In the last month or so, the sharp rise in the open hostility of certain Christian groups toward other sections of the Christian community on social media has stunned me. The level of condemnation and vitriol seems to have escalated to the point that I wonder if there is any space for restoration of unity. I find it disturbing and disappointing to say the least.
How do we find a way through this mess of differing opinions when our emotions are running so high?
The latest outcry, of course, has been around groups within the Christian body raising funds for Folau’s legal case to dispute his dismissal. One question being raised is whether this is an acceptable use of people’s private funds or whether these funds should rather be spent helping those who are in need in our communities.
In reading some strongly expressed comments denouncing those who had given to the Folau fund, I found myself wanting to respond equally ferociously with, “How dare you judge others on what they spend where when you spend your money doing xxx!”- until the mirror reflected back my own judgements on the rights and wrongs of our spending!
Whichever side of the fence you sit (or even if you are like me and sitting firmly on the fence over much of the circus surrounding this issue), one thing is plain. The spiral of division and judgement into hatred within the Christian community in Australia seems to have escalated in the last months - or was I just blind to it?
Believing as I do that unity is of particular value and importance in releasing the qualities of the Kingdom of God on earth, my prayer is that we start to take our judgements of others to God instead of each other and see what He might have to say about them.
If I take my accusation to God about what someone else spends their money on, for example, I think He might well come back and confront me with some of my spending. If I bring my judgement of another’s lack of love toward a particular group, the lovelessness in my own feelings for that “unloving” person may become the topic of conversation.
Lately, I have started to realise just how many judgments I make, moment by moment, day by day. Many of these are so “normal” to me I cannot see that different may be ok or may even have an extenuating explanation. It can be as simple as judging whether everyone else should enjoy something as much as I do (aka: food; music; cold weather; certain smells) to how people behave on the road, treat their children, keep their house/workspace/car, how they dress, what they do with their time and so on and so on. Some of this comes from an inherent belief that “my way is the right way” (which is where our stereotypes and many of our negative opinions of certain people groups comes from), but sometimes I think it is about something else.
One of the valued traits of Christianity is the idea of justice and mercy. The recognition of God’s heart toward those who are most vulnerable and in need in our communities has become front and centre for many Christians. The recognition that our faith isn’t and shouldn’t be all about our own comfort and safety has shifted many from a place of complacency and perhaps self-centredness.
However, as we step into this place of awareness we can become even more conscious of others who are not on the same journey. Because it is of such importance to us, we cannot fathom why they would not understand. We then make the next leap to believe that we are the one to tell them they should get on board with the same agenda!
It is so tempting to be the warrior out there fighting for truth, justice and liberty/tolerance or whatever other noun is flavour of the month. In my own journey, I have to admit to failing to understand why people don’t see what I am involved with as important as I do. Seeing the struggles and horrific lives some people live, the passion to make things better can be overwhelming.
Unfortunately - and I think this is where the rubber hits the road - we are not always happy to stop there. We can have such a strong desire to make someone to pay. Someone is to blame for this, so retribution is a vital part of the process. Or so we think.
And it is here that judgement comes marching in. I set myself up as the judge and jury to decide who must pay, how much and why. I assume I know the hearts, minds and motivations of others before I have even asked or know anything about what is going on for them now or in the past, or what their story really is. Unfortunately, relationship is often the first casualty when we choose “truth” over unity.
This quote from “The Shack” (Wm Paul Young) discussing the “choice to facilitate relationship” by meeting a person at their own level really spoke to me:
“You don’t play a game or color a picture with a child to show your superiority. Rather, you choose to limit yourself so as to facilitate and honor that relationship. You will even lose a competition to accomplish love. It is not about winning and losing, but about love and respect.”
Sitting in judgement, carving off large swathes of people because we assume we know what they think and why is so destructive. In the end, the only winner is the enemy of our souls.
I know I have grappled with the idea that people need to know the truth of their behaviour: something has to be done to protect those in danger and why not me? And there is truth in that.
However, when I think about the times I have been most open to change myself, it has been when someone has approached me with loving kindness. When we come to others from a place of offence, it rarely ends well. In fact, rather than coming to us with a list of our offences, we read in Romans 2:4 (NIV) that it is God showing us His kindness that helps us toward repentance. Awkwardly, He expects the same from us. Paul is pretty blatant here:
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
I am confronted again and again by my own lack of checking in with God about my way of thinking and responding to others. I guess it is a major part of our journey with Him – learning to stop and listen to His heart, to listen to what He thinks and see things from a better perspective: His. My prayer is that we can all step back from this mess, reassess our own part in it and contribute to the clean up before it is too late.