In preparation for studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians, our house church fellowship is doing some background lessons in Acts 16. In that chapter, Paul and Silas are illegally arrested, beaten and thrown into jail. Paul, a Roman citizen, had legal rights which he could have put into play to avoided this unpleasantness, but he did not invoke, or even reveal these rights, choosing rather to endure abuse and humiliation at the hands of his enemies.
As we discussed these things, I asked whether, in our unique American system, Christians have become too dependent on the legal system to ensure that the Gospel gets a hearing. We wrestled with the sad reality that American Christians have lost the ability to reason and dialogue with their opponents and now only know how to picket and sue for the right to be heard.
As an illustration, the recent events in Houston, wherein the mayor and city officials subpoenaed the sermons and speeches of local pastors and religious leaders which negatively addressed the mayor (who is a lesbian), the practice of homosexuality, the HERO non-discrimination ordinance and gender issues. Reacting to this move, FOX News analyst Mike Huckabee called for Christians around the nation to protest by bombarding the mayor’s office with Bibles, which they did.
While not dismissing the serious violation of the freedom of religious speech from government intrusion, I asked if this was really the right or Christian response. Did those Houston pastors directly affected ask for Huckabee’s help? Did he ask them if they would like him to intervene? Or did he, like we see so much of in these days, just react; a visceral act devoid of the Gospel?
One of the sisters in our group asked a real and poignant question: Did anyone offer to buy the mayor a cup of coffee and sit down to talk with her? Did anyone think to enter her life with compassion and open a dialogue with her? What was the motive behind her actions? Is there some hurt in her life which needs healing? Is she angry at the church? I don’t know if anyone did, but it seems not.
The Lord Jesus entered into dialogue in people’s lives. When He met the woman at the well in John 4 He did not excoriate her for her wayward life; He spoke with her as a hurting person in need of grace. He did not ignore or avoid the reality of her sin, but He offered a way of healing rather than condemnation.
Yes we have rights as American citizens, but I would caution us against invoking those rights to secure a hearing for the Gospel in place of earning that place through lives of grace and dignity. Is it that people don't want to hear the Gospel, or that they don't want to hear it from Christians. Sadly, I would guess a larger percent of those who reject the Good News of Jesus would say it is the latter. The Church has become associated with the odious Westboro Baptist Church on one hand or the politicized 'republivangelical' wing on the other.
As disciples of Jesus, we need to let the Gospel determine our responses to cultural challenges and situations. We cannot simply react (and the pointless shipping of Bibles is a cheap reaction), we must respond with grace and respect. Easier said than done, I know, but isn't it time to try?