Living by Difficult Words

I’ve just had my first viral post. Well, it wasn’t really viral, but when you normally get 30-40 hits per post and you suddenly get 3000+, it feels viral. Admittedly, watching the numbers creep and trying to track where all the people came from has been fun. It has also been quite humbling. But what has been really fun and interesting is finally getting comments on a post. Not that I haven’t gotten them before, but the quantity and range of these comments was much greater. This is what I have wanted for this blog.

I started the blog to continue my learning. I have been learning, for a long time but especially recently, that as I follow Jesus I have more questions and more of a need for a place to sort out my thoughts. My thought in starting the blog was to create space for me, and hopefully others, to do just that.

As I have read the comments and interacted with people on this blog and other social networking sites I have become painfully aware of how intimate American Christianity has become with civil religion.

This isn’t new information. For a long time I have seen churches decide to make good, moral citizens over and above disciples of Jesus. Yes, at times those things are the colored middle portion of the Venn diagram. But at other times they are extremely different. When we say God is the God of the nations, when we say that there is neither Jew, nor Greek, barbican or Scythian, we are saying God is bigger than the nation-state. I have heard many Christians say, “Our citizenship is heaven,” but their actions have betrayed them.

During the events of the last couple of weeks, I wish I would have seen Christians await their “Savior from there” as much as they waited for a chicken sandwich.

I wish we would fight for the kingdom of God on earth as it is heaven as much as we fight for our rights to free speech.

I can’t get away from the difficult words Jesus taught us to live by. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” These words, along with the Golden Rule found in Matthew 7:12, seriously make me wonder, “What does it look like for us as Christians to stand up for our rights?

And even more thought provoking, “Should we?”

Even my gut wants to smack me up side the head and yell, “Do you know what you are saying?!” I do. Honestly I do. And it scares me. But when I read the words of Paul when he says the he counts it all joy to lose everything for Christ and that he wants to share in the sufferings of Christ to become like him I just have to ask myself, “Do I?”

Do we?

I don’t know.

What do you think? What does it look like for Christians to stand up for our rights? Should we? Let’s talk.

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24 thoughts on “Living by Difficult Words

  1. Good questions to ask. Your previous post was really helpful too. I’m glad a lot of people were directed to it.
    What I find interesting about the question of whether we should demand rights is that I was just yesterday part of a discussion on this issue. Jordanian evangelical Christians have often taken the “turn the other cheek” posture and many of them now feel it has been detrimental. They feel others are trampling upon them and they have to start demanding their rights. It actually got pretty heated between one individual with that perspective and another who felt we should always turn the other cheek.
    I guess what I’m saying is that those Christians who are small and battered minorities are really struggling with these questions.

    • That’s a great perspective Mark. Thanks for sharing. As I was writing this I was wondering what oppressed Christians around the world thought on this. That they struggle with it is a lesson for us. I don’t know that American Evangelical Christianity does struggle with it. By and large I think they believe we should.

      And as a side note, I think it is important to keep our oppressed brothers and sisters in mind when we think we are being persecuted. What we face is junior varsity, or elementary playground, compared to them.

  2. I guess I don’t really understand the post. What rights are you saying that Christians are fighting for, as it relates to this Chik-Fil-A thing? If it’s the right not to have gay marriage in the USA, that doesn’t seem to make sense as something we can claim as a right. If it’s the right to our free speech by protesting gay marriage, or buying chicken sandwiches, this also doesn’t make sense, as no one is actively trying to deny these rights. Perhaps what you’re trying to ask is, “should Christians utilize their rights” in such instances. No one is fighting with us, especially in the sense Mark-in the post above-is writing about.

    • Most of the comments I have seen are regarding the right to free speech. That Christians should be able to say they have a particular understanding of marriage because of the Bible and not be boycotted or beat up in the media.

      • This is what you’re saying? That Christians should be able to voice an opinion, but an opinion dissenting from it should not be allowed? This is a severe misunderstanding of what constitutes free speech then. What do Christians expect from people who disagree with them? Should those people just keep silent? Should they not speak and/or act from their convictions too? It seems that what some Christians are really objecting to is criticism. It seems also that some Christians need to develop a thicker skin, and get over their persecution complex as well. And yes, I am a Christian. I don’t know if that is your argument above or a summary of what people are objecting to, but please re-read it; it just doesn’t make any sense.

      • Matt, you are hearing the exact opposite of what I am saying. Please reread the post.

