Rev. Paul Graves

As a nation and as families, we live in a time when religion’s ugly side seems to be overpowering religion’s beautiful side. Why? Well, perhaps the complicated answer includes the truth that our ugly human side seems to be overpowering our human capacity for compassion and hope.

From extreme, national-to-local political weaponizing of religion to the most intimate personal expressions of religious fervor, religious “common ground” is a steel ball battered in a highly competitive pinball game.

Within my Methodist faith tradition, two songs are sung often: “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” and “Bind Us Together.” We sing of religion that binds us to one another, to God, to the world. 

Rev. Paul Graves

One of the root meanings of the word “religion” comes from the Latin religare,“fasten, bind fast, to tie.” There is also the sense of being able to “trust, depend on, fall back on.” (I like to check out the root meanings of important words, especially when those words are being distorted, as “religion” is today.)

In my skeptical moments, of which there are far too many in recent times, I ask myself and others: Is my/your religion a tie that binds or blinds? Human history shows, time and again, that religion’s rhythm too easily flows between binding ties and blinding ties.

To illustrate: Last Monday, I received an advocacy alert from a faith-based group. It was deeply concerned that the Trump administration is again willing to use “religious liberty” as a code term to discriminate against LGBTQ persons who seek social services from faith-based agencies.

Current regulations require those agencies to direct persons to other agencies if they choose not to serve LGBTQ persons. New regulations would allow faith-based agencies to not tell these persons of any other agencies, presumably out of their “religious liberty” to stay silent.

I don’t know the nuances or motivations of this potential change. But I have a hunch (read “bias” if you like) that “religious liberty” is, indeed, code for discrimination against persons whom the Trump administration deems as less than deserving of honest, even religious, compassionate and just treatment.

The Trump administration’s track record is abysmal when it comes to religious bedrock values, like compassion, justice and equal treatment. I honestly don’t understand how so many evangelical Christians can support policies and rhetoric that mystifyingly oppose most every Christian ethic I’ve learned to embrace from Scripture.

The example above seems to create a religious tie that binds people together who think alike. But it’s a tie that blinds them to the callous, even cruel, consequence of denying vulnerable people the services they both need and have a human-decency right to request. Hatred, disrespect and cruelty are not Jesus’ values.

Let’s get more personal: Too frequently, we can bind and blind ourselves — and each other — as we develop or solidify our religious ties. It’s a delicate balance.

What religious tie binds/blinds you to your awareness of God in your life, as Creator of the world? What religious tie binds/blinds you to persons you don’t agree with, or you negatively, harshly judge? 

An old religious cliché: “I love the church. It’s the people I can’t stand!” That religious tie binds and blinds in 10 words. Quite efficient. And too often quite accurate. 

Do yourself a courageous favor: Read Micah 6:8 and Luke 4:14-18. Do they reflect a religious tie that binds us to people or blinds us to real human compassion? Who we follow – “religiously” even – may bind us to people in healthy ways, or blind us to their needs. Choose wisely who you follow.

Rev. Paul Graves is a retired United Methodist elder in the PNW Conference and a regular columnist for the Spokesman-Review.

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