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My dearest Christian siblings,
I’ve been noticing us, seeing our white knuckles and increasingly strident declarations. Some among us are spending a lot of time defining and announcing who the one true Christians are. Some are shouting about liberal slippery slopes. Others are equally angry about conservative gate-keepers.
An awfully large contingent is certain that Christianity can only be rightly represented by a particular political viewpoint. They argue that if our pastors and leaders aren’t standing against that one particular sin (the worst sin in our book!), then maybe they aren’t even Christian.
I’m not guiltless. I have strong opinions. I think politics are how we express our ethics in the public sphere. For me, that means Christians need to be involved in the political process. I’ve said and shared some pointed things on that front.
What I’m noticing in myself and our community at large is this: We are living out of fear. We seem to be increasingly desperate that if we don’t act to protect something—our beliefs, our way of life, our access to those in power, even our particular church—that all may be lost.
Do you feel it? If you don’t feel it yourself, do you see it in the tone of voice, and word choices, and public declarations of Christians around you?
OK. I know everything feels urgent. I know the election is rocketing towards us, and political discourse is polarizing us like never before. I know it feels like the world is on the precipice. I know.
But take a deep breath. Feel your beating heart and the air moving in and out of you. Recall that God is present, even in all of this. And then consider this.
We do not need to worry about protecting the Church from the encroachment of culture, or science, or psychology, or changing demographics, or any other supposed peril. None of that is a threat. It never was. We do not need to feel defensive when critics call our systems and institutions into question. We don’t need to hide or protect leaders and institutions who have failed or abused or hurt others in order to “protect the reputation of the Gospel.” None of that.
See, the Church isn’t something we built, and it’s not something we can protect. “The Church has no existence outside its Grace-relation in Christ…The Church does not create itself; its being and reality do not reside in its sociological visibility, institutional structures, or organizational marks. The Church is the product of Grace and lives only in Grace.” (That’s Ziegler, restating Torrance.)
Let go of that fearful grip!
What this means is that we can let old and broken systems slough away. We can agree with our critics that abusers have to go. We can let go of our death grip on things like tax-advantage, special invitations to “prayer breakfasts” with the powerful, and the persecution-complex we so proudly wear.
We didn’t build the Church, no matter how assiduously we worked to build our Church, our budget, our program, or influence. Humbly recall who established the Church and declared that the gates of Hell shall not prevail. The Church will outlive all of our programs and plans.
Take a breath and reconsider our path forward. It’s not as complicated as we’re making it out to be.
We’re being invited to participate in the other-centered co-suffering love of the Trinity. That’s not just compassion you’re feeling. It’s not “a bleeding heart,” or being too soft. You’re not experiencing the “feminization of the church.” Hardly. You are hearing the Divine voice gently calling.
Listen to the Spirit.
Lay down the tools of manipulation, coercion, violence, and every form of force.
Turn the other cheek.
Go the extra mile.
Pray for the healing of your city.
Feed the hungry.
Clothe the naked.
Visit those in prison.
Be ministers of reconciliation.
Befriend tax collectors and sex workers.
Greet the prodigal with arms open wide.
Tell the woman accused of sexual sin that you will not condemn her.
Provide for the widow and orphan.
Use your privilege to elevate the ones ignored by those in power.
Use your political voice to make sure those who need a hand up get it.
Love your enemy.
Love God with all you are and have.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
See, as long as you and I are doing this as we gather together, submitting ourselves to the formation of the Spirit, then there is Church. This is what Jesus is doing, and when we participate in what Jesus is doing, we are Church.
And in truth, even if you and I aren’t doing this, somewhere, the Spirit is leading someone else to do it. We get to participate.
6 thoughts on “An open letter in a time of increasing fear among Christians”
Marc, thanks for this post. I’ve seen this trend going back even before the 2016 election, after getting into a heated online debate about a situation which was handled out of fear of what another religion’s teachings said about an individual. The debate made the Christian God seem small and unable to protect his own. This bothered me at the time and was an eye opener, forcing me to examine what I believe about God and His church.
This is precisely the point. So much of our fear-based behavior is a testimony to our lack of belief in God, in God’s power, in the activity of the Holy Spirit, or in the teachings of Jesus. We want to hold on to all the culture of Christianity, but protect it in ways that directly contradict the heart of the teaching. It’s challenging. In Romans there’s this moment where Paul is talking about his fellow Jewish people, and he essentially says, “If I could give up my own salvation in order for my people to know God’s love, I would do it.” That sticks out to me… I have *never* heard that kind of willingness to sacrifice self in the church. I’m willing to give up my position, my privilege, my rights, even my salvation… if only it would mean that these others I love would know God’s love for them. We’ve need a reformation of our hearts!
You just listed a big need that we all should be praying about, first for ourselves and then for our brothers and sisters.
First for ourselves. Amen. Part of the solution to our judgementalism is to start by humbly being aware of our own tendency to self-protection and self-justification.
Right on brother. Thanks for sharing. There is no way I could have said it better or anyone else, as of yet.
Thanks for the kind words, and for reading!