      • I apologize if I am misunderstanding you. My first comment was regarding your original post, which asked about Christians standing up for their rights. I was unclear what rights you were referring to (right not to have gays marry in USA, right to protest/eat chicken, etc.). Then you responded by saying “Most of the comments I have seen are regarding the right to free speech. That Christians should be able to say they have a particular understanding of marriage because of the Bible and not be boycotted or beat up in the media.” So, I took this to mean these were the rights you were referring to, and my second comment dealt with that, and said in my opinion it didn’t make sense. Am I missing something?

      • My original post was about noticing that Christians seem very eager to stand up to protect their rights (i.e. Chick-fil-a and protecting free speech). I wonder if that is a right response given that Jesus says, “love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and do unto others.” I’m not sure how you took that to mean that dissenting opinions should not be voiced. I never advocated fighting for rights, but actually questioned if we should given the words of Jesus. I don’t know that there is a clear cut answer, and it is probably in the gray middle ground, but I think it is an important discussion given Evangelical presence in politics and the dangers of civil religion.

      • I’m honestly not trying to be a jerk by continuing to come back to this. My problem is with the framing of the issue as one of–as you said in the original post–Christians standing up for our “rights”. Perhaps what you meant was if Christians should take stands on various issues–which is different from standing up for certain rights. The framing is important; are we saying it is our “right” not to have gay marriage in the USA? Your first commenter, Mark, asked if Christians should “demand rights.” Again, what rights are we talking about demanding? The right to not let gay people get married? So after asking for clarification, you said “Most of the comments I have seen are regarding the right to free speech. That Christians should be able to say they have a particular understanding of marriage because of the Bible and not be boycotted or beat up in the media.” So the rights you were talking about standing up for appeared to be the right to say something without fear of criticism. Then later you added that your “original post was about noticing that Christians seem very eager to stand up to protect their rights (i.e. Chick-fil-a and protecting free speech).” This, I assume, was again connected to the idea of the right to say something without fear of criticism. I understand you are on the fence and perhaps opposed to the idea of what you called Christians “fighting for rights,” and I understand why. In fact, I agree with your answer on this. What I am saying, though, is you are asking the wrong question, because the things you are talking about are not “rights.” A discussion of rights implies that someone is being wronged, and it is unclear to me how Christians are being wronged in this whole issue. You ask if Christians should stand up for their rights. How exactly are they being wronged? This is what I’m trying to get to the bottom of, and it’s why I didn’t understand the original post. It’s also why I wondered if you were just talking about Christians utilizing or taking advantage of their rights to free speech, which is different from fighting for or demanding something. I have seen it framed as an issue of fighting for rights elsewhere, though. I hope you are able to wade through and understand my concerns.

      • To use the example of Chick-Fil-A, whether or not Christians were wronged doesn’t matter. Christians (and let’s be more specific – a particular stream of Christians) perceived they were, or that if they didn’t act now they would be later. That’s what prompted many to say that going to eat a sandwich was a matter of free speech. Asking the question “should we?” is an attempt to get us beyond the question of “were we wronged?” How we answer that also, it seems to me, affects how we respond when we stand for an issue and get criticized, or our rights are infringed upon. The response is nearly the same, negating the need to wax philosophical on the framing of rights. But I might be oversimplifying it.

      • I would argue that “were we wronged” needs to be answered first, and then “should we speak up” should follow. I think this because too many Christians have a heightened sense of aggrievement, and treat simple excercises in free speech and simple disagreement–like in this whole ordeal–as affronts to their way of life, and as attempts at muzzling them. Yes, a certain stream of Christians believe they were wronged and/or will be. It’s inconceivable to me how these same Christians can’t see that there is a group of people on the “other side” who feel the same way, people who want what they believe is their right to marry, and who see these kinds of Christians as taking the rights that they want away. Answering the question “were we wronged” is important, because it speaks to our ability to see and have empathy with those we say we oppose, or who we say oppose “us”. It speaks to our ability to love as Jesus would want us to. If we can’t get that question right, then we’ll never get the question of “should we” right, because our attitudes won’t be right. And when when we do enter the fray, we won’t get that right either.

