Giving Love and Compassion Every Chance to Change Things For The Better

I’ve been thinking of everything I’ve ever learned about God’s holiness. It can be this wonderful source of power – that is, when it’s not threatening to do serious harm. When I first heard the story of Uzzah’s death; how he reached out to steady the ark because the oxen pulling the cart had stumbled and that was something that God viewed as irreverent and so he smote him then and there. I would have thought God could have weighed his motives and intentions to see that all Uzzah wanted was to keep the ark from falling off the cart and smashing into pieces – that even though Uzzah wasn’t holy and pure, his intentions were and therefore he was worthy of not dying.

It’s like the time that Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered unauthorized fire to the Lord who felt incensed that his instructions were not obeyed to the letter so he burned them. One guy told me this story as a warning not to go beyond what was prescribed because God never changes and one day he might decide that anyone who worships him in an unauthorized manner is guilty and deserving of the same punishment.

Or when Korah dared to speak up and ask why only Aaron and his sons were allowed to have the priesthood to the Lord when the whole Israelite people were also holy. “Isn’t it enough for you that as a Levite you’re more special than everyone else?” Moses asked him. The Lord gave them his answer to the question – in causing the ground to open up and swallow Korah and the families of the 250 men who were on his side – as for the men themselves – they were burned.

This is where I just don’t get God. He could choose to be consistent and our history could be littered with every single movement or denomination that angered God that he ended up smiting – with only one exception – the authorized form of worship that pleases Him. But the New Testament version of him only makes a few short corrections – as Ananias and Sapphira and Simon the Sorcerer discovered.

I wonder, how would Jesus have answered the questions, “Is it okay for just anyone to read the Holy Bible?” “Is it okay for just anyone to worship God however they please?” “Is it okay for just anyone who step into a leadership role in the worship of God?”

It’s true that Christianity doesn’t have a lot of holy relics – the kind that you’re not supposed to touch. My denomination was never one to believe in such things anyway.

It’s also no great surprise that modern Christianity has a variety of styles of worship, bluegrass, gospel, hymns, contemporary – some are rather toned-down and others are full of energy.

Now the God of the Old Testament was rather specific about who could and who couldn’t be a priest, priests had to be men who were descendants of Aaron, they had to be without any defects whatsoever (blind, lame, disfigured, deformed, crippled hand or crippled foot, hunchback, dwarf, eye defect, sores) – even their wives had to be virgins – any woman who had been a prostitute or divorced was considered disqualifying. God demanded nothing less than perfection itself. But today we would consider it an awesome testimony of our leaders to have struggled with disabilities and found faith in God. Some of our denominations have no problem with letting women be leaders.

Surely, if God hasn’t changed – then he’s waiting for the full measure of sin to be built up in the church before smiting them like he did with the Egyptians and Canaanites of old. Or perhaps, we’ve misread the playbook. God might not have changed, but his plans might have changed. I don’t know why people are so scared of the idea that God might not operate in the same way in the Old Testament than he does in the New Testament and that he might operate differently now than he did way back then. All of us are who we are regardless of what we do when, right?

Why is it we think that when it comes to God, his holiness and sovereignty are his most important attributes through which all of his other attributes (love, compassion, meekness) must be filtered through? “God is love” but love alone isn’t enough to keep him from acting in wrath in order to protect his holiness from us sinful, dirty, human beings. “God is love” but this love bows to God’s sovereignty by which his power can be used to harden people’s hearts and prevents them from loving him. Really? If anything, it seems that our New Testament version of God is all about love and compassion and tends to let matters of holiness and sovereignty slide. Perhaps that’s why the circumcision party wasn’t more harshly punished for their interference and various false teachers were left to their own devices. Perhaps God wanted to give them every chance to come to the right way of thinking – rather than outright punish them for having wrong beliefs.

I wish we’d do that – give everybody every possible chance to do their own homework and come to believe as they should in whatever ways that work for them than to take matters into our own hands and punish and shun people for not believing as we would want them to or in ways just like us. The thing is – we’re not God, I don’t know if we have the capacity to restore love and compassion as the highest attributes of how we worship God and how we view the world.

 

Going Where I’m Needed

I’ve learned a lot this past year about myself, particularly that I enjoy making myself useful. When I was first hired on, I was told that there was always the possibility that I’d be sent to other places in the area to fill in where they had a need. As it turns out, I’m rather good at it. I’ve been sent to so many places I’ve lost count. I’ve worked in at least three counties. Even though it’s something of  hassle to go the distance, it feels rewarding to be helpful.

