As a minister in the United Church of Christ, I have committed myself to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus. For me, following Jesus begins with the Greatest Commandment: to love God and love neighbor. Too often our Holy Scriptures have been wielded as a tool for discrimination and division. Women and African-Americans are among those who have felt that over the course of American history.
This week, with the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, and appeals from some evangelical Christian leaders that President Obama allow them to discriminate against gays and lesbians in hiring even when they receive federal funding for social service programs, an ugly piece of history is being repeated. Religion is being used as a tool to take away freedom.
Discrimination is not Christian. Discrimination is sin.
This week, I wrote the White House to voice my support for a letter sent by over 100 religious leaders opposing a religious exemption that would allow the firing of gays and lesbians in President Obama's expected executive order banning such discrimination among federal contractors. The letter read, in part:
In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow -- and indeed, to role-model -- equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit rather than personal identity.
Last week, a smaller group of evangelicals sent a letter saying the opposite -- they defended discrimination as a religious right. That letter had support from one former Obama Administration official who was quoted in The New York Times as saying it came from "friends of the administration."
Among the signers of the evangelical letter was mega-church pastor Rick Warren. Warren did give the invocation at President Obama's first inaugural, but since then has claimed that the president is unfriendly to religion and has "intentionally infringed upon religious liberties." He is no friend of the administration. Warren's rhetoric has been meant to split the nation along religious lines and to promote a conservative theological and political agenda that places the rights of women and most people who are not white men in jeopardy.
President Obama is a champion of equality. Despite many obstacles put in his way by political opponents he has fought hard battles to make America a place where religious freedom is rightfully protected. That freedom includes freedom from being forced by government or corporations or even individuals to practice religion one way or another -- or even to practice a religion. Warren and his allies are intent on abusing perhaps America's most cherished freedom -- the freedom of religion -- by twisting the law to force their understanding of the Christian faith on all of us.
And I think they fundamentally misunderstand what Jesus stood for.
I recently preached that the true test of a church or an individual Christian should not be an adherence to creeds to or denominational institutions but to the ideal of love. How we love one another and our God should be how we judge the worthiness of our churches and our own faithfulness.
In the end, however, this is not a battle over theology. It is a battle over the Constitution.
Don't let Rick Warren and his friends take your religious liberty away. People of faith have a special responsibility to speak out now and be heard so that religion is not misused to justify discrimination. We should be about the work of setting the captives free.