Sunday, 12 April 2015

Agree to Disagree (but Live in Peace Anyways)

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” (1 Peter 2: 11-12; NIV)

Recently a friend posted a comment on Facebook that got me thinking and which, as often happens, raised several other questions for me. He said,

“I can’t expect the rest of the world to obey God
when Christians won’t.”

Now I’m not sure what you think about that statement, but I think I understand where he’s coming from, and to a point, I agree. Here are a few random thoughts and musings that went through my head after reading that.

I got to thinking about our Christian values, ethics and doctrines. Most of us hold dearly to them; they are pretty much “non-negotiable.” They define us and they define our faith and understanding of who God is and what He expects of us (or doesn’t expect of us). We’re good with them, and if we have a problem with them, it is only in that we cannot understand why there are other Christians who apparently cannot see these things the way we do.

The fact that on many issues even Christians are not united, such as the recent hoopla over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana and the alleged discrimination that it brings to the LGBT community, brings us back to my friend’s post. When it comes to a specific theological position or worldview, regardless which side of the fence we’re on, we’re quite possibly going to see our neighbors on the other side of the fence as not obeying God. After all, how can they be if God obviously sees the situation the way I do? ... I’m being facetious. (For more on the Religious Freedom Restoration Actsee my earlier blog post)

All this begged another couple random questions. How “Christian” are those values, ethics and doctrines that we’ve embraced anyways? Secondly, how do we reconcile the fact that some of our brothers and sisters clearly do not hold to them like we do? Let’s pause for a moment and think of the implications in those loaded questions.

Either they’re wrong or (heaven forbid) we’re wrong … or one of us isn’t actually a real Christian (a sort of wolf in sheep’s clothing) … or God was mistaken … or those “Christian” values, ethics and doctrines are actually “pseudo-Christian” … or God changed His mind. But which one is right? Which ones are wrong? Does one have to be right or wrong? In and of themselves, none of the options are particularly comfortable. Furthermore, the whole question hinges on a judgment call that leaves an equally bad taste in most of our mouths. Some will no doubt ask, shouldn’t I be more focused on the plank in my own eye rather than the speck in my neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:3)? Maybe I should.

There is another equally disturbing question that I found myself musing upon. My friend’s allegation is that Christians do not obey God. Obviously that’s somewhat of an unfair generalization, and I’m sure he meant it somewhat “tongue ‘n cheek,” but let’s work with it for a second. If that were true, and building on everything we’ve already said thus far, could it be that some of us have developed a rather subjective view of what it means to be a Christian? I’ve often wondered about that. Though I really don’t want to go there, I think the question logically follows. If that were not true, then my friend is perhaps right, and some of us are deliberately being disobedient to God. Is the word of God … subjective?

One final question the comes out of my friend’s post, and one which I’ve stewed on a number of times before, is this: Do Christians really have the right to expect the secular world to live according to Christian values, ethics and doctrines? It seems to me that this question becomes even more profound when we recognize that even within the church we cannot see eye-to-eye on what is truly non-negotiable in the Christian faith. The famous “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind as a non-negotiable, but even there, many of us seem to have added a list of exceptions to the rule of “love one another.”

While I do not believe that we Christians should expect non-believers to embrace and live their lives according to our values, neither do I believe that the non-Christian world should expect me to embrace its worldview. We’ve all heard people say, “Don’t push your religion down my throat,” and yet the irony is that the world does that to the Christian too, expecting us to kneel down and “worship” its values, even though they often contradict ours. Obviously we all still have a lot to learn about how to treat one another on this rock called Earth.

I don’t want to be militant about these things. I do want to “make every effort to live in peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14), keeping in mind that Jesus said I “do not belong to the world” (John 15:19). Once I came to grips with that, I also began to understand a little better Peter’s admonition that, “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17). As such, I have stopped concerning myself with how the other guy chooses to live his or her life, knowing that they too will one day have to give an account to God, regardless whether or not they believe in Him today.

But then again, I suppose that not everyone believes that either, and that’s okay. Maybe the old adage of "Agree to Disagree" is enough. Maybe we don't need to fully understand the mind of God on these things. Maybe the old children's hymn is enough,
"Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
Maybe if Christians spent a little more time focussing on that, it would be enough to live in peace with one another, despite our disagreements and misunderstandings. Maybe that's the one Christian value, ethic and doctrine that really matters. Maybe ...

Peace & Blessings.

