“Coalition to Protect Religious Liberties Fractured By Differences on Gay Rights” (http://huff.to/1bed7Ax) describes the friction that arose in an interfaith gathering of religious leaders when the issue of gay rights popped up unexpectedly. Mostly this article is written with a focus on the growing pressure issues of homosexuality are causing for various faith communities.
But it got me thinking about the challenge this gathering faced from a slightly different perspective. Instead of directly addressing the actual issue of homosexuality I find myself wondering if it might be more of a ‘presenting problem’ (significant as it may be in and of itself).
By definition, the purpose of this second annual National Religious Freedom Conference was to address a growing concern “that government and popular culture are eroding religious freedom” (http://huff.to/1bed7Ax) in the U.S. All could agree on the importance of ensuring religious freedom in the U.S. and, for a time at least, having this desire in common was enough to keep the coalition together.
But the triggering issue of homosexual rights brought the reality of their differences in belief to the fore. Gay rights may have been one problem but they weren’t really the problem – different views on what is true and righteous were the real problem. Which is why I believe it could have been any of a number of presenting issues that created the friction. Had issues like beliefs around marriage, divorce or gender equality and rights arisen the impact likely would have been the same.
One is left wondering if this coalition is the best way to address the issue. Can people with diverse understandings of what is true really work together to effectively preserve religious freedom?
In his book Truth and Tolerance Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger suggests that, as people of faith, we each live with a “double cultural identity” – our faith cultural identity (in my case Christian) and our historical cultural identity (in my case Canadian). He argues that these two “will never be in complete synthesis.” There will come points at which they clash and when this occurs we are forced to choose which will be ultimate.
Perhaps this is really what happened at this conference. I suspect that the participants shared the idea of religious freedom as an American historical cultural value but when the question of gay rights arose the reality of the differences in their faith cultural values became obvious. For some the question quickly became, “Which will prevail, the faith cultural value of what I believe is true and right or the historical cultural value of religious freedom which drew the coalition together to begin with?” The significance of this choice should not be underestimated for the very future of this coalition and the work they are doing could be determined by how participants answer it.
At the same time though, I think there maybe a deeper question that is worth pondering. Truth and freedom … are they really competing goods? Or is that a deception espoused in our historical culture? Christ promises that the two are inextricably linked (John 8:32) and so, as followers of Jesus facing these challenges and opportunities we are wise to ask if any freedom can really be achieved if we must compromise our belief in what is true to achieve it?
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2004.
Tensions Triggered by Gay Rights Question Threaten Interfaith Coalition http://huff.to/1bed7Ax