Religious Freedom



The other day I was teaching The Ten Commandments to a group of third graders.  We talked about the laws God made for a group of people who were in need of order.  We talked about how these commandments were relevant in our society today.  (Today we may not covet another person’s cow, but we sure do like their big house.) They were all in agreement that the Ten Commandments were good “rules” that made our society better. However, they all believed that we live in a world where The Ten Commandments are broken every day.  I asked, “Can you  imagine a world where the Ten Commandments didn’t exist? What would our society be like?”  They sat thoughtfully and said, “We do live in that world.”  We still steal, murder, covet, and worship false gods, etc. So my third graders and I agreed that we still needed the Ten Commandments to guide our social structure.

Since those first tablets came down off the mountain, we religious folks have believed that religion and social values are connected. Religious practice never ends in places of worship. It is lived out in daily life. So there is an expectation that when people claim a religion they will live with certain values.  If a religion says, “love your neighbor.”  We expect  those religious folks to do that. If they don’t practice what they preach, the religion itself loses integrity and legitimacy.

When religion does the opposite of its intent; when it is divisive, abusive, and oppressive, and when it appears to be more harmful than good, those of us who our religious find ourselves differentiating from those other religious people,- who happen to also be our neighbor. As long as we fight amongst ourselves, religion becomes a farce.

We fragment again and again. We associate with groups who are like-minded and wish the other side would see the light.

Meanwhile, there is a sea of people out there who are observing us and are asking, “Remind me again why religion matters? Tell me what good it serves? I can go to my yoga class, or my book group, or coffee-house and I can be accepted for who I am without judgment. I can volunteer anywhere and they will accept the gifts I and my friends bring. When I look at religion all I see…is unwelcome and judgment.”  The growing number of “nons” and “spiritual but not religious,” just got another reason to not be religious.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. It’s the day Jesus took his religious values into the public square. He told the religious leaders of the day they had it all wrong. They had focused so heavily on the law they had forgotten the people. He told the political leaders of the day, they could no longer be oppressors of certain groups of people.  He fought for justice. He  spoke the truth. For those who called him Lord, he asked to do the same.

It’s time to turn over some tables.


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