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Speak the Truth in Love

I was listening to a podcast from a somewhat well-known radio host yesterday. On his show he interviewed a woman who was a leader of a nonprofit organization fighting against abortion. She was part of the March for Life in the Capitol. She actually used to work for Planned Parenthood for several years. After witnessing a 13 week old baby boy fight for his life during a live ultrasound guided abortion, she left Planned Parenthood. The radio host asked her, “What is the thing that if you could have everbody hear today—this is the message we should be carrying?”

She replied,

“We have got to be carrying a message of love… there’s life and death in the power of the tongue… and the power of our keyboards… People are watching us. Women who have had abortions are watching us…when you call them ‘murderers,’ when you say hateful things about them, when you say ‘God will never forgive them,’ they are watching that and you could be impeding someone’s progress to finding healing and hope in Christ…[they see you online] saying things like ‘women like that need to just keep their legs closed’ and ‘what’s wrong with them’…when they see pro-lifers saying things like ‘I hope they burn in hell’ or ‘I pray they burn in hell’—they’re watching you… I wish I could get everybody to understand that under everything we do it should be undergirded by love and in life and mercy because we have all received mercy from Christ.”[1]

Everything she said in the interview inspired my heart. I am a pro-lifer. But, even more than being pro-life, I am pro “Good News.” My heart breaks when I hear the way some self-proclaimed “Christians” talk about or type about certain “categories” of people in the way she described. I have seen it first hand on social media platforms. I have seen it in comment threads on blog posts. I have heard within the four walls of the buildings we call churches. I have heard people say derogatory, hateful things about liberals, Muslims, Mexicans, illegal immigrants, pro-choice progressives, and LGBTQ individuals. I have heard Christians oversimplify issues like addiction, abortion, racial injustice, and immigration.

My heart breaks

Every.

Single.

Time.

THE PHARISEE IN US

Part of the reason I believe people tend to drift towards this judgmental, self-righteous legalism is because people just don’t understand the Scriptures. Part of this is because people forget that reading the Bible is a cross-cultural experience. In an exceptional book about interpreting the Bible, authors Richards and O’Brien note:

Our hierarchy of what behaviors are better or worse than others is passed down to us culturally and unconsciously. We might assume that our mores are universal and that Christians everywhere have always felt the way we feel about things…

What can be more dangerous is that our mores are a lens through which we view and interpret the world. Because mores are not universal, we may not be aware that these different gut-level reactions to certain behaviors can affect the way we read the Bible.[2]

In other words, our cultural assumptions affect how we read the Bible. The fact that, for most American Christians, Jewish traditions and cultural customs are completely foreign to us means we may miss the not-so-subtle undertones of a passage.

One of the things I think we often overlook is how horrifically offensive Jesus was to the religious leaders. The Pharisees were one of the more balanced and reasonable sects during Jesus day—unless terrorism (Zealots) or the monastic life (Essenes) is your sort of thing. They originated out of a desire to preserve God’s holiness among His people. The Pharisees are believed to have arisen during the Exile. During the time when the Israelites were living as a conquered, deported people in a foreign land. Their exile was a consequence of their repeated rebellion against Yahweh and their refusal to heed the warnings of the prophets.

So, during a time when God’s people were living in a pagan, corrupt land a group of community leaders decided that the history and traditions of their people needed to be preserved or else their identity would be lost forever. They also believed that strict adherence to the Law would prevent such a tragic consequence in the future and possibly invoke God’s mercy.

What about this translates to us today? I hear so often from Christian people that we are living in a “dark world” and that “the world is corrupt.” They are the same people that often fight for their “traditions” because doing things differently could lead to a “slippery slope.” They, like the Pharisees, have a well-intentioned desire to preserve the holiness of God’s people and the traditions of their church in an effort to preserve the truth of their identity.

(Note: The reality that we are in a dark world I am not contesting. I am simply pointing out that we are exiles in a foreign land like the Israelites. I also am not against traditions. I simply want to point out that we are not so different from some biblical characters know as the Pharisees. We often villainize them without realizing what we have in common with them.)

I wonder how many well-intentioned saints of our local churches would have been appalled by Jesus’ interaction with tax collectors and known sinner’s (Mark 2:15—17). I wonder how many well-intentioned Christian leaders would have accused Jesus of watering down the truth when he told the woman caught in adultery “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:1-11). I wonder how many conservative Christians who have muddled their faith with their national patriotism would be enraged that Jesus would even suggest that we “Love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us” (Matthew 5:43-48). (Remember, Jesus is talking to a conquered people who are being oppressed by a corrupt, pagan empire, yet he has the audacity to call them to a higher standard of love). I wonder how many seasoned saints who love their traditions would be infuriated by Jesus’ continued disregard for man’s traditions (Luke 5:33-6:11).

We miss these nuances in the Gospels because we assume Jesus thinks the way we do about the Sabbath traditions or the fasting rituals of the Pharisees. We forget that Jesus was a first-century Jewish man. We forget that the Gospel authors include these details on purpose. The potency of how outrageous and offensive Jesus was to religious people is lost on us. Likewise, the scandalous nature of His extraordinary grace towards those who were the marginalized of society is also lost on us.

DOCTRINE OR LIFESTYLE

I want to ask anyone who reads this: Are you a Christian who believes and affirms certain doctrinal truths of the Christian faith? Or, are you someone who is striving to follow Christ? Are you willing to follow Christ if he asks you to sell your possessions and reject the American dream? Are you willing to follow Christ into places that might bring you into contact with people who are different from you and have different values than you? Are you willing to follow Jesus into the darkest corners of our world? Are you willing to interact with Samaritans (translation: those culturally, ethnically, and religiously different from you); tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners (translation: progressives, LGBTQ individuals, and addicts); lepers (translation: societies outcasts); and the poor (translation: not needed)?

Are you a follower of Jesus or just someone who cognitively affirms a few doctrinal truths, lives a decent life, and attends church most weeks?

THE CHURCH 

I believe the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. The imagery here is one of a Church on the attack not the defensive. The “gates of hell” paints imagery of a fortress closed up because of an attack. The attack is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). The attack is on the powers of darkness that keep God’s beloved in bondage to sin. The attack is about being a Light in dark places and reclaiming all that the enemy has stolen from God’s children. I believe in fighting for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I believe in stomping out global poverty. I believe in fighting against racial injustice. I believe in standing for life—in all its stages. I believe in freedom from addiction. I believe in fighting against human trafficking. I believe in stewarding God’s creation as an act of obedience (Genesis 1:28). I believe marriages that seem irreparable can be restored. I believe a life that appears broken beyond recognition can be redeemed. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in hope. I believe in grace. I believe Easter is coming. Resurrection is coming.

“The church can be a credible sacrament of salvation for the world only when it displays to humanity a glimmer of God’s imminent reign—a kingdom of reconciliation, peace, and new life. In the here and now. That reign comes wherever Christ overcomes the power of evil. This happens (or should happen!) most visibly in the church.”[3]

“God’s reign is not intended for those who regard themselves as VIPs, but for those on the margins: for those who suffer, for tax-collectors and sinners, for widows and children.”[4]

[1] Beck, Glenn. “Marching for Life.” Audio blog post. The Glenn Beck Program. January 19, 2018. (interview of Abby Johnson starts at 1:28:30)

[2] Richards, E. R. & O’Brien, B. J. (2012). Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. InterVarsity Press. (p. 34)

[3] Bosch, D. J. (1998). Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. (p. 377)

[4] Bosch, D. J. (1998). Transforming mission: Paradigm shifts in theology of mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. (p. 33)

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