My God IS Prejudice: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 9

Recently I saw a quote from a meme on Facebook, I can’t remember who posted it or to whom the quote was attributed, but the quote said, “We have turned the great truth that God is love into an untruth that God has no opinions about anything.”

Reading the great social reformer and pastor Walter Rauschenbusch has pushed me to this same thought again and again — God has an opinion about the poor, the disenfranchised, the widow, the stranger in the land. Reminding me of the words of one of my seminary professors, “God is prejudice; he prefers the poor. Don’t believe me? Read the prophets!”

In my reading of Rauschenbusch’s The Social Principles of Jesus this week, I ran across this poem from Ebenezer Elliot quoted on page 44-45:

When wilt thou save the people?

Oh, God of mercy! when?

Not kings and lords, but nations!

Not thrones and crowns, but men!

Flowers of thy heart, oh, God, are they!

Let them not pass, like weeds, away!

Their heritage a sunless day!

God! save the people!

God! save the people! — Is this the cry of my heart?

God! save the people! — Is this the cry of the Church?

It is my firm conviction that God has an opinion!

God has an opinion about the Dreamers!

God has an opinion about the trafficked!

God has an opinion about the orphan!

God has an opinion about the unborn!

I should have an opinion as well! Not mine — but HIS!

As a Christian, I need to stop thinking about social issues as Republican or Democrat, or conservative or liberal. I need to start thinking about them in terms of God’s opinion, God’s preferences, God’s prejudices!

I’m not suggesting this is easy, or that I have always gotten it right, or that I have it all right now. Determining the prejudices of God can be difficult and nuanced. But let’s not fool ourselves, let’s not pretend as though the prophets don’t exist, let’s not pretend that we don’t know what God requires (Micah 6:8) or that we don’t know the attributes of pure religion (James 1:27). Let’s not live as though God is not prejudice.

If God prefers the powerless and the poor, can we really fool ourselves — Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, Protestant or Catholic, evangelical or mainline — that God does not have an opinion about the…

…the Dreamer.

…the poor.

…the unborn.

  • Which of your opinions need to be conformed to God’s prejudices?
  • How can we live the prejudices of God in our everyday lives?
  • How can we determine which of our prejudices are more informed by our political affiliation than our love for a God?
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Scattered and Distressed: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 8

This week, as I observed the reactions to a recent statement regarding human sexuality by a group of Evangelical Christian leaders, my thoughts have been scattered and distressed. As a matter of fact, these two words — SCATTERED and DISTRESSED — pretty much sum up my thoughts and feelings regarding my standing within the traditions of Christianity and Evangelicalism along with my response from within these two traditions to the broader culture. These feelings of “scattered” and “distressed” are further exasperated by the response to Evangelicals from my brothers and sisters on my left.

I confess that too often the traditions that I call home have acted poorly, unpastorally, and unlovingly. I confess that leaders within my traditions have made strange bedfellows with politicians for short-term “political” gains while losing sight of the long-term goals of the Kingdom. I confess that their sin is my sin even if it is only through my silence. I confess that we have lost our voice because of our own screaming about the sins of others.

I also confess, however, that these sins of mine — some by action and some by inaction — keep me from speaking the Truth with love. I feel guilty. I feel angry — at myself and others. I feel scared that my hypocrisy will be pointed out. I feel scattered. I feel distressed.

A fuller examination of these feelings is probably a post for another day — maybe even its own series. In the meantime, I look and listen to those whom I believe God has placed in my path to provide discipleship and ultimately healing for my confusion, my “scattered” thoughts, my “distressed” feelings. For me, Walter Rauschenbusch has become one of those voices.

Today, I was struck by Walter Raushenbusch’s writing concerning the Church as a product of Jesus’ compassion or social feeling. I realize that I may move beyond Walter’s initial take on this passage, but like usual, he challenged me; I hope it does the same for you.

From The Social Principles of Jesus by Walter Rauschenbusch. Chapter 3, “Standing with the People.” Page 33.

