Not All Sin Is Equal

nazi-flag-charlottesville-protest-rd-mem-170814_12x5_992

Photo: Edu Bayer/The New York Times/Redux

By now you have heard what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. By now you have seen how your friends and neighbors have responded. How the media responded, how the president responded, how the president re-responded, and how he re-re-responded.

We hear lots of accusations, but mostly a pointing out of the problems on one side or the other. We hear there were “many sides” to the conflict. We hear there were fine people on both sides. We hear that rights were violated, but just whose rights has come into question.

I personally addressed only one side of the conflict. Then publicly and privately received questions and comments like:

“Why don’t you condemn the counter protestors who were using violence?”

“The Nazis were assembled peacefully, Antifa is in the wrong.”

“We should be against any hate and violence, not just the one side.”

“Black people hate white people too, why do you only address white people?”

I don’t think the “what abouts” and the “many sides” arguments hold much water. I don’t think they are morally equivalent. And I don’t think it is remotely helpful to suggest they could be.

Not all sin is equal.  

The Bible certainly does not define all sins as equal. Jesus talks about varying degrees of judgment, even mentioning one sin that is unforgivable. He compares one person’s sin to a speck of dust and another’s to a plank of wood. He says it is too easy to pay attention to the little (and easier) stuff while ignoring “the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith.” Paul lists particular sins that will exclude a person from God’s Kingdom. Proverbs lists seven sins God specifically hates.

The idea that all sin is equal is not scriptural. This doesn’t mean that all sin is not serious or without consequence, just that all sin is not the same. Not in its impact, not in its origins, not in its destruction.

Our experiences teach us this as well. Would you rather be lied to or murdered? Would you rather someone gossip about you or burn down your home? It is no contest.

How we respond to the events of Charlottesville (as well as past and future situations) needs to be taken in this light.

As a follower of Jesus, I practice non-violence. I agree that hate cannot drive out hate and I believe with all my heart that loving our enemies is the way of true transformation. I stood in the pulpit on Sunday and said that all people, even white supremacists, are made in the image of God.

As such, I hold that punching an unsuspecting person in the face is wrong. Even if that person is a literal Nazi.

But I believe it is more wrong to be a Nazi.

Both are wrong. One is worse.

There were various things that were wrong in Charlottesville. But the first wrong, and the worst wrong, was people showing up in the name of white supremacy.

Rallies of people carrying Klan flags and chanting Nazi slogans and hoping to intimidate other people should not be met with, “but whatabout” excuses, exceptions, or distractions.

There is no “yeah but.”

White supremacy is wrong. Full stop.

It was the worst kind of wrong this weekend. Not only did it lead to injury and death, it was the cause of all the trouble in the first place.

White supremacy carries with it the weight and repercussions of our history.

White supremacy has systemically oppressed people of color in our country since day one.

It enslaved, it segregated, it lynched, it dismissed, it intimidated, it wounded, it terrorized. White supremacy elected officials and passed laws and waged war and built an empire.

And I realize I just used past tense here as if this is only a thing of the past. It still goes on doing most of these same things today. It is not locked away in history books. It is alive and well and marching down the street in broad daylight.

It is unjust. It is ungodly. It is evil.

So when you show up under that banner, your sin is the greater one. You don’t get to “yeah but.”

To do so attempts to level a playing field that is not remotely level. It seeks to eradicate painful abuses that have been suffered at the hands of one side of the conflict for centuries.

It does not matter to me who threw the first punch. It doesn’t matter to me that you had permit. It doesn’t matter that you supposedly didn’t plan to use the bricks and bats and guns and vehicles you brought. 

You hate people because of the color of their skin or because of their religion. You applaud and fight for the oppression of human beings. You use fear. You seek to eliminate. You incite. You have and continue to make life miserable for people who are different than you.

Whatever other wrongs may have transpired, you are the problem here.

Even if there had been no violence or death or counter protest, you and your behavior should be loudly opposed by those who have any moral fiber. Just because it is legal doesn’t make it right. 

Any response to your vile hatred is not comparable to the vile hatred that you have chosen.

All sins are not equal. And this weekend we saw deep and tragic sin.

