In the news this week, the Boy Scouts voted to allow openly gay kids into the organization. I’ve read many of the comments on the news articles, and one would think that every disaster proclaims God’s disgust with that decision. Hearing adults who claim Jesus as their example projectile vomitous hatred and vitriolic arguments frightens me. Hearing vindicated glee in the tone of people, whom I assume have felt the freedom from shame and the power of God’s amazing grace, directed toward anyone’s suffering turns my stomach. Hearing the terror in their hearts over ‘the moral decline’ in our nation rage against a group of people–especially children–causes me to gasp in disbelief. Hearing my own arrogance as I rail against my own kind humbles me. Why would anyone follow that kind of religion or that kind of God? Have we fallen so far to have lost the ‘good news’ of Jesus that angels ‘harked’ to shepherds? Have we forgotten all of Jesus’ parables and teachings about how to treat people? Have we trumped the teaching about being ‘innocent as doves’ with being ‘wise as serpents’?
In my discouragement with myself and people who claim to follow the same God I do, I searched my soul and prayed for God’s heart. Here’s what I concluded:
1) God doesn’t need us to defend Him. He doesn’t even ask us to defend Him. Jesus got pretty upset with Peter when, in trying to defend Jesus, Peter took out his sword and chopped off a guy’s ear. It’s hard to ‘make disciples’ when we’re on a soapbox.
2) Changing someone’s theology? Forget about it. In my experience, no one has ever decided to follow Jesus because I out-debated them. “It’s Your kindness that leads us to repentance.” (Romans 2:4)
3) Arguing the ‘black and white’ view of the Bible goes both ways. Just as I may see my interpretation of the Bible as obvious, so others see their view. Slashing someone’s character because they don’t have the same interpretation doesn’t make them wrong and me right. It means that God is bigger than all of us and His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. (Isaiah 55:9)
4) Jesus’ sacrifice released us from the power of sin and death. (Romans 8:2) When we see something that offends us, we tend to overshadow the cross of Jesus and His sacrifice for ALL. Jesus got offended–at religious leaders who declared impossible expectations on people so that the leaders looked more holy. In a world where so many news stories tell us of adolescents bullied because of sexual orientation and the suicides that accompany that bullying, we need to proclaim freedom in Jesus and emphasize His power to release us from shame!
5) We tend to pick and choose sins. We want grace for our ‘sins’; but condemnation for our definition of sin in others. Jesus addressed this attitude often in his parables and teachings. (Luke 6:42)
6) The Holy Spirit gets to convict–not us. Only God changes people’s hearts to His will. I am not responsible to ‘save’ anyone or do much more than offer counsel when asked. How arrogant am I to think that I know what and how God needs to change in another–especially if I do not have a relationship with that person? (John 16:8)
7) Why do differing viewpoints threaten us? Romans 14 offers great insight to this point. “Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right” (Romans 14:22). Paul advocates letting God’s Holy Spirit decide in each person. Some will accuse me of interpreting this passage as ‘situational ethics.’ My ethics have never changed in any situation–regardless of the person, I try to treat each one with equal empathy and understanding (admittedly, I fail more than I wish). I want respect for my deeply thought out interpretations, and I give respect to anyone with opposing, equally thought out interpretations.
So, what can we do? Ask questions and don’t sermonize. Jesus did. He also taught with story. He understood its power. We tend to focus on correct doctrine. In making that our passion, we forget that there are real people with real lives, real feelings, real beliefs behind every ‘issue.’ Behavior that one person may believe the Bible condemns, another may have a different interpretation or insight. Before drawing a line in the sand, perhaps we can listen to each other’s viewpoints and experiences without trying to win a debate. Shaming a person or a group of people to prove ourselves ‘right’ reminds everyone more of the Pharisees than Jesus’ actions.
As my blood-pressure rises when I hear people in my own faith tradition making blanket statements at the expense of hearts (we are all guilty of this, regardless of our viewpoint), I breathe. in. and. out. slowly. methodically. silently. And I focus on Jesus. And I remember how much He loves us, how competent He is to fulfill His purposes even though we are not perfect in communicating His life. As I see again myself in His vastness, I stop attacking those that see the world differently (even if they speak unkindly and irrationally) “and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace” (Helen Lemmel, hymn). May the grace of Jesus overflow in our lives as we all work out our own salvations.