We as Christians have a responsibility to the truth just as much as we have a responsibility to share Christ’s love with those around us. As we try to hold the paradox of love and truth together, let us be clear about what our expectations are. It is neither loving nor truthful to let someone walk in darkness, or to confirm darkened notions that darkness isn’t really darkness. Truth without love is abrasive and wounding. “Love” without truth is simply warm-hearted neglect.
Often we Christians are not known by a reputation for loving people. When Christians do open their mouths, it is often about the wrong things. We as a church often hold those outside the church to a standard we are only able to live out through God’s grace. Some people may see God doing great things in our lives and think we do them by our own power because of our silence about their Source. Instead of as people who lovingly patch up sinners and introduce them to God’s healing love, we are seen as people who are more interested in building fences than bridges. People outside the church see us as judgmental, hypocritical, and homophobic; As a people with a political agenda that matters far more than anything else about us. Lets face it, we have attached a few things to Christianity.
I first became fully aware of this when I lived in Kansas, not that culture here isn’t blinded too, but unless you get out of your native culture it is harder to see. I served as a youth pastor in a church that was 50 miles away. Every Sunday I passed by a 30 ft cross that had a womb and fetus in the center with “the great American holocaust: 50 million dead and counting” emblazoned across the bottom. It was psychologically jarring to me every single Sunday, I can only imagine what it was to experience this sign as a non-Christian. Don’t get me wrong, I hate abortion. I recognize that it is a complex issue, with much antagonism on both sides, but at the end of the day I hate it. To me life is sacred and God would never want people to flippantly respond to the miracle of conception out of mere inconvenience, which is often the case. But more importantly I recognize I am called to love the people who choose this, and those who help them, with the very same love with which Jesus loves me, when, even as I was still sinning, He died for me. But putting something else on the cross instead of Jesus is flat wrong. No matter how noble a reason or worthy a cause, this is blasphemy! But in the mind of the person who built the cross, being a Christian and being anti-abortion were one and the same. It would seem they only had a one issue gospel, not the full Gospel proclaiming Jesus–not a political issue–as Lord. Before we jump up on a self-righteous soapbox, lets keep in mind we often do the same thing. Think of our response to some of these things, especially as illumined by my spiritual gift of sarcasm:
- Young Earth Creationism
- (Yom = day or you’re a heretic!)
- The Homosexual Issue
- (I’m a bigot? Well… you’re a heretic!)
- Books like Love Wins
- (its bad!…even though no one has read it yet)
- Books like Harry Potter, or Twilight
- (made up magic is evil…unless C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien wrote it!)
- Global Warming/Climate Change
- (its all a conspiracy!…let’s trust oil companies to fund our science)
- The Economy/Capitalism
- (greed works!…we are in a good place with that)
- (death to the tyrants… mob rule is such a beautiful thing!)
- (we sent you missionaries, now go back home!)
- Being Republican or Democrat
- (its not like the Pharisees and Sadducees, its like Jesus, we promise!)
I know this is a little over the top. I only do this to make a point. Some of these issues are more important than others, but they do not define us as Christians. Jesus does! These things can become huge distractions from the reason the church was birthed; to reach the world for Christ! There are many sticky situations out there to wrap ourselves up in. Make no mistake, I personally hold a biblical view of the authority of Scripture, the sanctity of life, and what I see as God’s plan for sexuality. But we can easily get wrapped up in some kind of “culture war” and forget that God wants us to reach out to those around us.
As a church we are called to be known by what we love—what we stand for—more than what we stand against. There are a lot of hurting people out there who need to hear the gospel a lot more than what you and I think of Romney’s or Obama’s economic plans, or whether or not we think global warming is real. It is time to get back to reaching those outside the church instead of spending all our time and resources toward the comfort of those within. The truth is our church budgets often reveal we are more concerned about keeping the air conditioner running than looking out for the spiritual needs of even our actual, next door neighbors.
I’ve heard Dan Kimball, a great Christian author, say to his congregation “this building is not the Church. The people are! This building is simply a missionary training facility!”
