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.

31 replies

  1. As an evangelical who has been in the middle of these discussions, it has become so easy to focus on the fracture and not signs of grace and hope. For every one email or conversation that already decided who is right or wrong, who sees anyone who is not totally with them(both left/right or lib/cons) … I see more who are seeking to understand and stay in relationship even though neither can agree on biblical or scientific understandings.
    Human nature draws us to focus on what is right for me. . The Gospel tells us that it is not about us.. that we need movement towards maturity. As our people get their hands and hearts in ministry with and to the the least and the lost. .they change. I can put names to both sets of conversations.. they have been in worship and I am praying that God is not finished with them yet. I have engaged with them and sought to help them see beyond their assumptions and less than full understanding of Scripture. We all need grace!!!! yes I am judging them… the fruit of holiness is the fruit of the spirit.

    Dan, I think your comments would have been more balanced if you shared a story when a conservative was the one who acted more christlike and was the one who had a more acceptable perspective. Let’s keep our balance and look for hope in the lives of people who might not think exactly like us.

    • I reported what I heard. I have three more stories — none which will favor the conservative view. I can make them up, but I am not sure that serves anyone’s interests. To reflect on what one hears, one must stick with what is, not what one wishes. That said, it is interesting what people have chosen to take away from the post. My point is on how we respond and behave regardless of our theology. 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.

    • That’s an interesting idea, to share a story where the so-called “conservative” is the one who acts more Christ-like. I tried to take an inventory of all the anecdotes in my mind and came up with bupkis. There was the episode of “All in the Family” in which Archie and Edith visited with the lesbian partner of a cousin of Edith’s who had died. They were unaware the cousin had been lesbian. Archie’s reaction was like, “Hey, that means we get this house and everything in it!” Edith however recognized that such would be unjust – to make the partner who had lived in the house for decades homeless – and put the kibosh on his scheme. However, Archie did steal a pair of ice tongs from the house. That to me describes the essence of what we call conservatism today – a sneering moralism and organized selfishness and a willingness to engage in bullying whenever the opportunity presents itself. In the episode it was Edith who was the “conservative” in the (Edmund) Burkean sense, while Archie was the id-powered radical individual with a pirate’s heart – John Galt in a workingman’s jacket. Archie Bunker evolved over the course of the shows (“All in the Family” was followed by “Archie Bunker’s Place,” which took place after Edith died and was most often not as good as the first incarnation) into a loveable rascal, the ice-tong thief who was full of bombast but had a good heart. Our present Tea Party movement is considerably less charming than Archie Bunker. In one sense to be “conservative” is to be reality-based and to accept distributive justice. The Tea party movement and the hyperbolic whining about Obamacare of today is precisely the opposite.

  2. Grace-less ideologies… The blog’s observations sound all too true, and the reality they point to is well beyond sad. i fear Stanley Hauerwas had it right when he said “God is killing the United Methodist Church, and it well deserves it.” [paraphrase]
    i think Pope Francis said it well here:

  3. I received the following email, and wanted to respond publicly: “I don’t understand. The Bible does tell us to judge. It says there are certain behaviors we should not allow. It is specific on what we should do. How does a person ever know for sure?”

    Our Bible provides a guideline for our faith together, but it is not definitive or absolute. We accept divorce in a way that scripture “absolutely” forbids. We progressed beyond a worldview that accepts slavery, even though scripture endorses and encourages it. The revelation of God through God’s people did not end with the canonization of our Christian scripture. We are called upon to use wisdom, discernment, and a strong measure of common sense. 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. This doesn’t mean that a person cannot define their faith in personal, provincial, private, and non-inclusive terms — the Bible allows for that to happen. It falls to each of use to make some simple decisions: love of self or love of all, care of self or care of all, judgment of others or forgiveness of others, we are each others’ keepers or we look to our own needs and interests. The fruit of the Spirit — evidence of our love of God — is the extent to which we provide love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to any and all of God’s creation. Some may call this “liberal” and “left-wing.” I call it Christian.

    • At issue is the advocating of a secular left-wing liberal political and social agenda as being the standard and litmus test of Christian faith. This is just democrat sausage, i.e., the skin of the truth stuffed with a lie. Any similarity with tenets of Christian faith is purely casual contact.

