The Problem with the Public Debate of Sin

For some time, I have been troubled over the way that we, as a society and as individuals, approach conflict. Civil discourse has given way, in large part, to guerrilla-like tactics and all-out war in the very halls that once were a symbol of maturity and civility. The following post flows from my troubled spirit. As such, much of this is therapeutic for me. I just feel like I need to be transparent and to add what is hopefully a respectful voice to the conversation.

I’ve been on the verge of shutting down all of my social media accounts for about a year.

Why?

Because there is a certain burden associated with standing by and watching a few of your friends – a few of your vocal friends – become those obnoxious, narrow-minded individuals who prove little with their rhetoric, who often react strongly on the basis of misinformation, and who, quite frankly, eclipse the value of their “stand” on a particular issue with their words of bias and hatred. That saddens me.

For example, I am troubled over a young man who I once believed showed great promise in the field of peacemaking. But his online posts revealed bias, bigotry, and almost total disregard for anyone who thinks differently. I am certainly tough enough to hear his opinion and rancor, but it is just painful and embarrassing. And I often wonder what damage he is doing to others and for the peaceful cause of Christ.

I have other friends or acquaintances, both personal and online, who have taken far different positions from me on political matters, theological matters, health and lifestyle matters. They have stated their opinions and made their arguments. Respectfully.

The quietness of their voices belies the volume of their message. By speaking appropriately, at the right time, and with a humility that comes from valuing others, their words were heard.

On a number of the issues these friends address, I don’t find myself persuaded. Yet, I do experience a deeper understanding of both them and of myself. And I’ve found that when I respond in kind, our conversations and our relationships grow stronger. In many cases, we find true resolution to the challenges that threaten to separate us.

People are finding a lot of issues to fight over in the political realm. The economy, gun control, immigration. In recent days, with the United States Supreme Court considering cases involving same-sex relationships, the bile vomited from both sides of the issue is revolting at its occurrence and the stench it has left behind is stifling.

WARNING: The following is a statement of my beliefs.

I believe in God and in Jesus Christ.

I believe that God tells us through scripture that homosexuality is a sin.

However, I also believe that God has made it clear that

  • Adultery and fornication are sins.
  • Murder and covetousness are sins.
  • Lust, lying, and idolatry are sins.
  • Personal promotion over the needs of others and anger are sins.
  • A good portion of my personal motivation is worldly and, thus, sinful.

And I believe that God makes no distinction between sins. He despises them all because he sees what sin does to us, his beloved. God loves us even though we are sinners.

I see no need to enter into public debate of my beliefs because of the inherent problem with the public debate of sin.

The problem with the public debate of sin is that sin is not debatable or negotiable. It is what it is. We don’t have the option of deciding what is sinful and what is not.

Therefore, I also believe that God has made it clear that

  • I am to love all people, regardless of their beliefs.
  • I am to respect every one.
  • I am to converse and work with others in an effort to build relationship and, where needed and available, reconciliation – regardless of their belief.
  • I am never to do anything that drives others further from God because of my weakness in conveying God’s spirit and being.
  • I am never to do anything that soils the image of God with others by acting like . . . well, like me. I am called to walk in God’s steps and take on his demeanor and spirit of love.
  • I am to challenge my own beliefs, ferret out errors in my thinking and behavior, and seek a brighter understanding. While God is all-knowing and wise, I am only a work-in-progress.
  • I can have hope in a God who loves, who listens, and who provides grace for my failings.
  • God will make the judgments about people. That is not my job.
  • I can, with a desire to obey God, become a person who others see God through — even when I set clear standards and expectations and disagree with them.

And, I also believe that my failure to seek the things on this last list is just as sinful as the things on my first list.

Right now, we are confusing the concept of sin with the concept of public opinion. We seem to believe that the Supreme Court’s decisions on this issue or that issue will be a blow to the kingdom of heaven. How shortsighted can we be?

You can’t legislate or litigate morality. You can’t make people accept God’s invitation to holiness and a joyful life. You can’t publicly debate sin and expect to see large scale conversion as a result. In fact, you most likely will see the opposite.

Here’s what we can do:

  • Live in accordance with our understanding of God’s hopes and desires for us.
  • Encourage others to come to know God.
  • Encourage each other in holy living.
  • When we disagree, never let our personal motives or feelings derail the hope for reconciliation and future relationship with others.
  • Exercise our voices appropriately. Talk with humility. Speak truth. Explore questions with integrity. Vote. Stay engaged and remain helpful when the vote goes against us.
  • Love every single person – family, friends, strangers, and especially our enemies.

DI LOGOGod asks us for very little because God has everything covered. Let’s quit debating and begin meaningful conversation. We can accomplish far more by pursuing peace than we can by waging war.

