The other day I was involved in one of those controversial Christian conversations. As our discussion was wrapping up this person said to me, “Well you have to love the sinner and hate the sin.” Then we hugged and went our separate ways. This one-liner was not new to me. As a matter of fact I have heard and used the exact same phase for years. I have probably even uttered it from the pulpit.
This time the conversation was a tough one and the phrase did not sound so spiritual. You see it was the first time I had ever been the target of the line. To him I was the sinner that needed loving and my prayerfully considered convictions were the sin that needed hating. Quite frankly it did not feel good to be on the receiving end. I had been judged to be a sinner. His love for me, in spite of my sin, did not make me feel any better, respected, or accepted. I would not be whole until I quit sinning.
I have done a lot of thinking about loving the sinner and hating the sin. It is one of those statements that sounds good; so good that many of us might even wonder why Jesus didn’t have the wisdom to use it himself. I could just imagine Jesus as he looked a Peter after the third denial, shrugging his shoulders and muttering to himself, “Well you have to love the sinner and hate the sin.”
The problem with loving the sinner and hating the sin is that it shifts power. It is an attempt at becoming God. When I say love the sinner, hate the sin in essence I am saying that I have God knowledge. I have the ability to name who sinners are and what sin is. Granted there are times when this seems obvious to all. Pedophiles and murders are two groups of people that come to mind. However, most of us live in a world that is much less stark. As much as many of us would like Scripture to be crystal clear on issues of war, patriotism, sexual orientation, speaking in tongues, hell, heaven, and many others, it isn’t clear.
When believers differ from each other it is tempting to name that difference as sin. The temptation is especially strong when we believe that we have Scripture on our side.
I remember going to church and being told that drums were a sign of the Devil and that women were not gifted in leadership. These opinions were held fervently, leaders believed they had God and Scripture backing up their beliefs. I am glad that the church had the courage to grow beyond those convictions.
I do not know where we are going to end up with the big discussions of today, but I do know that if we keep naming those who are different than us sinners we won’t have the opportunity to see where the spirit of God is leading us.
Filed under assumptions, Christian, church, church rules, confessions of faith, cultural insensitivity, culture, denominations, distinctives, diversity, faith, fear-based decisions, forgone conclusion, grace, humility, inclusion, kingdom of heaven, label, labels, love, mutuality, novel idea, questions of church, religion, religious system, respect, sinner, theology, transforming, two camps, war, worship
One of my regular prayers to God goes something like this: “I just want one year to be the perfect year, a year when everything would go according to the plan. All of my personal and work related budgets would be met; a 10% surplus would be a nice bonus! In addition I would like all the DOOR evaluations to come back with glowing comments and no suggestions for improvement. My theological reflections and opinions would be received with open arms. These reflections would be turned into a book which in turn would become a best seller. My staff would start from the assumption that I could do no wrong. And finally my computer would be free of bugs and viruses.”
God has not granted this prayer request. I am not perfect, the people around me are not perfect, and it is only on rare occasions that things work according to the plan. Learning to live with imperfection actually becomes a life skill. There are even people who tell me that dealing with let-downs and the unexpected is what develops character. Apparently everything being perfect doesn’t say much about who we are as people; trials, tribulations, and imperfections are the things that make great people.
Here is my question: If this is true for individuals is it also true for the church? Why is it so important to develop statements of faith that seem to require everyone to think and believe the same way? Why can’t the church be a little more imperfect? I am part of Mennonite Church USA. We are starting to tear apart at the seams around the issue of ordaining gay and lesbian persons. Some people, and I am speaking specifically to those in leadership, believe that unless we can agree on what the Bible says about this subject we cannot worship together. From my perspective, and I need to own that it is my perspective, this seems like the pinnacle of spiritual immaturity. It is the imperfection and differences of opinion that create character and integrity.
There is a story in John 8:1-11 about a woman caught in adultery. The leaders saw this woman’s imperfection but had no ability to see their own imperfection. Both the leaders and Jesus wanted the same thing- purity. Their approaches were so different. The leaders literally wanted to kill any impurity they found. Jesus wanted everyone to be more reflective about their own status. Reflection creates a space for difference and difference allows for character development.
If we are serious about our status as the bride of Christ, then let’s become much more comfortable with difference and imperfection; maybe even embrace those who hold positions about theology we radically disagree with.
Filed under Christian, church, church rules, confessions of faith, culture, denominations, distinctives, diversity, inclusion, kingdom of heaven, labels, love, stress, success, theology
I bought a new bible last week. Cokesbury is closing all its retail stores so now is a great time to get a great deal on a new bible! This whole process of looking for a new bible sent me down memory lane. I still have the bible I used as a teen. On the inside cover I found the following quote:
“No two Christians are exactly alike, some wear their hair quite long, others wear it fairly short, some Christians have black skin, others have skin that is yellow or white; some Christians have little education, others have graduate degrees; some Christians are poor, others are rich; some Christians enjoy using guitars and drums in church, other are opposed to using any instruments.”
