the danger of “I am not like ___” thinking

Mirroring the growing divide in political discourse around the world is a growing divide within the church between ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ believers.

Both would claim to be trying to correctly express and live Christian faith, but it seems to me that ‘progressive’ believers see ‘correctly’ in terms of appropriate correction, adaptation and renovation, whilst ‘conservative’ believers see ‘correctly’ in terms of conservation, perseverance and restoration.

Politically, this (perhaps not always consistently?) tends to make ‘progressive’ believers have a more left-leaning approach, and ‘conservative’ believers have a more right-leaning approach.

If you can anticipate me saying that a ‘both/and’ approach is needed, that would be because that is precisely what I think is needed.

Just as the Gospel cannot ‘fit’ within the political ‘left’ or ‘right’, but instead affirms and challenges both, our understanding of the Gospel always needs both correction and conservation; adaptation and perseverance; renovation and restoration. Continuity and Discontinuity. New and Old. Faithfulness and Innovation. Word and Spirit.

The opposite of this ‘both/and’ approach is the posture that says “I am not like _____”. Two quick examples are a) the Pharisee (Luke 18:11) who was grateful to not be like the sinner, and b) the elite and presentable parts of the body who do not want to associate with the lowly and unpresentable parts.

In other words, we need one another more than we realise, and more than we are comfortable with.

political Christianity

Let me open with an if/then statement.  If Christianity is anything more than B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), and I heartily believe it is, then it necessarily has to do with how the wholeness of life is played out in the here and now.  This means Christianity necessarily has a political component to it.  And here’s a yes/but statement.  Yes, there is vastly more to Christianity than politics, but it is not apolitical.

The sweeping Story of Scripture presents a Gospel that cannot be contained by any single political party, even a ‘Christian’ political party.  Indeed, the values and imperatives of Scripture cover pretty much the entire political spectrum.

The ‘right’ end of the spectrum will find its emphasis on personal responsibility affirmed and strengthened by Scripture.  Consider Proverbs 6:6-11 as motivation to as right-wing folk will say, “get off your rear and work as much as you can, and stop relying on the government.”

The left end of the political spectrum, with its convictions about basic rights and freedoms, will find just as much support from Scripture; from the golden rule of treating your neighbour as yourself, through to the more sharp and radical command to love your enemies.  Everything from social welfare, ecological preservation and non-violent pacifism have direct links to Scripture.

Even a controversial issue such as same-gender relationships finds the whole spectrum covered by Scripture.  Conservatives will find their convictions about sex, marriage and gender affirmed by passages which echo through in both the Old and New Testaments.  Progressives will find abundant biblical support for their passionate concern for the protection of the person-hood and identity of all regardless of any of their personal characteristics.

In addition to offering support all along the political spectrum, Scripture also offers subversion and opposition at all points as well.  To the arrogant ‘conservatives’ wanting to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus the ‘liberal’ steps in to defend her basic freedoms with non-condemning, patient love, whilst at the same time pointing a stinging finger at the hypocrisy of those who are more interested in shaming someone else for their sin than they are at humbly acknowledging their own.  To any and all at the progressive ‘left’ who slide into complacent and compromised affirmation of things that go against Scripture, Jesus represents someone who held to the authority of Scripture, even as he sought to direct people past erring traditional interpretations of it.  Jesus was not interested in building a theocracy to manipulate people into obedience, nor was there any ‘moving on’ from fundamental Jewish convictions to make the faith palatable.

In other words, the Gospel of Scripture is always big enough to offer both comfort and challenge to everyone.

rights and responsibilities

Three recent events, a complaint about a sermon, a movie about Margaret Thatcher and a FB conversation about gun laws, have me reflecting on the tendencies of ‘left-wingers’ and ‘right-wingers’.  Both left and right folk will express concern for both ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’, but at different times.

On the topic of social welfare:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the poor/unemployed
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the poor/unemployed

On the topic of gun laws:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of gun owners
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of gun ownership/use

On the topic of war:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of all humans to have peace
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of defending peace

On the topic of abortion:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the woman
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the man and woman

On the topic of ‘the environment’:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of individuals and businesses
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of individuals and businesses

In all of these scenarios, I am interested in embracing the tension between BOTH rights AND responsibilities.  I’m interested in BOTH short-term practicalities, AND long-term wisdom.

I’m interested in social policy that is both generous and sustainable – that avoids the extremes of too much or too little assistance, which (ironically) both end up cementing the poor in their poverty.

I’m interested in gun laws that are both practical and wise – that avoid the foolish extremes of taking guns away or assuming that no regulation is needed at all – both of which will end up causing harm.

I’m interested in a military policy that is both prepared to use force, and seeks to be accountable to human rights – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic and passive pacifism on one hand, and a short-sighted/arrogant agression on the other.

I’m interested in an abortion policy that is committed to the quality and quantity of life for both the pre-born human and the mother (and father, family…) – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic, legislate-heaven-to-earth, fantasy on one hand, and a careless, inhumane, abortion-as-contraception nightmare on the other.

I’m interested in environmental policy that uses both legislation and education to motivate people and businesses to care for creation – avoiding the extremes of avoidance and assumptions that all is OK on one hand, and aggressive, undemocratic pushing through of eco-laws on the other.