THIRD DAY: The Church, a Product of Social Feeling

And Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest. And he called unto him his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. –Matt. 9:35-10:1

The selection of the Twelve, their grouping by twos, and their employment as independent messengers, was the most important organizing act of Jesus. Out of it ultimately grew the Christian Church. Now note what motives led to it. Jesus was relieving social misery. He was oppressed by the sense of it. The Greek verbs are very inadequately rendered by “distressed and scattered.” the first means “skinned, harried”; the second means “flung down, prostrate.” The people were like a flock of sheep after the wolves are through with them. There was dearth of leaders. So Jesus took the material he had and organized the apostolate — for what? The Church grew out of the social feeling of Jesus for the sufferings of the common people.

To what extent, in your judgment, does the Church today share the feeling of Jesus about the condition of the people and fulfill the purpose for which he organized the apostolate? Or has the condition of the people changed so that their social needs are less urgent?

Jesus’ response to the pain of the sheep was not to attack the wolves — the sheep didn’t need to be saved from the wolves. they needed to be saved from their condition, from their evil spirits, and ultimately from their sin.

It was the mistake of the first century to think that the Messiah was coming to save the people of God from external oppressors — from the Romans or even the religious leaders. And it would be the mistake of the twenty-first century to think that the Messiah came to save the people from external oppressors — liberal or conservative — political or theological.

Jesus came and sent the Church into the World to save us from our own sin. In so doing the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made whole, the deaf hear, and the Good News is preached to the poor and oppressed!

This is the message of the gospel — the social gospel or otherwise. The comfort brought to the sheep is through the rod and the staff (Psalm 23) not through allowing the sheep to go their own way further into darkness and danger.

Let me put this as plainly as I can in a way that I hope will not offend anyone (but possibly may offend everyone):

I do NOT need Jesus to save me from someone else’s definition of marriage (regardless of the definition); I need Jesus to save my marriage from my own selfishness, my own pride, my own sin.

I do NOT need Jesus to save me from someone else’s restrictive or progressive sexual ethic; I need Jesus to save me from my own lust, my own wandering eye, my own sin.

I do NOT need Jesus to save me from fundamentalist or liberal theologians (or politicians); I need Jesus to save me from my own nature, from my own unclean spirits, from my own sin.

It is wrong to speak the Truth without love. It is also wrong to speak love without the Truth. And I am thankful for the many men and women in my life (some in person and others through their writings) that have acted pastorally by pointing out my innate sin nature and have challenged me by speaking the Truth into my life with love! I hope that through their example — through their voices of love speaking the Truth — God will bring this scattered and distressed sheep closer to Him, and may He chastise me with His rod and His staff if a I stray or if — and God forbid — I ever run with the wolves!

  • How do we challenge the notion that the Gospel can be separated from the social concerns of the world?
  • How do we challenge the notion that one can have a Social Gospel separated from the transformational power of the Gospel to change the internal and external life of the sinner?
  • To what extent do you feel that Church leaders (and members) are wolves rather than sheep? And how does this happen on either side of the left/right divide in the Church?
  • How do we discern that we are not running with a wolf pack even when we think we are one of the sheep?

Prayer – huh – yeah! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Wednesdays with Walter: Day 6

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 7.57.23 AMLast week the words of Rauschenbusch urged us to pray — a prayer of confession, not only for the sins that we commit but also for the sins of our fathers and the social constructs of which we are a part.  This week, however, we want to ask the question, “What is prayer really good for?”  Let’s go back to The Social Principles of Jesus, section III, of the chapter “Solidarity of the Human Family” to explore this question:

Does religion create social unity or neutralize it.  Does prayer isolate or connect?  Has the force of religion in human history done more to divide or to consolidate men?

 

Evidently religion may work both ways, and all who are interested in it must see to it that their religion does not escape control and wreck fraternity.  Even mystic prayer and contemplation, which is commonly regarded as the flower of religious life, may make men indifferent to their fellows.

 

It is worth noting that the prayer experiences of Jesus were not ascetic or unsocial.  They prepared him for action….  When he went out from Capernaum to pray “a great while before day, ” it was to launch his aggressive missionary campaign among the Galilean villages….  Prayer is Christian only if it makes us realize our fellows more keenly and affectionately.  (emphasis added)

Religion, even the “flower of religious life” — prayer, is good for absolutely nothing if it does not lead to action.  Why?  Because for Rauschenbusch, and I believe he is correct here, prayer isn’t prayer — or at least not Christian prayer — if it does not lead to view our fellow humanity “more keenly and affectionately.”  It is NOT Christian prayer if it does not lead to action.

