Wednesday, September 09, 2009

An Appeal to the Church for Our Troubled Times

There is no organization better suited to respond to the current societal divisiveness than the church. Let’s not blow it.

The bitter “us” versus “them” mentality of so many people these days is directly confronted by the radical unity that Christianity teaches. The modern day equivalent of the “Jew” and “Greek” of Bible times (Galatians 3:28) find themselves inextricably, if a bit uncomfortably, drawn together in Christ. If it is indeed true that God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11), then who are we to do so?

It should break our hearts when we hear what passes for public discourse in our nation today. One of my wife's preshcool kids said to her yesterday, "Obama is a liar." Hmm...wonder where she heard that? And I'm much more upset by a preschool kid saying it than hearing it shouted from the floor of congress, to tell you the truth.

I just learned from my cousin Bryan that, in Germany, there are signs at the crosswalks that encourage grown-ups to cross with the light because it will set a good example for the children watching. Setting aside for a second the glennbeckian propensity to see an evil governmental plot to control our lives, isn't that a pretty good idea? Shouldn't we be behaving so that the example we set is a good one?

As adults should set examples for children, so should the church set the example for society. (It's a metaphor, not an analogy, so don't jump on that.) Simply put, there is no better time than now for the church to model for the rest of the world how people are supposed to get along. If you've read H. Richard Niebuhr, this is the time to bring a little "Christ Transforming Culture" into the mix.

You want to hear something radical? I believe in the devil, and I believe that the devil doesn't really care what we believe, as long as it separates us from one another, and from God. Evil does not manifest in individual person's beliefs; evil manifests in the way that people's beliefs, whatever they are, cause us to distance, then divide, then isolate, and ultimately hate the other.

If ever there was a moment for the church to counteract our societal craziness, it is now. But here is the tricky part - we cannot repay evil with evil, but must counter evil with goodness (Romans 12:17). In other words, the church cannot "go to battle" with divisiveness, for doing so would just add more divisiveness (and the devil would love it). Rather, we must counter cultural divisiveness with Christian unity, a unity that claims and celebrates a rich and vibrant diversity within it.

Christian unity does not ignore difference. It is not "colorblind," a term that I try to avoid using. Rather, Christian unity sees the differences and transcends them. That which unites is God's love shown through Jesus Christ and present in the Holy Spirit, and no earthly force can overcome that. That means that I'm different from you - in a lot of ways - and that's okay.

That's what the church is supposed to be - left/right, women/men, old/young, gay/straight, rich/poor, Royals/Cardinals, short/tall, UMC/AG, this race/that race, this nation/that nation, citizen/immigrant, this/that, blah blah/yadda yadda - and on and on and on. God loves us all; God wants us all to be better people; God offers us all the gift of salvation. To announce and embody this good news in all of its myriad possibilities is why the church exists.

How we treat each other matters. We should neither weaponize our differences nor ignore them. For the church, there is no "us" and "them" - it's all "us!" It's all us in all of our vibrant, complicated, mystifying, frustrating diversity. And it can be such a beautiful thing to behold.

This is our moment, church. Please let's not blow it.


Steve Green said...

"That's what the church is supposed to be - left/right, women/men, old/young, gay/straight, rich/poor, Royals/Cardinals, short/tall, UMC/AG, this race/that race, this nation/that nation, citizen/immigrant, this/that, blah blah/yadda yadda - and on and on and on. God loves us all;"

God does love us all.. But I would like you to elaborate on one particular group listed. "Gay/Straight" Are you saying that "You" believe that that a gay man or woman can inherit the Kingdom of God? I once had a young man come to me and ask if he had to be sober to become a Christian? My response was NO! But once you follow Christ with all your heart He will guide you from the life you once lived, and you will no longer be a slave to your sins.. The acceptance of a sinner is a must for the Church, but this does not mean the Church must accept the sin! The Church has become a place of compromise for the better of "Society" Lets not hurt anyones feelings....Things are looked over, swept under the rug, The blood covers it all. God is a God of love, but He is also a Judge. I believe not only will He judge those who live a life of sin, but also those who misrepresent His Word and teachings. See Corinthians 6:9-11 The key word in this passage is "WERE" God Bless

Anonymous said...

Amen, [Bishop] ;-) Bryan. Great post. Hope S'field is treatin' y'all well. You coming up for the 50th? We'll be there - hope to see you!

Anonymous said...

If a rich man can inherit the Kingdom, then why not a gay man?

To the topic at hand, though, I am one who finds it very difficult to be in communion with many of my fellow Methodists because of their opposition to health care for all citizens.

It seems to me to be in direct, and conscious, opposition to scripture and to be based on nothing but greed.

And I'm sorry, but I cannot get past it. It is a national sin of the highest degree.

Anonymous said...

I agree that a young person shouldn't hear such words from either a Congressman or from the President. He did say it first in his speech, "Cable TV and their anchors AND 'Prominant Politicians'". We have young ears and they are hearing the same thing about both sides.
Only God can bring us together. Not President Obama. He is not God.

bridger said...

Right on target, Andy. We can relate to people without agreeing with them. In fact, I believe the only way for most to hear what we have to say, is for us to give them the opportunity to tell us what they believe. We cannot shout and yell until people agree with us. Louder is not more correct. A conversation like Paul on Mars hill that is held within the context of our current culture is one that may be heard by people. Love your neighbor. Be ready to give an acoount of what Christ has been in your life.

Caryl Bryan said...

Steve - Your words make me want to cry. For you are doing the judging that only God can do. And when a person takes on the judgment role, that person is setting him or herself up above those that are being judged. We have all sinned and fallen short of God's will. If we have to give up our sinful ways to inherit the Kingdom, we are all lost.

In the church, it is possible to deal with divisive issues in civil and respectful manner. But when the final decision has to be made, how does the "losing side" manage to work and support an institution whose rules are so diametrically opposed to what they feel is God's will? Talk about compromising! 'Tis a puzzlement.

Caryl B - not clergy, not a theologian, just a concerned, confused lay person

Michael said...

This hatefulness and spitefulness did not come about only during this last election and not exclusively as a result of health care reform. I witnessed a 12-year-old in one of my congregations virtually scream, "Bush is an idiot" during that president's challenge of a national debate on Social Security. What does a 12-year-old know of such things except what adults teach?

It always is that "sides" come about and ask for civility when their guy is the one getting clobbered, and it is exacerbated with subtle, yet direct, references to 'glenbeckishness' or other such nonsense as contributory to the divisiveness without acknowledging one's part.

Your're right, Andy, of course, but the challenge is going to have to go much further, and I am enough of a cynic that I just don't see it happening.