I was sitting in my living room this past weekend, spending some time with my Father who had come out to visit. While we were talking about all sorts of things, he asked me about the book that was sitting on my coffee table. “Unchristian” is a book I have mentioned here on this blog before. It is a challenging and uncomfortable read for a believer, but well worth the time invested in reading it.
I was telling my father how eye opening it was to read about the perceptions of Gen X and Gen Y as they relate to Christianity. I was telling him how we as a church need to change our approach, and be more aware of how our actions and words are being taken in by a new generation. We need to start embracing people as people, and stop judging them based on their lifestyle. “Show the love of Christ” I said, “No matter if they are an alcoholic, homosexual, or sinner”.
This is when he asked me the question that I think really comes to the forefront of Christian minds when it comes to embracing sinners, “At what point does your embracing and acceptance of others appear to condone their activity?” Holding ourselves to such a high moral standard, we are often afraid to embrace others that don’t cling to our values. We don’t want the ‘sinner’ to think we approve of their lifestyle by embracing them as people.
He went on to tell me the story of a young girl in their church a few years ago who had a baby out of wedlock. The church rallied around her to offer support as she carried the pregnancy to term, and even offered up help in terms of childcare once the baby was born. They forgave her, but also told her that they did not feel it was morally right to have sex outside of marriage. About five months after the baby was born, she was pregnant again. The church turned their back the second time around. After all, she should have learned her lesson.
I bring all of this up, not to slam the church in this case, but because situations like this are reality. Life is not black and white. We are faced with these moral dilemmas as believers on a daily basis. What we listen to, what we watch, what we drink, who we associate with, what we say and how we act defines our faith. How do our personal moral boundaries relate to the personal moral boundaries of others? What does this says about our Faith? What do these things say about us? What do our actions say about Christ?
Struggling through this, I am constantly brought back to the example of Christ’s life while he was here on earth. Looking at His life, there are not many times when he is hanging out with other religious people. Prostitutes, homeless, sick people, tax collectors, and ‘worldly’ people were more his speed. He did not seemed as bothered about the painful condition of the people around him, as he was about religious people shunning the ‘world’ in an effort to be more holy. That said, however, He never wavered on his moral standings and he always pointed the way towards the Creator. Is that so difficult for the modern day believer?
Back to the story of the girl in my father’s church. I would argue that it is not our place to judge her actions. Instead I would say that we need to show her the love of Christ, and offer help at all costs. This does not mean we tell her we approve of her behavior, but it does mean that we show her that Christ is always there to forgive. To do anything different, would be to risk pushing her away from the church, and mis-communicate the message of Jesus Himself.
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. When they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either Go From now on sin no more.”
I know many people have heard this scripture before. At the risk of using a pop-culture cliché term, let me pose this question. If Jesus ran across this woman two weeks later, once again accused of adultery, what would He do? Would He turn her over to be stoned? Do His actions in this case in standing up for an adulterer condone her activity?
As Christians, we struggle with these real-life situations everyday. I admit, I struggle often with the association with certain groups of people, in fear for becoming ‘tainted’ or giving the ‘appearance of evil’. While avoiding temptation is a mandate by scripture, condemnation of others is not. Thousands of people are being driven away from the church because of this. Let’s let God do the judging, and let’s just point the way toward him through our speech and our actions. Instead of passing judgment, our often more difficult task is to love. The reward may be another soul in heaven.
And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you. Therefore be followers of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling aroma.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
“At what point does your embracing and acceptance of others appear to condone their activity?” I would argue that unless you are participating in a sinful activity with them, it should never be an issue. As long as we are human though, we will struggle with this question.