Fear our Love.

Christians are not the parents of this world.  I say that because at times we act as if we are.  We want to dole out punishment and appropriate discipline to all those whom we see as disobeying.  “Hey. single mom, your current struggles are the natural consequence of your actions!  If you’d followed God’s plan your life wouldn’t be so hard!”  Or, “hey, gay person, you’ve got to get straight to get to God or you’ll burn in hell, m’kay?”  Or, “Hey, society, just going to change a few laws over here to keep your Judeo-Christian values right or God is gonna judge us all, don’t want that happening!”

Missing the point, missing the point, missing the point.

We aren’t society’s parents.  There’s a difference between being God’s ministering hands and feet to express the Gospel to this world and being God’s spank paddle.  One, we are called to be.  The other?  We aren’t.  See, the thing is, all of humanity is called to be God’s sons and daughters.  We’re all siblings.  When I tell my son if he throws his toys his toys are going in my closet and he’s getting a time out, his sister is right there to let me know that her brother is stressed and angry and he can’t help it and he needs a hug and if I give him a time out I’m Mean Mommy.  When I tell her that if she doesn’t respond to me because she’s watching a video I’m going to turn off the TV, her brother is right there to defend her.  They’ve got each other’s backs.  And when I dole out the discipline and go into the other room, guess who is sneaking in to hug and kiss and talk their sibling through it?  That’s the way of things.  I, as my gay Christian friends sister in Christ, see my first and foremost job as being their advocate, not being their jury.  I also don’t need to be their voice of conviction because that is why Christ sent us the Holy Spirit.  What they do need is me as their sister, the one who will stay up late to whisper to them.  The one who will argue for them in the face of judgment.  The one who will conspire with them to wreak havoc when necessary.  Their partner in humanity.

Sometimes, when I read Christian magazines and articles online, I start to picture the Bride of Christ as a nagging wife, saying “didn’t I tell you last week if you didn’t stop that you’d burn in Hell?  How many times must I remind you?”  It saddens me deeply.  Our example is supposed to be Christ, the one who came to Earth to advocate for our healing.  The one who gave us freedom from beneath the law.  The one who acted as the supreme advocate, standing between us and our judgment at the expense of his body, his dignity, and his life.  Yet in his name we enforce the law at the expense of faith, bullying, belittling, and threatening our fellow humans, our fellow brothers and sisters, until they turn from the Church with a resigned sigh, throw up their hands, and disavow God.

And why shouldn’t they?  When I punish my children unfairly, without any sympathy, grace or mercy, because I myself am scared and frustrated, they turn from me.  Our words must be selfless.  They must be motivated by love.  They must be tempered with knowledge of God’s grace and mercy and kindness.  They must be modeled after Christ.  They must never be motivated by our own fears.  Let’s be honest with ourselves- a lot of the condemnation the church heaps out is fear-centered.  No gay marriage?  We’re afraid of the consequences to society.  Discipline the single mother?  We’re afraid of the reputation that embracing her would give our church, and afraid she’s going to keep sleeping around, and afraid that she’s going to expect us to help her out and take her responsibilities on ourselves.  Rebuke the tattooed punk?  Let’s be honest, we don’t understand him.  We find his attitude offensive.  We’re afraid of what he’ll act like if he sticks around.  And that gay sixteen year old boy?  If we don’t rebuke him, he might be gay forever.  And we’re terrified of what that might mean.

It’s not God, it’s fear.  And when we reprimand our fellow man in God’s name, claiming that it is love, all we ultimately do is teach them to fear and reject God.  Are we supposed to hold each other accountable in love?  Absolutely.  Just like how my son will whisper to his sister that Mommy said something and she’d better say “yes mom”.  Just like my daughter will tell my son, “If mom sees you doing that she will be SO MAD.”  But that is something done out of charity, something done out of love, something done out of sympathy and a common goal.  It’s done to improve a life, not to condemn actions.  When we intercede with each other we have to do it out of God’s spirit and heart, and with knowledge of the consequences of our actions.

When I see the multitude of people who love God but are ashamed of Christianity, all I can think is that if we truly were doing things God’s way the result of our actions wouldn’t be fruits of bitterness, doubt, and loss of faith.

Somewhere, something has gone horribly wrong.

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Crafting areas of belonging- What would Jesus truly do?

When looking at how we, as followers of Jesus, ought to behave we have no greater example than the man we follow.  The issue of crafting areas where people can belong is one I’ve addressed here before.  But something I haven’t really talked about is how far from the ideal of Jesus’ behaviors we’ve truly fallen. To demonstrate this point, I’ll talk about a few different groups of people that are close to my heart.

  1. The punks, the goths, the scattered remnants of culture on the edge of society:  I can’t just point to one youth movement and say “that one”, there are too many.  So whether it’s the guy getting high in the alleyway or the tattooed beauty throwing down dance moves in the club- where do they belong in relation to us?  How do we get close enough to share God’s heart with them?  We can’t say, “come to us, all who are thirsty,” and just wait for them to show up on a Sunday morning…   especially since if they showed up looking like they do on Friday night, we’d just throw them out.
  2. The single parents and couples choosing to live together without marrying:  They don’t have relationships like the Good Christian Standard, and they are painfully aware of it.  Talking about their kids or their partners means talking about how very much they’ve fallen short of what is expected, should they become Christian.  They may miss the faith of their youth or just know there is something missing from their life…  but trying to build a relationship with the church is full of discomfort and feeling judged and found wanting.  One might argue that this is part of how God “convicts” them and shows them their need for him…  but do you think God really wants to convict them right out of ever even trying to worship him?  How can we show them his love?
  3. Gay people.  Do I even need to say more?

