By Jonathan Ruehs –
It is called SB 1146. As much as I wish it were the name of a droid in the upcoming Star Wars film, it is, unfortunately, the title of a document that is making its rounds in the state assembly of California.
Essentially what this bill proposes is that all Christian institutions of higher education must comply with non-discrimination laws protecting the LGBT community. For example, Christian colleges and universities will need to make sure to make accommodations for LGBT students in residential halls, public restrooms, and the like. But more importantly, if an LGBT student believes that they are being “discriminated” against in the classroom, chapel, etc.—for example, if a professor speaks about how the Biblical understanding of marriage is between a man and a woman—then they could legally bring forth a discrimination lawsuit against the university regarding such teachings. Non-compliance by such institutions will result in the pulling of Cal Grants as a source of financial aid funding for colleges and universities.
As a Christian, this legislation causes great concern. As a pastor serving on a Christian university campus, my level of concern increases ten-fold. But while I am part of the fight to oppose such legislation, this whole endeavor has caused me to reflect upon the following words of Jesus from Matthew 5:43-48:
“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 sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 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, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In my vocation as a citizen, I have the right to oppose legislation that I believe is immoral, unjust, or unreasonable. But in my vocation as a Christian, I am called, in the midst of my opposition, to love those who persecute me. I am called to love those who are my enemies and to actively pray for them. This is not an easy thing to do. It is much easier to damn the other. It is much easier to demonize the opposition. It is much easier to call down “fire and brimstone,” and in doing so cite references to “Sodom and Gomorrah” or imprecatory Psalms in the midst of it all, and to feel perfectly self-satisfied and self-righteous for doing so.
Yet this is not the way of Jesus.
In looking to Golgotha, we see Jesus while bleeding and struggling for breath on the cross, actively praying for those who have persecuted him. We see him loving his enemies as they hurl insults at him. We read his prayer in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Lest we think that Jesus’ words were only aimed at the Jewish mob gathered to gleefully watch his death, Paul reminds us that the term “enemy of God” has broader implications. We read in Romans 5:10: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
All of us are guilty of being enemies of God. All of our faces can be found in the crowds of those who hurled insults at Jesus. If anyone had the right to bring fire and brimstone upon us, it is Jesus. And yet he willingly took the fire and brimstone of the Father’s wrath upon himself. The cross, as Paul points out, is the place where we have been reconciled: no longer enemies of God.
The ability, therefore, to enact this “Fatherly perfection” that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 5 in regards to loving one’s enemies, comes in living out our Baptisms. In Baptism, we are born anew into new identities in Christ. The Christ who loved and prayed for his enemies on the cross is the Christ who now lives in us and through us loves and prays for his enemies.
Therefore, as we heed Paul’s calling to pray in all kinds of situations and circumstances (Ephesians 6:18), as well as for those in positions of political leadership and power (1 Timothy 2:1-4), we pray with the voice of the one who spoke from the cross. The form of our prayers is cruciform as Christ crucified prays for us and through us to the Father.