  3. I’ve never commented on a blog and I am not a good debater and the furthest thing from a theologian so I am just throwing out thoughts right now-
    Paul was in prison when he wrote Philippians, no? In Phil 2:1-11 he talks about all that Jesus gave up when on earth then it seems like a follow up in chap. 3 that you quoted (I may be way off!). I think first and foremost God us our best advocate and speaks better for me than I ever could. The thought I had after I first read through this was ‘what if our founding fathers didn’t stand up for our rights?’ Maybe these “rights are 2 different things? We live in this country under this government and are afforded much. Is Paul talking about our “rights” to righteousness which are freely given when given up? Disjunct, I know. What are your thoughts?

    • Thanks for commenting Shawn. I appreciate you stepping out for the first time and participating in the conversation.

      I completely agree that this country affords us much, and the rights afforded us come from the founding fathers standing up for them. But sometimes it seems we, and by that I mean Christians, yell very loudly when our rights our being infringed, but say very little about the rights of others. For example, during the whole Chick-Fil-A thing I saw a photo of a huge line of people standing in line to get their food. People came out in droves t o stand up for the Biblical definition of marriage and to protect someone’s rights to say what they believe. That was one of the most common things I heard. “We are doing this to protect our right to free speech.”. But would that many Christians line up to feed the poor or care for widows? According to James, that is true religion that our Father accepts. It seems we are more often interested in our rights, than turning the cheek or doing good to those who persecute us.

  4. I think the bottom line is perspective. Do we look at all these things from a kingdom view, or a temporal view. Is our political party/position more important or is Jesus and what He said more important. Is demanding that we get our way in society more important, or loving those that we oppose in a way that teaches Christ. When we focus on the issue instead of focusing on Christ we loose perspective. I liked what you said about civil religion. That is something I will think about more! I believe that the law is to show us our sin, not to be a weapon that we yield to get our way in the world. As my Pastor said recently, we all want to be acknowledged as a follower of Christ and a servan, until we get treated like one.

      • I think that perspective provides us with a interesting starting point insofar as we recognize the limits of our own perspective which are created by our own subject position. For example, I cannot know in a meaningful way the struggles that someone who is gay experiences on a day-to-day basis because I am straight. I can listen, but I can never truly know what the words mean. Similarly, our own subjectivity/experience is going to shade/shape how we view Jesus and his teachings. As a non-Christian who grew up in the church, I view the some teachings of Christ in a much different light than say, Nate. With that said, I’m sure that Nate and I also share common ground. All of this to say that we need to be cognizant of the way that our subjectivity shapes our perspective.

        Does this mean that we should give up, No! It does mean that we need to listen to the gaps and fissures in our own understanding that are created by our subject position. These gaps in knowledge can tell us as much about ourselves as they can about others. Think, for example, that it is impossible for me to see the top of my head without the aid of a mirror.The same can be said for our own beliefs. We may think that we believe one thing, but we cannot ever fully know the full scope and ramifications of those beliefs without putting them into conversation with others. In the same way that a mirror can show us the top of our head, so too can conversing with others show us things we didn’t know about our own beliefs. The trick, and it is a difficult one, is to remain open and to listen with intent and charity.

      • I hadn’t though about it this way, but I think you’re right.

        Though Nate and I approach things from different point’s of view, I think what you’ve said is also at play in Nate’s thoughts as well when he says “Loving our neighbors such that the transformative power of the gospel transforms their heart, which leads to transformed morality.”

        If we truly work meet people where they are at and genuinely seek out authentic relationships based off trust and charity then politics may not be altogether necessary. This is, of course, theoretical and pragmatically not very likely to every happen. With that said, it is a nice thought.

  5. I think that you’re asking a bunch of really important questions that merit careful consideration.

    For the sake of full disclosure, though I was raised in the Church I do not consider myself to be a Christian. With that said, I think the answer to your question “What does it look like for us as Christians to stand up for our rights?“ hinges upon how you define rights.

    If you believe rights are ostensibly God-given you may answer the question in a completely different way than if you believe that rights are socially constructed.

    As someone who believes that rights are socially constructed through collective discourse, I see the debate through the framework set by intersection of positive and negative liberty. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Negative liberty is the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints. One has negative liberty to the extent that actions are available to one in this negative sense. Positive liberty is the possibility of acting — or the fact of acting — in such a way as to take control of one’s life and realize one’s fundamental purposes. While negative liberty is usually attributed to individual agents, positive liberty is sometimes attributed to collectivities, or to individuals considered primarily as members of given collectivities.” Political action necessarily imposes constraints on both forms of liberty. The way in which liberty is constrained varies greatly depending upon the way that politics are deployed.