Then I think back to my days in church where I was primarily expected to do nothing. I was supposed to show up, stay quiet, listen, and leave. I couldn’t really do the sort of things that I wanted to – and what was left, well, they didn’t give me much training and I had to figure out what I could as I went along. It was in those areas that were out of sight and out of mind, and not only that, but not really interacting with others.

Not really interacting with others was something I’d done a lot of for a long time. I just thought I was bad with people. So this past week when a few different people admitted: “My kid really likes you.” or “I think you’re nice.” I wasn’t quite sure how to take that compliment other than to say, “Thanks, that means a lot.”

Even as my church would sing Audio Adrenaline’s “Hands and Feet”, “I want to be your hands, I want to be your feet, I’ll go where you send me, I’II go where you send me …” It was pretty much understood that this didn’t really apply to all of us. Sure, the big mission trip once every few years was the one chance that most of us would ever get to be sent somewhere we were needed. Sometimes it was in another country, sometimes it was somewhere in the states. But being what it was, it wasn’t something just everyone could do – only small teams could go and many would be excluded.

Perhaps a big difference is that each church is insular and doesn’t interact with local churches. They don’t talk to each other and say: “Hey, we could use some help. Can you send somebody?” The places where I work at – they’re connected together. The managers know each other and help each other. Their employees work together and build friendships even though it can be awhile until the next time they work together again – which is perfect because they can do a lot of catching up the next time they meet. Each church seems to be territorial and fears loosing people to another church or a different denomination. Looking back at my churches, they didn’t really interact with other area churches very often. I think once the youth group of a different church did an interpretive dance for our church – but I don’t think the idea went over too well because we never went to other churches or other churches after that came to ours.

Out of this week, I’ve spent (or will have spent) five days at other places than my own workplace … and I love it. I will have made myself useful by helping those who need a little assistance. I will have met a lot of new people – each with interesting stories and quirky personalities. I will have worked with all sorts of people, lifting their burden as much as I can. I’ll learn new tricks that make the job that much easier. Sometimes though, I just wish that Christianity was a little more like the world in this way – it’s not the most awful thing that they’d make it out to be.

 

 

A Deep Betrayal

Just the other day I was eavesdropping (I’m really good at that) and heard the story of a young man who found himself in a rather desperate situation. A close relative of his had suffered an injury and her medical care was beyond his means. So he went to the man he worked for to ask for some more money; he was making minimum wage and he needed just a little bit more. He knew his boss was a good Christian man, one who had gotten him saved and going to church. So he explained the whole situation to him and expected his boss to do the Christian thing. His boss refused and ordered him out of his sight. His faith was shattered – in God, in Christians, and in everything he had come believe in. I could hear the sting of that betrayal in his voice as he shared his story.

The thing is – I couldn’t disagree with him or his sentiments. Just being a Christian doesn’t make a person a shining example of morality or a selfless charitable soul. When I think of all the verses of Scripture, I think Jesus’ warning that it would be better for someone to be drowned with a millstone around their neck than to cause someone to stumble in their faith applies here most of all; Christians need to be aware that the more they profess the name of Christ the higher the standard they are to be held up to at all times. I do not doubt that one day that man might be asked why he didn’t help the poor man and he will have to explain himself to that higher authority he professes to believe in. I wish I knew what to tell the betrayed man; but I couldn’t invalidate his experience by telling him that he was mistaken. He wasn’t. A representative of Jesus Christ who acted in Jesus’ name refused to give when he was asked, refused to help the ill, refused to help the poor, and destroyed the faith of a brother in the process. Where I live, I see such folks all the time; praise  God this, thanks be to God for that … and whenever they fail, they take others down with them. I’m not sure that’s what Jesus meant of us as believers; he often asked for people to live quiet, humble lives whose actions backed up our words; filled with good deeds. He would have wanted us to be true to each other even when the cost is great.

My Worst Post, Ever.

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The worst post I have ever written is something nobody has ever called me out on. It’s the sort of thing that still gets something of a free pass in the circles I used to haunt. I could easily leave it alone, forget about it, and know that nobody really cares. It’s as easy as saying: “You can’t hold that against me, it’s not like I’ve done anything —ist recently.” But I think that an outstanding track record that says I’ve been on my best behavior never excuses the worst behavior I’ve ever had even if it was from years ago.

