Jesus came bringing the Good News (the Gospel) of salvation to the world, and charged his followers to do the same (Mk 1:14; 16:15). Yet, there has been much talk recently about the presentation of Christianity as unattractive, especially in America – as often not being Good News, but bad news of condemnation of people who are not Christians.
Christians are frequently, but unfortunately, known, by unbelievers and some believers alike, for the bad they are against rather than the good they are for. There is a hypocrisy here that is without question, as the focus of some Christians is to create “scapegoats” of the “bad people” in the society, while these same Christians view themselves as the “good people.”
My wife, Martha, reminded me of how often, growing up, she heard Romans 1:18-32 used in the pulpit to condemn homosexuality (vv 26-28), while completely ignoring the sins committed by just about everyone in the congregation (vv 29-31). Hence, Christian traditionalists are routinely judged for their unbalanced stance against: homosexual marriage, divorce, abortion, pre-marital sex, alcohol consumption, evolution, and the list can go on and on.
It seems to me that too often the political, religious, and/or social conversations which take place in the United States start from a polemic of for or against. This makes the conversation over contentious issues often more a diatribe, rather than a dialogue that will help promote spiritual growth and mutuality. Interestingly, for those who are accused of being against something, those same people can usually make an anti-statement read like a pro-statement. For instance, most theologically conservative Christians are anti-abortion, but refer to themselves as pro-life. Thus, perspective comes into play when making the statement that someone may be more negative than positive. But let’s not be naïve here and simply use semantics to make ourselves out to be the good guys and the other the bad guys.
Fortunately, there are many Christians who would like the (religious, social, and political) public square conversations to become more positive and dialogical. What would it be like for Christians to be known more for what they are truly for rather than against (and I am not talking attitudinally, like being more loving or compassionate)? I believe if Christians would shift the emphasis of the conversation from the overly sensual moral issues of our day to the more justice oriented teachings of Jesus, we would find more allies and have a greater opportunity to witness for the life-changing Gospel of Christ.
Jesus said, “Whoever is not against you is for you” (Lk 9:50, NET). We have more allies for the faith than we sometimes think. Conversely, if we believe that the world is against us, then we will assume a posture of being on the defensive, condemning the “bad people,” rather than being proactive by finding what Christians have in common with others of different or no faith.
I believe there are three Gospel imperatives which Jesus clearly taught which can be areas where more traditional Christians could find excellent ground for collaboration with progressive Christians and non-Christians (and atheists), and which will foster God’s Kingdom advance in the world. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who are unaware of or simply disregard Jesus’ clear teachings in these areas, so it is important to note that this blog post is written not to the world, but to the Christian who is either ignorant of or ignoring important Biblical truths proclaimed by Christ.
First, and foremost, Christians should be known for peace. I find it almost impossible to understand how Christians have historically twisted the clear non-violence teachings of Christ in order to support wars and oppression of all kinds. Jesus said, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Mt 5:39, NET). Christians are clearly called to be pro-peace (Mt 5:9), which would also be understood as firmly against the use of violence (anti-war). We ought to always stand for peace and against war in all situations. We should be for the development of the capacities of people and vehemently against the arms trade which brings so much death. Since many Christians erroneously see patriotism as a biblical imperative, Christians have, sadly, not been united in this area. It is high time for Christian leaders, especially Orthodox, Evangelical and Catholic ones, to clearly join the chorus of the peace-promoting Christian groups (Mennonites, Quakers, many Mainline Protestants, Red-Letter Christians, and others).
Second, American Christians ought to be known for justice. This would mean that Christians would be against practices like the death penalty, the use of torture, the slave trade, institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and anything that diminishes the inherent dignity of humans (with as much fervor as they are opposed to abortion). Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Mt. 5:6,NET). Christians who are justice seekers are not happy or satisfied because of what they get, but what they give to others. Justice oriented Christians see Jesus in the poor, the marginalized (people of color, women, homosexuals, etc.), and those are very different from them. This leads to third imperative in our day: the love of the immigrant.
American Christians have a clear scriptural duty to be for the alien. Ironically, most American citizens who are Christians are either immigrants or the children or grandchildren of immigrants. Have we forgotten what God said to the Israelites, “So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Dt 19:19, NET)? Borders are meant to divide and nation-states were constructed to separate, but Christ wants to bring all people into global citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29, NET). Our being for the alien is not just an advocacy, but a love of those different from us. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the [oppressors] do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the [unbelievers] do the same, don’t they?” (Mt 5:46-47, NET).
Clearly, we have Gospel mandates that are just (and maybe more) important than some of the social issues that many conservative Christians overemphasize. Can we seek a balance between the either/or and for/against polemics for which we are often responsible? Jesus boiled down our mission to love of God and neighbor. And just who is my neighbor: those who I might think are my enemies; people who are differently situated than me; and; people from other lands who would like to dwell in community with me.
© Paul Dordal, 2015