Westboro is NOT Winsome

    I have probably mentioned this before, but the folks from Westboro Baptist Church really burn my cookies.  Last night at our youth group meeting we watched a segment of Adam Hamilton’s “When Christians Get it Wrong” and were discussing how well-meaning church people often chase unbelievers away from the church instead of attracting them.  When I was much younger, we were always taught that the Christian faith should be “winsome.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but from the way it was used, it sounded as if it ought to be something that looked and sounded attractive.  According to the American Heritage online dictionary it does, in fact, mean charming. 

The followers of Jesus Christ are called upon to tell the world about the Good News of reconciliation, that God has done everything possible to repair our relationship with him and to demonstrate his love for us.  I have to think that demonstrating respect and love for others, for their religion, for their opinions, for their culture and for their existence would have to be the first step in doing that.  Showing up at a child’s funeral or anywhere else with signs that say “God Hates Fags,” “God Killed Your Sons,” or worst of all, “God Is Your Enemy” is definitely going in completely the wrong direction.  First of all these statements tell unbelievers that the church is out of touch and that it is full of bigoted idiots that have no desire (or ability) to understand their situation.  Worse than that, these things are all lies.  There is nothing in scripture that could lead someone to believe that God hates you or that God is your enemy.  the whole point of scripture, especially the message of the Gospel, is entirely the opposite, that God loves you more than you can know.

That doesn’t meant that God is making any compromises about things that he considers wrong, but that a message of love cannot be communicated by being hateful and hurtful.  In his book, When Christians Get it Wrong, Adam Hamilton, correctly, points to the Apostle Paul.  I have used Paul as an example for years, and so have many others.  Paul was a Pharisee.  He was incredibly well educated.  He had studied under some of the most noted Rabbis in history.  Paul knew sin and he wasn’t afraid to point out the sins of others.  Paul had often warned the churches of the evils of idol worship, particularly in those places under the influence of the Romans and Greeks (which we, pretty much everywhere), but that isn’t how he started a conversation with people who actually worshiped idols.  When Paul visited Athens, a city full of idols and temples of numerous false gods and goddesses, Luke tells us that “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”  Even so, Paul didn’t launch into a tirade about how evil they all were.  He went into the synagogue and and into the marketplace reasoned with the people. His reasoning was sound enough that he was asked to go to Mars Hill and explain his views further and even there, he didn’t condemn them.  Instead, Paul said:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)

Paul began by expressing his admiration for their care in pursuing the truth even though their worship of idols distressed him.  No one will believe you if you tell them you love them while you are beating them over the head.  Telling someone that God hates them is not winsome… or loving. 

It’s just wrong.

Sometimes Right is Wrong


    Not long ago my wife, Patti, and I attended a seminar with Dr. Terry Wardle at Ashland Seminary.  During one session Dr. Wardle noted that sometimes the question is not whether something is right or wrong, but whether it is loving or unloving.  This idea struck me and I immediately wrote it in my notebook.  While this may not always be the case, this is a wonderful lens by which we can examine our choices as we live out our faith.  Checking to see if our actions are loving or unloving is a great way to get closer to deciding, “What would Jesus do?” 
   
    Some will object that Jesus was the perfect man and lived his life without sin, and so, he could not have done wrong.  And yet, he did.  During his ministry, Jesus seemed often to be at odds with the Pharisees, men who devoted their lived to following “the rules” and, in fact, devised rules stricter than those contained in the Law so that, by following these ‘new and improved’ rules, they would never, even accidently, violate the Law.  Simply put, the Pharisees made it their business never to break a rule.  They were devoted to living that was always right and never wrong but if this is so, why were they so often at odds with Jesus?
    The Pharisees began to hate Jesus and plot for his humiliation and, ultimately, his destruction when Jesus repeatedly revealed their hypocrisy and the failure of their rules-based morality.  Jesus pointed out that what they had achieved was like white washing a tomb; it looked pretty on the outside bur remained full of corruption on the inside.  The Pharisees were known to tithe from everything they earned, every increase that God granted to them, even to the point of giving ten percent of the growth from their herb gardens and yet some of them had elderly parents whom they allowed to starve.  They justified their actions by saying that all their money was “Corban” or, dedicated to God.  They had followed one rule so vigorously, that they missed the bigger ideas of “love your neighbor” and “honor your father and mother.”  They had done what was “right” but had failed to be loving.  As Jesus saw it, they had missed the point.
    At the same time, the Pharisees attacks against Jesus revolved around what they perceived as his wrongdoing.  Jesus and his followers were rule breakers.  Jesus sat down with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, outcasts, and ate with them.  No self respecting, rule-following, religious person would be seen socializing, let alone sharing food, with “those people,” and yet, Jesus did.  As Jesus and his followers were walking through a field on the Sabbath, they were hungry and the disciples began to pick heads of grain, rub them between their hands to remove the chaff, and eat them.  The Pharisees asked Jesus why he allowed them to do wrong. Clearly they were harvesting on the Sabbath, and everyone knew that harvesting was work and work was not permitted on the Sabbath.  They made the same accusation against Jesus when he healed a man on the Sabbath.  Since healing was “work,” obviously Jesus had done wrong.  Again, as Jesus saw it, they had missed the point.
    In each case, the Pharisees wanted to follow the rules, to do what was right, but Jesus wasn’t as concerned with right and wrong as he was with being loving.  Jesus believed that the Pharisees had missed the point when following “the rules” caused them to be unloving.
    If we see ourselves in the mirror held up by the Pharisees, we should.  The Pharisees weren’t bad people; they were the church leaders and teachers of their day.  Like the Pharisees, I think sometimes we get so focused on “the rules” that we miss the point.  When people of faith debate issues like homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment and other “religious” issues in the public square we often carve out positions that we believe are “right” and yet, at the same time, fail miserably at being loving.  That doesn’t mean that we have to accept sin, Jesus didn’t, but Jesus found a way to be loving even if it broke a few rules.
    As we enter the public square we must ask ourselves if our arguments are right, but also if they are loving.  Because…
Sometimes, right is wrong.