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I compose and post these articles with only one desire in my heart: to praise God and to offer modest help on your spiritual journey.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

WHO ARE YOU GOING TO SERVE?

I am very grateful I’ve not been denied service. I have not been in a
situation where I was refused service due to religion, color or sexual
orientation. But all the talk about using religion as a shield to deny
someone truly offends me.

Let me start with the most offensive. A pastor who not only denies
someone attending their church but who attempts to put a restraining
order against a couple. Their status as two elderly old men is not
declared nor obvious. But the pastor finds these two old parishioners
of 20 plus years not acceptable. The judge threw this out of his court
as ridiculous. But that didn’t stop the pastor from having his
secretary make a big scene publicly during the service when they tried
again after the court decision to simply worship God as they always
have. This is beyond my comprehension as a religious leader with more
than 40 years’ experience.

I have refused to serve WITH someone as a co-pastor, but never have I
ever refused someone’s right to worship. I can imagine the urge of a
religious leader to deny their services to a sex offender, murderer,
terrorist or torturer. But even with the most repugnant I have known
accommodations to be made to serve their need to worship without
endangering others. After all we even have chapels in prison, don’t
we?

Yes, I can IMAGINE such an urge to discriminate but I cannot imagine
such urges actually being carried out by any religious leader. One of
the problems with acting on such urges is it opens up an endless
stream of those denied. When one first denies their goods or services
to one for whatever reason what stops them from adding another segment
of our society? The act of discrimination is boundless once allowed
to exist at all.

Less offensive, but more commonly reported are those businesses that
purport to discriminate under the banner of religion. What?! What
gospels are they reading? Jesus fed the thousands and it is not
recorded that he asked anyone there if they were religiously observant
or even acceptable to the religious leaders. Those rare times when
Jesus actually is recorded as having refused a request he was
challenged by the petitioner to go beyond the religious rules that
inhibited him and he performs a miracle or an act of mercy and
forgiveness. These particular examples should serve as the model of
how a Christian deals with someone they cannot agree with.

I give a wide pass to differences in interpretation between us
Christians, but I find such concrete examples of Christ’s own action
and teaching non debatable. How many times did religious zealots try
to trick Jesus in refusing mercy? Each time Jesus turns it around and
makes it a lesson for us to widen our embrace and our hearts.

I have sinned in my life and failed to be as welcoming to every
person. But outright banning, let alone publicly expelling someone is
across the line. Have we as Christians simply accepted the concept of
shunning? Is that not something that belongs to an ancient, primitive
and cruel culture or religion? It would seem to be the absolute
opposite of all the Jesus stands for.

Restricting communion is one thing, but banning from the church is
another. Refusing someone service in a business is totally
indefensible on gospel grounds. In my own tradition there was
excommunication but denying religion to anyone in modern times has
been considered extreme. In fact many who could not receive communion
because of church rules were often faithful and regular parishioners.
How could they or any others be denied entry into a place of worship?

For every pastor that bans someone there are more who open their
doors. For every business that would shut their doors to someone,
there are many others who have put out the welcome mat. Which do you
think most bear testimony to God? Ultimately the answer to the
question at the beginning is God. If we are true servants of God, then
we have no right to refuse service to our brother or sister if God is
truly our Father, Mother, Creator.

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