When our children were young and we would ask them to apologize for something they had done wrong, they would say, “I’m sorry.”  Then we would ask them, “What does ‘I’m sorry mean?'”  Their taught response was, “I won’t do it again.”  Of course, by the time our son was five he had changed it to, “I’ll try to not do it again.”  He knew the limits of his own humanity!  Regardless, it was a confession that was intended to lead to change of behavior.

As Christians, it is good for us to pray for social justice, for racial unity, and to participate in confession of personal and corporate sins against “fraternity.”  However, if these prayers do not lead to action then they are NOT Christian — they are not prayers at all. These prayers are good for absolutely nothing!

I AM NOT suggesting that prayer is not important!

I AM NOT suggesting that we shouldn’t pray!

I AM SUGGESTING THE EXACT OPPOSITE!  True Christian prayer is essential!

I AM AFFIRMING the scriptural truth that prayer, that religion, that a relationship with Jesus Christ, should — must — change us and our actions!  May we not forget that prayer like faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).

At the end of Matthew chapter 9, Jesus called his disciples to pray for workers to go into the world.  He pleads with them to pray that God would send messengers into a dark world with the light of the Good News.  And what do Jesus and his disciples do at the beginning of chapter 10?

“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”  Matthew 10:1

Jesus calls his followers to pray.  And then he calls them to answer that prayer!

God is calling us to pray for justice, to pray for righteousness, to bring the light of the Good News into the darkness of the world.  And God is calling us to be that light, that righteousness, that justice.

I know the limits of my own humanity, however.  I know that it would be naive for me to say, “I won’t do it again — I won’t ignore the plight of my fellow humans.”  But I want to do better.  I want to try to not do it again — to not ignore justice, to not ignore righteousness, to not bear the light of God’s Good News for all humanity.   And so I pray.  And I change a bit.  And I fail.  And so I pray.  And I change a bit more.

Too often we are afraid of others taking away our right to pray.  It’s time for us to be concerned that our prayers are ineffectual because we do nothing about them!

  • How can you bring God’s light into the darkness around you?
  • How can you bring God’s light, righteousness, and justice to your Facebook feed?
  • How can you be the answer to the prayer of healing and fraternity in your country, in your neighborhood, in your home?

I’m Sorry: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 5

In light of events this past week the following entry in The Social Principles of Jesus struck me deeply. It is in the second chapter, “Solidarity of the Human Family.” I have provided the scripture reading in the English Standard Version.

Matthew 11:20-24 English Standard Version (ESV)

Woe to Unrepentant Cities

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

FIFTH DAY: SOLIDARISTIC RESPONSIBILITY

We know that by constant common action a social group develops a common spirit and common standards of action, which then assimilate and standardizes the actions of its members. Jesus felt the solidarity of the neighborhood groups in Galilee with whom he mingled. He treats them as composite personalities, jointly responsible for their moral decisions.

  • What groups of which we have been a part in the past have stamped us with the group character for good or evil? How about those of which we are now part?
  • What have we learned from the Great War about national solidarity?

I remember reading Nehemiah’s prayer of confession in Nehemiah chapter 1 as a child. You can read it by clicking here. Nehemiah fasts and prays — confessing the sins of his nation and his forefathers. Pleading that God would forgive him and forgive them. I remember thinking to myself, ” What the heck, this wasn’t Nehemiah’s fault! He was a GOOD man! Why does he have to confess for something he didn’t even do!”

But Nehemiah, along with the other writers of scripture and wise individuals since them like Rauschenbusch, recognized that we are part of “composite systems” — stamped for better or worse with group characteristics and responsible for corporate sins.

I’m tempted to spend the rest of this blog pointing out where I see others lacking the mature sense to take responsibility for our current “composite personality.” But instead…

I’m sorry and I confess…

  • … for the sins of my forefathers that have stained me, shaped me, and which through action or inaction I have accepted as my own sins.
  • …for not standing up for the disenfranchised and oppressed.
  • …for not speaking up for those without a voice.
  • …for not seeing Christ in the other and for not receiving them with that realization.
  • …for demonizing both those on the right and the left of me politically, theologically, socially. I am sorry and recognize that I am the problem for which I point my finger at you. Please forgive me!

