Generally, a vision is a positive thing — something worth pursuing, something people want. Promised Land. Land flowing with milk and honey. City on a hill. Shining light. Good thing. At its best, the church is all about vision. Or, it should be. Too often we are about division instead of vision. I wrote yesterday about our greatest threat being US — that it isn’t the non-Christians and atheists that pose the greatest danger to Christianity, but sanctimonious, angry, judgmental Christians. I received nine emails today all arguing against my point, but I share three quotes that I kind of think prove my point, but that definitely present an alternative view.
When great men of faith like Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye tell the truth and teach the gospel, who are you to make it sound like they are doing wrong? Loving everyone is not the same as tolerating sin. We do not have to love Muslims, gays, and terrorists because they not only sin, but they have no repentance. If they repent and become good Christians, of course we will love them. But the real problem here is not that faithful Christians aren’t loving, but that false Christians attack faithful Christians with false witness such as yours.
Is there such a thing as right and wrong? You act like there’s no such thing as sin. You act like people who hate sin are sinners and sinners are really the good people. I do not understand what you are saying.
If you don’t believe the Bible, why are you a Christian? You can’t just make the Bible mean what you want it to. That is the way of false prophets and the anti-Christ. It is not those who believe the Bible means what it says that will destroy the church, but men like you who twist the truth and lead people astray.
I’m not going to try to unravel what I said from what people think I said. I believe I am pretty clear that it isn’t what people believe that is as great a problem as how they treat each other when they disagree. And it is easy to get sidetracked on the “big” issues and miss the main point that I was trying to make: church-going Christians don’t treat one another very well. The negative energy that threatens our church isn’t even over such things as human sexuality, abortion and immigration — it’s about the color of the carpet, removing inactive members from the roles, changing the time of worship, and whether the pastor spends too much time in the office and not enough time out visiting. The major problems continue to plague us, but the day-to-day irritations and unkindnesses are eroding our very foundation. How can we hope to navigate a landmine like homosexuality when we can’t discuss worship styles without someone leaving the church? I’ve been involved in conflict mediation in the church for over twenty years. In that time I have encountered emotional and physical violence, gun play, vandalism, late-night drive-by terrorism, anonymous threats, and harassment by phone, mail, and email. All perpetuated by “loving Christians.” Isolated incidents? Hardly. Every time I share these stories, dozens of laity and clergy launch into stories of their own. Speaking with people who have left the church, at least half left because of how they were treated (and about half left because they didn’t get their own way). THIS is the kind of behavior that I find so toxic and destructive. This is what is tearing us apart. And often, this is the very type of bad behavior that we tolerate and ignore. Sin? This is sin, and it is every bit as bad as all the other stuff we judge others for. Why aren’t we as concerned about this kind of sin?
And even if it is “sin,” it doesn’t mean we ostracize and reject those who behave this way, but we speak the truth in love and hold each other accountable to better behavior. We remind one another that the evidence of our relationship with God ISN’T condemnation, judgmentalism, vile attack, violence, and self-righteousness, but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I realize that many who “love the Bible” could care less about this list, but it’s still there nonetheless, and we’re going to have to find some way to apply good scholarship, reason, critical thinking and common sense to the whole, and not just the parts that make us feel good.
It fascinates me when I try to share a vision of unity, harmony, peace, love, acceptance and grace and people argue that I am not a Christian. I feel like I am on safe and solid ground when I say that God is love and that Christ has broken down the dividing walls of hostility and that we should evidence the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and then I find that such beliefs make me evil and unfit to be a pastor. I feel like we need to build bridges and seek common ground, and am accused of being naive. I call for prayer and discernment in Christian community, with a belief that God’s Spirit might still actually be present in the body of Christ, and I am told that I have a bad theology. Well, I’m willing to talk about it and to try to reconcile — because I think that is the key to the future. I wonder what those who disagree with me would suggest?