“Americans react to the poor with disgust,” said Susan Fiske, professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University and the originator of the neuroimaging tests. She has studied attitudes toward the poor for a dozen years. “It’s the most negative prejudice people report, greater even than racism,“ Fiske stated.
No doubt part of that response is aesthetic. Some of those who are very poor – especially those living on the streets – smell bad and are unkempt and shabbily dressed. But a deeper part of the response is moral. The poor are stripped of value in the eyes of many. They are seen as useless, and not just useless, but an actual drain on the more productive and affluent members of society. Not only do they fail to add anything positive to the world, they actually subtract value, like trash piled on a lawn.
How can we see God while despising the needy among us? Scripture declares that it is impossible. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). Spiritual blindness is the inevitable consequence of hating the poor.
Right after 9/11, I asked a kid in my neighborhood what we should do in response. His answer: “Those people did something very wrong…” He thought pensively and continued, “But two wrongs don’t make a right.” As Martin Luther King taught us, you cannot fight fire with fire, you only get a bigger fire. You fight fire with water. You fight violence with nonviolence. You fight hatred with love. As a Christian, a follower of Jesus the Prince of Peace, I am deeply troubled about the possibility of a military response to the violence in Syria. Jesus consistently teaches us another way to respond to evil, a third way – neither fight nor flight. He teaches that evil can be opposed without being mirrored, oppressors resisted without being emulated, enemies neutralized without being destroyed. I am praying that the nonviolent imagination of Jesus and MLK would move the leaders of our country and our world to find another way forward than violence. When I heard US military leaders calculating the collateral damage of an attack on Syria (“classified” information), something feels terribly wrong. Christ once scolded his own disciple who tried to use the sword to protect him. After healing the wounded persecutor, he said to Peter, “If you pick up the sword you will die by the sword. Put your sword back.” Over and over we have tried to use the sword – in Iraq, in Afghanistan, now possibly in Syria… and the sword has failed. The cure becomes as bad as the disease. When we fight fire with fire, we only get a bigger fire, and a bigger mess. Two wrongs do not make a right.
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There is no “right way” to have church, but there is a wrong way.
Scripture gives us very little instruction for church. We are told to “gather together” (Hebrews 10:24), we have the example of the Eucharist set by Christ (Luke 22:19), and we have a command to address the needs around us (Acts 4:32-35, 20:35, Hebrews 13:16, James 1:27), we are told to be orderly and not chaotic (1 Cor 14:40), and we are told to recognize and use the gift and talents of one another (Romans 12:3-13). That’s it, everything else is left to our own discernment. We should be free to change and adapt church to needs, times, and places. In fact, we are being foolish and obstinate not to.
When you consider that the Bible was written by over 40 separate authors and compiled from thousands of manuscripts, in different languages, over hundreds of years, from a variety of locations around the world, with little collaboration, and ultimately interpreted into hundreds of translations—there are bound to be ambiguities….
Ultimately, all of these biblical issues force Christians to ask some huge questions: Is God true? Is God good? Is God relevant?
For years, Christians have resorted to using the Old vs. New Covenant as an explanation for the seemingly dramatic contradictions in God’s character. But to the average person—and Christian—this reasoning (no matter how legitimate it is) often sounds foolish and confusing and unsatisfying…..
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He continually admonished those who were the most certain about their faith—the Pharisees. They thought they knew everything and had all the answers. Ironically, the people who were the most unsure and desperate were the ones that Jesus used to change the world. Certainty and confidence don’t necessarily equate to holiness and righteousness. We must accept the Bible in its entirety instead of avoiding the hardest parts and embrace the idea that our faith will exist within the tension of these difficult dilemmas.
Everyone in America knows the catchy slogan: What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)?
Of all the Christian memorabilia donned by the church, these bracelets and T-shirts have remained at the top of the list for quite sometime. For only $5.99, you too can show the world that you follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to do what Jesus would do when faced with temptation.
The apostles too asked the question “What Would Jesus Do?” only they answered it quite differently than many Americans do. The apostles didn’t appeal to Jesus’s life to encourage believers to read their Bibles, do their devotions, or abstain from sexual temptation—all virtuous things, mind you. Instead, they pervasively and unashamedly drew upon Jesus’s nonviolent response to evil as a model for believers to follow.
Christians will not be agents of reconciliation and healing as long as they see the world from the perspective of the privileged or fail to even attempt to see from the viewpoints for those who are unlike themselves in important ways. We have a higher calling than simply to be representative of our race, class, nationality or whatever else defines us in this world. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
3) We turn Christianity into a culture rather than a lifestyle.
We have turned Christianity into a market. We have reduced Christianity to products we consume, sell, and advertise. We are more about profits than prophets. Christianity has become a culture rather than a lifestyle. We’ve been taught to consume Christian products rather than being Christian. We’ve been taught to be salespeople for Jesus rather than true followers of Jesus. Living a Christian lifestyle means Christ’s love has penetrated so deep into our heart that our lives begin to embody that love in real and tangible ways. We want everyone to know they are loved. We want everyone fed, clothed, housed, welcomed, included, employed, supported, tutored, visited, forgiven, and freed.
2) We focus on The Great Commission over The Great Commandment
The Great Commission does not supersede the Great Commandment. Our mission is first and foremost: “Love God with all your heart and mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” What we have done is divorce The Great Commission from the Great Commandment. We falsely believe our commission to make disciples is separate from our commandment to love. The truth is, we are commissioned to love–to proclaim and demonstrate God’s love. To proclaim the gospel is to share the depths of God’s love for the world (AKA everyone). The gospel is demonstrated through unconditional, sacrificial, cross-embracing love. The message and the medium is love. The gospel of love has to become flesh, otherwise it’s not the gospel. The gospel is best seen, felt, and experienced when it becomes flesh in our lives. The great commandment must be what drives the great commission.
1) We try to share our faith before we even have any.
I remember talking with a 13 year old girl who came to Chicago for a mission trip. I asked her what she was doing. She said, “I went downtown to evangelize the homeless!” At first, I thought, “how sweet,” but then I thought, “how arrogant!” First, why do we assume the homeless have no faith? Second, most men and women on the streets have a lot MORE faith than you and I. When was the last time we didn’t know where our next meal would come from? When did we have to trust God for shelter or protection from the elements? We may have good theology, but that is different from having faith. Most of us don’t know what it really means to have faith in God. Perhaps, we need to go sit at the feet of the homeless and learn from them how to have faith!