This is incompatible with the things that make our country great. And it is completely incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To my white sisters and brothers, let us reject this kind of thinking and behavior. Let us examine our hearts and root out any hate and prejudice that lies within. Let us educate ourselves on the struggles of those who are different than us. Let us learn in humility and be moved to action.

Let’s stop the “whatabout” nonsense and get down to business addressing our problem with race as a nation, as a people, as a church.

Not all sins are equal and this is one of our worst.

To my sisters and brothers on the receiving end of this and other forms of racism, my heart breaks for you. You do not deserve this. I am praying for you. You belong here and you are not alone.

“Justice is a joy to the godly, but it terrifies evildoers.” Proverbs 21:17

Church, We Don’t Need Religious Liberty

 

I hear regularly on the news and online that the Church is under attack. 2017-05-04 14.39.36

I think those who say so are right, but I think they have gotten confused about where the battle is coming from. The attacks are not from the people we are often told to fear.

The greatest threat to the Church is not godless liberals or a politically correct government that wants to do away with the 10 Commandments in public places. No, the greatest threat to the Church comes from within our own ranks. It is sitting in our pews and writing our books and blogs and standing behind our pulpits.

The threat is us.

The people who say they have faith in God but who put their faith in other things. The people who will trade most any value for the chance at political power. The people who love to be comfortable and in charge. The people who are infatuated with the concept of religious liberty.

We are a threat because we have let these things distract us from the things Jesus called us to. We are a threat because we sing “the world behind me, the cross before me” and then act as if we are doomed should an election not go our way. We are a threat because we bear false witness by pointing people to a hope that is built on politics and circumstances rather than faith.

Now before you start your rebuttal, know I sincerely believe in religious liberty.  I believe in liberty for people of all faiths and creeds and will work for and defend everyone’s right to be here and have the same freedoms I enjoy.

I am thankful for my freedom. I use and probably exploit it. I stand multiple times a week in front of people and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. And if it were outlawed tomorrow, I’d show up on Sunday and do it anyway.

I’m guessing there are many Christians in many churches who would say the same thing.

What then are we after when we say we want religious liberty? What are we chasing? What is our end game? We say we want religious freedom but religious freedom does not make our faith stronger, it does not make our churches come alive, it does not claim that people will come to faith in Jesus.

What we are after is what that freedom brings us: We want comfort. We want control. We want political power.

Take a stroll through the Gospels and show me a place where Jesus is after those things. He lived in an occupied land. He had no votes. He had limited freedom. He couldn’t pass religiously based laws. He had none of the things I see Christians saying were their top priorities this last election cycle.

Never once was he worried about the threat of Caesar showing up and telling him to stop. He never once said the way to be faithful is to hang the Scriptures in City Hall or stamp In God We Trust on our money. He didn’t say, as the people wanted him to, that we need to overthrow the haters and install God’s government.

He didn’t say those things because they simply did not matter to his ministry and work. Not ultimately.

He wasn’t chasing after an earthly kingdom because his Kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus didn’t get his power from government. He didn’t need Rome to give him permission to speak. His freedom was not wrapped up in the laws of the land.

And neither is ours.

The faithful Christian life is lived out regardless of where we find ourselves or what government we happen to be ruled by. This doesn’t mean we don’t work to make our culture and government better, but we certainly don’t put our hope there or take our marching orders from them.

The faithful Christian life has nothing to do with who has political power and instead has everything to do with who has our heart.

I’m telling you right now that religious freedom is one of the biggest idols in the Church today. And idolatry will kill us far sooner than persecution will or making room for people of different faiths and practices will.

I’m convinced we are being led away from Jesus. We are giving our heart to things that will not bring us abundant life. Religious liberty has absolutely nothing to offer the Church.

Just like Jesus we do not need political power, comfort, or control. Not only do we not need them, they will ruin us.

Power corrupts. Comfort lulls us to sleep. Control is the antithesis of a love.

We are killing ourselves and the faiths of our children and our witness to the world as we chase after these things. Things that don’t look like Jesus.

I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “What the North American Church really needs is pastors telling people who to vote for.” I can’t imagine him saying, “Christians need special laws and protections so they don’t have to bake cupcakes for so and so” or “Blessed are those who wield the power.”

