Can Easter people support RFRAs?

April 2nd, 2015

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” — John 13:34

Maundy Thursday, in a sense, moves the major narrative of Holy Week into high gear. Jesus and the disciples gather into the upper room to share Passover together. They partake in the symbols of their ancestors, remembering the long arc of Jewish history reaching out to them from the days of their Egyptian captivity. But Jesus adds something new to the meal; he gives his disciples the bread, his body, and the cup, his blood. These symbols end up extending beyond the Seder and become for Christians the communion we share together. They also embody the communion we have together in loving community. In other words, Maundy Thursday is a pretty big deal. We’re remembering “in remembrance of me.”

If we read a little farther in John’s Gospel, past the symbols of new life Jesus offers, there’s something just as crucial: Jesus gives a new commandment. In fact it's so crucial, it's where Maundy Thursday gets its name ("maundy" is generally thought to derive from the Old French "mandé" and from the Latin "mandatum,” the first word in the Latin translation of John 13:34). The bread and wine are how we know ourselves to be followers of Christ. This new commandment is how others will know us as we know ourselves. “Love each other,” Jesus says. “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

It’s a tough commandment. Taking the bread, dipping it in the cup, and eating it are symbols and motions we learn early on in our church-going lives. We have a grasp of what they mean, and we grow that knowledge as we grow in our lives as Christians. But this new commandment … that’s one that so few of us every really grasp. We read the words, we understand them intellectually, but that’s not what Jesus is telling us to do. He’s pushing us to get to the root of what it means to follow his teachings. And, because we’re human, we mess that up. A lot.

I wonder if Christians pushing for an agenda through new Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation would see this new commandment fitting into the language of their RFRA efforts. Though even that question is tricky, as public laws in the U.S. aren’t for Christians, or Christians with certain beliefs, only. This is only one reason why trying to dictate religious ideals in very specific terms gets muddy; there’s usually the unintended consequences of such language working against those who supported it in the beginning.

Still, we have this new commandment. It’s a big one. It’s supposed to guide our lives and actions as the primary marker to let others know us as followers of Jesus. Loving others is the mark of a disciple. If we’re not loving others, we’re not being disciples. It’s a heavy task laid upon us by Jesus, one we remember specifically on Maundy Thursday when we study the origin of the Lord’s Supper.

The idea that religious people should be able to pick and choose their business transactions based on their religious ethic is a touchy subject, obviously. The latest RFRA efforts in both Indiana and Arkansas  are currently on rocky ground after widespread public pushback. The debate rages all around us. But in the midst of Holy Week, in the lead up to our revealed identity as Easter people, we should be especially aware of how our words and actions are either life-giving or death-dealing.

We should also be aware of how our public support for an issue lines up with this commandment which gives us the identity we present to the entire world. Respect and dignity are wrapped up in and essential to the idea of love Jesus is talking about. This fact makes it a hard sell to imagine any scenario where respect and dignity appear in an effort to discriminate, to set yourself above your neighbor.

Love isn’t about posturing. As Jesus showed us again and again, and as he reminds us this holy day, love is about humility. Sharing a meal with those you love. Sharing a meal with those who will betray you and cause your death. Forgiving those who kill you a day later. This kind of love, this marker of a disciple of Christ, is our inheritance and our call. It doesn’t mean that we’ll always agree with the moves of society or with the beliefs of our neighbor. But it does mean that we love them as deeply as Christ loved us.

So here are the Maundy Thursday questions this year: when we think of the intent behind new RFRA legislation, does it sound like the commandment to love? Or does it sound like placing ourselves before our neighbor, keeping ourselves comfortable and superior? Are efforts like expanding RFRA bills about gaining power, or are they about sharing the bread, the cup, the body and the blood? Answer those, and you'll have an idea of how Christian such efforts actually are.

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