Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dropping the Clanging Gong

The other night a friend came over and we had some good conversation around the dinner table. He is a Christian, but comes at it from a different angle than I have generally seen. He sort of views evangelicals from the outside looking in, though I’m not sure whether there’s a category within the Christian faith in which he would define himself. I think what he sees of evangelical Christianity troubles him, and perhaps he has valid reason. He says that he’s seen people turned off from Christianity because sometimes they act like “jerks”—his word for it—such as when they protest homosexuality in general by carrying signs, and probably chanting or whatever...I know what he means.
I’m coming from the evangelical Christian culture, meaning it two ways—that I was “raised” from Christian babyhood (at 29) among evangelical, right-wing-fundamentalists; I remember suddenly realizing the extremes of believing and unbelieving worldview when I came to Christ. I was alarmed at anything that was against God’s word and felt strongly that I had to join up in a fight against it. I even ran a Community Impact ministry in one church. We didn’t do any protesting; I just kept people aware of legislation and current events and issues, and gave people various resources that I thought would be helpful. Still, I might well have been coming at it, looking back, primarily from human strength and naiveté. I have to say that I’m a product of the evangelical "right wing" in my Christian background.
I’m also coming from it as in, distancing myself from the American interpretation of Christianity as I've seen it—maybe not entirely, but significantly. I’m questioning what we stood for, how we stood for it, and why. I’ve seen both legalism and hypocrisy in action and I don’t want to be that way. People who stressed the importance of proper doctrine and knowledge (who in fact clarified in my mind the right idea that the strength of our faith will be reflected in our obedience to the word), but adamantly justified their own sins and flawed ethics, caused me to consider other angles regarding my faith. If Christianity is about truth and righteousness, I have to see someone putting it into practice before I want to follow their example.
In our pastor’s family I see that they are less “conservative” perhaps than the pastors whose churches we’ve attended in the past, but that they have consistently and remarkably, at great personal cost, followed Christ and the harder teachings of obedience in the Bible. It makes me consider their point of view far more strongly, and between the effects of a negative example and their positive one, I am less central to American evangelical Christianity than I ever was after coming to Christ.
But I digress! Where was I? Ah, yes…I know now what our friend means. While I was working on a mindless task, I thought on our conversation and prayed and thought some more. By the time I was done, I really thought I had a clarification regarding what is wrong with the evangelical attitude toward homosexuality (and likely many other sins—but this seems to be one of the two main issues that we, or they, attack most avidly).
The first thought was, homosexuals are not our enemies, and should not be treated as such; the enemy is in the spirit realm. The second thought was, we are not the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is, and it is His specialty to convict of sin and to make Christ known in the heart. The third thought was, we are not the accuser; the enemy in the spirit realm is. The fourth thought was, our weapons are not picket signs or clever slogans; they are the power of prayer and the Sword of the Spirit, which divides even to joints and marrow. It’s one thing to be a fool for Christ, and another to be a jerk in the name of Christ. Another important thing we should continually remind ourselves of is that Jesus earned the name, Friend of Sinners, so we should also.
I think it’s mostly within these issues that evangelical Christianity goes wrong. I’d be surprised if as much prayer as hype goes into the vocal protests—and without prayer, we all ought to stay home in bed—and, well, pray. There are a lot of Christians accusing sinners; a lot of them thinking we can reach into hearts darkened by sin by mere human effort; a lot of taking oneself for being the Holy Spirit; and though every claim would be that it’s done out of love, very little love would be coming across—and if it’s like a clanging gong, how much love can it be?
So what do we do? We pray—for people we know, people we see, people we hear about. If they ask us for the reason for the hope within us, we share it. We don’t ever affirm their sin, but if the opportunity arises to share the love of Christ, we share it in any way that we can. We read and know the Bible verses, realize that there are a lot of sins we also struggle against, and pray some more. I really am thinking prayer and loving relationship are the only ways to have an impact in these lives. And I repent of any way in which I can imagine that I have been a jerk in the name of Christ toward anyone. Bondage to sin is a hard unhappy road, and we need to be compassionate, not condemning. That’s another thing I learned, at least in so many words, from our pastor, back near the time that we first met—it’s God’s place to condemn. It isn’t ours.

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