Grace-free Living

unlikeTwo recent conversations (that I eavesdropped) cause me a moment to pause.  Both occurred in United Methodist churches, both involving long-time members.  Conversation one went something like this:

Obamacare is going to kill America.  Giving free health care to those who give nothing back is ridiculous.  No one is giving anything to me.

But our church (denomination) believes that health care is a basic human right.

Yes, sure, for people who earn it.

But, if it is a right, it should be provided for all people, no matter what.

Okay, fine, everyone should be cared for, but why should I have to pay for it?

Who do you suggest should pay for it?

The government…

Uhm, that is pretty much what is happening now.

Obamacare is NOT the government paying for it.  We’re paying for it.  People who work hard and earn a living are being forced to care for those who want a free ride.

Isn’t that what Jesus said should happen — those who have care for those who don’t?

That socialist bullcrap.  God helps those that help themselves.  We should care for the needy, not the freeloader.

Who decides who has legitimate needs and who is taking advantage?

God, I hate this liberal garbage.  There are charities to help the poor, and anyone who will lift a finger to help themself will do just fine.  I am sick and tired of being told that the riff raff of the world are my responsibility.

Now, I don’t know which side of the argument feels “right” to you, but I do think one aligns much more closely to the Christian gospel than the other.  Issues of “responsibility,” “compassion,” “giving,” and “justice” are clearly evident.  In question is simply what we believe the most Christ-like response might be.  It bugs me when we take basic human values and dismissively politicize them — caring for our own needs and preserving tradition is “conservative”; caring for others and promoting change is “liberal.”  Rampant us/them-ism becomes our sword and shield — used to both attack those who differ and defend those who concur.

A second example is much more personal, and requires a bit of a set-up.  Two women, lifelong members of the same adult Sunday school class, share a history of pleasant acquaintance, and in fact taught each other’s children in Sunday school.  Each has enjoyed “Christian fellowship” and a sense of harmony and unity… until tested.  In a recent exchange, everything changed.

I have something to share today that has been tearing me up.  I want to share with you and ask you to pray.  Our daughter recently told us she is gay.  We never ever suspected she was lesbian, and it came as a shock.  For awhile we kept asking “what have we done wrong?” and “why is this happening to us?”  My husband and I cried — it really tore us up.  We have been praying and this past week we feel we really had a revelation.  We realized that our daughter is still our daughter — she hasn’t changed.  She isn’t bad, and she isn’t doing anything wrong.  She is still one of the kindest and most considerate people we’ve ever known.  She is sweet, smart, and she loves God and Jesus.  She doesn’t need to change; we do…

NO.  No, that is NOT right.  Don’t tell us you think gay is okay.  It is clearly a sin.  And don’t you dare let yourself off the hook.  I am sure you don’t want to think you did anything wrong, but this would NOT have happened if she was raised right!

What are you saying?  We didn’t make her gay.  We loved her as well as any parents ever love their children.  How dare you judge us?

I am not judging you — God is judging you.  Just read your Bible.  Your daughter is an abomination.

Don’t you say that.  Don’t you say that!  You have no right.  We shared this because it has been a very traumatic experience for us.  We’re trying to understand this.  We wanted to share with people we trust — who would help us.

Help you what?  Help you say sin isn’t sin?  Help you pretend your daughter isn’t sinning?

Everyone in this room is a sinner!  We have all sinned.  I’m not comfortable with gays, but I just know I am not in a position to judge.  When it was about other people, it all seemed crystal clear.  Now that it is about us, I’m not so sure.  I don’t know what is right or wrong.  I only know I love my daughter — God LOVES my daughter — and I cannot believe all you can do is condemn her and blame us.

At this point, the distraught mother got up and left.  As soon as she left, her “friend” got the last word — “it’s people like her that are destroying the church!”

Once again, I am not pushing one view over the other — whether you feel that homosexuality is sinful or not is not my focus.  My focus is on how “good” Christians choose to treat others with whom they disagree or of whom they disapprove.  Where is the grace?  Where is the love?  Where is the compassion and caring?  Where is the kindness and mercy?  What gives a person the right to attack and insult and injure and shame another?  Our faith?  Our righteousness?  This kind of selfish, caustic, patronizing and intolerant approach to Christianity is one of the greatest turn-offs to young seekers in our culture.

By our fruits we shall be known.  If what we produce is judgement, condemnation, intolerance, exclusion, hostility, contempt, narrow-mindedness, shame and disapproval — then these things will define us.  I find it difficult to verify such a definition scripturally.  If the fruit we produce is mercy, grace, love, kindness, patience, generosity, gentleness, compassion, joy and inclusion, it will define our witness to the world.

It is a moot point how we treat the world when we can’t treat our brothers and sisters with grace.  Those who cannot play well with others will have no interest in playing with strangers.  Such a reality saddens me — as does every comment and opinion that says that anyone should not be extended God’s grace and love.

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31 replies

  1. So, a way to begin getting beyond our grace-less reality might be a genuine embrace of Matthew 7.1-5, and also grasping/being-grasped-by this:

    Dan Dick ~ “You can defend almost any worldview through scripture. To keep a small, inwardly focused community pure, we must adopt one worldview. To expand to include widows, orphans, and resident aliens requires another. The highest vision offered in our Christian scriptures is to eliminate “us/them” thinking altogether. In Christ, there is no Jew/gentile, male/female, slave/free — we are all one in Christ. In this worldview, only those who believe that God is not greater than sin, difference, or division think we can take care of “us” to the exclusion of an imaginary and selfishly conceived “them.” If any succeed, all succeed; if any fail, all fail. The idea that there is anyone on earth not worthy of our love, care, concern, comfort, or mercy denies that God is God of all.” [comment 5 from this 10/31/13 blog post]

    Scripture describes different layers/levels of understanding the divine nature with the deepest/highest [most inclusive] levels of understanding God found in parts of the Christian Testament.

