These days “religious freedom” is used by individuals and institutions as an excuse for intolerance, hatred, refusal of justice, and discrimination. “Christianity” is often equivalent to narrow-minded exclusivism and meanness, thus driving away from the Church those who may in fact admire Jesus.

I ran across some observations from one of the theological forebears of my Reformed and Presbyterian tradition the other day that ought to be taken to heart by anyone of any branch of the faith as a corrective to such a twisted version of our religion. John Calvin, you may know, was not exactly a warm, inviting man, but I believe he sought to follow Christ. In his Institutes (II, viii, 55) he wrote*:

Now, since Christ has shown in the parable of the Samaritan that the term ‘neighbor’ includes even the most remote person…we are not expected to limit the precept of love to those in close relationships. I do not deny that the more closely a man is linked to us, the more intimate obligation we have to assist him. It is the common habit of mankind that the more closely men are bound together by the ties of kinship, of acquaintanceship, or of neighborhood, the more responsibilities for one another they share. This does not offend God; for his providence, as it were, leads us to it. But I say: we ought to embrace the whole human race without exception in a single feeling of love; here there is no distinction between barbarian and Greek, worthy and unworthy, friend and enemy, since all should be contemplated in God, not in themselves…. When we turn aside from such contemplation, it is no wonder we become entangled in many errors. Therefore, if we rightly direct our love, we must first turn our eyes not to man, the sight of whom would more often engender hate than love, but to God. who bids us extend to all men the love we bear to him, that this may be an unchanging principle: whatever the character of the man, we must yet love him because we love God.

Or if Calvin doesn’t have sufficient authority for you, how about this from the Gospel of Mark (12:28-31):

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

*Original gender-specific language retained. Footnotes omitted.

© 2015 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.