Posted by: dacalu | 12 June 2018

Service to All: Christianity

In my last post, I argued from American law and civil ethics that businesses should provide their services to all comers (within the bounds of the law). Now I would like to present the argument from Christian theology.

The Christian Gospels are surprisingly clear in their expectation that Christians will be kind and helpful to all – good and bad, Jews and gentiles, Christians and non-Christians. I don’t know how to be clearer than this extended passage from Matthew (5:38-48).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Luke 27-38 says much the same thing: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

We are told not to judge, lest we ourselves be judged (Matthew 7:1). God will sort out the good from the evil (Matthew 13:24-43). Our job is only to serve all. In fact, we are to treat others as we wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12).

Some Christians argue that this only applies to Christians, but Jesus explicitly extends it to religious outsiders (Luke 10:25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan) and those who waste their gifts (Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son). Jesus forgives the people who have sent him to torture and death (Luke 23:34).

The rest of the New Testament amplifies this message of returning good for evil. (Romans 12:14-21; I Thessalonians 5:15; I Peter 8-13). God gives to all; so should we.

Other Christians argue that we should not encourage evil doers in their evil-doing. I agree as far as this goes, but it comes nowhere near refusing to aid them until they stop doing evil (John 1:10-13; Romans 5:8). God served first, so that we might repent. Christians are called to serve preemptively. The only way to serve God is to serve others and the best way to serve God is to serve all. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35 (See also Luke 22:26 and Matthew 20:24-28) “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” I John 4:19-21 (and also 7-18) Jesus’ strongest condemnation – and only promise of eternal suffering – comes in the context of a rich man who does not care for the poor man on his stoop (Luke 16:9-31, the Rich Man and Lazarus).

Truly and without judgment I do not know how anyone could read this and not come to the same conclusion. Christians are called to serve all. I recognize others of goodwill, intelligence, and learning disagree with me. Still, I cannot wrap my head around any position but absolute, unconditional, self-sacrificial service.

I am likewise baffled and, honestly cannot avoid judgment, of those who wish economic liberty and success while claiming Christian martyrdom. The New Testament is equally (if not more) clear that economic success is incompatible with Gospel living (Mark 10:17-31, Luke 16:13; 18:18-25, Matthew 6:19-21; 19:16-26). If Christian virtue leads to economic ruin, this is a blessing (Matthew 5:11). If your faith costs you nothing, it is not true faith. Christians are asked to serve without recompense (Luke 14:12-14). You cannot serve God and wealth. This does not mean the US should force the choice, but it does mean that Christians should expect it. And, they should turn the other cheek.

Even if same-sex weddings were against Christian teachings (I don’t think they are), even if they were evil (I don’t think they are), Christians would still be obliged to serve people having them. They would not be obliged to support or celebrate them, but they would be required to serve them in any generic way, to render support as asked.

I do not know what this religion is that chooses abstract propositional and moral norms over people. I do not know the religion that values heterosexuality over love of God. (I cannot draw any other conclusion from someone who will bake a cake for a male-female secular wedding but not a same-sex secular wedding, a male-female Christian wedding but not a same-sex Christian wedding.) I will defend the right of all to religious liberty. Both my American values and my Christian values demand it. But we must be clear about the religion we are protecting. In the case of Masterpiece Cake shop, it is a religion of intolerance and economic success, not one of service to all.

I will continue to preach Christ, and him crucified – the preemptive, self-sacrificing servant.

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  1. […] conservative argument. It is also informed by Christian theology, but that must wait for a second post. For now, the American […]


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