Sunday mornings are always rough for me, namely because church in general is rough for me. I started going to my current church when Sam and I got engaged, and it's been a very different experience. Up to this point all of the churches I have consistently attended have been, well, small-town churches with no more than about 50-100 people in attendance. This is a much, much larger church (though no where close to being a mega-church, much less a Six-Flags Over Jesus). Which is great and all, but I feel overwhelmed by people every time I'm in there.
Also, I find myself having a hard time listening to the pastor there sometimes. It's not intentional, it's just invariably he'll tell us what chapter and verse(s) he's looking at for the day's sermon, and the next thing I know I've read about 5 other chapters in that book and he's two-thirds of the way through his sermon.
Books have always had a way of distracting me.
Anyway, on Sunday our Pastor was talking to us about the idea of unity and community in the church, which overall I thought was good. At one point, however, he began talking about how American culture as a whole is obsessed with the idea of unity or "oneness," and that in the process we lose truth. He then proceeded to talk about how he had seen this bumper sticker:
and that he had serious issues with the idea presented here. He continued to illustrate the point by talking about how he'd heard a "former President" speaking about why couldn't people of the various religions in the country set aside their differences when it comes to things like abortion and homosexuality and find points of unity. The Pastor disagreed with this because he felt we should "stick to our guns on these matters of truth. What's so great about the ideal of unity if we lose the truth?"
I completely understand, on an intellectual level, what his words were trying to communicate. However, the way he stated it, and the approving murmurs from the congregation set my hair on end. The tone wasn't one of "lets not compromise our values in an effort of trying to find 'unity' or 'acceptance' in the world, for while we are in the world we are not of the world." The feel of the words--and the emotions it sparked in the congregation--was of self-righteousness and arrogance, of hate and superiority. It actually made me grind my teeth.
Because to me, bumper stickers like the Peace sticker above or the better known Co-Exist sticker--
--is about promoting the over-riding tenet of love that these religions claim to profess. Are there sound, objective, Biblical and moral truths that we should live by? Absolutely! (For an excellent argument about this, I recommend C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.) But tell me what is wrong about recognizing the fact that we are all people, great or small, that we all have the same basic needs--physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual--and that nothing will change unless we can have intelligent discourse? The vibe I received (and it could totally have just been Holly in natural paranoia mode) was the unyielding anger of "we're right, no matter what anyone says, and we shouldn't have to listen to them or try to find out why they think and feel the way they do. We should just get rid of them all. Who needs'em? Damn queers," and so on and so forth....
Should we be willing to discuss our tenets and beliefs? Should be willing to tell someone that they're leading a life of sin and need the redemptive blood of Christ? Without a doubt. Does that give us the right to espouse violence and spew forth hatred and claim that we are "sticking to our guns" and "not diluting the truth"? In my opinion, no. Hate the sin, not the sinner. Show them love. Tell them of Christ and what He's done for us. Explain why our beliefs show their and our actions to be sin. And tell them that we love them any way. That we are here for them no matter what. Because that, that is what the Christ tells us every moment of every day.
I believe my feelings about talking to others about sin is best described with the following:
A good friend of mine at work told me the story of one of the last times she ever spanked her son. She couldn't even remember what it was that he had done that she felt the need to spank him, but it had completely infuriated her. After about twenty minutes of spanking him, he finally stood up, took the belt gently out of her hand, and told her that was enough, which simply enraged her more. Before she could do or say anything, however, he asked her: "Are you punishing me because you truly love me and need to discipline me, or because it makes you feel better?"
He then kissed her on the cheek, thanked her for loving him, and walked out of the bedroom. To this day she still hasn't decided why she spanked him that day.
So here's the thing about talking to people about sin and beliefs in regards to abortion, murder, usury, lying, sexual misconduct, whatever: are we talking to them about it because we love them and need to discipline/help them to learn and grow, or are we talking at them and using it as an excuse to hate them because it gives us a sense of superiority and makes us feel better?
The feeling I got from the people in the church yesterday was the latter.
It terrified me.
"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."
(Please feel free to make comments and discuss as you will, or completely ignore it as you will. All I ask is that it stay cordial and in the spirit of love.)