Jesus ministered to people in three major ways:  He went to where they were (by eating in their homes), he went to places where they had easy access to him (by preaching on hillsides, at the docks, or in the marketplace), and he performed miracles for the desperately needy.  All of these ways of ministering were revolutionary.  A good priest would not eat at a tax collectors home, most certainly not in the company of drunkards and other sinners, as Jesus did  (Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5) as this would make them unclean.  A good priest spoke from a place of authority- such as the temple or the city gates.  Going out into public arenas that were the province of farmers and tradesman would have been an act of lowering onesself- but these were the arenas in which Jesus gained all of his power.  Why?  Because the people flocked to him.  Because they were welcomed by him.  The dichotomy of Jesus versus the religious leaders sees no greater example than this, as women and children were not even allowed into the temple proper, and thus could never be taught in the way men were.  But the Bible shows so often that women and children were also welcomed into Jesus’ world, never more clearly than in Luke 18 when Jesus so famously says, “let the children come to me… The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”

Then, of course, there are the miracles.  People like the Man born blind (John 9) whom people saw as recieving his judgment through his blindness, and thus avoided.  Or the woman who was subject to an issue of blood (Matthew 9) who touched Jesus’ cloak- an act which could have been seen as horribly offensive.  A woman who was bleeding was not to leave her home or to touch a man, as this was unclean.  But yet this woman had faith that Jesus would pity her, she thought, “I will only touch his cloak”, and he turns to her and says, “take heart.”

That must have blown her world apart.

So Jesus created three arenas in which the people belonged with him (or he belonged to them, as one might see it)- in their homes, in their public world, and through meeting their immediate needs and taking pity on them.  How can we, as Christians, do the same?  Are we brave enough to dine at the home of a gay couple?  To pass out water at the door of the blue-haired girl’s favorite bar or club?  To give diapers to the teenage mother, or groceries to the couple living “in sin”?

Are we brave enough to take off the WWJD? bumper sticker and really ask ourselves what our Father is doing?

What in the world to do about Sin in the Church?

In yesterday’s post there were a lot of hypothetical questions.  One of the biggest was “when is it okay to kick someone out because of persistent sin?”  This started an interesting comment thread, and I felt the need to research one formula that was mentioned.  The common wisdom in most church circles is that if you have a dispute with a fellow believer, you approach them alone.  If they fail to be convicted by your words, you take an elder and try again.  If this is unsuccessful, they face castigation by the greater body.  If they are belligerent, they are asked to leave.

Why is this a common formula?  It comes from the Bible!

Matthew 18: 15-17 (NIV)

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

I think there are many times these verses are abused in the name of doing right.  Firstly, I’d like to point out the stipulation that this formula is for when a brother sins against you.  If I, in the quiet of my own home, watch an inappropriate movie or choose to drink, I am not sinning against you, I’m sinning against myself.  If I were to have an attraction to people of my own gender, that is between me and myself, not the larger church  body.  If I tend to hold grudges, or wallow in depression, or over eat- these are all sins which carry an internal consequence.  I harm myself. No truly quantifiable harm is happening to anyone else.  Were I to tbe cast from my local church body for these personal foibles, then, more harm would be done than good.  The larger church body would not benefit from my being gone (in any sense other than feeling more holy for lack of me) and I myself would be deprived of the very people that could be my salvation.  Note that I  say all of this in a purely hypothetical sense- I make every attempt to cast out pervasive sins God reveals to me, and I’ve never been deliberately kicked out of a church body.  I do not make this argument to defend myself or as a rebuttal to a wrong the church has committed against me.

I just think Christians ought to seriously consider the long term affects of rebuking a fellow believer out of self-righteousness.

Not that there isn’t any use for those verses or for practicing them.  If a fellow believer does sin in a way that wrongs his body, action should be taken.  If a believer is a bullier, a gossip, flirts with another believer’s spouse and does not desist when asked to, is caught in adultery, shows up on at church functions drunk and disorderly, seeds fear or discontent knowingly and creates a bitter spirit… such a person should be approached in exactly the manner proscribed by the Bible, to it’s fullest extent if necessary.

My biggest problem with these verses and this formula is that I’ve more often seen them used against people guilty of sinning against themselves (despite their attempt to change, or their need for compassion) or as a justification for bigotry, but I’ve not often seen them used against the people who most need to be confronted with the malicious nature of their sin.

The teenager who falls and finds herself pregnant needs compassion and a strong arm to lean on.  The Elder who uses the prayer tree as a way to gossip and cause division needs to be confronted.  The wife who leaves an emotionally manipulative and cruel husband needs someone to help her heal, not force her back into the arms of her abuser-  the man who constantly seeds discontent and division in the church needs to be rebuked.  The teenager who questions their sexuality needs a hand to hold and a sympathetic ear- The man who persists in misogynistic behavior and becomes a stumbling block for the women in his church needs to be reigned in.

And I could keep going.

I guess what I am ultimately saying is that when judgments must be made about sin, they need to be made with forethought as to their consequences, through compassion and intercession and discernment- not based off of a formula.  The thought must not be for the eradication of sin, but for the health of the body as well as the individual.  It must come not from a place of discomfort or disgust but from a place of love for all people, not just one’s self and one’s own opinion.

Count the cost, every day.

Count the souls lost to a system that values the appearance of purity more than the pursuit of salvation.