I was driving around Pennsylvania where I live and, as my wife and I were turning into the state park where we were going to physically distance and hike, there was an abandoned building on the side of the road. The faded yellow building had wear and tear on it, but it had hints of recent activity. In big, bold, black letters across the whole building someone had spray-painted, “Liberate Pennsylvania” across the whole building. I did a double take. Liberate Pennsylvania? I think what the spray-painter had in mind about freedom and what the Bible has in mind about freedom are two different things.
Freedom, or liberation, from a Christian perspective is not about our personal rights. As much as you will find me involved in human rights and civil rights, I personally have a hard time using the language of “rights” from the pulpit. Too often rights, or freedom, are centered solely in an individual perspective.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in individual rights. I believe in justice and equity and personal freedom. But freedom, scripturally, is often not just about what I want as it is about what is best for the whole community. Freedom is about responsibility for each other to live out the greatest commandment to love one another. Freedom is humble.
Galatians 5:13 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." Our freedom, from Galatians, is not about our own liberation of doing whatever we want to do. Freedom, I would argue, is rarely about doing whatever I personally want to do. Freedom is about what is best for the whole community. Freedom is about how we humbly care for one another.
I've been thinking a lot about how some who refuse to wear masks — and instead use guns, which makes no sense to me — have been saying it is because of their freedom to do so. No. This is not freedom. This is selfishness. This is an abuse of Christian freedom. We wear masks in order to love one another and ensure the greatest care of each other.
Freedom is about the greater good of the community. Freedom is about how we ensure that we love one another and take care of one another. Freedom is not just about what I personally can and can't do. Freedom, biblically speaking, is always about the whole community, especially with how we take care of the most vulnerable.
We wear masks out of our freedom to care for one another. We stay home because in our freedom we don’t want to get others sick. We don't reopen our church buildings just yet (goodness, the church was never closed to begin with!) because our freedom calls us to take care of not just ourselves, but instead turn toward the greater good of all. We continue to slow down and make wise choices out of our love for freedom.
Freedom calls us to think not just of ourselves, but especially of the goodness and health of the community. The Whole.
What some call freedom, I call selfish.
I know this type of freedom obligates me to care for the spray-painter who wants to “liberate Pennsylvania” as much as others. I might not be able to change the spray-painter’s mind, but right now I can pray for them and I do. I pray for their well-being as much as my own. For this is what the Bible teaches me about freedom; think not just of my needs but of my neighbor’s needs, including the one who thinks differently than me.
May God help us liberate our selfish understandings of freedom in order that we may truly live into the biblical call to freedom to love one another and serve each other in Christian love.