Monday, July 8, 2013

What We Think and What We Do

Last week I read, with a combination of interest and dismay, the story of the florist in Washington who refused to sell flowers to a gay customer for his wedding. She is being sued over that decision, and also being characterized as either a religious bigot or as a hero, depending on one’s point of view.

The CNN article goes on to describe how some Christian groups have accepted gay marriage as a social and legal inevitability, while others have vowed to continue to fight against it. I suppose we can appreciate that, in the USA, we are able to have the freedom to battle each other without necessarily drawing blood (I’m hoping that doesn’t happen).

I recently heard a pastor, in a church service where I was a visitor, insist that it is the job of Christian people to preserve “the moral high ground.” From what I could tell, most everyone there seemed pleased with his declaration.

But I think he was wrong.

While I’m all for being moral (depending, of course, on what basis morality is grounded), demanding that particular moral standards be upheld by the larger society is not our job. Enforcing a certain “moral high ground” (which can be based on cultural preferences just as much on religious convictions), as if we Christians are the nation’s moral police, is not our job.

Bearing witness to Jesus is our job.

Being a people who are being formed in his image is our reality. And we do all of that in a context that we do not control. We live in a dominant culture, but we are not the dominant culture. “American” and “Christian” are not euphemisms. Like it or not, we are exiles. Our host nation is, for the most part, a friendly one, be we are still exiles, citizens of another kingdom where Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.

Having said that, it still matters how we live. In fact, it matters more how we live than it does how we declare what we think. If someone asks our view on same-sex marriage, our answer will either label us as bigoted haters or as compromising heretics. You just can’t come out unscathed with your answer.

But I’m not so sure that anyone needs to know what I think about a topic like that. I think it matters more how I live and how I interact with others. My views end up creating artificial categories and assumptions that deepen the divisions we seem to be creating on a daily basis. But my actions will reveal more of my heart than will my words.

More than one non-religious writer (like Roy Hattersley, in this 2005 Guardian UK article) has confessed that religious people, while having views about things that trouble skeptics, tend to be the ones who behave charitably. During disasters like Hurricane Katrina, churches mobilized all through the Gulf Coast and Christians from all over the US and Canada descended on the region to bring help and care to the people who were suffering. This kind of thing happens all the time, and even an atheist like Roy Hattersley can marvel at the phenomenon.

Maybe there were folks there (I happen to have been among them) who differed in their views about why the disaster happened, whether or not the government had failed, etc., but none of those views really mattered. What mattered was the care given to those who suffered. What people thought was trumped by what they did.

I wonder what would happen if, when asked our views on topics like same-sex marriage, immigration reform, and so on, our answer was “Watch what I do. Then you might know what I think.”

Or, to put it another way:

“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18)

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