The thinking that underlies the post is that of someone who was raised in Christianity to believe certain things were unquestionably true – among them, the interpretation of Scripture as elaborated upon by the pastor of my church. That’s not to say that my pastor was the sort to say racist or sexist or whatever comments from the pulpit; but he wasn’t the sort of person to stress that one shouldn’t say such things either. I was taught that I was a righteous believer who would go to heaven when I die and anyone who wasn’t a believer would be eternally tormented in heaven. In order to save unbelievers from their fate, they would have confront the fact that they were sinners in need of salvation – anyone who doesn’t see themselves as a sinner will never understand the depth of their need for salvation.

This story was always punctuated by the story of the guy on the boat. You’ve probably heard it, but here it goes anyway: There’s this guy and his house is flooding. So his neighbor floats on by in his canoe and says, “Hey buddy, I’ve got a way out, come with me.” and the guy with the flooding house says: “No man, I’ve got this guy coming for me. You go on alone.” So the flood gets bad and the guy moves on up to the second story of his house. He’s sitting on his window ledge and this guy on a raft happens to float on by and says: “Dude, I’ve got plenty of room on this raft, hop on board and we’ll head for dry land.” The guy on the window shakes his head and says: “Thanks, but no thanks. My friend is coming for me and he promised that he won’t fail. Go help other people who really need it. I’ll be fine.” Things go downhill fast – and soon the guy is sitting on his roof, watching the water slowly rise. Finally, a boat comes by: “I’m your last chance, get on board if you want to live.” But the guy on his roof was adamant that he had help on the way. The guy on the boat didn’t stick around to see if he would change his mind. That night, the water rose and swept him away. As he approached the gates of heaven, he asked God: “Why didn’t you send me help?” To which God said: “I sent you the canoe, the raft, and the boat – it was you who refused to be saved and perished.

The point was that as Christians, we were the canoes, rafts, and boats that God was sending to the foolish sinners to tell them what they needed to know in order for them to be saved. Anyone who was so caught up in their own sin that they refused to see the obvious truth before them was deserving of the destruction that God had prepared for them. Now when I had written the worst post ever, it was during the height of the animosity against a group of sinning sinners who stood opposed to the plain truth of the scriptures. We were taught that love wasn’t to accept the sin that a person was up to, but to stage something like an intervention – make it clear that the behavior was unacceptable and harmful; after all, their eternal soul was at stake and a little discomfort here on the earthly plain was far better than eternal torture. In this way, equating the wrong behavior to an actual wrong behavior was much the same thing – we were taught that sin is lawlessness, and breaking the law – by a white lie or by premeditated murder were equal offenses in God’s law-book; and since both the smallest and greatest act of lawbreaking had the same punishment, then so would every sin in-between. So breaking God’s moral law was the same as breaking a regular law – particularly when the regular law was likely based from God’s moral law – so far as I was taught. It seems worth noting that these ideas weren’t elaborated as such, but more or less blanks that each believer was expected to fill on his or her own once they had been trained to think just the right way.
This is the worst post I have ever written.

it shows me how far I’ve come and how much further I have yet to go; but it worries me most knowing that there’s this strain of thinking that goes unchecked in Christianity because it acceptable. It’s not in just one church in just one town in just one state – but it’s like a little yeast that has been worked throughout the whole dough – bloating it. Because we think of sin and wrongness in these certain terms, then being holy and righteous becomes a free pass to take whatever measures are necessary to wipe the slate clean.

Since nobody has called me out on it, I choose to call myself out on it. I was wrong; I’m so very deeply sorry about the lies I used to believe and spread about people I had never met and had no way of knowing how many of them were kind, decent, honest people just like me and in some cases far better and more gracious than me. I was just parroting what I was taught. I wasn’t thinking for myself. A lot has changed in seven years – most notably the passage of the Marriage Equality Act – but long before then my perspective had begun to change. Even as I was being taught about how evil those unrepentant sinners were, I had begun to get to know one. From the first day I walked into school as the new kid, everybody told me that Brock was one of them. His friends were my friends, which sort of made him my friend. He was also very open about it, talking about guys the same way that the girls did. I remember listening as one boy told him: “When you first came out, all I wanted to do was to pound your face in … but now, I don’t feel that way anymore.” Brock would be about my age today – had he not committed suicide. He never saw the Marriage Equality Act passed.

