I love the circles of mainly christian/evangelical, middle to upper middle class friends, family, work and acquaintances in which God has placed me. These spheres have multiple up-sides. Familiarity, less relational stress, religious/spiritual rapport and encouragement are just a few. But there’s a downside…
Especially vexing at times is how we in this clique tend to talk about those who are outside of this comfy ghetto. In our conversations and by extension, in our attitude, people who are liberals/Democrats, gays, Muslims, atheists, urbanites, environmentalists, gun-control advocates, mainline christians, animal rightists, feminists, or secular academia are generally feared, reviled or dismissed. Our chit-chat often mocks these people. We love jokes that make fun of these kinds of people. We imagine their thoughts and actions are ever plotting to persecute and destroy us. We celebrate their downfalls. We talk as if we know and understand their minds and intentions very well, but we rarely actually quote them (let alone sit down with them and hear their side). We repeat what we’ve heard media/religious ‘experts’ write or say about them, which is always how awful they are. We easily slip into exaggerating their faults and beliefs. We make them into unreconcilable monsters who deserve our scorn and who deserve retaliations via media, preaching/teaching, education, lawsuits, politicking or other end-justifies-the-means worldly machinations short of real violence against them.
Does this other camp or those outside our evangelical bubble do the same thing? Of course. This is a human weakness. I’ve fallen into doing the very things I list in the previous paragraph. We’re all human, but one would think we who claim to follow Christ would show a little more restraint. One would think that followers of Christ might take more time to understand the ‘others’ point of view or reasoning behind their stances on issues. You would think that we who claim Christ would try to be Jesus to them, figuring out ways to love these people into the kingdom rather than score points against them…
This has been on my mind again as new skirmishes explode around issues like gay marriage, LGBT rights, the Affordable Care Act and related court cases. The murmurs of fear, grumbling, scorn and malice (fight-talk) percolate at church, work, Facebook, the lunchroom, the water cooler and the family get-togethers. Sadly, questions like the following are rarely asked by me or others in these moments:
- How would Jesus or the disciples respond to this situation?
- How do those on the other side of the issue think about this case and how does my thinking differ?
- How does their thinking make sense in their circumstances or logic, and can we learn anything from really understanding that stance?
- Despite their stance, how can we show them the love of Christ?
- How can we love and respect them, even if they dislike us or disagree with our position?
- How can we deal with our growing minority status in america (with ever diminishing political/cultural power) in a less whiny, fearful, belligerent or defensive way?
- And if it is persecution and spite, how can we humbly, fearlessly and rejoicingly take it on the chin and maybe heap coals of fire in the process?
- How can we be Jesus to these people?
I’d like to end with a positive note. The evangelical bubble in which I find myself is not completely devoid of voices asking questions and exhorting us to relate to our circumstances differently. I have found voices saying something different and speaking with a different attitude in the midst of the culture war fog. I loved the attitude and exhortation expressed by Micah Murray in his article entitled, “Perhaps Love Bakes a Cake”. Here’s a blurb that’s especially hard-hitting.
Suppose that the headlines read “Athiest Baker Refuses Wedding Cake to Christian Couple.” The uproar would be deafening. Every conservative Christian and political news outlet would be outraged. If it happens to us, we want to call it persecution. But when we do it to others, we want to call it “religious liberty.” We can’t have it both ways, and I find these fear-mongering cries of persecution to be simply dishonest.
Ouch. What a thought. Maybe we in the evangelical bubble should be examining ourselves rather than trying to protect ourselves? Maybe instead of spending multi-millions on lawsuits and politicians in a vain attempt to preserve ‘our’ rights and preferences, we used that money to lift up the needy and build communities that foster family/relational/economic health? Instead of myopically focusing on ‘our’ rights to religious freedom, maybe we should see what our denial of service looks like to the ‘others’. Maybe instead of OCD-like focus on homosexuality, maybe we should raise some hew and cry about other cultural sins like materialism, idolatry, wastefulness, hypocrisy and worldliness…in our own churches first. And finally instead of worrying, scorning or fearing ‘those’ people, maybe we should follow Jesus’ teaching on going the second mile for them. Here are His words to us, in our circumstances now.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Maybe we should not only serve those ‘others’ but maybe we should find loving and honest ways to go the second mile for them? What if we baked the cake and threw in something extra?