What Would Jesus Do?

Does one have a religious obligation to refuse service to anyone whose behaviour one deems to be “ungodly”?

Gay wedding cakeThis week extensive media coverage has been given to the case of a Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple claiming she was acting “under God’s authority.”

The argument presented is similar to that made a few weeks ago when a Colorado baker refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

This line of argument opens the door to much broader application. Is a Christian also required to refuse service to those who are envious, deceitful, gossips and slanderers? These are included in the same list as same-sex couples in Romans 1:26-31. Should a Christian refuse to have anything to do with anyone who is judged to be conceited, greedy, proud, arrogant, etc.? II Timothy 3:2-5 clearly instructs one to “avoid such people.”

Gluttony-is-a-sinWhere does one draw the line? Or is there a line? What did Jesus have to say on this matter?

I am frankly mystified by the number of people who seem to think that their faithfulness to Christ requires them to refuse to interact with those who follow an ‘objectionable’ lifestyle.

That was certainly not Jesus’ teaching. It was the teaching of the Pharisees. The word Pharisee literally means “one who is separate.” The Pharisees separated themselves from all those who did not live up to their rigorous standards of religious conduct and purity. Anyone who did not measure up was labeled a “sinner,” and Pharisees would not associate with sinners in any way.

Jesus may have been a rabbi, but he was certainly not one of the Pharisees. The Gospels record him staying in the homes of reputed ‘sinners.’ He ate and drank with them. He even had polite, respectful theological discussions with some (Luke 19; John 4).

What would Jesus do in our present circumstances? It’s a question well worth asking.

I do not believe he would refuse the company of today’s social ‘outcasts’ any more than he did those who were discriminated against in his own time. When he said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28), he made no exceptions. Can we imagine that he would refuse to serve anyone today? How can Christians in good faith believe that refusing to serve anyone honours Christ?

Jesus-came-to-serveJesus preached a message of love, compassion, service and support for others. The only ones he judged and condemned were the self-righteous Pharisees who judged, condemned, and excluded others. Maybe we should follow Jesus’ example. He was pretty vocal in his condemnation of the Pharisees in his day. Maybe we should get the message out loud and clear: those who discriminate against others do not honor Christ. They do not follow him or his teachings.

Those who neglect or refuse to help others have no place in God’s kingdom. Matt. 25:41-45 describes their fate all too well. Jesus was pretty clear on this. Maybe we should be too.

A Christian Response to Hate Crimes

Emanuel-AME-ChurchLike so many others, I was horrified to hear of the shooting of 9 black parishioners at Bible Study in their church in Charleston, S.C. by a young white supremacist this week.

Why America always views “terrorists” as foreigners or foreign-born is beyond me. America needs to wake up to its long history of domestic terrorism – especially as perpetrated against blacks.

The horrific record of lynchings – that most characteristic form of terrorist act – continued on through the first half of the 20th century. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was met with firebombings, murders and brutal police intimidation. Racist comments and hate speech proliferates on social media even today. Why can’t Americans talk about this, or even acknowledge it?

Dylann Roof didn’t come up with his virulent racist views all on his own. He found ready support and encouragement from a community of like-minded individuals.

Worst of all, much of this overt racism comes from those who call themselves “Christians.” They even claim religious justification for their views. Why is there not an outcry from every pulpit denouncing such heresy? How can such attitudes be allowed to parade as “Christian” at all? How can churches and Christians allow such hatred to continue to exist under the guise of Christian belief?

I do not understand this at all. But sadly, I do understand why many young people are turning away from “Christianity” when this is their impression of what this religion represents.

Charleston shooting victimI was deeply moved by the response of the relatives of the slain victims who appeared at Dylann Roof’s bail hearing. One by one they addressed the accused and said, “I forgive you.” People in the black churches seem to understand much better than the rest of us how to bear suffering – and how to maintain hope in the midst of despair.

As Jesus demonstrated on the cross, redemption comes through suffering and forgiveness. I was raised in a Protestant Evangelical tradition that emphasized Christian “triumphalism.” That is our particular ‘heresy.’

We need to be reminded that salvation was not won on Palm Sunday with Christ triumphantly claiming power; it came through his “defeat” on the cross. Suffering for the sake of others; bearing his cross, forgiving his accusers and tormenters – that is the path Jesus took in bringing salvation.

The black churches in America understand this much better than the rest of us. They teach it to their members, and, as we saw so movingly in their court testimony, they embed it in their very lives. They offer a profound example to us all.

If there is anything that can rescue Christianity from its imposters, it is the Black American church and its path of faithfulness to Christ’s example. We saw that eloquently displayed this past week.