Jesus invites us to serve, to become uncomfortable, to give up so much control that we’d risk everything to love people unlike us. He invites us to lay down our lives. He invites us to trust him on this journey of faith.

Jesus invites us into a Kingdom. A Kingdom far more beautiful and powerful and life giving than anything democracies or monarchies have to offer. A Kingdom that is not run by coercion or violence or deal making but by sacrificial, extravagant love. A Kingdom where laws give way to grace. A Kingdom that changes hearts and minds. A Kingdom that never ends.

So while I hope our nation will live out its identity as a land of freedom for people of all faiths or no faith, I will not be chasing after or applauding things marketed as Christian religious liberty. I will not be schmoozed by politicians who hope to gain my vote by promising me something that isn’t theirs to give.

Church, the government does not give you your voice. The government does not give you your power. The government does not give you your freedom. It does not give or transform life.

Stop putting your hope there. We must stop clamoring after religious liberty as if only then will we experience the life God wants for us. As if only then will God show up.

God will show up when we assume the posture of Jesus. When we love our neighbors as ourselves. When we live a life of faith. When we eschew power and comfort and control in order to look more like the God we claim.

We are better than this. And our Kingdom is better is than this.

May we never bow down at the feet of religious liberty. May we stop chasing after worldly things only to find that we’ve left Jesus and our neighbors in the dust. May our allegiance be to an eternal Kingdom. And may our free or persecuted lives look just like Jesus.

 

 

 

This is not okay.

© UNHCR/A.McConnell

Syria has been at war with itself for years. Countless lives have been lost. Most of the country has been displaced. Many fleeing with only the clothes on their back. And our response to this disaster has largely been a shrug. This is not okay.

Those aware of the situation have turned it, like most things, into a political issue. We’ve reduced a humanitarian crisis to a partisan talking point. This is not okay.

Meanwhile, today in Syria citizens were killed through the use of chemical weapons. Weapons unleashed by their own government. Men. Women. Children. Today. Burned. Poisoned. Suffocated. Dead. The pictures on Twitter are unfiltered and haunting. If that isn’t bad enough, planes then launched rockets at the clinics where the wounded were being treated. This is not okay.

These are people that we are reluctant to welcome when they beg to come. These are people that we have wanted to shut the door on. These are people we’ve largely turned our back on. Men. Women. Children. This is not okay.

The government needs to figure out what they will do for the those remaining in the country, the refugees who’ve fled, and the evil Assad regime. Hopefully this administration will take the issue more seriously than the previous one. It is complex and I don’t have all the answers. 

But you and I need to have our hearts broken by the evil in this world and let it change our attitudes, opinions, and behaviors.

You and I need to consider our response to atrocities like this. It should shake us.

You and I need to decide that this is not okay.

Don’t tell me things like, “America first.” That just does not fly for me as a Jesus follower.

Don’t tell me that Saudi Arabia and whoever should be doing more. Aren’t we supposed to be a “shining city on a hill?”

Don’t tell me “Veterans before refugees.” Certainly our vets need help and resources but the people being choked to death by Sarin gas from their government should be moved to the front of the line. (And you will see shortly we have more than enough cash to go around for refugees and veterans.)

Don’t tell me they can’t be trusted. Don’t tell me we have to do more “extreme vetting.” Don’t tell me one Skittle might be poisoned. 

None of that. Look at the pictures of boys and girls who lost their life today gasping for air that wouldn’t come. Read the stories of the conditions of refugee camps. Listen to the people.

Enough is enough. This is not okay. 

Don’t want to bring them here? Ok, what can you do feed, clothe, and medicate them where they are at? Can you love them as people and be moved by their desperation?

This is a heart issue, not a resource issue.

The US spends around $2.5 billion on Halloween costumes every year. For one night of trick or treating and a party or two. In 2012 we spent $370 million on dressing up our pets on October 31st. None of this includes decorations or candy.

We spend nearly $14 billion on ice cream annually, and that doesn’t include restaurant sales.

The amount of federal dollars that goes to resettling refugees in the USA each year is approximately $585 million. Peanuts compared to the way we spend elsewhere.

Look, I love Halloween and I love ice cream, but I love people more. Maybe I could do without.

Without ice cream or fancy costumes or even safety.

This may sound crazy, but I’m willing to risk safety for the sake of these people. I’m willing to risk it in the name of love. That’s what a Jesus follower does. 

