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Take a stand, or spineless for Jesus?

Take a stand: be spineless for Jesus

This week an atheist replied to one of my tweets. I agreed with him that the world is a beautiful place.

One of my posts was linked from Reddit’s “/r/Catholicism” forum, then suppressed on the grounds that is was heresy. I agreed with them that sin is real and harmful.

Why am I agreeing with all these people who disagree with me? Am I being spineless, seeking the favor of man, failing to take a stand for God? Or rather, what if “looking for common ground, building bridges, and being kind” is my stand for God?

“Take A Stand”

So much of our modern Christianity seems to be informed by the need to keep people from being confused. “If I fail to take a stand,” the reasoning goes, “people will think I support x, y, or z.” First of all, are people really going to be confused about what we believe simply because we were nice to someone who believes differently? But more importantly, what if they are confused? So what? Why do we care so much what people think of us?

Paul didn’t. Numerous places in scriptures, he talks about that “dirty word” concept— accommodation of culture— in his efforts to spread the gospel. For example:

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22, emphasis added)

At one point in Acts, he arrives in Athens and is “greatly distressed to see the city full of idols.” So what does he do? Get in their face? Condemn the idols in order to take a stand for Jesus? Tear his clothes to show his great zeal? None of the above. Instead, he compliments them on the very thing he objects to: their religious fervor. He goes on to present the gospel as the great fulfillment of that fervor, but he never circles back to say, “Oh, and by the way, idolatry is wrong.” He is more interested in spending his airtime on the core gospel message than on having his personal belief system clearly understood.

Live at peace

The news nowadays is full of ways that we Christians are defining ourselves by our refusals. Just today there were two: people who feel their faith forbids them to conduct ordinary business because the opposite party is “in sin”. But Jesus specifically refuted that notion. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” he said, despite behavior by the Romans  that was every bit as much an affront to God’s law as anything going on in modern-day America. That the bible objects to a behavior does not excuse us from a Christlike response to that behavior. Whereas we, in casting about for some kind of public response to “sin”, have landed firmly in a seat at the moneychanger’s table. 

Rather than stand off at a distance and refuse to engage, a more Christlike model comes close and engages completely. “Live in harmony with one another,” scripture urges, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” So much of our public persona nowadays is the farthest thing from that; I have trouble understanding it as anything other than spoiling for a fight.

Christ portrayed us as a light on a lampstand, a city on a hill, the salt of the earth. None of those things sits in a posture of judgment. How can we, as salt, give our flavor to that which we refuse even to touch?

Love— a poem

Here’s a viral headline: “Christians nice, talk about love”

This week, my daughter brought home a poem she had written as part of her third-grade class:

Love is pink.
It tastes like lemon pound cake.

It sounds like singing birds, and it smells like vanilla.
It feels like baby hair, it looks like a butterfly.
Love makes me feel like singing.

Inspired, my wife sat down and composed one too:

Love is periwinkle
It tastes like whipped cream.
Love sounds like the ocean waves softly crashing.
It smells like fresh banana bread.
Love feels like a long warm hug.
It looks like a sunrise.
Love makes me feel so peaceful.

In writing these beautiful poems, it turns out they have quite a bit in common with earlier authors who wrote things like this:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. We love because he first loved us. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Or this:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Or this:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

What does it mean to be a Christian? Will they know we are Christians because of… our political stands on certain issues? Because of… the people we are against, the laws we protest, the banks we boycott? Or will they know we are Christians by our love?

Some people think we are naïve in our view that love and prayer are our most powerful weapons: that they can save lives and transform society. If so, we share the naïveté of our savior. As Christians, we are on the wrong battlefield when we spend our time fighting to possess the kingdoms of this world. We need to be focused instead of the kingdom of heaven, and the only language they speak there is the language of love.

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.