Monthly Archives: March 2015

Religious freedom: if scripture is a weapon, then whom are we killing?

Religious freedom: if scripture is a weapon, then whom are we killing?

Picture this: I’m getting up to preach, and I’ve brought my Glock 9. Right up into the church where everyone can see. And then I’ll explain: I’ve got a deadly weapon here. But look! I checked that the magazine is empty. I checked: there’s no cartridge in the chamber. The safety is on, and there’s a trigger lock. And on top of all that, I’m only pointing it at the ground. Why am I being so careful? Any one of these precautions by itself is enough to make the gun safe… why on God’s green earth should I need to use them all? Because there is nobody here that I want to kill. Because when it’s a deadly weapon, a tiny mistake can have life-shattering consequences.

Now I want to talk about something far more powerful, far more deadly, far more destructive, and yet the precautions that people take with it are terrifyingly few; the casual, careless way that people wield it is terrifyingly common.

The bible often describes itself as a weapon:

  • “Before I was born the Lord called me; He made my mouth like a sharpened sword.” Isaiah 49:1-2
  • “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Hebrews 4:12
  • “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:17

…Something far more powerful, far more deadly, far more destructive, and yet the precautions that people take with it in the name of religious freedom are terrifyingly few

Too many people read language like this as an invitation to get out there and damage people in the name of Jesus. What else, after all, is a deadly weapon for? “Sinners”, those “in darkness”, the “unsaved”… all are dispatched with the casual indifference of target practice. This is what’s really behind all the current hub bub over religious freedom in Indiana. The words of scripture hold incredible power, but if used carelessly, we can suddenly find that we are blowing holes in the heads of beloved children that Christ died to save.

In so doing, we may find we have even turned the gun on ourselves. Not for nothing does scripture call itself a two-edged sword. The Pharisees’ command of scripture has never been surpassed, before or since, and the result, Christ said: “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter.” (Matthew 23:13) The mishandling of that fearsome power destroyed themselves and others.

Whom, then, are we to attack? On whom are we to unleash the weapon of scripture, if not the miserable unrepentant sinner? Scripture couldn’t be clearer: it’s a hostage situation. The “sinners” flocked to Christ and the demons were panic-stricken: he was there to rescue the one from the other. The only battle God intends is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). By your love and joy and peace and all the rest of it– what Christ calls hearing his words and putting them into practice– if you can spring one of their victims, there’s a gigantic party in heaven every time. Any battle you pick with flesh and blood, you are only shooting the hostages.

Serving beside those we hate

Serving beside those we hate

A conversation between my friend and her daughter, posted on Facebook this week:

  • Daughter: “Why is there a ripped up Chick-fil-A coupon on the table?”
  • Mom: “Because your brother doesn’t agree with their politics.” 
  • Daughter: “Oh. That makes sense.”

A quote from Rachel Held Evans, on the occasion of last year’s brouhaha over WorldVision’s short-lived policy change on same-sex marriage:

  • When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gay and lesbian people helping to provide that aid, something’s very, very wrong.

In Oregon, a bakery owner is risking a six-figure fine rather than bake a cake for a same-sex couple. And now this week, Franklin Graham, founder of Samaritan’s Purse, has waded into controversy with his simple-minded and ill-informed remarks on police brutality.

So, what to do?

On the one hand, Samaritan’s Purse is one of my family’s favorite charities for year-end giving. Part of our annual Christmas celebration often involves drilling a well or fighting disease somewhere in the world. On the other hand, our society’s go-to reaction seems to be disengagement when a political principle is at stake. How can I partner with you to save the life of an at-risk child if I can’t even bake you a cake or buy your chicken sandwich?

How can I partner with you to save the life of an at-risk child if I can’t even bake you a cake or buy your chicken sandwich?

To me, all of this shows that such disengagement can only end in mutually assured destruction, and the last, best hope for our fractured society may be our simple shared humanity. In the 2012 movie Big Miracle, circumstances throw together an oil-company executive and a Greenpeace organizer who is his sworn enemy; after many days laboring toward a common goal, they share a quiet moment and he reflects, “You’re a lot harder to hate than I thought you’d be.” How much potential Christ-honoring reconciliation do we miss in our eagerness demonstrate our own righteousness?