Then, of course, there was that house. The one where the murder had taken place that had something to do with that sin or so the rumor went. Every day to and from school we’d glance over and see the ever-present “For Sale – Reduced Price!” sign. Even nearly two decades after the crime it haunted the community. I had to ask – how was it loving for a Christian’s first reaction to be to beat someone up? How was it loving to ostracize people who didn’t fit in or measure up to our expectations? How was it loving to spread rumors that others were one of them without ever really getting to know them in the first place?

Even as all this played it’s part, there was also the mounting tension in Christianity – watching Westboro Church march around the country using language even I would not use – derogatory words meant to insult and shame people … I couldn’t see that as being loving or working as an effort to scare people to stop sinning and sign up for heaven. The Boy Scouts had changed their policies, which resulted in a great many churches pulling out their support, kicking them out of their building, and creating an alternative that taught only the things that met with Christian approval. As well as the reverse on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. From what I could tell, the secular world was realizing that to some degree it had been participating in oppressing a group of people and were trying to make amends, the Church, on the other hand, were trying to keep their power intact at the expense of oppressing others.

Then there were Bible study books that my church elder lead – “Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong” by John MacArthur’s ministry team and “Tipping the Scales” by Dr. James Kennedy’s ministry team. The former says: “It should be noted that I am using the descriptive term ‘Christian’ with qualification. I fully understand that a person who is homosexual or effeminate is not a true believer no matter how passionate their claim (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).” – the bulk of the chapter argues that the two are mutually exclusive identities. It advises: “Then bridges need to be burned in that person’s life to make the repetition of the sin difficult (cf. Mark 9:42-50). If the person has friends (even so-called Christians) who encourage this sin, those friendships must end immediately. If the bridge is a co-worker or the work environment, the person needs to change jobs. Any pipeline that fuels the sin of homosexuality must be severed. Of course, the counselee must then focus on friends, activities, and thinking that will facilitate righteousness (cf. Colossians 3:5-11).” Sure, Christianity could be interpreted to say that it applies to all sorts of sinners, liars, tax evaders, people who abuse their authority over others – all it would require is to isolate everyone on an island and cut off all human contact. It rounds out the chapter with the charge that sexual relationships are a matter of worship and not being complementarian is akin to idolatry. The latter features two chapters were former homosexual sinners and now fully heterosexual Christians spoke about their experiences and the efforts of the gay agenda as it relates to their actions in Washington D.C. affecting the laws and policies that were being made at the time the conference was given – when Bill Clinton was president.It’s almost a picture of us vs. them locked in a David vs. Goliath battle of saints trying to lovingly rescue sinners.

It took getting to know a few members of the LGBT community as friends and relatives for me to begin to see that my churches weren’t being entirely honest. They had interpreted scripture by twisting verses out of context and erasing any cultural or historical background from the Bible that allowed for other valid interpretations that they would rather ignore than admit the possibility that they have got it wrong. They made it a point not to say anything overtly racist or sexist or whatever, but they also made it a point not to call out anyone who did – as evidenced by nobody calling me out on my post that I had written years ago. They had so effectively poisoned the well that I almost didn’t give those sinners a chance to be my friend lest they contaminate me and cause me to lose my salvation – it’s a good thing that God foiled the church’s questionable teaching. The church has come a long way, but not long enough to stop itself from doing damage. It’s responsible for every child a parent kicks out of their home in the name of tough love, every time a kid beats up another kid because the saint wants to show his love for the sinner, for every broken relationship in the name of fixing a “counselee” – this and so much more hateful things have been done in the name of a sort of love that isn’t really love at all – because love does no harm and this love is nothing but harm.

There is one thing I did get right in my worst post ever, that there is a greater law that all of us are going to answer to. What I failed to understand back then that there’s no law involved – but grace as a result of true love – this kind of love: ” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

A Sense of Belonging

It’s written deeply into us, the need to belong. We’re social creatures. We seek the acceptance and approval of those around us – the elders we trust to show us the ropes, the friends we depend on to navigate the storms of life, the family that we reach out to and hold onto tightest when disaster strikes. It’s part of why we surround ourselves by those who think and feel much as we do. It’s why we often seek out a spiritual family and crave their acceptance even though we know that it shouldn’t matter what others think – it still matters to us on some level.

The problem with Christianity’s family is that it too often fails to accept everyone who seeks to become a part of it. Some are allowed to be on the fringes, but they aren’t really acknowledged until they meet specific criteria. For some churches, membership isn’t just a process – but a contract, a vow, a permit, and it’s semi-legally binding. Being a non-member is failing to commit, it’s mooching, it’s just not how one properly identifies as Christian. Having grown up in Christianity, I see that there’s a whole other set of expectations in order to be accepted – outsiders get this sort of pass, because they weren’t born into the teachings, obviously lived lives of sin, they shouldn’t be expected to be as righteous as those who were always in on it, always on the know.

