Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Love Takes a Stand

“Love is not neutral. It takes a stand. It is the commitment to the attainment of the conditions of peace for everyone involved in a situation.” This idea, quoted from the book A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson, has been haunting me all week.

I’ve also been working on a silly little parable of sorts. If you will indulge me…

Imagine that Person A and Person B are looking at a duck.

“Would you look at that chicken!” says A.

“That’s not a chicken. That’s a duck,” replies B.

To which A responds, “Hey man, I just have a different perspective than you do. Why are you oppressing me?”

In this little illustration, there are not two sides to the argument. Person A is wrong. And when B points out that A is wrong, B is not oppressing A.

Now insert Person C into the silly little parable. What should C say?

C could say, “I’m going to remain neutral here. I mean, can’t you two just agree to disagree? Try to see both sides. Everyone is entitled to their own perspective.” Etc. Etc.

Or they could say, “Actually A, that is quite clearly a duck.”

So … of course the silly parable changes a bit when the topic is white supremacy.

Person A says, “Non-white people are inferior and should be eliminated.”

“That’s not true. People are equal regardless of race,” replies B.

“Hey man,” says A, “I just have a different perspective than you.”

And then imagine that YOU are Person C. So, what are you going to say?

Love is not neutral.

For me, saying “Can’t we just get along” is not an option here. No, we can’t just get along. I refuse to “agree to disagree” with a racist.

The truth is, you are NOT entitled to your own perspective if your perspective is that of a white supremacist. You are simply wrong. There isn’t any room for compromise on this issue.

Love takes a stand.

Okay, but wait. The Bible says not to repay evil for evil. St. Francis prayed that “Where there is hatred let me sow love.” Jesus says that peacemakers are blessed. Doesn’t that imply neutrality? Doesn’t that mean we need to respect all sides of a disagreement? Doesn’t that mean Christians should remain “above the fray,” so to speak?

Actually, no. Not as I understand the Gospel. Not as I understand Jesus. Not as I understand the work of the church.

Every United Methodist has promised, upon becoming a member of a congregation, “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression” in the world. Every parent who brings a child for baptism makes the very same promise. Every time we renew that promise, we say it again.

The decision to resist evil revokes one’s neutrality.

Neutrality in the presence of evil is no better than indifference. And as my colleague Rev. Geoff Posegate said recently, “There are times when indifference and silence are in fact acts of violence.”

Jesus was not neutral in his life and ministry. Neither should his followers be. White supremacy is not a "different perspective" with which we should seek a respectful compromise. White supremacy is evil, and it needs to be named, resisted, and utterly destroyed.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

"Sin" & "The Church Today"

I attended an event recently at which several things were said that hurt and offended me. Most of these things began with the speaker saying, “This may not be politically correct, but …”

(Here’s a tip. When speaking to a group, and you feel like you have to start with “This may not be politically correct, but…,” you maybe shouldn’t say it. But never mind, that’s just a tangent to what I really want to write about.)

One of the things this speaker wasn’t “politically correct” about was a pointed criticism of “the church today.” (Another tangent: he never really defined what he meant by “the church today,” but I took him to mean, “Any church that doesn’t do things the way I think things should be done.” But again, a tangent, so here’s the point … )

He said, “This may not be politically correct, but I’m gonna say it anyway. ‘The church today’ doesn’t talk about sin.” Furthermore, he indicated that he believes that is why “the church today” isn’t doing very well in terms of numbers. Because we don’t talk about sin.

He then proceeded to get specific.

Now of course, he didn’t get specific with a long list of actions he thought were sins; he got specific with one. Just one. One singular action he thought was a sin and he thought needed to be highlighted at this particular event. Can you guess which action he picked? Out of ALL the possible acts that might be considered sins, which one do you think he felt led to name out loud?

If you guessed “predatory lending” … thanks for playing, but no.

His sin of choice was homosexuality. “If anyone tells you that gay marriage and homosexuality is (sic) not a sin, they are lying.” That’s a direct quote.

It took all of the gracious hospitality I could muster not to stand up and walk out. And while speaking with others who were there, I heard similar reactions. Bear in mind, this event had nothing whatsoever to do with human sexuality, marriage equality, or any related issues. His comment was random, a non sequitur, and bizarre. (Tangent 3: Does anybody know why, when naming specific “sinful” actions, so many Christians zero in on homosexuality, when there are so many others from which they might choose?)

Okay, so here’s the thing. This is what I believe about “the church today” as it pertains to sin…

It is far too easy to think of a “sin” merely as an action that God doesn’t like, or breaking one of God’s rules. And most of the time, when a Christian talks about sin like that, I have noticed that they are listing actions of someone else, which of course makes it even easier.

Much more difficult is thinking of sin as an existential separation from God that we are totally unable to reconcile through our own efforts. See, if sin is merely an action contrary to what God wants, then it’s in OUR control to fix it; just stop doing the action. Easy peasy.

But there’s absolutely nothing in our control when it comes to sin. Nothing. Total depravity. And we don’t like that very much. Generally speaking, people would much rather be in control of a situation than not.

And what does this have to do with “the church today?” Well, obviously it is not easy, popular, or attractive to say “nothing is really in your control.” And since churches really want people to be there, we tend to avoid things that are not easy, popular, or attractive.

However, it is easy, popular, and attractive to tell people they are in control, even when it comes to correcting a sinful life. And so there are some churches who will say that all you have to do is stop doing the things that God doesn’t want you to do. That keeps everything nicely under your control, and keeps God conveniently out of your way, at least until you die, at which point God will either let you into heaven or not. Thinking of sin this way reduces God’s role to Heaven’s bouncer, and I’m not at all comfortable with that.

Please do not misunderstand me. I do think we need to get specific when it comes to the evil, injustice, and oppression that exist in the world today. I think we need to name it, drag it into the light, and work to overcome it with every ounce of our strength. It’s not the specificity to which I object.

I object to the public naming of someone else’s sexual orientation as sinful, and calling anyone who disagrees a liar. I object to minimizing sin to just a list of actions that break divine rules. I object to thinking of God merely as a divine bouncer, and salvation as just a Get Into Heaven Free card.

And I object to the false characterization I heard regarding the problems of “the church today,” when what the speaker actually meant seemed to be, “Some Christians do not think of sin the same way I do.”

“Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others,” wrote C.S. Lewis. And being “politically correct” really has nothing to do with it.