For those who have been to this column often, I do not know that I will say anything new in this post. There are no great epiphanies or unique insights to share. I am sure that everything I am going to say can be cobbled together from the six years of columns recorded here. However, in light of the past few weeks (months even), I am reminded that sometimes I can get so caught up in the battles that I can forget to be clear about why I am fighting. Why does it matter that Dr. Ben Carson gave a horrifically bad speech? Why does it matter that Christians not impose their morality on their employees or their customers? Why is it important to defend the rights of the LGBT community in civil society, regardless of any particular theology? Why have I turned my attention to issues of politics and race in the last year or so? There has to be a reason—a coherent and consistent reason. I am reminded of the words of Peter:
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)
I think some people come to this column and presume that my positions on certain issues stem from my politics. In some cases, they would be correct. However, the vast majority of my positions do not spring for my politics, but from my faith. I start from a very simple premise:
“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (I John 4:8)
When I see Christians act in a way that can only be described as unloving, I cannot support that type of Christianity. When I see Christians who continually are impatient, unkind, and seek their own way at every turn without respect for others, that is not a type of Christianity that I can support. In too many cases, I see what is known as conservative Christianity treat unbelievers (and even other Christians) as if they have no value. They attempt to impose their beliefs on others in a way that I find to be selfish in order to promote what they believe to be their God-given right to practice their faith with impunity.
I do not believe that love demands that we treat others with disrespect. I do not believe that love requires me to disparage fellow sinners just because I do not suffer from the same sin. I believe that God is love and that his love and grace are available to all, regardless of where they find themselves on the road of life.
I believe that God’s love should affect the way we share our faith with others. In Rev. 3:20, God says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” I believe this mantra should guide the way we present our faith to others. It saddens me that the public picture of Christianity is a picture that is filled with hate, ill will, and the specter of force. It breaks my heart that this picture was not created for us but that we created it ourselves.
The movements in Christianity today (both right and left) that seek to use the Bible as the roadmap for the political policy of our nation do a great disservice to our faith. I believe, as most Christians do, that God wants us to live a certain way and follow certain rules. However, I know from personal experience that the fact that God’s law exists and that I could be punished for breaking it is not what gives me the strength to follow the law. I am able to live the life of a Christian because I believe that Christ’s strength is within me to do so. If this is true, then following Christian laws because they are the laws of this nation are of no benefit to the unbelievers who would have to follow him, and those laws draw them no closer to Christ as a result. Making the country pro-life or outlawing gay marriage because we think that is what God wants accomplishes nothing for us that could not be accomplished by sharing our faith and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the work.
While exploring the issues of religious liberty remains my life’s work, I admit that this space grew more political and more racial over the past year or so. This occurred because I found the same uncaring spirit that animates so much of the worst of religious liberty debates infecting our discussion of race and politics. To be candid, it is not that I thought these unloving reactions were a new phenomenon, but it began to bother me that I saw no difference between conservative Christians and conservative political commentators in their reactions to the deaths of unarmed Black people and children at the hands of the police.
I started writing about it because I saw seeds of the same selfishness that permeates our religious liberty debates. I hoped that giving a voice to an element of the African-American experience that I know is shared by many others would help us to connect to the compassion that we certainly should have for one another, at the very least because we are brothers and sisters in Christ. I devoted this space to trying to explain why that lack of compassion hurts from a communal perspective and how it is spiritually problematic that we can see a group of people among us suffering and turn a blind eye because of preconceived notions. I have no idea whether I have been successful in any of this, but success is not necessarily my goal. As Martin Sheen said in the movie The American President, “Oh, you only fight the fights you can win? You fight the fights that need fighting!”
So that is my reason. I want to show love in my life and in my work. I want to do justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly. I want to give people a chance to know Jesus and who He really is. I want people to be able to choose God for themselves. I believe in the love and freedom that Jesus gives to everyone. I do not believe that anyone should be an impediment to any person experiencing that love and freedom—even people who claim to come in His name.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/authors/jason-hines.
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