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Arguing about the message of Christ, but missing it

We can disagree, but why must we be so disagreeable about it?

I have some friends who are staunch biblical conservatives, apply a very literal interpretation of the Bible, and take a conservative stand on all the hot button issues of today regarding morality and behavior. I understand where they are coming from, I respect their right to their position, and I sometimes cringe at the words that come out of their mouths.

As part of his ministry, Jesus’ harshest words were often directed at the religious leaders of his day and not at those people who the Pharisees had determined to be sinners. In the Greek Orthodox Church, Jan. 20 is set aside in the season of Lent as the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and is intended to challenge religious complacency. The observance gets its name from the parable Jesus told in the Book of Luke, chapter 18. As a warning against religious complacence, in his commentary on Luke, the Blessed Theophylact of Ochrid wrote: “When a man ascribes his accomplishments to himself, and not to God, this is nothing less than denial of God and opposition to Him.”

As part of his ministry, Jesus’ harshest words were often directed at the religious leaders of his day and not at those people who the
Pharisees had determined to be sinners. In the Greek Orthodox Church, Jan. 20 is set aside in the season of Lent as the Sunday of
the Publican and the Pharisee and is intended to challenge religious complacency. The observance gets its name from the parable
Jesus told in the Book of Luke, chapter 18. As a warning against religious complacence, in his commentary on Luke, the Blessed
Theophylact of Ochrid wrote: “When a man ascribes his accomplishments to himself, and not to God, this is nothing less than
denial of God and opposition to Him.”

I have some other friends who are proudly liberal. They are progressive in their theology, inclusive in their practices, and proclaim grace above all else. Except, of course, to those who are staunch conservatives and disagree with them. As with my other friends, I understand their position, and I sometimes cringe at their words, too.

We Christians seem to make a sport out of bashing one another. Within the wide spectrum of those who claim to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth, there is diversity, dissension and a lot of finger pointing. We seem to have arranged ourselves into the camps of liberal, moderate, conservative, with the intention of proclaiming the superiority of our own position, that that my ideas are more “Godly” than the others, and apparently, Jesus likes me best.

Oddly enough, in the Bible, I have found an entirely different story. When Jesus encountered the broken people of his day, the social outcasts, the poor and needy, the sick and grieving, he simply loved them for who they were, expressed compassion and healing to them and proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Jesus never condoned or excused sin, but he always loved people in spite of their sin. As far as I can tell, the only people that Jesus ever got really mad at were the religious experts who thought they knew better than everyone else.

At the heart of all sin is a core of self-importance, self-righteousness, and self- promotion (You can look up the verses in Isaiah 14:12-15). In the bickering and finger- pointing over the social concerns of today, with each camp shouting the benefit and blessedness of its own opinion, there is a foundation of self-justification and self- righteousness that seems mighty far away from anything that Jesus was ever talking about.

In today’s changing world, the political, social and moral issues about which we tend to argue are essentially spiritual in nature. And as spiritual people, they are important to us and are expressed as an extension of our faith. And yes, we disagree. But my disagreements do not mean I hate those I disagree with, nor does it justify my behavior to be mean-spirited or condescending to those who have another opinion.

A rather wise colleague of mine once said, “In the world of 24-hour news, the one who shouts the loudest decides what the truth is.” And in the journalistic entertainment world, we see the wisdom of those words. But when churches and so-called spiritually wise people attempt the same technique, the result is a shouting match with no winners, only losers. Meanwhile, the nonreligious folks watch and wonder what is wrong with us.

For all my liberal and conservative friends, if I have any left, let’s try some civil discourse, respect for one another, and rather than point a finger, maybe we could talk over a cup of coffee. And at least act a little bit like Jesus in our disagreements.

— Brian Hotaling is pastor at Charles Town Baptist Church

 

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2 Responses to Arguing about the message of Christ, but missing it

  1. The entire history of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other “major” religions is one of internal discord (sometimes violent) and confrontation with other major religions (more often violent).

    The internal discord leads to endless schisms and the formation of ever more sects.

    All of this is due to the inherent nature of religion. It’s beliefs are simply not provable but more importantly not disprovable either. One who dissents from the orthodoxy of any given sect cannot prove that s/he is right and the current orthodoxy is wrong; therefore the only alternative is to depart and start one’s own sect.

    There is no peaceful, non-destructive to resolve basic items of difference between believers.

    More significantly, if a believer believes strongly enough that s/he is the only person correctly discerning what a GOD wants, no dissent can be allowed and any means necessary to implement that message can be used, be it illegal, violent etc.

  2. As the writer himself notes: “But when churches and so-called spiritually wise people attempt the same technique, the result is a shouting match with no winners, only losers. Meanwhile, the nonreligious folks watch and wonder what is wrong with us.”

    One who believes in unprovable theses can never ever silence someone who believes in another unprovable thesis.

    The founders of this country knew this very well. That is why they did everything they could to separate religion from politics and power. That is why Jefferson knew so well that there must be a “Wall of Separation” between the churches and the state. Passionate, irresolvable conflicts are harmful to both peace and democracy and even a huge majority which agrees on religious matters is inherently a threat to the rights of others.

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