I haven’t blogged for nine months, mostly because I fell off the blogging horse after a rather traumatic opening to my year. The longer I was away from it, the more I questioned whether I had anything unique to add to cultural discussions. This insecurity will be familiar to other people of my Tribe, because writers are nothing if not lacking in confidence.
But then the situation in Kentucky happened, and with people claiming that Kim Davis is being persecuted for her Christian beliefs, I thought maybe I did have something to say. To wit: Christians do Christianity no great favors by manufacturing outrage in the name of God.
- There absolutely are Christians being persecuted for their faith throughout the world. They are tortured and killed for nothing more than believing that Jesus Christ was who he said he was. These acts are carried out by radicals of other faiths who want to drag every person back to the good old days of the Middle Ages and are tied up in cultural, political and economic histories. If you want details on how bad it is, as well a big-picture view of anti-Christian behavior in the world, please see John Allen Jr.’s great piece in Crux.
- U.S. Christians are often treated in a manner that can make one feel persecuted. I’ve experienced this among colleagues in the media and at the university, and I’ve heard from students who feel shamed by professors because they are “out” as Christians at a public university. People of faith fighting abortion are dismissed as “holy rollers”, “anti-woman” or “radicals” in spite of Pro-Life Humanists and Democrats for Life and the fact that 73 percent of all Americans want abortions banned after 12 weeks gestation. However, feeling persecuted in these ways in no way compares to the aforementioned actual persecution of Christians. In fact, the United States affords all faiths – especially Christianity – a ridiculously wide range of protections, and it is stupid for us to pretend otherwise.
- God does not need our protection or defense, as evidenced by the litany of “Save me, my Lord!” statements in the Bible and the absence of God crying out, “Save me, my people!” Christians who think they have to protect or defend God because God’s not big enough to do it himself have not carefully read the Scriptures.
- And finally, God did not anoint any of us to save people’s souls or appoint us jury on other people’s faith or life practice (See: Jesus as Savior; see also: Mote in brother’s eye, log in your own).
God did, however, ask people do do a few things, which are illuminated by what Jesus Christ said when directly asked what God expected from his followers.
- Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
- Mark 10:21: After following all the 10 commandments perfectly, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.”
- Luke 11:25: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
That last one is the biggie. A brilliant priest once explained it this way: The first part of the verse instructs us to love God with all that we are, and the second part tells us to love people with all that we do.
People of faith often feel that a secular world gone amok is being crammed down their throats. Violent and dehumanizing music lyrics, abortion on demand, websites that encourage and enable adultery, the sexualization of childhood, the latest Jack Black movie – all of this can be frustrating. I’m certain Kim Davis feels frustrated, or perhaps her personal history and subsequent religious conversion made her feel the need to take a stand.
But because – praise the Lord – we do not live in a theocracy, frustration doesn’t mean you get to stop following the law of the land. If you disagree with that law, you can go through appropriate channels to try to change it. You cannot, however, hang onto your elected position while refusing to carry out the duties of that elected office and claim that act is Christian. Because, it is not. However, something else is.
Right now, this very minute, there are thousands of refugees flooding into Europe, entire families dying as they try to escape war and actual persecution. What are you doing to love that neighbor? Right now, someone in the poor part of your town or your city is trying to figure out how to pay all her bills and still feed her kids. What are you doing to love that neighbor? Right now, someone elderly that you know – your grandmother, your spinster aunt, the guy you saw on the bus yesterday – is desperately lonely. What are you doing to love that neighbor? Right now, in more neighborhoods than we have the strength to admit, children are being tucked into bed in homes where parents counsel them to stay away from the windows for fear of stray bullets. What are you doing to love that entire neighborhood?
The world is full of true suffering, true persecution, true need, true injustice. And Jesus told his followers what God expected of them, which wasn’t anything like “Be outraged in my name.” Instead it was, and remains, just this: Love your neighbor as yourself. If we spent our time actually doing the hard work of loving all our neighbors with all we do, of solving the actual problems caused by war and famine and violence and despair and, yes, actual religious persecution, we’d have no time for outrage because we’d be too busy acting. And we’d never have to tell people we were Christians either, because they’d know we were by our love.