Despite statistics showing that refugees have not been terrorists 99.99938% of the time, some will say this makes me foolish or naïve or something else, but that’s the part I am okay with. I’m not okay with people suffering like this. I’m not okay with saying no to people who are being killed just because of where they live.

Who are we as a nation if we don’t help these people?

Who are we as a Church if we don’t use our voice to bring attention to this?

Who are we as people if we can’t set aside some things in order to save the lives of people?

This is not okay.

God have mercy on them. God have mercy on us.


Give/Learn/Get Involved:

Charity Navigator lists some reputable organizations assisting in this crisis:
https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1523#

Preemptive Love Coalition is on the ground feeding and treating people. http://www.preemptivelove.org/

Catholic Relief Services: Get to Know Refugees
http://www.crs.org/media-center/syrian-refugees-meet-the-people-everyones-talking-about

Catholic Relief Services: Ways to Help
http://www.crs.org/stories/helping-syrian-refugees-numbers

My own tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, has good folks on the ground caring for refugees where they are at, donate here: https://give.nazarene.org/donate/f/125347

 

 

Don’t be a Lemming (or Lessons From a 1991 Video Game)

lemmings

Lemmings came out in 1991 and in 1996 was rated the 8th greatest video game of all time. 

There is a fantastic old video game called Lemmings. In Lemmings a stream of little creatures constantly walk forward with no regard for what they are walking toward.

A wall in the way? Keep it moving. A lake of fire just ahead? Walk on. Imminent death? Move it along.

Your job is to equip some as builders, blockers, or miners to navigate the obstacles and dangers these poor, mindless lemmings encounter. (I just found out you can still play this game online, so I’ll be back to finish this post in an hour or two.)

We’ve probably all heard that real life lemmings will follow other lemmings right over a cliff with no regard for their own welfare. It turns out that this is a misconception originating when Disney drowned a bunch of rodents for a fake documentary. So when I call us lemmings it isn’t all that accurate to nature, but I think the word picture works.

When I call us lemmings I don’t mean you are a lemming and I am not. I mean I do the same things. Even when I don’t want to. I’m not talking down to you, I’m trying to keep myself accountable.

When I call us lemmings what I am saying is that we blindly follow along without much regard to the dangers, pitfalls, and destruction that lies ahead.

We do this in many arenas including sports and religion, but it seems our political ideologies have increasingly become something we thoughtlessly follow without stopping to ask if they are good, beneficial, or even true.

This is not a left or right issue. It impacts both extremes and many in the middle.

My left leaning friends recently circulated a New York Times story about Department of Energy nominee Rick Perry not knowing that his new job included overseeing the nuclear arsenal, even though his acceptance of the nomination included his willingness to oversee our nuclear arsenal.

My right leaning friends are posting about how Trump had the largest in-person inauguration crowd of all time because his press secretary said so, despite the facts making it demonstrably untrue.

We want to be right more than we want the truth.

President Trump said during the primary season that he could walk out onto the street and shoot someone and not lose a single vote. His ability to say that (and I believe he was mostly right) shows how strongly we are devoted to our political preferences. And I think much of the same could be said for the other side.

We are so entrenched in our opinions and worldviews that we cannot allow ourselves free thought. We are so wrapped up in a quest for political power and outcomes that we have lost our intellectual integrity. We have allowed ourselves to become lemmings. Or at least what lemmings are commonly believed to be.

Here are some lemminglike behaviors we are guilty of far too often:

– We applaud everything our side does. It doesn’t matter if we opposed the same behavior two days ago, today we applaud it today because it’s our team/party/candidate of choice.

– We condemn everything the other side does. It doesn’t matter if they have a point or they did some good or if we previously supported such efforts. Now it’s bad because “they” did it.

– We dismiss any information we don’t like as biased or fake. We have reached the point where we only listen to the voices we already agree with. This allows us to never be challenged, never think for ourselves, and able to assume that anyone who disagrees is an idiot.

We’ve got to do better. It doesn’t matter who you voted for, no candidate or party will always do what is good or right or best. No candidate or party will perfectly represent your views. Not if we are willing to think independently and constructively.

