Let me start with this; I’m a Christian. There’s really no hiding it. You could gather that from my thoughts on a variety of subjects I’ve written about. Now, let’s follow that up by not labeling me (or any other Christian for that matter) with the stereotypes associated with Christianity today. I’m not republican, conservative, homophobic, pro-life, etc. Neither am I democrat, liberal, gay-pride, pro-choice, etc. I have refrained from outright labeling myself as Christian for the sole intent of avoiding the labels that Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Gays, and many more would associate with it. My life and actions are about a much larger worldview than the narrow slice of Evangelicals that pervade the US population and dominate the headlines. But in my quest to remain uncategorized I’m afraid who I am to individuals who don’t know me has become as clear as mud.
So why am I taking the time to make a clear distinction now? Because I recently had an interaction with an individual who accused me of being a deceiver and false teacher. Even going so far as to question my work as a youth leader for my church and my sexual orientation. I spent a couple of days online trying to understand why he felt that way, but never received a response from him other than quoting random Bible verses at me. While I believe in the God inspired applications of the Bible to our lives, this individuals quotes were of scripture was about as helpful as reading Harry Potter as a eulogy. I’ve never understood individuals who feel that the best way to prove their point (or their lack of understanding of mine) is to resort to calling people names. If you don’t agree with me, I’m open to discussion and even to changing my mind. But if you’d rather call someone names, belittle them, and bully them until they agree with you that’s really not winning an argument. So let’s get to the point since I’ve muddied the waters so much. Who am I?
Religion & Salvation
Once again, I’m a Christian. I believe Jesus of Nazareth lived on this earth and was crucified for the sins of the world. I believe He is the son of God (Jn 3:16), was risen from the grave (Matt 28:6), and sits at God’s right hand as our advocate (IJn 2:1). I believe that through accepting His sacrifice all can be saved (Acts 4:12). That’s what it all comes down to right? Do you believe Jesus died for your sins and do you accept Him as your personal friend and savior? I’m not going to engage in a heated debate about doctrine or biblical interpretation with any random individual, nor going into them here. Casual converstations are neither the time nor the place.
Religion doesn’t need to be complicated and too often it is. You can’t hold Christianity responsible for an institution created and operated by sinful human beings. Christianity is about developing a relationship with Jesus and living a life that shows it. The key word here being relationship. If God wanted us to have blind service to him he wouldn’t have given us the free-will to choose not to serve him. The commitment to live a life like Christ is a daily commitment much like any relationship. I choose each to to wake up next to the same woman, go to the same job, and come home to the same house. You can log onto the internet and find thousands of people who would be happy to help you change that arrangement if you wanted. I’ve also chosen the church I attend and the doctrine I believe in because of it. I live my life seeking to understand Jesus better, growing in knowledge and faith. My “religion” is the best I can find for now.
Sin & Service
This is where I believe my friend from the internet became confused. My belief is that the best way to share Jesus is by living a life like Jesus. If Jesus said “I didn’t come to condemn the world” (Jn 12:47) how could I live my life any differently. I don’t agree with Christian’s who insist that the only way to bring people to Jesus is to tell them how much God hates what their doing. This life for me is a life of service built upon Jesus’ command to “love God and love your neighbor”. If you live your life this way, you’re no longer focused on accusing, condemning, hating, and fearing those whose life may be contrary to yours. Your life becomes compassionate, loving, peaceful, and grace filled so that you can see the world through Jesus eyes. It’s no longer about sin (deeds), it’s about salvation (grace). I love the story of a group of religious people who brought Jesus a woman “Caught in the act of adultery” (Jn 8:3-11). We don’t know the history of the woman or answers to questions like “Where was the man”. What I love most is the ending. Jesus looking tenderly at the woman and saying “Where are your accusers? Then I don’t condemn you either”.
This is where “loving the sinner” is at the heart of what I believe. Now, I’m not ignoring the fact that Jesus ended the interaction with her by saying “Go and sin no more” (which is acknowleding her sin and addressing it). What I focus on is the way he didn’t condemn her, belittle her, and embarrass her. He loved her first. Please don’t confuse supporting treating all people with love and respect as creations of an infinitely loving God as an endorsement of sin. Many of the debates about equality and rights are not religious, but political and should be left as such. Just because you believe that someone is a “sinner” doesn’t mean they are a lesser person. As I asked my friend online, “do you think we should quit providing foreign aid to individuals who aren’t Christian?”
So where does this leave my friend from the internet who wanted me to say “Homosexuality is a sin”? His belief is that society should not accept them and that they should not receive the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights. Well, it is a sin. It is a sin along with a long list of other sins. But it’s not a greater sin than the others outlined throughout the Bible that many Christian’s have come to accept. Jesus very clearly says that anyone who divorces and marry’s another is committing adultery (Luke 16:18). Last I checked adultery was one of the 10 commandments, but we’ve come to accept divorce. We don’t see Westboro Baptist Church protesting outside J.Lo’s house.
My point is you can’t pick and choose which parts of the Bible you’re going to beat people up with. It’s an all or nothing gig. All the Tea Partiers at Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman’s next rally need to read 1 Tim. 2:11-12 (A woman shall not lead a man) before they declare war on gay marriage. The most important thing that Jesus taught was love and service. “Sell all your things, give them to the poor, and follow me” (Lk. 18:18-23)
So where does this leave me? I am a follower of Jesus, and I pray each day that I would see the world as Jesus would. That my heart would be broken by the things that would break Jesus heart. Not living as a Christian who will spew hate outside abortion clinics, but a disciple who will sit down in that clinic lobby with a young woman and cry with her. Take all the religiosity and politics out of it and just follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Pull the log out of your own eye. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Love your enemies. Do unto others. Why would anyone cover that message up with “You’re gonna burn in Hell”? That type of thing is what makes Christianity as clear as mud.