CHRIST ON A CROSS! Whatever happened to religious sacrifice?
I have been reading a lot lately about religious liberty. It is a strange term in the context of the current debate. Religious liberty has generally meant the freedom to worship without persecution, but this isn’t what is being discussed. What is being discussed is religious entitlement. The entitlement to do as one pleases without ramifications in the name of religion. As a cradle Catholic, fully confirmed, and sentenced to four years to a Benedictine College Seminary, I never read much about religious liberty in this new context. What I did learn about, a lot, was religious sacrifice.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
That is an important centerpiece of Christianity. A God who gave His life so that we might be saved. To be like Christ is to sacrifice. Catholics have Lenten sacrifices. “Give it up to God” is a common phrase that communicates the notion of offering suffering. And Christians have had to sacrifice much through the ages: death, torture, ridicule, persecution, exile, segregation, and discrimination. Christians often are called to sacrifice in private ways, to abstain from pleasures that many others enjoy: meat on Friday, alcohol, gambling, premarital sex, oral sex, computers, motor vehicles and masturbation depending on the brand and strength of your beliefs.
Faith doesn’t demand the world follow your beliefs. You don’t boycott McDonald’s because they sell burgers on Friday. You don’t burn down the Walgreen’s that sells booze and wine and condoms. You offer it up. The sacrifice is made greater because the option to do otherwise is there. That is called free will. You don’t eliminate temptation. You resist it. Faith doesn’t seek crowns, servants or recognition. It demands sacrifice, openness and a grace which is never earned only given.
And it is up to each one of us to decide what we will sacrifice. In my home of Louisville, KY, some of the larger employers are racetracks, casinos, a pork slaughtering house, and bars… lots of bars. If you are a good traditional baptist, you might have to sacrifice the profitable opportunity to work at the casino or track, because you believe gambling is a sin. Many early Christians refused to give loans due to religious reasons, giving rise to the Jewish money lenders of Venice. If you are a Catholic, you might decide not to work at a Walgreen’s because they sell prophylactics. If you are an Orthodox Jew you might have to pass on the union benefits of a butchering job, because you believe swine is unclean — to be honest, it seems like a filthy, horrific job.
But notice, no one if refusing to hire anyone for these jobs because his or her beliefs. If you can do the proscribed, essential duties, it is illegal not to hire you on the basis your belief. In fact, they might accommodate your beliefs, if it doesn’t interfere with those essential tasks. As long as you ring up bacon when someone orders it, you can have Saturday off to observe Shabbat–however you are first up on the schedule for Christmas Eve.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36
If you are a person of faith, especially a Christian, you don’t belong here. And by here I don’t mean on this site, in this state, or in this country. I mean you don’t belong in this world. You are a visitor on the way to another place. People of faith have always been outliers. They are always a little bit different. One foot in this life with eyes fixed towards the next.
You were not put on this world to save God. You were put on the earth so that you might be saved by God. You are here to receive grace, to obtain enlightment, to seek forgiveness. And this is achieved, in part, by sacrifice. Therefore, it should be no shock that the entirety of the rules, habits, pleasures and traditions of this world don’t coalesce with a person of faith. It’s not your world.
Before the Communist scare of the 1950’s and McCarthyism, our national motto wasn’t “In God We Trust”. McCarthy and his ilk used “God” as a way to rain terror upon those who were different and disagreed in the service of a terrified America. It is a telling example of what happens when The Church is used in the service of The State. Our national motto was “E Pluribus Unum” — through many, one.
It was a beautiful notion. The idea of creating a public place where people of all traditions could coexist, even when they disagree. A nation where Jefferson hoped that laws could protect people from the tyranny of the majority. A place where no one would be tortured, imprisoned, or exiled for their creed. It hasn’t been a perfect experiment, but it has worked. But it works on the basis of “public spaces” or “civil spheres”.
Civil Spheres are where people from all walks of life, beliefs, races, and morals come together for common justice. They are places where the workings of government are performed. They are clerk offices, license bureaus, court houses, and city halls. They are forums where simple requests of liberty, transfer of property, power of attorney, inheritance and custody are petitioned. The simple, human request for the same dignity that we all possess.
For these civil spheres to work, they must be stripped to the bone. The spaces should be free of arbitrary symbols that might represent to some a time when his ancestors were slaves. The walls should be free of Mosaic Law lest a young Buddhist fear that her statue for which she burns incense would make her an idolater and thus a lesser citizen. The space should have merely the official emblems of state, signifying an imperfect Constitution that makes space for all of us to in good faith move forward in this imperfect world.
Conferring rights and due process is the essential task for the clerks, magistrates and officials of these Civil Spheres. That is what must be considered by all volunteering, running or applying for these important duties. To a person of faith, any relationship with this material world is an imperfect one. It is one that has to be considered in the spectrum of tolerance and sacrifice. It is a personal line between living in a sinful world and living a life of sin.
But it isn’t up to the person of faith to decide how the civil sphere should operate. That is the job of the Republic. It is up to the person of faith to decide if they can operate effectively and obediently in the civil sphere. A person of faith isn’t entitled to decide what parts of government he or she will observe. A person of faith must ask questions before willingly and knowingly entering into this Civil Sphere. Does the black clerk who issues the street permit for a Klan Rally consider that participating in the activity? Is the Catholic nurse at a public health clinic who makes condoms available to an unmarried young man enabling adultery? Is the Jewish social worker at a prison who offers an embrace of compassion to a molester, condoning sin? Is the atheist IRS agent acknowledging the existence of god by filing tax breaks for a church?
All these people have to make a personal decision. Some choose to make a sacrifice, to put aside their personal belief and distastes to serve the greater civil good. Others choose to sacrifice their jobs in the civil sphere because of their personal beliefs. But, all made choices. All made sacrifices. None were conferred special privileges or entitlements based upon creed. No one forced them to make their sacrifice.
They made their sacrifice willingly with one foot in this imperfect world we live in and their eyes fixed toward the next–like Christ on the cross.