A day or two after purchasing my new bible I was part of a phone conversation where the person on the other end of the line declared that I was clearly not a Christian. He then proceeded to pray the sinner’s prayer over me not once but multiple times. I must say it is interesting to be thought of as a person without faith.
This experience has caused a lot of reflection in my own life. Not about my commitment to Jesus, but about how many times I have questioned some else’s faith or commitment to their faith simply because it did not reflect my commitments.
I am known for telling people that God does not come to us for permission. We, humanity, are not the gatekeepers for God. Declaring someone outside of the kingdom of God has never been our responsibility. Allowing God to be God is not easy or comfortable. If you are like me you want God to be on your side. I would like to think that my values line up with God’s. This is what the church is called to do, remind us of God’s values. The struggle to be as radically accepting and inclusive as God can be disturbing.
In my work I get to see and work with Christians of all stripes. There are the patriots and those who call us to a global citizenship. I have worked side-by-side with pro-life and pro-choice believers. Some believers are convinced that the rapture is coming and others see it as the greatest scam ever pulled on Christians. This list could go on for quite a while. Here is my point, for reasons that are only known to God Christians don’t always agree. Our disagreements can seem quite significant. These disagreements should never be cause for declaring that someone is outside the kingdom of God.
How would Christianity be different if we started with the supposition that everyone is a child of God; that each person’s beliefs, political positions, immigration status, and citizenship are simply inconsequential?
Filed under Beloved Community, Christian, church, conversion, cultural insensitivity, denominations, distinctives, diversity, enemies, enemy, Evangelical, Evangelism, faith, inclusion, kingdom of heaven, ministry, political, politics, respect, theology, unity
One of the great privileges of my job is that I get to work with church leaders and members from many different faith traditions. Some come from very structured church communities while others come from less formal more Pentecostal contexts. There are churches that see the Bible as one of many holy books they would turn to for advice, while others come from traditions where the Bible is viewed as the inerrant word of God and the only Holy Scripture that should be consulted. The labels people of faith give themselves and each other are telling as well – Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Liberal, Progressive, etc.
After almost two decades of interacting and leading all these different “Christian” groups I find myself fascinated by the similarities between the extremes. Take for example Scripture. Both Liberals and Conservatives require a high degree of “Selective Reading” in order to maintain their understanding and reworking of the Christian faith.
My more liberal (or progressive) brothers and sisters don’t really like the Apostle Paul. They seem him as a sexist and homophobe. More often than not their approach is to simply ignore Paul and focus on Jesus and his message of Grace.
My more fundamental (or evangelical) brothers and sisters have so confused American Civil religion and Scripture that they can no longer tell the difference between the two. Take for example the “life issue.” The vast majority of conservatives are both pro-life and pro-war; at best this is an oxymoron.
I cannot help but wonder what it would mean for the church to take Scripture seriously. Conservatives would have to give up their sexism, homophobia and need for violence. Liberals would have to give up their eliteness, smugness and educational arrogance.
Here is the good news. Every week DOOR hosts multiple church groups, representing a wide spectrum of the Christian faith community. It is true that the church leaders sometimes judge and condemn each other, but the youth have very little interest in finding reasons to divide. They are interested in a Christian faith that moves beyond posturing, politics and rhetoric. For them faith is about taking Scripture seriously, loving God and loving neighbor. When this happens walls of division become unimportant.
Filed under being wrong, Bible Study, Christian, church camp, church rules, denominations, diversity, doubt, inclusion, ministry, racism, racist, theology, war
Why is it so important to draw lines in the sand? Too many people enjoy the illusion that the world can easily be divided into two camps – friend or enemy; republican or democrat; right or wrong; saint or sinner. It feels good and right to declare that people are either with us or against us. Why do things like change, diversity and difference scare us so much? Is it possible that we are hard wired to be afraid of diversity in ethnicity, faith, politics and ideological points of view?
Concepts like middle ground, compromise and grey areas are all too often seen as positions which immature or unenlightened folks take. If the definition of maturity includes fear of diversity and an unwillingness to change my mind, then I am not interested in maturity.
Could it be that the opposite is true? Immature people draw lines, never change their mind, and want the world to be full of people who look the same, believe the same and think the same.
Why would anyone vote for a politician who refuses to change their stance? Why go to a church where the pastor(s) never grow in their understanding of theology, God and what the church is called to? What fun is it living in a community where everyone looks the same or eats the same food or worships in the same way?
I like the Apostle Paul’s image of the body in 1 Corinthians 12. We are not all the same. As a matter of fact it is our differences that make us one! Embracing differences (diversity) means that any lines we draw should be easily erased and moved because chances are we should not have drawn the line in the first place.
Can you imagine a world where compromise was the norm? Church would be healthy and healing, politics would be helpful and honest, and battles over religion would be non-existent.
