Friday, May 8, 2015
I just finished reading Anne Lamott's "Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace", which is a wonderful collection of essays about unexpected sightings of God's work in the world. But there was one thing that seemed less than gracious in this book on grace. Lamott is a liberal Democrat and she speaks often about the evil policies of conservatives, Republicans and Tea Parties. She takes the last four Republican Presidencies as personal affronts. This is because Republicans are warmongers who manufacture false evidence to start conflict for their own nefarious gain. Greedy Republicans steal food off the tables of the poor. Sure, Republicans call themselves "Christians" but that's to hide their hypocrisy.
On the other hand, I just read something quite different on the conservative website, Ricochet. Someone put up a post about making the social faux pas of admitting he was a Republican at a party where most everyone was a Democrat. He said he suddenly felt all eyes upon him as if he were a space alien. The post was fine, but the responses were something else. People asked why he would want to spend any time with liberals with Democrats, because such people are either stupid or evil or both. They support abortion which is another word for baby killing. Their policies have torn apart families, particularly in urban and minority communities. And liberals are leading a war on religion, trying to drive Christians back into the catacombs.
Reading Lamott's work, I'd think she really loves Jesus. And many conservatives I've known, who've lamented the evils of liberalism (another word for "secular humanism") claim to love Jesus as well. But how can both Conservatives and Liberals be Christians, when apparently one or the other is quite evil?
Gay Marriage is the most obvious dividing line now between conservative "Christians" and liberal "Christians". Those who believe in Same Sex Marriage deny the clear teaching of teaching of Scripture and the tradition of the Church in a vain pursuit to be loved by the world. Those who oppose Same Sex Marriage are bigots who have no love or understanding for those who differ from themselves (especially those who are oppressed or marginalized).
It's all quite discouraging.
But I was encouraged by reading the Book of Philemon. It's only a chapter long, so if your time is so constrained that you must choose between reading this post or Paul's epistle, than go to Biblegateway.com now! Philemon deals with an issue that divided the church for most of its history. It was a particularly divisive issue in America in the 1800's. There were Christians who argued from Scripture for the abolition of slavery and Christians who argued for the institution of slavery from Scripture. I think it's fair to say that there is a consensus in the Church today that slavery is a very bad thing. It's an evil thing. So were the people who believed in slavery really Christians? Were they evil?
This is why I found Philemon very encouraging. The Apostle wrote this letter to a man named Philemon and Philemon was a slave owner. So was Philemon an evil man? How could he have possibly been a Christian? This is what Paul wrote to Philemon the slave owner: "I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus." And this: "Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord's people."
Paul treats the slave owner Philemon with civility, grace, love and respect as he tries to persuade Philemon to free his slave, Onesimus. Paul doesn't command Philemon to free his slave ("but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary") but uses every other means at his disposal, including logic, Scripture, guilt trips and the calling in of favors ("not to mention that you owe me your very self").
In this short book, Paul took on one of the most divisive issues in the history of the Church and treated someone "on the other side" of the argument with kindness and humility.
The political issues that divide us are important. Issues of war and peace, family and freedom, life and death are at the core of our faith. When we get to heaven, we'll have God's heart on these issues. We all think we would have been the ones who saw slavery for the evil that it is. We would have been right then and we certainly are the ones with the true views on issues today. But even if we think we're Paul and the other person is Philemon, let's attempt to have the graciousness of the Apostle Paul. Philemon may be wrong, but he's our brother.