  2. The article was powerful. The comments have been interesting. Oh, to have grace in conversations when I find myself in situations like the ones you overheard.

    Your comment above is revealing, powerful, and strikes a somber chord within me: “I can’t control the filters people read through, but the responses illustrate the point I am attempting to make — we will defend aggressively our position, to the damage and exclusion of our grace, kindness and compassion.”

    How do we learn to get beyond the defensive state so that grace, kindness, and compassion are front and center and we are in a position to listen, learn, and possibly grow and change?!?!

    Rhetorically asking….. ☺

    Debra

  3. I am amazed that there are some more focused upon the issues used in the examples instead of the behaviors exhibited by people who call themselves Christian.
    What I have found is that we all need to learn how to communicate to one another. That means listening to people – really listening to what they are saying and trying to understand their point of view – not listening for your own speaking points so you can prove how wrong they are. None of use are perfect and I doubt that any of us truly know God’s heart and mind, but I believe that all together we do. We need to accept that we may all have a piece of the understanding and only together will be understand God’s will and mind.

  4. Know of no one in America being denied health care before Obama care. All one had to do was to go to emergency room in local hospital and free care is available. If the emergency room option is taken away we will find millions who now have insurance going without proper health care. At 76 I do not have a doctor. I do have insurance! Have not needed a doctor. I am beginning to feel concern that if I have a problem I may not be able to get help.

    • Don’t let the issue become Obamacare. Political band-aids to critical issues of human decency and fundamental civility miss the point. Getting service in an emergency room has little to do with establishing a baseline of human health and wellness for all people. Do we want all to be healthy, well, vital and prospering? Government action will never be adequate. Loving human beings committed to a vision of wellness for all is our baseline.

    • Don’t believe the hype. Problems always occur as changes to policies are implemented. Hospitals and other healthcare providers have patient advocates, ombudsmen, social workers, risk managers, and various other individuals whose jobs consist of seeing people do not fall through the cracks. Personally I believe a single payer system would be much better, but there is always room for improvement in everything.

    • There is no such thing as “free health care”. The cost of the emergency room visit for someone who does have the means to pay for it is passed on to the those that do have the means(in a sense a “tax”) and as a result health care costs continue to rise.

      No one will be denied health care under the ACA, but it will encourage people to do is to seek the most cost efficient health care.

  5. Yo! It’s NOT about health care or homosexualtiy and it’s not about being conservative or liberal – it’s about how we treat one another as Christians – it’s about civility. I’m sure Dick has examples that are about other issues, he only used those as examples.

    • The issue is the nationalization of healthcare in the U.S. by a current administration that seeks to advance a social and political agenda hostile to the best interests of the nation. The issue is the efforts of the left to establish aberrance as normative. Appeals for civility which oddly were not expressed regarding President Bush are simply an effort to silence criticism of this current administration and its failed policies which are all predicated on our children and grandchildren being saddled with paying the outrageous costs of a partisan policy of offering bread and circuses to seize and retain political power and control.

      • “Establish aberrance as normative”? I would think by definition aberrance is normative, as there is always some deviation somewhere. As Jane Austen noted, you are confusing conventionality with morality.

      • bthomas you have missed the point of the blog. It is a really important point and does not have to do with healthcare or politics. Bless you

  6. In the current discussion, the only ones confusing conventionality with morality are those who seek to establish aberrance as normative.

  7. It seems to me that a large part of our problem is pride. We tend to overlook our sins and so fail to have grace for those of others.

    The Lord has blessed me by confronting me with with several circumstances similar to those that you discuss. I hold to the UM Discipline position on homosexual practice. I also am assistant Youth Director for my church and we have three youth in the group who were adopted by a lesbian couple. These young people were in the “hard to place” category and had some horrible experiences in foster homes. The lesbian couple rescued them from a bad situation and I deeply respect them for that as well as their desire to rear nice kids. So, I love on the youth and try my best to offer grace to their moms. I will not change my beliefs about homosexual practice; but I will hold my tongue unless specifically asked. If asked, I will try to reply with as much grace as possible, remembering the grace that God shows toward my besetting sins, and hoping to keep the couple as friends. Like them , I hope to do good in people’s lives and the world despite my sins that I don’t recognize or have trouble repenting.

    The daughter of our Youth Director also “married” a girl friend (parts of our State have legalized same sex “marriage”). I am certainly not going love the Youth Director any less because of this and I will try to maintain friendship with her daughter. [I will also fight with all my power anyone who thinks that this marvelously talented woman is in some way not "fit" to be our church's Youth Director because this happened to her!!] My wife and I sent them what I prefer to think of as a housewarming gift when they moved in together. I suspect that they interpreted it as a “wedding” gift. All this is very humbling and challenging for me, as I do not want to affirm or accept what I believe is sinful behavior. However, I recognize that there is hidden sin in my life and pray that God will forgive it even when I fail to recognize it and repent.

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