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The Wrong Target – A Preacher’s Position on Georgia’s RFRA Bill

IMG_7154With all of the politcal debate raging, I have reached the point where I hate the term “right(s)” with the rage of a hundred erupting volcanos. We have a “right” to refuse service. We have a “right” to marry. We have a “right” to tuition money. We have a “right” to healthcare. We have a “right” to practice our faith. It has become the word to scream when you want to get your way. I want to live this way, so I just yell, “This choice is my RIGHT!” It is played like a trump card to win the argument, but it has become a wall that has killed all profitable discussion. When I hear someone state, “We have a right,” it is like my toddler who throws himself to the ground screaming and crying because he didn’t get a second cookie. It has become nothing more than frustrating noise.

We are so engroseed in getting our way that we are ignoring the political and social discussion we desperately need to be having. Take my home state of Gerogia for example. I love my state. There are numerous reasons why Ray Charles had Georgia and not Michigan on his mind, and currently, we are in the national news for the politcal debate regarding Senate Bill 129, Georgia’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. You can read the current bill here that has passed and is awaiting the Govenror’s signature or veto. The bill’s purpose, according to those that passed it, is to protect people from having to compromise their personal faith. According to it’s detractors, it is legalized discrimination.

Both sides are throwing around the term “right,” right and left. Churches are saying we have a right to say no to outside groups wanting to use our facilities based on our beliefs. Individuals are saying we have a right of access to a business services. Businesses are saying they have a right to refuse service, and basically, we are ignoring the discussion we need to have.

This proposed bill is a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling that legalized homosexual marriage wanting to reaffirm a person’s and a religious institution’s “rights,” but in the end, this bill is redundant. We have two amendments that already apply and accomplish what this bill wants to do. They are the first and the fourteenth amenmendments. The first amendments grants the freedom of speech and religion and allows peaceable assembly. The fourteenth amendment protects against the taking of privileges of any and all citizens.

This bill should be unnecessary because the “rights” granted in this proposed law are already granted by the constitution. The fight over this bill has caused us to ignore the truly needed discussion because we have two sides wanting to get their way instead of seeking a path that both sides can walk together. We are like a couple arguing for three days over whose turn it is to drive their child to the doctor while the child’s fever continues to rise and rise.

What we need to discuss is not our rights, but instead, what do we do when our constitutional privilidges conflict with another person’s. Our constitution gives many freedoms. What do we do when two freedoms try to occupy the same space at the same time?

Our church allows our community to use our facilities. We have had our school bus drivers hold meetings here, local children use our gym for basketball practice, etc..  What do we do when a Bhuddist group wants to use our facilities for a religious ritual? Our facilities are open for public use, but we stand on Christian, not Bhuddist beliefs.  What happens when a Muslim’s prayer time occurs during the workday? Does the boss have to allow the Muslim to practice his or her deeply held religious beliefs on the company’s dime?  Is it discrimination to refuse service on the grounds of religious faith?  Is it discrimination to force a business owner to commit a sin in his or her beliefs?

In a country that has as many freedoms as we do, what are the steps to take when privilidges protected by the first and fourteenth amendment meet in a head on conflict?

That is the law we need, but that discussion is hard, and that is why we ignore it. We would rather scream and kick to get our way, than to wrestle with the difficult issue of how does a pro-life business owners deal with providing abortions in health care, how does a pro-choose worker pay for abortions if their healthcare doesn’t cover it, how does a homosexual couple receive wedding services, should we force a business owner, who holds religiously to traditional marriage, to provide services to the LGBT community, where does the line stop if we force a Muslim woman to remove her hijab for security reasons, is a driver licence effective without a picture of the face, and on and on it goes. There are so many “rights” that come into direct conflict daily, and instead of seeking a solution that respects the practices of both parties, we scream my “rights” are more important than yours.

I want to propose a new discussion. How can we be a community when our individual differences are protected by the Constitution?

I think it begins with respect. There has been far too little respect given to the opposing side in these discussions, and as a Christian, let me say that we have given little respect to others. The Christian hate speech I have heard regarding Muslims, refugees, the LGBT community, Latin immigrants, etc., has often been unbiblical and unethical.  Also, as a Christian, I can say many of us have felt the disrespect of others that disagree with our faith.  I believe that Jesus Christ is the one true Lord and Savior, which puts my belief at direct odds with every other relgion on earth. I may disagree with them, but I can also respect them. This may come as a surprise to many, but respect does not equal compromised personal beliefs.  Respect for and from boths sides is the first step for this discussion to be successful.  

We need to sit at table with genuine respect and compassion with one another and discuss how do we resolve conflict without tearing down one another. Laws protecting rights have almost become irrelevant because our rights are already constitutionally given.  Also, as soon as one law is passed, the opposing side will begin fighting for their own law, and this cycle continues.

Let’s break this temper tantrum cycle and focus on a new and better target. We need to take aim on how to be a community of different individuals seeking to maintain both our indivuality and our community.

Professionally this Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act will give me a legal foundation to follow many of my church’s religious beliefs. Personally, I wish my state would work on a Freedom Conflict Resolution Act or The Community and Individuality Act, giving us a guide to respectfully and compassionately work with opposing ideas and beliefs to maintain our indivuality and community because both are essential to what makes the United States great.

Let’s take aim at a much more profitable target.

Preacher Jesse Colbert

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