Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Seems I picked an interesting week to have this conversation

Eugene has a good, heart-felt post over on his blog today, on the pressures of loving people even when fundamentally disagreeing with them on truly deep, anguishing issues. I think I understand his angst.

This Sunday I'm beginning a new sermon series. For the next three months or so we're going to work through the Covenant Affirmations - six statements that help to define and center the Covenant Church. We are a little bit odd in being a non-creedal Church; there is no "creed" but the scriptures. And yet, there must be some definition, some point of general agreement, and so we hold to these six affirmations.

One of those affirmations is the reality of freedom in Christ. It is the recognition that men and women who call Christ 'Lord' still disagree over a host of issues when it comes to how we read the scriptures, and how they play out in our lives. But we take seriously the Unity of the Church, and would rather live in the tension of disagreement than divide the Body over secondary issues.

It's not a perfect system, but so far, it seems to have worked out rather well. I've sat in on some intense theological discussions where important issues were debated heatedly, only to see those discussions break up so everybody could go out for pizza and share in each other's lives. There are Covenant churches that lean in 'conservative' directions and Covenant churches that lean in more 'liberal' directions, but we remain committed to each other and the overarching mission of God to liberate this world from the Kingdom of the evil one. It is true of the Covenant Church that the need to liberate the prisoner and break the yoke of oppression is more important than the need to have a single definitive stance on baptism or the end times.

As such, the Covenant can be a lively place for discussion, and, for the most part, healthy discussion, where differences are respected and persons valued more than positions.

The Covenant Church truly seeks the third way in these things.

Unfortunately, I sometimes forget that not everybody operates with those same values. Eugene gave a couple of examples of being shot at from both sides for attempting live in the tension, to stay true to his interpretation of the Word while loving the wide variety of humanity in this world.

It seems most live by the "you're either with us or against us" mantra. If you don't condemn gays as hateful to God, you have no backbone. If you don't instantly throw 100% support behind gay marriage, you're a bigot. Or. . .if you don't call out abortionists as murderers, than you're culpable of the unborn holocaust, or if you don't stand 100% behind the right of women to have full freedom to abort their pregnancies, you're no different than the Taliban. (note: that Taliban comment didn't come from the previous comment threads; I've simply read it in a host of other web forums and comment streams).

And then there's this: I'm becoming more and more convinced that the internet is the absolutely worst place to carry on this discussion. It may be one step up from putting tracts on car windshields, but not much. Because, in the end, these issues are intensely human issues and they affect people at their deepest levels. And our lenses have all become so blurry through the past decades of debate and entrenchment, and our lists of bullet points so long that nobody really listens to each other, nobody hears the beating heart that is so passionate about the issue. It's all so much shouting and posturing.

Somewhere Wendell Berry once wrote a screed against revolutionary movements. His point was that true change happens when people decide to behave differently. Individual people. And those people influence the people around them. And from the ground up, change begins to come about. But top-down, it never works. I know he tries to ignore the internet, but I think his wisdom applies here. We affect change when we sit down with people, when we share our lives with the people in our communities, when we truly take the time to understand the people around us, when we can commit to care about each other, even when we disagree with each other. Which is why, in general, I don't tend to get into the Big Controversial Topics on this blog - because I'd rather sit down with someone on 'the other side' and talk it through, than try to sort anything out hidden behind an electronic wall.

Still, since for whatever reason this whole conversation came about this week, of all weeks, let me add my voice to the chorus: Victory is never ultimately won through violence. Our weapons, if weapons they be, are prayer, fasting, worship, seeking the Lord. Rhetoric, for sure, and the power of public persuasion. In a democracry no voice need be silenced; our voice belongs in the public sphere. But I am reminded of the words of 1 Peter: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." I'm afraid the Church has not understood this message very clearly. In the end, love and forgiveness win, not violent acts of retribution.

IF we take the message of Christ seriously, then our call is non-violence. Name-calling, demonizing, and certainly murder are not the answer. In fact, they are wrong, they are sin, they are an offense to God. I read Hugo's eulogy to Dr. Tiller, and I wouldn't agree with his saintly portrayal of the man. But in the end Dr. Tiller's will stand before the Lord, who alone will make final judgment of good or evil. And that should have been left in the hands of the Lord, not another human. Murder is murder is wrong. Killing in the name of Jesus is wrong. So hear me say this: yes, I am pro-life. Which means I believe all life ought to, except in the most extreme cases, be left in the hands of God to give or take away. And we all ought to grieve when life is snuffed out at the hands of other humans, rather than celebrate. Our call is to faithful living, representing the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of light and life, living lives marked by compassion, mercy, humility, justice, and a knowledge that it is God alone who rewards, and God alone who punishes.

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