When I graduate from high school I wore a size nine and a half shoe. Now I wear size eleven, but have to buy size twelves to accommodate orthotics. If I still had shoes from my high school days, they wouldn’t fit. Most people would agree it would be silly to walk around town in shoes that don’t fit our feet, but many of us walk around wearing spiritual shoes that no longer fit and cause us quite a bit of pain.
Life has a way of confronting us with issues that challenge what we had believed up to that point. The most obvious example is of a parent who belongs to a religious organization that believes that LGBT persons are sinners condemned to hell and subsequently has a child come out of the closet. Does the parent act against their religious beliefs or do they reject their child? It’s not a simple struggle because our religious and/or spiritual beliefs are how we make sense of the world. In more conservative circles, most of our friends may well be “church friends,” in which case leaving church also means leaving friends we have had for years. There can be a lot at stake in these decisions, much of which operates on a subconscious level. Taking ownership of our responsibility isn’t an easy task.
It seems to me that the real issue is whether or not it’s appropriate for any group, religious or not, to exercise their power over members of the group to force conformity. Further, we need to understand that exercise of power exists on two levels – the level of the church and the level of its members. It’s all well and good for any organization to have rules, but when the rules become more important than people or (worse yet) when the rules compel members to reject and mistreat other people we have to ask whether those rules constitute a legitimate exercise of power. I am inclined to believe they do not and I believe there is ample precedent to support my opinion.
In the Nuremberg trials after Word War II, the court rejected the defense that soldiers were simply following orders. They found that even in war immoral orders had to be disobeyed. Granted that is an extreme example, but if matters of obedience and disobedience are defined for the most extreme example that definition must logically apply to less extreme examples. Stated plainly, when the Church insists we must do something to diminish or cause pain to another we are morally bound to disobey. There are clearly biblical examples for this position. Jesus commands those who would stone the woman caught in adultery in compliance with Levitical Law to cease and desist. He eats in the homes of those whom the Jewish Law and the culture despised – tax collectors and notorious sinners. He has contact with so-called unclean people and animals. He and his followers “work” on the Sabbath by healing and by picking grain to eat, which was seen as harvesting and so prohibited. Time and time again he encounters religious rules which are life denying and breaks them, saying that human lives are more important than rules.
Of course in the real spiritual world Jesus doesn’t appear to speak on our behalf and those holding the power aren’t willing to see Jesus’ repeated breaking of the Law as a call for reassessing their own biases. When we are confronted with spiritual shoes that no longer fit, quite often the only moral thing to do is to leave the shoe store and find one that has shoes that do fit. While power brokers often see that as being disloyal to them, it actually constitutes being loyal to a higher law – the law of love.