I will not be writing this column on July 4, so as the Memorial Day holiday approaches, I wanted to take this opportunity to write about freedom. First, let’s define the term itself. Unlike the Latin, libertas, or the Greek, eleutheria, which both imply a sense of independence, the word “freedom” comes from the German, “frei” which has the same Indo-European root as the word “friend” or “dear” or even “beloved.”  Liberty and freedom both carry the idea of not being a slave. Liberty implies privileges of independence while freedom implies the rights to belong to a group.

It is common these days to hear one side of the political spectrum argue passionately for individual rights above everything else. This leads to anti-social behavior such as not wearing masks in a pandemic, or not getting vaccinated. The opposite side argues for the freedom to love others, to belong in a group, or at a more basic level, the freedom to not be oppressed as a group. Each side is correct as far as they go, but neither side embraces the totality. We need both liberty and freedom defined this way to be truly free.

Where things get all mixed up is the conversation about responsibilities and obligations in a free society. Jesus taught that as baptized followers of Jesus, we have no individual rights since everything belongs to God. And he taught that we are obligated to care for others including our enemies. These two fundamentals of Christian praxis oppose the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and freedom. Christians have no individual rights. And we have no freedom to love or associate with whomever we choose. Instead, we have an obligation to care for all others without conditions.

Those who claim to follow Jesus and call themselves “Christian” would do well to avoid making any special claims about “my rights.” At the same time, Christians who would divide society into a million splinter groups of people who cry “micro-aggression” at the slightest grievance should reconsider because every grievance initiated by someone else gives the Christian an obligation to understand and love the other party.

A society with liberty and freedom is a society that is free from oppression, but not obligation. Christians and non-Christians in such a society are obliged to be respectful, kind, courteous, and to thoughtfully consider others. Failing that leads to anarchy and autocracy.

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