Growing up into adulthood is fraught with difficulties. Some of our most beloved child stars pull ridiculous stunts in Hollywood and seemingly get away with questionably legal antics as they fill up pages of newspaper with scandal. Growing up in church is a whole lot like that – except everything you do comes with this threat of damnation and shaming the family name. To avoid that fate, the best thing to do is to stick to the plan. Nobody really tells you about it, but it’s rules are something like this: graduate High School, get married ASAP while going to college or securing work, it’s okay if you get married after college or secure work first in order to support your family, but all that really matters is that you get married as young as possible so that you can move onto the next step, have children. Once you are married and have children, you’re a responsible, mature, adult Christian who has put behind them their childish ways and the selfishness that goes with it. You get the approval of pretty much everyone else for having arrived.

The price of failure, of not getting married and having children, is to be marginalized. It’s to be less important and less respected than others. It’s like realizing that you could do any feat normally considered impressive be tarnished by the lack of a spouse. “If only he had a spouse, he could have climbed that mountain better/faster” “if only she were married, she would have negotiated the business agreement quicker and not settled less” “if only he/she were married, he/she would be better, more faithful Christians”. The last one is a sentiment that echoes unspoken throughout every church hallway, a specter of another time that just won’t fade away.

I think Paul himself would want to set the record straight, marriage is good, but it isn’t the only way. Singleness is good but it isn’t the only way. Being a Christian isn’t about whether or not you have a ring on your finger, but about the love you carry in your heart. If you can’t love a single Christian as fully as you can a married Christian, then your heart is lacking in the capacity to love others whose situation might not be the same as your own. It should never be on your (blood) brother or sister to earn your love, neither should a (spiritual) brother or sister have to jump through hoops in order to be accepted and acknowledged by you.
You see, when we teach about this family, we often say that all they have to do is to accept Jesus and he will accept them. We say “come as you are”. But spend enough time with the whole family and you’ll see that’s just not the case. So many of us are tired by the mixed messages and disappointed by the false hope. We were looking somewhere we could belong, but we found that we just didn’t fit in and nobody seemed to want us around. So we got the hint and decided not to darken the doorways of those churches or any churches remotely like them. Christianity has declined because it lacks love and isn’t place where people feel like they can belong.

Personality Modification

One of the more common descriptors used of me is “sweet”, I’m also “quiet” and tend to startle people when I appear unexpectedly out of nowhere. I find it easier to continue an existing conversation than to strike up a new one. I remember being taught that being modest isn’t just about what I choose to wear it’s a heart issue that also reveals what sort of person I am.

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. – from 1 Timothy 2

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. – from 1 Peter 3

Ah, but men and women are to be different. If women ought to be quiet and gentle, then men ought to be loud and strong. Any woman who grows up with a loud and strong personality must therefore battle against it and make herself quiet and gentle. Any man who exhibits a quiet and gentle nature, must therefore work constantly to become loud and strong. The only men who are affirmed as they are are the loud and strong ones, the only women who are affirmed as they are are the quiet and gentle ones. They quite naturally are who they’re supposed to be. Lucky them.

But in all this, I can’t help but wonder – why would God make a strong-willed woman or a quiet and gentle man and require them to fight against the nature he gave them? I’ve seen how a strong-willed man can be overbearing and a quiet woman can be taken advantage of when she’s not allowed to speak up for herself. Put the combination together, and a strong-willed husband with a quiet wife creates a scenario where the woman isn’t allowed to speak up, to question decisions, to do anything other than to stand behind her husband and let him do all the talking, she’s allowed to have an opinion, but not allowed to voice them when they contradict her husband. Is that the ideal for all Christian families?

There’s also this element of shame – how quiet and gentle men are less complete than their loud and strong-willed brothers in Christ. How loud and strong-willed women are too much like men to be considered a complete sister in Christ. If only God had made them naturally as they ought to be they could spend their time not warring against their own natures and do more productive things like leading or following as they ought to. Is it sin that made them contrary to how the Bible says they must be, or God who created them contrary to his own design for how they ought to be?