Photo Credit: Philip Bitnar, Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, 4 April 2015

of Religious Freedom, the LGBT, and A Better Way

"What shall we conclude then?
Are we any better?"
(Romans 3:9)

In the March 28, 2015 issue of The New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an excellent piece entitled, "A Little Respect for Dr. Foster." The article began with the claim that in a recent poll 53% of Americans approved of gays and lesbians versus the lessor 42% approval for evangelical Christians. He goes on to say,

"That's partly because some evangelical leaders were intolerant blowhards who give faith a bad name. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson famously blamed the 9/11 terror attacks in part on feminists, gays and lesbians, and doctors who perform abortions. After a public outcry, both men backed off."

Has there been a shift in public attitude and opinion?

As in most areas of life, there are always a few loose cannons that destroy the landscape for the rest of us; evangelical Christianity is no different. However despite the damage Falwell and Robertson created, they by no means represent the norm in evangelical Christianity; there are many silent and often missed voices in the evangelical camp that put their faith into action in practical ways. Enter Kristof's article on Dr. Stephen Foster, a 65-year old missionary surgeon who has lovingly served and lived with the people of Angola for 37 years, often despite terrible persecution. Read the full Dr. Foster story here.

Fast-forward +/- fourteen years.

As I write this, a new (and I would argue) foolish new law has just made its debut in the US state of Indiana. Essentially this unpopular new Religious Freedom Restoration Act gives businesses the right to refuse to serve potential customers based upon their religious convictions. It's not surprising that the gay and lesbian community was quick to jump all over this, and perhaps rightly so, claiming that it discriminates against them. The fact is, as much as I do believe in religious freedom, the new law does discriminate, not just against the gay and lesbian community, but indirectly against a plethora of others as well. By way of example, I cannot help but wonder how well our Muslim neighbours will fare under this law. Will they be refused service too? At the risk of digressing too far, the infamous late Pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church fame must be smiling from his grave at this one (I'm being facetious).

Despite our (legal) religious freedoms in this land, sometimes I think we Christians are our own worst enemies. We often make a lot of noise about our opinions and views, you know, those "religious" ones that we like to say we don't have. This is especially true when it comes to our pet sins. As Phillip Yancey is quoted to have said, "Christians get very angry towards other Christians who sin differently than they do." Hmm, let's stop an chew on that one for a while.

Yes, we can build a biblically-based argument against homosexuality and call it "sin," but we can also build biblically-based arguments on a host of other "sins," such as divorce and remarriage. Ouch! I'm sorry if that struck a nerve with some of you, but it serves to illustrate my point. I wonder how many businesses in Indiana will now refuse to serve divorced and remarried "Christian" people and call it religious freedom? Or what about people who drink too much, or perhaps those who are obese; can they expect to be refused service too? Do we have religious freedom to discriminate against them as well? Biblical arguments can be made against all sorts of things if we were so inclined. Maybe Jesus himself would be refused service under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, for after all, He was often known for dining with sleazy prostitutes and those evil tax collecting "sinners." Was He then guilty by association? Of course not! Yet sometimes I wonder if we have forgotten what Jesus said about first removing the plank in our own eyes (Matthew 7:3; Luke 6:41) before concerning ourselves too much with the affairs of others. Hmm.

Maybe there's a better way.

Recently I read an article about a church group that effectively squashed a planned protest against them by the LGBT community simply because the church folks were "too nice." Let's stop and think about that for a moment. "Too nice?" What does that mean, "too nice?" Whatever it means, I suspect that it includes treating all people (regardless of religious beliefs or sexual orientation) with the same grace and love that God treated us with through Jesus Christ. What if ALL Christians suddenly became known for being "too nice" instead of this tendency to sometimes be religious intolerant noise-making blowhards?

Let's take this one step further and consider this discussion in light of the ultimate mandate of the church; the Great Commission's call to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). Now I may be wrong, but it seems to me that making disciples is a whole lot easier for a nice Christian than a cantankerous one.

This doesn't mean that we have to reduce our beliefs to the lowest common denominator. This doesn't mean that we have to water down our faith. This doesn't mean that the Christian has to embrace the LGBT's agenda or lifestyle any more than it means that the LGBT community suddenly needs to embrace evangelical Christianity. Quite frankly, there have been times when neither side has been "too nice" to the other. The point is, we do not have to agree with each other's lifestyles, but it seems to me that we would all do better if we learned to play a little nicer in the sandbox of life.

"Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God."
(Matthew 5:9)

Something to think about. Peace.

Photo Credit: Craftivist Collective, Flickr Creative Commons