We’ve become so partisan that we are afraid to show any agreement across the aisle. We see compromise and working together for the common good as a negative thing instead of a necessary thing. We value people based on their political opinions more than our shared humanity.

And in the process, we just keep walking despite the upcoming cliffs and pitfalls and destruction. We don’t want to hear otherwise, we don’t have time for facts, we don’t need various opinions and voices. We have somewhere to go and we will get there without ever stopping to ask if where we are heading is even worth heading toward.

I’m afraid we are more loyal to the direction we are walking than to common sense, the truth, and, at times, our faith.

If we keep going the way we’ve been going, we will be meet with an unfortunate end. Loss of friends, loss of respect, loss of influence, loss of decency, loss of integrity.

I suggest we take some measures to prevent ourselves from blindly running over a cliff:

1) Disagree with our own people. It’s okay, I promise. What if it was not uncommon to say, “I generally support what they are trying to do, but I cannot get on board with this issue.” The sky wouldn’t fall and we’d push our culture toward a more reasonable future. Or is toeing the party line more important than being true to our values?

2) Agree with people coming from other perspectives. Again, this is okay. Not everything the other side (and I hate even using the term “sides”) does is wicked or corrupt or out to ruin our country. They get one right at least every once in a while. Applaud them for it. Or are we so afraid of recognizing the worth of “those people” that we can’t even admit when something positive has taken place?

3) Educate ourselves. Please. Learn why people believe differently than you. Most people who support stricter gun control do not want to round up all the weapons in the country. And most people who support free market capitalism do not want to see poor people taken advantage of. Most issues we debate are complicated. There are no easy answers or we would have solved all our problems by now. Find out what people think and why.

4) We must want truth more than we want to be right. I might think the Philadelphia Eagles are the best team in the NFL but when I am presented with some recent, observable facts I need to change my mind. We can’t allow our opinion to be more valuable than reality. Sometimes we need to shift what we want to believe based on what is actually happening. Truth is worth embracing, even if it means I have to admit I was previously wr-wr-wrong.

I’m going to try my best to live these things out. I won’t be perfect at it, but I hope you’ll consider joining me. I don’t want to mindlessly walk towards our demise. I want to think and learn and grow and discover. I want truth. I want integrity.

It turns out that the lemmings aren’t as mindless as we once thought. They don’t just blindly follow with no regard for what is good and right and true. Hopefully we can soon say the same thing about ourselves.

A Way Forward

photo-1431960128106-aab3b6cf9b4a-1

Michael Browning, unsplash.com

We are a divided United States. The tone and rhetoric of the presidential campaigns was as divisive as I can personally remember. The hyperbole and fear-mongering turned all the way up to 11. It felt as if we were becoming more polarized with each passing day.

And then the election happened. The person who was elected president was not the person with the most votes. That is our system and, like it or not, that is where we are today. Over half of those who voted are angry and/or disappointed. While a large percentage of us celebrate, another large percentage of us grieve. People are protesting, friendships and families are being pulled apart, and the ugliness continues.

Our exit polls tell us that our country continues to be divided by race. We are split on what issues matter most to us and the best ways to handle them. We are divided on our outlook and by our religions. We are divided by urban and rural population groups.

To be clear, we have been divided in the past. We once enslaved people. We once had a sitting vice president kill a political enemy in duel. We once fought a war between states. We once had separate drinking fountains for people based on skin color. Division isn’t new to the US of A, but it’s not good for her either.

Will we ever unite again? Are we doomed to polarize until something breaks? Is this the new normal? I believe there is a way forward.

Simply put, we need each other. We need our varying opinions; we need our vast array of experiences. Our differences do not have to separate us. They don’t have to alienate us. We do not want uniformity, but we do need harmony.

Harmony allows us to sing distinct notes or play unique parts while working toward the same goals. Harmony allows our differences to combine for something bigger and more beautiful. Harmony will lead to us unity.

This was the vision of our founding fathers. They set up our nation so that we could find room to disagree while still having protections and a say in the process. They wanted everyone to have freedom and a voice. John Adams said, “When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power, we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.” Actual American patriotism is rooted in diversity.

Unifying despite our diversity will be neither quick nor easy. If we are to harmonize it will take hard work, patient determination, and calm resilience. It may eventually take acts of Congress or grassroots organization, but we can start today with the small things.