Filed under culture, distinctives, diversity, enemy, faith, friend, ideologies, inclusion, label, labels, lines in the sand, maturity, multicultural, racism, saint, sinner, two camps
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. I still remember my mother quoting this nursery rhyme to me after being teased. It was her way of helping me to get over the hurt of being made fun of. On one hand she was right. Being teased did not cause me any physical damage; I was never rushed to the emergency room because of name calling. To this day I am still haunted by some of the labels that were given to me – loser, scardy-cat, preacher’s kid, and wimp.
In the years since, I have become convinced that the good advice this nursery rhyme appears to provide is actually horrible guidance. It is true that sticks and stones can do a great deal of harm, but we mislead ourselves when we think of words as risk-free.
This past week I have been preparing for a seminar on White Privilege. The power to label and define others is one of the more sinister aspects of this privilege. Think about words like enemy, gang-banger, insurgent, drug-dealer and urban-rat. If I were to ask you to create an image for each of these labels chances are that it would not include people of Anglo descent. On the other hand if I were to ask you to form an image for America, apple pie, Barbie, GI Joe or a great leader chances are that an Anglo image
will form in your mind.
Words are powerful; do not let anyone tell you different. They have the power to build up and tear down. Labels can make us unreasonably fearful or envious. Fear based labeling is both dehumanizing and sinful.
One of the primary images for humanity in the New Testament is family. When we use language that dehumanizes, ridicules and looks down on other people we cease to be Christian.
Last Sunday as we were wrapping up Easter dinner, a friend made the following comment. “Why does the church spend so much time talking about Christmas and Easter and so little time on the stuff in-between?”
After all it is fun to talk about Jesus coming as a baby in a manger to save us.
There is something powerful about Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead to save us.
It is easy and simple to focus on humanity’s need of salvation. I suspect we do this because it doesn’t demand much on a day-to-day basis. Get saved, move on with life.
But the stuff in-between, that is a different story. It has the potential to change everything.
As a child I was always told that church and politics don’t mix. And it is possible to avoid this if we focus exclusively on Christmas and Easter. However, if we take seriously the stuff in-between then politics becomes an unavoidable part of being a Christian.
Consider Matthew 5-7. Jesus says things like, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Choosing to actively oppose violence at the personal, community and national levels is political.
Or how about later on in the same passage when Jesus teaches folks to pray, “Your Kingdom Come…on earth as it is in heaven.” What does it mean to create heaven on
earth? Does this mean that the Christian faith and environmentalism have something in common with each other? Could it be that the car you choose to drive says something about the quality of you faith?
Think about Jesus’ call for us to avoid judging. Without judgmentalism it becomes difficult to preach hell, fire and brimstone. If the church judges less and accepts more it may appear to be “too inclusive.”
If you want a simple faith – focus on Christmas and Easter. However, if you are interested in being salt and light – the stuff in-between is pretty important.
Have you ever found yourself longing for the good-old-days? A time when everything seemed simpler and less complicated?
I wonder if the good-old days were really all that good. Do we really want to go back to a time when some people had to sit at the back of the bus? My boys did not have to suffer through the mumps or the chicken pox. I like my GPS; going places without having to stop and ask for directions is a good thing, even a little empowering.
I cannot help but wonder if simple and less complicated are code words for racist and judgmental. In a sense, things are simpler if we can exclude people who are different. It is less complicated if those who are deemed different are granted no access to privilege or power.
Rather than looking at the past as an ideal to get back to, it might be better to view the past in the same way the Apostle Paul did, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Could it be that we long for the past because we like the immaturity and the not knowing that comes with being a child? Growing up means dealing with reality – reality can be complicated.
I like living in a world where reality has been and is being confronted. It is not always easy and simple solutions are rare, but it is honest.
Honest sounds better than simple and less complicated.
Last fall I attended a meeting where Stephen Lewis of the Fund for Theological Education spoke about creative leadership. Early on he claimed that “creative leaders are people who convene gatherings of diverse people because innovation only happens at the collision of diverse ideas.”
I had mostly forgotten about this comment until this week when I read a post from Duke Divinity School where the author references some research by Randall Collins. He asserts that “all intellectual breakthroughs across the history of the world, across cultures around the world, consistently have depended upon sustained relationships of people from diverse backgrounds interacting with one another over time.”
This makes sense to me. Hanging out with people who see the world differently than I do pushes my assumptions and challenges my beliefs. When I am pushed, I grow, change and mature. I become a better, more tolerant person.
So, why do I spend so much time and effort avoiding being pushed? If I am going to be honest it is my secret desire that everyone just agrees with me and accepts my perspectives. Being confronted with my own short-sightedness, prejudices and incomplete worldview is embarrassing. It is much more comfortable and easy to simply be right, or at least believe that I am right.
Innovative leadership and creative ministry require space for diversity, at every conceivable level. Those who have the courage and humility to allow for diversity will find themselves not only on the cutting edge but creating the edge itself.