The Moral Quality of Contempt: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 2

“You have heard that it was said to those of old,
‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council;
and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  
Jesus, Matthew 5:21-22

“The important point is that Jesus ranged hate and contempt
under the category of murder….  The horror which Jesus feels for such action
is an expression of his own respect for the worth of personality.”

— Walter Rauschenbusch, The Social Principles of Jesus

angry.pngI’ve grown weary of contempt.

I see it expressed by our national leaders and expressed towards our national leaders.

I’ve grown weary of contempt.

I see it on Facebook…  on Twitter…  on the radio…  on television…  in the papers…

I’ve grown weary of contempt.

I feel it from the “right” and the “left.”

I’VE GROWN WEARY OF CONTEMPT!

I just wish I could say it is because I am only a victim of contempt, but I know that my hands are stained red with the blood of those whom I have murdered with my own contempt.

And I realize now more than ever that my sins have found me out — that those whom I love the most see the stains on my hands.

I’ve grown weary of my own contempt and pray that God forgives me and gives me strength to change — to wash clean my murderous hands.

If we are to value life, we must pray that God gives us the strength to love the other — to overcome our contempt and anger towards the other — and even our enemy.

We CANNOT justify our actions of contempt and anger by saying we are fighting fire with fire.  We cannot say that acting virtuously won’t cut it in this day.

And I need to come to grips with the reality that this spirit of contempt isn’t new — Facebook, Twitter, etc. are only new weapons used to murder through contempt, but the problem of murderous contemptuous attitudes is as old as humanity.  Jesus fought it; Rauschenbusch fought it; and I pray for strength to do the same.

Will we recognize today that our actions of contempt and anger are killing us?

Will we share in the horror which Jesus feels for such action as an expression of his and our respect for the worth of personality?

Will we have the strength — not to agree with everyone — not to ignore sin — but to confront it with love instead of contempt — with life instead of murder?

How does contempt raise its ugly head on your FB feed?

How do you see contempt in your place of work?  …your home?  …your place of worship?

How will you challenge a growing culture of death and contempt for life with an abundant life of joy?

 

 

Learning to Lament

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this:
to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…
James 1:27

eye-609987_1280From a young age, I remember thinking to myself that real men don’t cry and that I shouldn’t be a cry baby.  I can’t say that anyone ever explicitly taught me that or even told me that — it was just understood.  Crying was a sign of weakness, of vulnerability, of being a loser, and so you didn’t cry.

But there is a time for crying, there is a time for tears, or to use the words of the psalmist, a time to lament.  A lament is a passionate crying out of grief, of pain, of sorrow.  And for the reader and obeyer of scripture it can have a special connotation of crying out to God, a plea that He would turn and hear the cry and act based upon His love and His justice.

lamentations
Biofrostartsmusic.bandcamp.com

There is a lot of talk recently about the refugee and the immigrant.  I’m not interested in this post to make a political argument one way or the other.  It’s not that I don’t have an opinion about that, and in time that opinion may find its way into one of my blogs.  But as I sat in church today (we attended University Baptist Church in Waco, TX, for the first time today; it was a great service.), I was struck by the words of one of the worship songs we sang.  It was a lament named “Rise Up” from an album named “Lamentations:  Simple Songs of Lament and Hope, Vol 1.  I would encourage you to listen to the song by clicking here before you continue reading.

As I listened to the song I was reminded that regardless of our political persuasions or opinions regarding national security, law and order, refugees, immigrants, or whatever our hearts — if we are believers in Jesus Christ — should be breaking.  We should watch the news not with triumph or anger but with sadness and tears.  As believers, we need to learn to weep, we need to learn to cry out to God, we need to learn to lament.  If our hearts are not broken over the pain in this world, then I fear that we do not have the heart of Christ or quite possibly (to use the term with which I was raised hearing in Sunday School) we may not have Jesus in our own heart.

Let us weep together, let us cry out to God, let us lament:
   May we plead that God will rise up.
   May we pray that the earth will fear the Lord.
   May we petition that God will avenge the poor.
   May we hope that God’s Kingdom will come.
      O rise up!