    • Thanks for this response, Dan.

      Quick aside: I read the UMC position on divorce as pretty much like the situation that Jesus said Moses had instituted, because our hearts are hard, God makes provision for it. I’m not so convinced there is no biblical warrant for that even if we are called to more.

      Back to the point: I think I follow your point better now.

      So, if the woman in the story had said something like, “You have been through quite a struggle. I am glad you find you still love your daughter. Of course you did not cause her to be a lesbian. I hope for her that she is able to find joy in singleness and love the Lord.”

      Would that be non-gracious? (I know the dialogue is bad. I’m not screenwriter.)

      • Thanks, John – you’re exactly on point. It isn’t about our personal interpretations of right/wrong, good/bad in individual behaviors. It is about how we treat people regardless of whether we like them or what they do. If we cannot treat friends and acquaintances with a modicum of kindness and grace, what hope do we have to reach a hurting, broken world? If judging behavior is more important to us than loving everyone where they are, how will we open others to the love of God? I run into this a lot in prison ministry — why should we care at all about those who have acted violently, pathologically, hatefully and selfishly? I don’t know… why did Christ do it for any of us? Why should we care for the poor and offer basic, life-affirming health care to all? Simply because God commands it and Jesus teaches it. Liberal? Yes! Liberal means “generous.” There is no crime in generosity. It is what makes us Christian. It is what makes us human.

  4. There is not even the most remote association to be made between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the nationalization of healthcare in the U.S. That is a purely partisan bit of bread and circuses used to buy votes by which to gain and maintain political power and control. If the current administration and its partisan supporters did not think it would buy votes for them, they would not support it. As many are now finding out to their shock, this boondoggle is not going to save them money at all but actually end up forcing them to pay more money for less coverage. If this is such a good thing, then why is it that the current administration and its supporters in congress are not required to participate in it, exactly the same as anyone else? Why are exemptions given to friends of the administration, even congressional employees, etc.? If it is to big a financial burden for them, why then is it O.K. for the financial burden to be forced onto the back of other Americans?

      • This latest bit of purely partisan political kabuki reflects nothing more than left-wing political control and social manipulation, the entire cost of which are of course paid for by other people’s money. It is not in any remote sense a Christian response to anything touching healthcare.

      • While you are entitled to your opinion, your declamatory tone proves my point. Labeling something you don’t like in a way that is derisive and insulting does not make it any less true. While out cultural context — including our politics — is completely different from 1st century pre-modern, primitive Middle Eastern Jewish culture, the fundamental call to love, mercy, compassion, justice, and responsibility is unchanged. Call these things “left wing” all you want. It simply makes me wonder what you put in their place…

  5. I think we need training in how to have these conversations.

    But aren’t we doing the exact same judging that people say we should not do?

    This is where I can’t figure out how to do the “do not judge” thing. We say do not judge, but here we are clearly holding up these people as deserving judgment and criticism. So, is it okay to mock the guy who does not know that the government is us? Isn’t that less than graceful, too? The woman who bashes the mother for her daughter’s lesbianism, aren’t we judging her if we condemn what she says and how she says it?

    It does not seem possible that what we really mean is don’t be judgmental or don’t condemn people, because we always illustrate that point by telling stories about people who we are judging or think deserve condemnation for their behavior.

      • See my later comment. It is all what we choose to define Christian — where we draw the line between us and them. If we draw the line big enough — as I believe we are called to in the best and most mature of the Pauline writings — there is no one we are not responsible for, and no one we are allowed to exclude from God’s grace.

  6. The conversations above by “Christians” are the reason why I can no longer attend church. I was involved with and even worked for my church for 8 years, until some people who called themselves “Christians” got drunk with power. It was the most awful time and I felt betrayed by friends, my pastor, and lets not even get into what Staff/Parish Relations did. But I digress. This is exactly why people are not coming to church: we are so sick of hypocrites judging in the name of Jesus.

    I miss church. I miss belonging and I have not been very successful filling the hole that was left after all was said and done. I tried going back and I tried other churches. I actually found one I felt good in, until the gossiping and back-stabbing showed up again.

    As you said: God’s grace and love is for everyone. Until the church can love everyone it will continue to decline. Well, except for the churches that are really nothing more than country clubs where everyone has partaken of the same koolaid.

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