Taking religious liberty seriously

The hysteria over Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act is appalling. The law does absolutely nothing that isn’t already done in 19 other states (which also RFRAs) and it has no substantial difference to the laws signed by President Clinton and then-Illinois senator Barack Obama (in 1998).

Andrew Walker:

All that a Religious Freedom Restoration Act does is initiate a balancing test when a private citizen feels that their religious freedom has been infringed upon by the federal government. It provides extra level of strict scrutiny protection by requiring the government to demonstrate a compelling government interest for violating someone’s religious liberty, and requires the infringement to be done in the least restrictive means. Yes, it contains an extra provision that helps adjudicate matters between the government and the aggrieved party, but also between private parties. RFRA ensures that religious liberty is taken seriously in such cases. It does not mean that it will prevail. If the RFRA is good and helpful in cases arising between the government and private individuals, it is as well in cases between private individuals. If people oppose the Indiana statute over its difference from the federal law, they ought simply to oppose both—a radical position indeed.

“A Little Respect” for evangelicals in the New York Times

Nicholas Kristof says that missionary doctors like Stephen Foster interrupt the common liberal narrative about evangelical Christians:

Most evangelicals are not, of course, following such a harrowing path, and it’s also true that there are plenty of secular doctors doing heroic work forDoctors Without Borders or Partners in Health. But I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests.

Likewise, religious Americans donate more of their incomes to charity, and volunteer more hours, than the nonreligious, according to polls. In the United States and abroad, the safety net of soup kitchens, food pantries and women’s shelters depends heavily on religious donations and volunteers.

Sure, it puzzles me that social conservatives are often personally generous while resisting government programs for needy children, and, yes, evangelicals should overcome any prejudice against gays and lesbians — just as secular liberals should overcome any prejudice against committed Christians struggling to make a difference.

The $10,000 question though is: What happens when evangelical practice is presented alongside evangelical belief? Given the choice between legal protection for evangelicals’ work and legal anathematizing of evangelical views about sexuality and family, which one would most liberals pick?

Jesus, the kindergarten teacher?

Collin Garbarino responds to John Dominic Crossan’s “nonviolent” reading of the Bible, or more specifically, his use of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a hermeneutical control:

In Crossan’s understanding of the Incarnation, Jesus came to tell us to share and to avoid violence, and it’s up to us to follow his advice. Jesus the Messiah becomes Jesus the kindergarten teacher. Crossan thinks this message of nonviolence is so urgent because now we have nuclear weapons, and he suggests that some fool fundamentalist will use these nukes to bring about the Apocalypse. But this won’t be a Biblical apocalypse of judgment that ends in restoration. It’s just the end of evolution. It’s somewhat amusing to see that Crossan hasn’t outgrown his generation’s fear of nuclear winter.

But Crossan’s central idea is not amusing; it’s disingenuous. He talks about finding the “heartbeat” of the Bible, but he’s interested in no such thing. Instead of honestly trying to understand how love and wrath can both find their source in a holy God, Crossan seeks to tear God in two. The violence of God must be dismissed as Crossan looks for the nonviolence of God. Crossan says that he’s looking for the diastole and the systole of the Bible’s cardiac cycle, but he isn’t. He’s actually trying to have one without the other. Any heart that only has one and not both will die. In the same way, the heavily edited Jesus of Crossan’s imagination is not the living Christ, and the faith that Crossan offers is a dead one.

This is the same problem that faces left-leaning evangelicals who espouse a “Red-letter” approach to Scripture (wherein the words of Jesus are seen as authoritative and the rest of Scripture as more or less fallible commentary). In order to maintain the fantasy that Jesus can be obeyed in isolation from the Holy Spirit-inspired whole canon of Scripture, one has to carefully redraw the Jesus of the New Testament to not mean what He actually said. There’s not much to respect about that kind of theology.