by Rev. Dr. Benjamin J. Broadbent
Lead Minister of The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, of Colorado Springs
This speech was given at the 2015 Creating Community Breakfast.
It is a joy and honor to be here with all of you at Citizen’s Project’s 11th Annual Creating Community Breakfast. We’re here because we value inclusion, equality, justice, and respect for the dignity of all. In fact, we believe that these values can and should direct our future as a city, as a state, and as a nation.
We’re here because we believe deeply in religious liberty. That is, we believe in the freedom to practice religion according the dictates of our individual consciences and historic traditions. We also believe in freedom from coercion on the part of any setting of government to impose or favor the religious beliefs or practices of any person or group upon another person or group.
In Colorado Springs, Citizen’s Project has championed efforts to cherish and observe the separation of church and state. Citizen’s Project has promoted open and well-informed conversations about this important constitutional safeguard. In addition, Citizen’s Project has been a strong participant in statewide efforts to defeat RFRA-style legislation in Colorado.
For some of you, it may be easy to understand why a person who is not explicitly religious would support the separation of church and state and would oppose efforts to (quote) “restore religious freedom.” But it may not be so clear why a committed Christian and clergy person like myself would share those same values.
As a Christian pastor, it is laughable, if not sad, that Jesus’ ministry has been used to exclude and discriminate. Jesus called people to a freedom of inclusion, equality, justice, and profound respect for the dignity of all.
I owe the following insight to my friend and colleague, Matthew Myer-Boulton, President of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. In recent months, Matt has been on the front lines of the RFRA debate. He and many others have labored to point out that this is not a religion versus equality debate in our country. This is a discrimination-versus-equality debate with people of various religious commitments, and no religious commitments arguing for and against the right to discriminate.
In the Gospel According to Luke, in response to the command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” a lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” It is a “gotcha” kind of question, meant to draw a circle around one group we are required to love and serve and creating another group we may supposedly exclude as outsiders.
But Jesus will have none of it. In his response – the Parable of the Good Samaritan – Jesus flips the question on its head as if to say, “Don’t waste your time asking the clannish question of who your neighbors is; instead, go and be an excellent neighbor, serving all with mercy and justice.”
I value the separation of church and state because my religious commitments as a follower of Jesus include the values of justice and mercy, equality and respect. Citizen’s Project is, for me, a project of the citizens of Colorado Springs that celebrates the diverse contributions of my neighbors who are Buddhist and Muslim, Atheist and Evangelical, Jewish and Hindu, Humanist and Mormon. Whatever religious views, even anti-religious views, we bring to bear upon our common life, we will not promote one over the other and will not tolerate the use of ideology to discriminate against any of our neighbors. That is our project as citizens of Colorado Springs; that is the work of the Citizen’s Project.