Tuesday, December 13, 2016
What is Truth? – Part III
The hardest thing a Christian can do (the most gut-wrenching) is to speak out against a position other Christians are advocating in the name truth. Try as one might to be fair with one's Christian brothers or sisters, just raising the possibility that they might be wrong seems to imply that they are flawed in some fundamental way; that they are less "Christian" as a result of the ideas they hold, perhaps even that they are evil.
This dilemma presents a person wanting to uphold truth and oppose false ideas with at least two possible hazards: 1) to choose to do nothing out of deference to the other's professed faith in Christ, thus allowing their false ideas to go unchallenged or 2) to attack the false ideas being presented and risk being seen as a troublemaker out to diminish the validity of the another's Christian profession.
It is not unusual for a Christian to espouse ideas, or behave in ways, that are un-Christ-like. Any honest believer in Christ will recognize that they have been guilty of such behavior on many occasions. Perhaps the most famous Biblical example of such a situation occurred when Peter, resisting Jesus' declaration that he must go to Jerusalem and be killed, took his master aside and told him he must not talk that way. Jesus famously told his loyal follower to "Get behind me, Satan." Being a true and loyal follow of Jesus does not exempt us from holding false notions of what is good and true.
It is a greater error to remain silent in the face of lies or wrong behaviors – whether by Christians or non-Christians – than to disturb the peace of a community by pointing out its errant ways. But speaking up does not come without grave risks to the "prophet" willing to sound the alarm. Sadly, in many instances friendships will be damaged or lost, associations will be terminated or, in rare circumstances the "prophet" may face physical, economic or legal consequences of their actions.
Much of the Christian community has aligned itself with the newly elected and soon to take office Trump administration. In exit polls from the recent election Evangelical believers responded, indicating that, by a four out of five margin, they voted to elect Mr. Trump as our next president. No doubt those followers of Christ who identify as Evangelical Christian supporters of Mr. Trump had a variety of reasons for supporting him. Presumably one out of five Evangelical Christians voted for Mrs. Clinton. Again, Clinton supporters had a variety of reasons for their support of her.
But Mr. Trump's campaign prevailed and that presents a challenge to all followers of Jesus, whether they voted for him or not. As followers of the One who said of Himself, "I am the way, the truth and the life," they must pledge their first loyalty to their Lord and Savior. And in the case of a believer supporting Mr. Trump that brings him or her into immediate conflict with much of what Trump stands for, to say nothing about their obligation to deplore his personal and publicly celebrated immoral lifestyle.
The Christian believer is admonished in scripture:
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Sadly, believers will, too often, be faced in the next four or eight years with words and behaviors that require them to confess that they are hearing and observing - in the words and actions our president – the obverse of what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. As followers of Jesus Christ they will have an obligation to stand and speak against anti-Christian policies. They will need to stand and speak for the rights of their neighbors (Christian or non-Christian, Godly or un-Godly, moral or immoral) when their neighbors rights, property, livelihood and freedom are put in jeopardy. They will be watched by those who know they profess to be Christians; watched to see if they are willing to denounce the coarseness and lewdness that their president and those advising him flaunt in their tweets and speeches and lifestyles.
This is not to say that, had Mrs. Clinton won the White House, Christians would have had any different set of obligations. We are people of the truth and regardless of who our national leaders are we have the same obligations to the truth; the same need to fight the lie in whatever form and under whatever name we encounter it. Many who opposed Mrs. Clinton strongly believed that they were saving the nation from a person with a secret and devious agenda to destroy our Christian heritage. If they are right in that assessment (which I do not share) they did what their Christian obligation demanded of them.
But now, we are faced with an incoming administration that may well have just as sinister a secret agenda that must be opposed. But more likely we know already the character and the aims of this president, his family, and those he is drawing around him.
He sins proudly and openly and boastfully. So much so that already the media has become numbed. It has ceased to highlight those aspects of Mr. Trump's character that should most disgust Evangelical believers.
But there are deeper problems with Mr. Trumps professed agenda. It is a narrow, divisive, exclusionary and retaliatory agenda that should alarm all who believe that God loves all peoples, loves the (whole) world so much that he gave his only son to save it. Mr. Trump's agenda promises to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor. Those who supported Mr. Trump either had not read or chose to ignore the words of Jesus' own brother. In his epistle by his own name, James admonishes the believers of his time like this:
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
There is no place in the Christian Gospel for discrimination against or hatred of any race or person or gender. The Gospel, Paul tells us, breaks down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slave and free. In other words it opposes walls and those who follow Christ must oppose them too, in whatever form they are encountered.
So how do Christians navigate so treacherous a terrain as this without injuring their relationships with each other or with their Lord? Of course love is the answer. Jesus, in implying that Peter was a spokesman for Satan, did not reject Peter. He remained one of the three most trusted of Jesus' disciples along with the two "Sons of Thunder", James and John. But neither did he go easy on the lie that Peter was endorsing – the lie that Jesus should not have to go to Jerusalem and die.
So my appeal to Christians is, first be true to the Spirit of Christ which is, above all, the Spirit of Truth. Then be true to the Body of Christ which consists of all those who have truly put their trust in Jesus as the Savior of all mankind. But finally, never allow your love for a fellow member of the Body of Christ to keep you from exposing the lie regardless of who is speaking it or acting it out.
Christians must be the prophetic voices of our culture, voices in the wilderness crying out, "Make a straight path (a true path) for your God." It doesn't require one to stand on a street corner waving a Bible. It only calls for us to speak and act against the lie.
The lie is the only anti-Christ that most of us will ever encounter. The truth defeats the lie but only if it is spoken.