    I believe that individual Christians have every right to further their beliefs through collective political action in the same way that anyone else does. For me, and I am speaking for myself only, I take issue when Christians and/or anyone else for that matter, claims that their political belief is substantiated by unquestionable Truth. Or to bring back into the discussion positive and negative liberty, I take issue when people claim that their Truth should limit another’s negative liberty through law. I want to be clear, I am not advocating that everyone should be allowed to do whatever s/he pleases. I am, however, advocating that the touchstone for law should be based in the minutia of the real world as opposed to the moral dictates of a single religion. What I mean by this is that civil law should be distinct from moral law.

    The CEO of Chic-Fil-A has every right to say whatever it is that he wants. He does not have the right to say what he wants without fear of public censure. Similarly, he has every right to use his money (which, and how I still do not understand, is considered speech) to sway politics. He does not, however, have the right to hide behind his religion and claim that his moral principals are correct while everyone who disagrees with him is morally deficient. By extension, he does not have the right to then take his moral principals and turn it into civil law that dictates who is and is not a full person under the eyes of the law.

    I’m not a staunch supporter of utilitarianism, nor a am I an expert in political philosophy. My gut instinct tells me that sticking up for the rights of those who are least represented in the political arena is a worthy cause.

    • Thanks Josh. I really appreciate your thoughts. Very clear and well thought out.

      We have similar views, albeit, also very different considering our beliefs. I have often said, “You can’t legislate a transformed heart, but you can try and legislate morality.” I do not believe that Christianity is ultimately about morals. With that belief, legislating morality, while at times appropriate, shouldn’t necessarily be the Christians go to action. Loving our neighbors such that the transformative power of the gospel transforms their heart, which leads to transformed morality, is what I believe we are called to.

      • “Loving our neighbors such that the transformative power of the gospel transforms their heart, which leads to transformed morality, is what I believe we are called to.” This makes a lot of sense to me.

  6. Really great stuff Nate. I love your heart and your courage. I posted on the topic of my rights at http://www.faithwalking.blogspot.com. Here’s what is so for me. I have beliefs about many important things, including marriage. While I personally try to live by those beliefs with a deep sense of integrity, I also work diligently to prevent trumpeting those beliefs when doing so would alienate the very neighbor I’m trying to love into the Kingdom. So I give up rights that are mine as a citizen of the US because the call to love neighbor, stranger and enemy is a higher call.

    You write clearly and courageous. I hope a thousand more people read your posts.

    • Thank you Jim. I really appreciated what you had to say on your blog. And what you have written here succinctly says what I was trying to. Thank you.

  7. Simply put, Christians often believe in the principle of standing for rights when their particular ox is being gored. And it tracks somewhat politically. When Bush was president, many Christians who lean left thought protest, speaking truth to power, and making your voice heard was imperative. The issues of torture and war were paramount: why would any Christian remain silent? Others think the environmental issues are paramount because why risk destruction and disease for all: who could remain silent? Pro-lifers believe their issue is literally one of life or death: who could remain silent? At the same time, some Christians accused pro-lifers of being strident, divisive, single-issue voters trying to ram their theology down people’s throats. During the Bush years, the common argument was that Christians should not “impose” their views on others. Now things have changed. Bible verses that no one quoted then are popular: Romans 13 and respect for government have been rediscovered. Civil disobedience and conscientioius objection are no longer considered Christian courage but dangerous tactic of autocratic Catholic bishops and Focus on the Family. The budget is now a “moral” issue. Tax protests to protest an unauthorized Iraq war – out; render unto Caesar because it’s all for the common good of our fellow man – in. The pendulum swings.

    We Christians could practice trusting one another’s gifts and callings and extending grace, giving the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. There will be clashes. But as someone already said, listening and learning is a good start.

    By the way, I think the Cathy family has turned the other cheek and loved their…detractors (I don’t think they think in terms of enemies). Some Chik-fil-a’s gave out free food and lemonade to kiss-in day protestors. Their official company statement was that Friday was another “opportunity to serve” the protesters. No self-righteous indignation or full-page statement ads. And if you watched the video of Rachel-the-drive-through window worker’s gracious response to being rudely harrassed and insulted (“how can you live with yourself, working here?”, “mmmm, tastes like hate”) by a protesting CEO with a video camera, Chik-fil-a apparently has trained its workers to turn the other cheek. That girl had a right to argue, frown, or respond in kind, but she didn’t.

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