Besides, if we have any hope of accomplishing good in the world, then a standoffish rebuff of all the “morally unworthy” is simply not an option. As Shakespeare’s Henry V reflects, “There is no king, be his cause never so spotless, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers.” Whether we disapprove of gays or of those who disapprove of them, we will find ourselves serving alongside them when we begin trying to better our world. People can be good and loving and Christian while still being wrong in some ways, and there are such people from every walk of life, you and I among them.

The last point to remember about the moral high ground is, there isn’t any. Or rather, however kindly we may favor ourselves, we aren’t on it. Scripture makes that abundantly clear:

  • “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)
  • “You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
  • If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
  • If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. (Galatians 6:3)
  • There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)

Even the poster child verse for disengagement, James 1:27, which says “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” also says in the very same sentence that it is just as important to look after orphans and widows in their distress.

Perhaps the best guide, as we confront the problem of those who differ from us, whose views are morally reprehensible to us, is to remember the example of Christ. Scripture says that God demonstrates his love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ came to us and healed us, came to parties with our tax collector friends, and ultimately gave his life for us. I think it’s a good bet that he’d have been willing to sit down to a chicken sandwich or two into the bargain.

Jesus and Internet trolls

What Internet trolls have in common with Jesus

I’ve been reading a lot lately about Internet trolls.

Whether righteously piling on to destroy someone’s life for 10 seconds of Twitter thoughtlessness (à la Justine Sacco) or going after a 17-year-old softball player because you don’t like her dad (à la Gabby Schilling), the inhuman viciousness of it all is a little hard to reconcile with our supposedly progressive 21st century.

So, I was very interested to discover that, in Britain recently, some actual justice was done: to wit, in two cases at least, the casual act of gang-terrorizing a stranger with threats of rape and death resulted in actual jail time. And I began to wonder whether we couldn’t do that here in America. My nerd-brain immediately thought, “First Amendment problems! Ah, but direct threats of violence are not protected speech.” Then my social-justice-brain wondered if such laws might be subject to abuse. And my practical-brain wondered how you would ever muster enough social appetite for the cost and effort of prosecuting such crimes.

If your attempt to witness for Christ comes out like hate speech, you are doing it wrong.

And then, in the saddest moment of my day, it dawned upon my faith-brain that a lot of self-proclaimed Christians would probably be against it. As a Christian, when I think of a woman like Adria Richards, whose home address was tweeted alongside photos of a mutilated corpse, I think of John 8. (Spoiler alert: Jesus is the one who protects her from the mob that wants her dead). But in certain “Christian” circles nowadays, wave around a term like “feminist” or “liberal”, and how many of us become more like the pharisees of that story than like Christ? If online excoriation is the 21st century answer to stones at the town gate, how many of us are sinless enough to throw one? I have actually seen a Christian website decrying the possible passage of hate speech legislation, lest it become illegal to verbally abuse a homosexual with Leviticus 20:13 or an unbeliever with Revelations 21:8. Lost in that very self-serving position, however, is this: if your attempt to witness for Christ comes out like hate speech, you are doing it wrong. It may be that the only thing Jesus has in common with an Internet troll, is us.

In the end, I abandoned my contemplations of legal action in defense of basic humanity on-line. For one thing, it is pretty clearly outside my personal control. I think it is open to debate whether it is even “Christian”; in the words of Christ, “If you are uncivil online to punish someone for incivility, how are you any better?” (Matthew 5:46-47). I believe that, one day, real solutions will be found, to take away the “dissociative imagination” that lets the trolls thrive in blissful ignorance of the real lives being destroyed.

In the meantime, the best course for a Christian in the whole cultural cyberwar may be to take the naïve advice of our savior: to mourn with those who mourn, to bind up the broken-hearted, to look inside our hearts and there find love for our enemies, to look at those who persecute us and keep them uppermost in our prayers.