My Place on the Corner

My backpack leans against my thigh. Standing now for what seems hours, the bent metal frame presses into my gaunt flesh. It hurts. But it’s a pain that reminds me that I’m still here. Still standing. Still waiting.

People look at me and read my sign, then look away. I want to tell them, “I really would work for food.” But I don’t have that chance.

Occasionally a kind soul drops off a care package of food and water. I’m torn. I’ve worked my way into a prime location where hundreds of cars pass. Maybe one will bring that person I’ve prayed for who will offer me dignity and a chance to be what God meant me to be. So, no, even though I’m hungry, I won’t leave my post to eat from that manna sack.

The days are long, but not as long as the nights. I don’t sleep well. But as the sun sets, I move to my safe place, arrange my bed roll, and shut my eyes.

The morning breaks to another day. Some people refer to me and my friends as homeless — and hopeless. We may not have an address with a house and a yard. But we’re not hopeless. That’s why we stand and hold our signs and look for the one who wants us to be what God wants us to be.

* * *

In recent weeks, I’ve overheard several conversations where people targeted the less fortunate for their “lack of industry” and for the inconvenience they present. Before you gasp in horror, I want to confess that I’ve had those thoughts myself from time to time. Have you? Recently, I’ve come to wonder what it would be like to have little opportunity beyond staking out a street corner and reaching for the scraps that are thrown my way.

Sure, some people who “work” the streets take advantage of others. But surely you know that some people who “work” the offices in the buildings of gleaming steel and glass take advantage of others, too. The majority on the street and in the offices, however, are simply looking for their place.

photo courtesy of Constantin Jurcut

We all need a chance, we all need our hopes fulfilled. God knows that. God will provide that. But don’t we know that he wants us to be involved in the delivery?

 

The Responsibility of Following

I’ve heard the idea hundreds of times.

“True leaders are those others choose to follow.”

Today, voters in the United States will go to the polls and vote. In so doing, we will signal to our government and to others what we hope and desire for the direction of our country for the next four years – perhaps longer.

Tonight, I will disappear into my home and watch election news stream in from all over the country. I will hear the predictions of ballot counts. Undoubtedly, I will go to bed long before the final results are in. After all, I’ve done my duty for this portion of our political process. I voted.

Tomorrow, I will awake to a new duty. We will know who our president will be come January – absent the pernicious presence of hanging chads. And I will begin my work – my responsibility – of following whoever that is.

If you can believe the pre-election polls, almost half of my countrymen will be disappointed in the morning. However, I hope that each and every one of us will rise to the challenge of making this country better in the next four years.

We don’t have to agree with everything an administration is doing or how they are doing it. In fact, we have the privilege of being outspoken about our values and beliefs.

But what we can do is make the best of what we have. We can teach our children to disagree with respect. We can find places to serve others. We can encourage that behavior from our elected officials, as well. And, if we are faced with others who don’t disagree with respect and who refuse to serve and officials who spew negativism, we can pray for them and for all of our leaders.

Tomorrow morning, I will choose to follow whoever is elected. I may not have voted for him and I may not vote for him to lead again. But I will follow . . . because it’s the right thing to do.

Art Credit – Creative Commons: DonkeyHotey

The Whatever Project

My name is Joey . . . and I have a problem.

I have a tendency to be cranky.

I believe that I cover it pretty well. Only a select few of you out there know that I’ve been battling this affliction most of my life. But those of you who know I have it truly wish that you weren’t one of the selected. Please forgive me.

I am not plagued with indiscriminate crankiness. No, my crankiness is finely tuned on the acts and attitudes of other people. You see, I’m judgmental.

Now, most people are judgmental to some extent. If you don’t believe that’s true, I would guess that you haven’t watched the news, read a paper, browsed the net, or had coffee with a friend . . . ever.

I find it ironic that I absolutely detest it when others are judgmental. I have banned certain television channels at our office and I refuse to read the comments on certain blogs. I don’t think that I would even tolerate judgmental talk from other individuals . . . except, I often walk away from those conversations with the sinking feeling that I was leading the cranky parade.

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time driving through West Texas. On one of those journeys, alone in my car, I had an immense bout of crankiness about one certain individual. I was beside myself with thoughts of his stupidity, laziness, disregard for human kind, and, even though I knew it to be false, his total lack of affection for puppies.

As I felt my negativity levels soar, I suddenly thought, “I don’t want to do this.”

At the next truck stop, I pulled off and rifled through my back pack. With Bible in hand, I went to Philippians 4 and to the “whatevers.”

The answer to my crankiness was right there. I started thinking that whenever I begin to get cranky towards someone, I needed to start building a “whatever” list for that person. Further, I realized that, in order to prevent crankiness, I could inoculate everyone I know by saving up “whatevers” for them.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

This is my Whatever Project. I hope it makes life better for all of you. I know it will for me.

“Whatever.”