The way forward I would like to propose is the way of the kitchen and dining room table. If our country is ever going to be big enough for all of us, a good first step will be to make sure our tables are big enough for all of us as well.

When we pull up a chair at our table we communicate that a person has value. When our lives intersect with one another, we find that along with our differences we carry things in common. When we share the same experiences, we see our shared humanity. When we sit and talk with people who are not exactly like us, we learn and we grow and we are better for it.

If you don’t know why a person could possibly support Donald Trump, have dinner with someone who did. If you can’t fathom why a person might vote for Hillary Clinton, ask someone who did to go for coffee with you. Don’t try and change their mind or show them how wrong they were. Listen to them. Right or wrong their opinion is just as valuable as yours.

Invite a person of a different race into your home. Ask them their story. Ask them what they feel is unique to their experience.

Instead of mocking people for wanting a safe space, create one for them in your home or office and hear them out. Maybe you’ll both be better for it.

Instead of characterizing anyone who doesn’t agree with you with the worst labels you can come up with, ask them how they came to their conclusions. Maybe you have the wrong idea about them. Maybe they have the wrong idea about you. Maybe you are both partially wrong.

Find someone who has immigrated to our country. Talk to them about why they came and what the American dream means to them. Ask them what things they like or don’t like about our immigration policies.

If a person is responding to this election by saying they are afraid, ask them to help you understand where their fear comes from. To dismiss pain and fear is to dismiss people. That is not the way forward.

Instead of sharing sound bites and memes, share apple pies and book recommendations.

If you don’t understand the things that concern a 20 year old, get to know a 20 year old. If you can’t comprehend how a 64 year old might feel about the direction of our country, go talk with them.

Find people who disagree with you on something divisive, then find what you have most in common and celebrate it. We might disagree on the best way to do healthcare but maybe we can agree to love our local sports team. Let’s make finger foods and paint our faces and unite around that.

When is the last time you sat and talked with a person who practiced a different religion or no religion? Are you even sure what other faiths believe or don’t believe? Spend time together.

If you can’t think of anyone you know or anyone you love who believes differently than you do, that is a major part of our problem. We’ve isolated ourselves from our neighbors and fellow citizens which makes it easy to assume we are always right and demonize anyone who thinks otherwise.

Some say fences make great neighbors. I say fences make poor tables. Let’s tear down what separates us and use the wood to build a bigger table with room for everyone, even those we do not yet understand or appreciate or agree with. This is a first step toward a united nation. This is a first step in overcoming the worst parts of us. 

Unity won’t mean that we all agree. It won’t mean that suddenly my convictions will change. Realistically it won’t solve all our issues. It will, however, mean that I can’t dismiss you immediately. It will mean I am more likely to hear what you have say. It will mean that I can’t label you my enemy because you believe differently.

It is a lot harder to hate a person for their beliefs when you love them for who they are. If we value each other as part of a common community we will work to find a way to bridge the divides between us. We will compromise where we can, agree to disagree when we must, and be united by our shared care and concern for one another.

Let’s start here. Let’s learn from each other. Let’s sit and talk. Let’s listen.

The way forward is around a table, sharing a meal and a laugh. The way forward is watching as our kids play together in the front yard. The way forward is working shoulder to shoulder to make our communities a better place. The way forward is in being teachable. The way forward is you and I and us and them, doing life together, loving each other from the start, and putting in the hard work to make sure we are doing right by each other.

From city to farm. From Christian to Muslim to Hindu to atheist. From white to brown to black. From rich to poor. From gay to straight. From Trump Train to those With Her. From sea to shining sea. You are welcome at my table. Let’s move forward, together.

To My Non-Christian Friends This Election Season

To My Non-Christian Friends, dearfriends_black

This election season has been something else, huh? (Here is a video of puppies if you need something to cheer you up.) Take heart, it is almost over. We have at least until February before people start openly campaigning for 2020.

In the meantime, I’d like to say something to you. Specifically, I’d like to say sorry. I think you have seen us Christians at our worst lately and for that I apologize.

I’m sorry that you’ve seen so much fighting between us. We can be brutal to each other and we call ourselves family. We fire missiles from all sides of the aisle and don’t worry too much about collateral damage. It probably isn’t very inviting when we behave this way. I’m sorry if you are less likely to want to be around us after all this.

