Paul writes to a congregation seeking to understand what it must do to respond to God’s call, God’s presence. Is it necessary to cut one’s foreskin if one is male? What about keeping Kosher? Can I have a pizza with pepperoni and still be among the faithful? Some would say we are called to accept the other as she/he is and not ask her/him to become something she/he is not and they take this to be a clarion call for full acceptance of those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered and perhaps it is but we need be cautious in removing from this letter a need to hear in God’s call justice and freedom which enter into a continuing dialogue/conversation.
Paul is seeking to counter the arguments of those who want to compel believers in this new faith to enter it through the doorway of the faith of the one called Christ which would be Judaism. And this doorway requires male circumcision as well as a host of requirements regarding personal behavior. For Paul, this sets up a non-relational barrier or barriers to those who have found joy, hope, peace, and pleasure in a faith which identifies Jesus as the Christ. Paul demands for them the freedom to believe without the burden of a two-fold conversion – one of faith and the other of culture. For Paul, faith is to be celebrated and lived out within one’s culture and not something which causes one to step outside it. Even in his most strident and caustic voice, Paul is calling the faithful to changes within and not without their authentic culture or self.
Now some would see here only this call as a liberating and joyful embrace of all yet that ignores the hatred, violence, and oppression embodied by those who would seek to find here the freedom to believe and continue such. It is a call to freedom to be all one can and not to seek to deny the self which is, but it is not an embrace of oppressive acts or attitudes which this new found faith would ignore. The call is to the freedom to live out one’s authentic being but it is not a freedom to oppress the other through the living out of ideological or theological embraced hatred. The faith is founded in one who accepted the other within the community of humanity without regard except when that other brought with them baggage that called forth denial of a place for all within the community. The stories and parables call for acceptance not judgment, for inclusion and not exclusion but also require, no better, entice us to maintain a dialogue between justice and freedom especially as it regards how we build the community of faith.
As we converse with the scriptures our goal is hospitality, but hospitality cannot ignore the danger of past ideas, practices, and/or beliefs which need be left behind. And especially for those of us who are straight, white, male, and economically secure, the conversation may and probably will challenge our freedom to continue past practices, ideas, and/or beliefs. We can’t find comfort in freedom if what we really seek is a place founded on the hypocrisy of the freedom to hate instead of the freedom to create a new community. Galatians’ prologue calls forth that this dialogue, this conversation, begun by so many from so diverse communities that we might find in freedom, founded on faith, not fear but hope.