“He had been called in his early youth and had set out for the city to proclaim the destruction awaiting a world that had abandoned its Saviour. He proclaimed from the midst of his fury that the world would see the sun burst in blood and fire and while he raged and waited, it rose every morning, calm and contained in itself, as if not only the world, but the Lord Himself had failed to hear the prophet’s message.”
-from “The Violent Bear it Away” by Flannery O’Connor
Caroline slammed her chubby hand on the kitchen table like some sort of fire and brimstone preacher as she yelled, “For da Bible tells me SO!” She’s typically a very sweet two-year-old, but that was not the case in the moment.
“What did she just say?” I asked my wife. I could barely control my laughter.
“Tell Daddy again, Cara.”
“For da Bible tells me SO!” She stretched the last word into at least five syllables, her round face red with fury.
Why was she so angry? She had been refused another snack because it was only half an hour before supper and she didn’t need a third vanilla wafer with peanut butter.
Sweet Caroline didn’t like my rationale and continued to wail as my wife and I tried our best to keep it together. “Where on Earth did she come up with this?!”
Lindsey laughed and sang the first few words of “Jesus Loves Me”. I smiled wide and said, “But why is this the phrase she chooses when she is pissed off?”
It reminded me of a discussion on the judgmental nature of Christianity I was recently in. Just as I feared, what started as an innocent chat flipped into a heated theological discussion.
The discussion wasn’t the problem. Iron does sharpen iron and everyone involved approached the topic graciously. The problem was that there were onlookers present who aren’t Christians and don’t connect with all the nuances of our faith. These conversations aren’t necessarily detrimental to mature believers, but are best suited for dinner tables and small groups, not in public forums where observers can be hurt or confused.
It’s times like this I want to remind everyone that we are all just loving and seeking God the best way we know how. Even true theologians are exactly that…people who are studying God.
In the words of my friend, Stephanie, “The problem with those kinds of arguments is the lurkers are harmed by it.” And she’s absolutely right: people are lurking. Those who have left our churches are lurking, observing, wondering what we’re like. Wondering if things have changed. Wondering if they might finally be welcome into our fellowship.
As children, most of us heard “Jesus loves me.” These days, all we seem to be saying is, “For da Bible tells me SO!”
It’s not uncommon for Christians to have heated discussions over who God loves. Followers of Jesus have been arguing over who gets God’s love for a long time. Nobody wants the Lord’s sloppy seconds. Even the disciples argued over who would be the greatest in the kingdom. They wanted to know who would sit closest to his throne in heaven. Who would be the most famous? In essence, they were asking, “Who do you love the most? Who is your favorite?”
And true to fashion, Jesus responded, “You become great by accepting, not asserting. Your spirit, not your size, makes the difference.”
In another recent situation on social media, a pastor’s wife shared an article about transgendered people. Her commentary on the LGBT community was heartbreaking and inflammatory, even if that wasn’t her intent. In the status update, this pastor’s wife basically said “choosing to be gay” (her words, not mine) or being transgendered was no different from any other “mental disorder”. According to this Facebook status, the “fix” for the “gay problem” or any other “sin” is just to simply renew your mind.
Oh, if it were only that simple.
In reading the Bible, I see Jesus far more concerned with love than judgment. In the words of my pastor, “The priority of Jesus was the Love of God over the Law of God”. And Jesus proves that by constantly breaking the rules on behalf of those who were downcast, segregated, misunderstood, and unloved.
He healed on the Sabbath, ate with tax collectors, and didn’t push women away from his ministry. Jesus constantly preached a “gospel” of love. “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,” he said. “And love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
My friend Sarah said something I’d never noticed before, that Jesus blatantly defined our “neighbor” as those who are outside our own religious and social circle.
We have to be careful with our words, friends.
Do you really think anyone willingly chooses to be gay? Would you willingly choose to be transgendered? Seeing the way discrimination is alive and well in our country (and our churches) today, would you honestly make that choice?
I think not.
This specific example of a Christian’s response to the LGBT community is just one piece of a much larger puzzle: we talk about things we have no business talking about. Many of us live very sheltered lives and make comments that cause others to continue to feel completely ostracized by Christians who say “God loves you” out of one side of their mouth and follow that up with a list of “if, then” statements from the other side of their mouth.
If your God is love but your church won’t accept the disenfranchised, those on the fringe, the forgotten, something doesn’t line up.
And as we continue to speak from a place of ignorance, our neighbors are drowning in confusion and judgment.
Maybe it’s time to loose the death grip on our precious moral stances and open our hands to those around us who are hurting and longing for love and acceptance. Now, more than ever, we should love the person in front of us. Lives are changed through relationship rather than rule-keeping. This is the essence of the message of Jesus.
While we spend our time and energy exegeting Scripture, debating every comma of the Bible, there are people tiptoeing around the church, wondering if it will ever be safe to come inside. And the closer they get to the door, the louder they hear us shouting, “For da Bible tells me SO!”
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
4 Ways Your Church Should Look More Like a Psych Ward
Suicide: Let’s Talk about It (podcast)
Suicide Prevention for Pastors
Guest Blog – Worthy and Unashamed: Facing Mental Health Stigma in the Church Head-On
Why I Still Trust God When Shame Feels Heavy
How to Help Pastors with Suicidal Thoughts
Why I Believe Love is Love
How I Found God in All the Wrong Places