I’m sorry that you’ve probably gotten into a debate or two with one of us. I’m sorry that we don’t often fight very graciously. I’m sorry that we stoop to things like name calling and rapid dismissal.

I regret that we often want to be heard, rather than hear. That isn’t very kind of us.

I’m sorry if you were unfriended because of your political views. I’m sorry we value our opinions more than your friendship. I’m sorry that we let partisanship get in the way of relationship. There are things we will all never agree on, but that shouldn’t stop us from sharing meals and photos of our kids and life in general.

I’m sorry that you see us defending things that are indefensible. Things Jesus would oppose. Things we have routinely and loudly condemned. I’m sorry that we hold a double standard so that we can excuse our candidates and condemn someone else’s. That’s not consistent and its certainly not Christlike.

I’m sorry for all the false memes and bunk articles we have posted. We don’t think very highly of lying, but we are at times in such a rush to be right we fail to check our information. That isn’t very good of us.

I’m sorry if we have led you to believe that a person’s eternal destiny hinges on how they vote. We don’t actually believe that, though we sometimes act and preach like it. Sometimes we (rightly or wrongly) put a lot of hope and energy into these things, but if you give us a time to catch our breath we will remember it is grace, not ballots, that save us.

We sing a song that says our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus. I’m sorry we haven’t acted that way lately. While we want to have a say in government, ultimately our hope is not in presidents and senators and legislation.

I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt by the way we talk about the candidates and their supporters. Regardless of politics you and they are loved and cherished by God. We’ve failed to reflect that too often. That grieves me.

I apologize that regardless of which side we are on, we are often unable to understand where you are coming from. I’m sorry if we talk down to you or figure you couldn’t possibly know or have hurt you with our assumptions.

I know it is probably hard to see through all the nonsense, but Jesus is better than we represent. I’m not sure of a lot of things, but I’m absolutely positive of that. I’m sorry if we have failed him and you this election season.

If we are honest we are just regular ole humans. We mess up, we don’t always do what we want. We can be too passionate, we can be misguided, we can be flat wrong. Please don’t hold that against Jesus.

I can’t speak for all of us, but I can speak for me. I would trade in all this election stuff if it meant people would be more likely to consider following Jesus. His ways are better. We have a saying that goes like this, “His grace is sufficient.” The grace of God is sufficient to cover our weakness and our mistakes. We greatly depend on that.

Now I’m asking for grace from you. Please forgive us for our actions and attitudes, our words and our compliance. Please forgive us for pointing you toward a political party more than Jesus. Please forgive us when we cross the line, wound others, or look no different than any other person you know.

We are supposed to do better than that. We have been wrong. Maybe not all of us, but some of us, including me. And I’m sorry.

Church, We Have No Dog In This Fight

politcal-party

One of the worst aspects of an election is that it pits people against each other. We start noticing who is with us and who is against. We draw lines and form ranks. Its us versus them.

As we line up to choose sides the candidates lay out their battle plans. Pro-this and anti-that. We (hopefully) weigh the pros and cons and we chose our side.

We select our candidate. We stand united. We rally behind them. We argue as to why they are the most suited to hold office. We applaud their good nature. We justify their bad behavior. And we stand at the ready to defend and fight for their rightful place. This is our normal.

The question I have been wondering this election cycle is, why do we, the church, feel the need to pick a candidate? Why do we feel like we have to take a side? And perhaps most soul searching, why do we feel like we have to baptize our candidate of choice and line them up with our religious beliefs?

This is a concept foreign to many Christians in the world today and for most of church history. Things like democratic elections are still rare when you consider the breadth of human experience and existence. Yet here we are lining up, doing battle, anointing our candidates.

What if we decided we don’t have a dog in the fight? What if we said, you know what, these candidates are so flawed, so disingenuous, so other-kingdom focused, that we’re not even going to bother taking sides?

I believe this is what the early church would do. As the church was being born, first making its way across foreign lands, the Roman Empire held much of the known world and would soon experience great politic unrest. They didn’t hold elections and they didn’t care too much about what the church thought, but I think there is a lesson here for us.

