“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2
There are a lot of passages like this in the New Testament, instructing Christians with regard to their behavior, and the way they are to be seen by the world. Imitate Christ. Be like Jesus. Demonstrate the love God has given to you those around you. Grow into maturity. Bear with each other’s failings, and especially with the failings of the weak. Take responsibility and accountability to build each other up in the faith. It’s everywhere, not hard to find, and doesn’t take any time at all to look for it.
So then, why is it that, within the ranks of the fellowship of believers, there is so much animosity, criticism, jealousy and anger over what other people, other believers who are trying to live their lives out and grow up in their faith, say and do?
Within the past couple of weeks, among my Southern Baptist brethren, there have been some real stinkers when it comes to the thought of not setting a very good example as believers. Paul spoke often about tempering the freedom believers have in Christ with behavior “for the sake of conscience.” So when I see some of this stuff in the news, on the internet, and even coming from the pulpit, I have to shake my head. Abundant and eternal life are blessings that come from God, but it seems that many of his followers make it really hard to get around the obstacles they throw up to keep people from seeing the true face of the Christian faith. I guess what prompted this blog today is a conversation I had in a coffee shop yesterday with someone who put forth a comparison between Muslims and Christians, and other than the differing “salvation” pathways, didn’t see much of a difference between militant Islam and “militant” (he used the terms strict and unbending) Christianity. The public behavior of some of my Southern Baptist brethren came to light in the conversation, and it wasn’t in support of a compassionate, loving form of Christian faith.
Making the top of the list was Wiley Drake, a California pastor who was somehow elected second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention several years ago, and continues to call upon that title to get publicity for his antics. Drake made headlines again this past week when Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha died, hinting that the death may have been the result of “imprecatory prayer.” The words of Christ regarding loving your enemies, and praying for them, somehow come into opposition in Drake’s theology. His way of dealing with his enemies is to pray death upon them. When someone talks to me about Wiley Drake, the question that is almost certain to follow is, “How can you support someone like that?”
My response? I don’t.
But, I am a Southern Baptist and the convention did elect him second VP a few years back, a fact that he frequently cites to leave the impression that the convention fully supports him. I don’t believe that’s the case at all, and in fact, if someone observed a convention, and noted the moans and giggles that occur when Drake’s face pops up on the video screen when he goes to a microphone to make a motion or a comment, they might think differently. I have yet to meet a Southern Baptist who thinks he speaks for all Southern Baptists, or who would be supportive of even some of his calmer antics and less controversial statements but for all of that, no convention leaders have formally disavowed him, and no one to my knowledge has taken steps to prevent his obvious overuse of his former title. It’s not easy to try to explain all of this to someone who doesn’t understand the independent, autonomous nature of SBC congregations, and who wants to know what’s the difference between Drake and some nutcase Ayatollah who declares a holy war.
A few months back, there was an uproar over a speaking engagement by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Driscoll’s approach, and sometimes his language, violates some of the restrictions and standards of the previous generation, and as a result, there are many people in that generation who discount his message and his approach, and perhaps even judge the validity of his faith. The younger generation doesn’t understand that. What it looks like is that Mark Driscoll’s success is resented by church leaders who have been ineffective and unable to do things like reach lost young adults for Christ in a city known for its secular culture, and they tried to pull strings to smack down the seminary president who invited him to campus.
There’s also been a lot of discussion this week in the cyberworld about a North Carolina pastor who apparently tried to get a couple of professors at the same seminary, Southeastern, fired for not agreeing with his position on storehouse tithing. The impression that raging argument has generated is that Baptists are going to continue to fight about money, while at the same time never being able to get past the image that money is what we are after and all we ask for. What kind of example does it set “for the sake of conscience” when someone in a denominational organization tries to put a couple of seminary professors on the unemployment line, and destroy their livlihood, over a disagreement on an issue of doctrine that falls way down on the scale in terms of importance or affect on the essentials of the faith? You would be surprised at how many people outside the realm of either the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Christian faith, will take note of things like that.
On the other hand, talk about Christianity from the perspective of it being a faith based on the pure love of God for his creation, on his heart set so much on redemption of humanity that he was willing to sacrifice Jesus to make it happen, with regard to those chapters and verses in scripture that talk about treating all humanity with the utmost dignity and respect, all that stuff in I Corinthians 13, for example, and you will get blasted by some legalistic pharisee who is boiling over with indignation because you aren’t advocating for some kind of legalistic faith with the death penalty held over their head. There are some people that just can’t stand it when others don’t play according to their rules, and they are blind to the damage it causes to everyone else.
It sort of explains the frustration behind a bumper sticker I saw the other day. “Lord save me…from your followers.”