Imagine if we really believed that. The church has a mission! This is not the rotary club, or just some blandly benevolent social organization. The church has been called and set apart to expand God’s Kingdom by proclaiming His good news to those around us, not only in words but also in our actions. But what do we do with the truths we have found in our experience with God? How can we really practice love and steward truth in this broken world we are called to love and serve? I am still trying to figure that out, but here are a few thoughts from my journey so far:
- Allow the Holy Spirit opportunity and permission to change us and help us see the truth we know in all its nuances and fullness. While truth may be static and unchanging, our understandings of it can grown and change over time. We have the wonderful opportunity to live it experientially; to stand on it and walk in it. If nothing else this should call us to humility. No one among us has not been broken over encounters with truth they were not able or willing to see.
- Recognize our own bias and agendas. We all have areas where we still walk in grace, despite our blinders. While truth is perfect, we are still being perfected. We have not arrived. Nor have we arrived at our present understanding without a long process. We should not expect others to arrive at our conclusions who do not share our experiences and who have not walked alongside us on our journey. At some point, and likely at this point, people were and are very patient with us in our flailing. Others walked beside us as we limped and whined after stubbing our toes on the truth…
- Recognize we are responsible to God for our own choices, not the choices of others. No matter how much we love a person, we cannot control them and bend them to our will, even if it is for their own benefit. At the end of the day, God seems to give people what they want (even if what they want is bad). Our job is not necessarily to tell others “I told you so” if or when they finally encounter truth, but to offer grace and forgiveness as necessary.
- Get outside made up philosophical conundrums and get to know people who do not share our views. It is too easy to construct straw men and thrash them to “prove our point.” Anyone can proof text Scripture and see their interpretation as the only valid one, or pit “these” verses against “those” verses. Instead of this, what is often needed is a focus on how to actually live in real, specific, and present circumstances, not hypothetical scenarios geared toward the answer we are looking for.
- Earn the right to be heard by authentically connecting and engaging in the lives of those around us.
- Learn to listen. Do not ignore what people say because we do not like it or part of it is wrong. Do not tune them out to formulate what you will interject with as soon as they pause to take a breath. Simply listen, when they have been heard, you will likely have the opportunity to be heard. Talking past others is wasting your time anyway.
- Suspend judgment on the morality of the actions of others and attempt to walk a mile in their shoes. Stealing is always wrong, but when you are starving it sure doesn’t seem as wrong. We should listen with an ear toward finding out what makes people tick. People do silly things when driven by desperation. Listen for desperation and reflect on how desperation has shaped your actions and decisions too. We all make our choices because they make some kind of sense… even crazy people. If you get the story you might also find out God gets the glory at the end.
- Learn how to be heard. Make sure that before we go “speaking the truth in love” that the people we are speaking to truly know of our love for them.”Christianese” may need to be left behind. Think about how best to communicate the truth in a way that this particular person can best understand. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.
- Wait to be invited to speak, and keep our words “few and full.”
- When you speak, speak from the heart, and let God’s grace meet you as you do so.
Allowing signs, bumper stickers, and t-shirt slogans to speak the truth for us costs us opportunities for God’s love to speak alongside it. Keeping an ‘I’m ok, you’re ok” attitude devoid of moral depth or kingdom ethics is just as dangerous. It is too easy to become apathetic and callous in this political climate of hatred and mudslinging, yet we are called to live and speak truth into the places we are called to walk. Quakers often love being edgy and relish in “speaking truth to power” over and above speaking truth to our neighbor. Let us not be too cool to engage the real difficulties in our lives or the lives of those around us. We also struggle at times, as other people, out of compassion and humility, speak the truth to us. Like the sense of touch God gave us, the body of Christ should sound its prophetic alarm at the pain the world causes itself. As Richard Foster says, “conforming to a sick culture is to be sick.” But let this not degenerate into manipulation attempts, being an extension of propaganda, or threats and fear. As we model for others how truth and love can live together in God’s world, may He help us also learn to see how His truth and love are already present and at work in the lives of those around us.