If you would please allow me a moment for a brief history. Just a few decades after the death and resurrection of Christ, the Roman emperor Nero had become so unpopular that the empire turned against him. In response he took his own life, leaving a vacancy for the throne.

In the year that followed, four different men would hold the title Emperor of Rome. Galba would be the first and hold office for seven months. He withheld payment from his soldiers and they in turn killed him, backing the authority of a man named Otho. Otho would take the throne only to learn that yet another man was marching on Rome. This man, Vitellius, would conquer Otho’s forces and be recognized as the legitimate ruler of the empire. That is, until Vespasian arrived from the Middle East and dispatched Vitellius and his sympathizers, and took the throne for himself.

Talk about a crazy twelve months. It makes 2016 look fairly tame in comparison.

The reason I tell you this story is because I doubt the early church, our foremothers and fathers, put much stock in which emperor they supported. I’m guessing they didn’t pass out voter’s guides at the weekly gathering or put signs out in their yards. I am fairly certain they weren’t overly concerned with which one was going to raise or lower taxes and which one had a better economic policy or even which one was more pro-life.

I am positive they weren’t looking to see which candidate would more closely line up with their Christian values. They would have never tried to force one of them to fit their worldview in order to justify their support. I don’t imagine them saying, “Well if you don’t like Vespasian you must be pro-Galba.”

They likely would not have chosen a side. They had no dog in the fight. No horse in the race. Whoever sat in the Roman equivalent to the Oval Office made little difference to the church. I can hear them saying, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

The church didn’t pick sides because no matter who is emperor, Jesus is Lord. They didn’t pick sides because the options laid out before them were unsatisfactory. They didn’t pick sides because the laws the Romans passed had very little to do with how they were called to live. They didn’t pick sides because God already sat on the only throne that mattered.

There is the Kingdom of God and there is the empire of Rome. They are two different realities. The church firmly established that they were Kingdom people. “Strangers in the world,” one writer would say.

Kingdom people have too much to do to worry about who is going to be the next Caesar. In the Roman world when babies were abandoned to die, the church brought them in and built orphanages. In the Roman world when health was fleeting and disease was rampant, the church brought them in and built hospitals and administered healthcare. It was the church who brought in strangers and foreigners and took care of the poor and widows. It was the church who stood against a world full of racism and sexism and classism and slavery. And they did it without petitions or lobbyists or super pacs.

The early church didn’t look for the government to legislate morality or justifiably use tax money. They didn’t look to the government for tax breaks or religious liberty. They looked to Jesus and tried to live faithfully.

Galba. Otho. Vitellius. Vespasian. Why pick a side? We are pledged to Christ.

Church, I truly believe in this election (and probably most elections) we don’t have a dog in the fight. I don’t think it is worth choosing sides. We have the two least liked candidates in our nation’s history and we keep saying you can or can’t be a certain kind of person if you don’t pick the right one.

To be so emotionally invested in picking the next Caesar is a waste of energy. To put our hope in whichever one we think will protect our freedoms the most is dangerously shortsighted. Emperor-to-be Otho promised the world to his soldiers, they put him in power, and then he withheld everything he promised and was forced out three months later. Don’t sell yourself to the highest bidder.

You don’t have to do all the lining up behind your choice. You don’t have to become their champion. You don’t have to justify their every move or attempt to get their world and your world to line up perfectly. Spoiler alert: they don’t fit. You don’t have to compromise your fundamental beliefs in order to pick one of the people desperate for power.

If you objectively study the candidates (and not just the top two) and can vote for one, okay. It is also a completely Christian response to say I can’t choose between these people battling for the throne. It isn’t a waste, it isn’t a vote for the other side, it is a matter of principle.

We are Kingdom people first. Our fight is a different fight. Our Kingdom doesn’t require borders or laws or military or taxes or presidents or elections. We have already made our choice. Caesar can have the throne, the land, the money, the power. None of that matters. Caesars come and go. Presidents come and go. Nations come and go. But the Kingdom of God endures forever.

So don’t worry. Don’t fret. Don’t feel like you have to pick between the lesser of two evils. Pick Jesus. Live faithfully. Love people.

If you feel you must make a choice and just have to put out a yard sign or bumper sticker, go with one that says, “I’m with Jesus.”