It reminds me of that quote from Akeelah and the Bee: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

These ideas about the appropriate personality for our gender seem to say: “Hide your light under a bushel so that the other light may shine all the brighter in the darkness.” Could you imagine just one star – one distant point of light in the new moon night sky? How lonely it must be for that single light. It’s only when all the lights from all the stars, single and binary shine brightly are we captivated by the constellation of stars even on the darkest of nights.

It seems to me that the thing to do isn’t to declare that this person’s natural personality isn’t fit for their gender to try to force them to change, it’s to draw them out and encourage them to be as they were meant to, to celebrate uniqueness and quirks, to let them be themselves – it’s when we see the whole spectrum of human personality for it’s diversity do we begin to understand that we all reflect something of God in some way or another and it’s no sin for women to be strong-willed or for men to be quiet and gentle.

On Conscience

But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

We are a guilt/innocence society. We depend our conscience, our inner sense to confirm whether or not we are wrong or right. When our consciences are clear, then we know that we are innocent. When we feel guilty, then our conscience eats away at us. Usually it takes confession and forgiveness for the burden of guilt to be removed. But when it comes down to it – we trust our conscience to guide us into the right course of action and the right set of beliefs.
My friends often tell me that you can be certain that you’re doing the right thing when you feel blessed, happy, affirmed, and even joyful. They would tell me to trust my conscience when it says to do something. But when I don’t feel my conscience telling me to do something – then I must disobey my conscience when it would have me disobey scripture. It makes me wonder – how I can be sure my conscience is right just because Scripture happens to agree with it?
Think back to the era of slavery – this institution didn’t exist apart from Scripture and Christians, but in part through it and because of it. In a documentary I’ve watched over the past week, Frederick Douglass recalls: “I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture–“He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.“” That’s Luke 12:47.
It was the realization that slavery was a violation of their conscience that drove the Abolitionists to those very same scriptures to assert the equality of all people and call for the freedom that had been so very long denied. Again, it was conscience that was the heartbeat of the Civil Rights era that put two sets of Christians against each other using the Bible as the dividing line. “Obey authorities!” Said one. “We’re all one in Christ!” Said the other.
So too, our consciences are moving in us to take stands on issues such as women in ministry and LGBT inclusion. Our consciences are guiding us in our beliefs – and it’s very much an individual thing. All of us have come to decide on an individual basis who or what God is to us, how we ought to worship Him/Her/It, what God would have us do is not necessarily the same exact conclusion a brother or sister in the faith will draw and we’re okay with that whereas in the past there used to an idea of a “one true, right way” and there was no limit to the heartbreak because of disagreements and violence that resulted from the imposition of that standard upon others.
The problems arise when one group decides that their conscience ought to be the standard that all consciences must obey, going against their own standards and bowing to ideas that are not necessarily their own. Worship is a personal thing, it cannot be made into an exercise of conformity and retain a sense of personal relationship; rather, it betrays it’s own nature to make it a ‘one size fits all’ approach. When we are told that we cannot trust our conscience, then that means that we cannot be certain our senses of right and wrong are right or wrong. Now i know most at this point would say: “Good! God is our objective standard of morality! There’s no truth in morality being subjective – then you would have people reaching opposite conclusions and you know that one or both of them are wrong. But with an objective standard of morality, then you know that God is never wrong!” The problem lies not in God being an objective standard, but that the people who interpret and apply Scripture are very much subject to their own whims and desires – that’s evident in how we have historically used the Bible to support both sides in all sorts of conflicts. And since the Bible can never be wrong, then both sides must be correct. The only thing that can decide for us which way to go is our conscience – it will either rage with a burning zeal for the truth of the Scriptures or beat with a ceaseless and tireless love for others in that living out of the Spirit of the Word sort of way.
Sometimes it’s not enough to be “not wrong” – in it’s day and age, pro-slavery advocates were not wrong, Scriptures did affirm slavery, sanction it’s limits, and instructed the masters and slaves how to interact. But they weren’t exactly right – slavery in the Bible never really was the same sort of slavery in the World. The instructions God gave to the Israelites weren’t the ones the Romans had decided to follow when they were in power. Slavery in the American South (and the rest of the world, for that matter) looked nothing like what God had asked the Israelites to do. Even today slavery hasn’t been erased from the face of our planet, in far too many lawless regions it thrives in one form or another. We can look to Scriptures – but ultimately it’ll be on our consciences to provoke us into action and wake us up from inaction – on this and all other matters of conscience.

 

We’ll have to ask ourselves on all things: “Is it right?”