railing against the decision of marriage equality as a basic constitutional right are confusing the idea of constitutional (i.e human) rights with certain types of behavior (the stuff they call “sin”). But human rights are inherent in all human beings and US citizens – not doled out based on who is behaving “well” and who isn’t. All US citizens should have the equal right to pursue life, liberty and happiness, regardless of the “sins” they commit. The only behavior that should curtail your constitutional rights is if you commit a crime (a felony) and are convicted. But even then, criminals can still marry, have kids, own property, work and live in our communities. The only things they can’t do is vote and carry firearms. If committing a sin was a barrier to receiving basic constitutional rights in this country, we would all be in big trouble, not just the LGBT community.

How we have failed since September 11, 2001

Tonight President Obama will address the nation about ISIS and any actions that we may take in response to the horrific murders of Americans and innocent civilians at the hands of terrorists.

Tomorrow there will be an observance in my community, and many others, to honor the thousands of lives lost to hate and terrorism, and to support the families and friends who knew someone they loved would never return home again.

Since September 11, 2001 we as a country have talked a lot about being kinder to one another and being a better country. Yet 13 years later this is what consumes us as a country:

  • fighting about allowing two consenting adults of the same-sex to legally marry each
  • failing to take care of the thousands of veterans who have defended our country, many of whom returned with horrible wounds from the Middle East since September 2001
  • allowing private corporations to decided which forms of legal birth control they will cover for employees through company based health insurance because some corporations should have the same privileges as churches
  • granting corporations the same rights as citizens so businesses can pour money into elections and our representatives’ pockets
  • making it harder for citizens to exercise their right to vote
  • subsidizing corporations with huge tax breaks while their employees working full-time never earn enough to break the poverty barrier
  • denying the hard facts of science because profits should come before cleaning up the mess we’ve made of the entire planet
  • deporting children
  • complaining about failing schools while slashing teacher pay and testing our children to death
  • sitting by silently while racism and sexism are displayed proudly
  • being sure we can take our assault rifles into the grocery store
  • we pay for and support violence on playing fields, in the movies we watch, video games we buy, music we listen to, and television shows we watch, but we react with horror when students are sprayed with bullets in their classrooms, women are drug from elevators by their hair, students are bullied, children and women are raped as well as being forced into prostitution
  • too many among us are convinced that their brand of faith should be followed above all others, and if necessary the rights of other citizens should be denied because they choose to worship differently, or not at all

We absolutely should remember and honor the victims of September 11th’s violence. I’m just not convinced we are a country that is a better reflection of the democratic values and freedoms which terrorists intended to destroy 13 years ago.

 

As we gather around the table

Who’s coming to Thanksgiving and what will you serve? Two keen pieces on families and Thanksgiving (FYI Sullivan uses strong language in his post. He’s spot on).

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The perfect argument for higher minimum wages captured in one photo.

And Andrew Sullivan on the Cheney sisters, “Christian compassion,” and equality.