While sharing coffee with a friend, our conversation turned to current events and political differences. Though raised in similar backgrounds, we are worlds apart in our worldviews. Yet we remain good friends.
Later that day, I pondered how we people of faith can believe in the same basic values yet support conflicting causes, certain of our beliefs. We may even attend the same church, yet we vote for different sides of the aisle. Donate to differing organizations.
What does that say about our culture standards and about the freedoms we have to choose?
This is nothing new. Even during the time of Christ, various groups constantly confronted each other. The Zealots, Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees all worshipped the same Jewish God. Yet their value systems differed, and they often clashed.
Our beliefs come from experience, how we were raised, what values were grandfathered into us, the culture we live in, how we think and make decisions.
For example: in my birth culture within the legalism of the church, I was taught to always obey authority, particularly the leadership of our denomination. So I did not question the ruling hammered into us: “Going to movies is a sin.”
The pastors were ordained, seminary trained, encouraged by the elders with years of ministry experience. They must, therefore, be right.
But my dad asked me to accompany him to a Billy Graham training for an evangelistic movie. Would I like to become one of the counselors for this city-wide event?
I said, “Yes,” hoping God would not strike me dead, yet inwardly believing this was a good thing. After all, my dad was supporting it.
The training was intensive and cohesive, pointers I have carried throughout life in various ministries. The movie created a community revival with hundreds of people deciding to follow Jesus. I had the privilege of leading a teenager to her salvation experience.
Yet kids in my youth group branded me as a heretic and sinner. “If Jesus comes when you’re in the theater, you’ll go to hell.”
My dad’s love and protection kept me from being blackballed, and his gentle reputation soothed the elders’ fears for our radical actions.
That experience began a questioning in me. What if the leaders of the church were wrong? What if their definition of sin was merely based on tradition, a conservative culture, and their need for control. Throughout the years as I experienced more spiritual abuse, I realized authority figures are fallible, prone to sin like everyone else, and not always to be believed.
The freedom in making my own choices via my faith, my own study of God’s word, and the counsel of those I trust has changed me spiritually, emotionally, and at the ballot box.
So what do we do in these troubling times, when so many questions swirl around us? How do we handle the anger within our churches?
Do we blindly follow what we are told by our favorite news channel or by the authority figures behind pulpits? Do we vote based on culture, tradition, and rules or by careful thought and reflective prayer about all the surrounding issues?
How does what Jesus said affect our everyday beliefs? Love God, love yourself, and love others. Period.
As we approach the mid-term elections, perhaps we can be more careful how we post on social media. How we proclaim what we believe to be true. How we take at face value what we are told.
Maybe we can take to heart Ephesians 4:29 and live it out, “Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it” (AMPC).
Perhaps we can spend more time searching for the truth and find it within the heart of the Truth teller and Truth liver — Jesus himself.
And above all, perhaps we can strive more intentionally to love even those with whom we disagree.
©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved
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A clear call to pause, ponder and reflect who we are and whose we are; and how these play out on the whole of life. Yes.
Thanks, Jerry – who we are and Whose we are – one of the key questions to find our core values.
In Florida last year my wife and I attended a church service with members of her family. The congregation included many snowbirds from the north escaping the cold and snow.
The pastor was a pleasant guy and he started his sermon with something that resonated with me, that his time in the army began with a need to obey. Like me as a 17 year old recruit, when my drill sergeant explained to me that he was not my mother, and that I would make my own bed and care for my personal belongings in an organized fashion. That I was to obey every command issued by him and others with authority. No argument. No question.
Years later I became a commissioned officer in the army. Even then I was expected to obey my superiors, but the word “obey” had a somewhat different context. That context was an expectation that I actually think about the circumstances surrounding the compliance with orders. My life as an officer was associated with the willingness to accept responsibility, and make life or death decisions that would impact not only me but also the men I commanded.
As I examined the inner workings of the American military I discovered many flaws that became problematic during the Vietnam conflict. However, the one characteristic of our military that is not present in most of the military organizations of other countries, is that our soldiers are expected to solve problems and act intelligently even if they become separated from their units.
Obeying commands to the letter can become fatal if settings change, and the combat situation swirling around you is nothing like anyone expected. Even those in command who thought they could foresee what would happen, could turn out to be wrong. When I was assigned to a unit under a superior officer I assessed his leadership ability from the beginning. Just like my men assessed my ability. To obey then became a two way effort, a kind of conversational dance that allowed us all to focus on the mission and how WE could accomplish it together. Or separately under fluid conditions. Unexpected circumstances. The pastor of the church we attended in Florida attempted to make all of feel like army recruits. To obey the word of God, as delivered in the Bible, and through agents of the Almighty. Authority figures who had somehow been anointed with insights we “recruits” did not have.
His message was applauded. But I was stunned. I asked myself, is this state still in America? Are we now expected to be nothing more than minions following a man who has been given special gifts from God to tell us what to do and believe? Using his interpretation of scripture as a guide for how we provide Christian charity and love to others? Service to our fellow human beings? When I follow the teachings of Christ, or salute the American flag, I perform those acts of allegiance with the full knowledge I am a thinking and sensitive human being. Who will attempt to do the right thing even when separated from the discipline of the unit. And who acknowledges that same right among all other men and women.
That perspective also informs my political decisions. That is the essence of what it means to live in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. With underpinnings connected to Christian love and charity.
Good post, Stu. Wish I had been ‘taught’ the value of making my own decisions as a young person.