How to Keep the Faith Without Losing Your Religion

“Losing my religion” is arguably one of my favorite southernisms. For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it doesn’t mean to abandon your faith. It means to “fly off the handle”, or to lose your temper. When I turn on my television or log into my computer, it seems that I am bombarded with images and messages intended to provoke anger and angst. Images of despair and tragedy are piped into my home from Puerto Rico, accompanied by a soundtrack from talking heads laying the blame for what has happened at the feet of everyone imaginable. Threats of wars and rumors of wars are being tweeted and retweeted. Churches and houses of worship are suffering violence. Nationalists and racists are protesting in the streets. Football players involved in peaceful protests are being lionized or demonized, depending on which station you happen to tune into. This leads me to ask, what is a Christian to do? What sort of response can we give? What reaction can we have to all that is going on in the world that is biblical, rational, and loving?

When I ask this, I am not interested in espousing a political ideology. I am not interested in pitting Republicans against Democrats. I have zero desire to get into the conservative vs. liberal debate. There’s two reasons for that. First, because as your Pastor, there are many here in our congregation on either side of the political divide who feel very strongly about the rightness of their party or ideological stance. Which brings me to my first observation. If we wish to keep the faith without losing our religion, we need to remember that those we seek to persuade to our way of thinking are our brothers and sisters first- not political opponents. They are human beings, made in the image of God, for whom Christ came and died. And you cannot claim to love and honor God while dehumanizing and tearing down those who are made in God’s own image. This is why Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell” (Matthew 5:22). So,

Rule number one in keeping the faith without losing our religion: love all those involved and do not denigrate them.

This goes for presidents, pundits, neo-Nazis, murders, and yes- even professional athletes. You don’t have to agree with them, but if we are to keep our faith as well as our religion, we cannot hate them or treat them as less than what they truly are: bearers of the image of God.
Second, we need to be aware that all human governance and every political ideology that has ever existed is flawed. This brings me to

Rule number two: remember at all times that there is only one perfect Dominion, and only one perfect Ruler.

If we are looking to give a Christian response to the troubles our world is facing we must start with the Kingdom of God and its ruler, Jesus Christ. As we turn to Christ’s teachings and his example we see that he came, “… to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed” (Luke 6:18). Before we speak, if we are to give a truly Christian response we must ask, is what I am saying cruciform? Put differently, does it conform to the image of Christ? Is it good news for the poor? Does it bring freedom to the bound? Will it help others to see the world as it really is? Does it deal honestly with the sufferings of others? Do my words bring healing? Do they expose injustice? If not, while they may be words that you passionately feel to be true, you must ask yourself: do they conform to God’s truth as revealed in Jesus Christ? If not, then maybe they are better left unsaid.
“Yeah… but… did you hear what he said?!?”
Look, I get that other people don’t always say or do the most Christian things. In Ephesians 4:25-29, we are told, “Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body.  Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil… Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.” It is okay to be angry, but it is not okay to stay angry or to act out of anger. It may feel good in the short term, but it is amazing how quickly a “good Christian person” losing their religion can cause others to lose their faith. So,

Rule number three: when we get angry we must not speak out or lash out in anger.

It is difficult to control how you feel, but you can control whether or not you act on those feelings. Be angry, but instead of directing that anger to another and holding on to it, harness it. Ask yourself, what am I being confronted with that is angering me? Is it injustice? Is it inequity? Is it ignorance, or selfishness, or laziness? Whatever it is, harness that anger and transform it into action that fights injustice, inequity, ignorance, selfishness, or laziness. In this way you will help to build up and benefit all.
If we are to provide a Christian response to the issues facing our world we need to keep in mind that humility is necessary. This is

Rule number four:  Remember, “I could always be wrong here.”

We can always be mistaken, even in our deepest held convictions. As this is the case, it is best to remain rigid and dogmatic about as little as possible. Though the oak is tall and mighty, in the fiercest storms it will be torn asunder. The grass, on the other hand, will remain- because it is flexible. This is what the founders of our tradition were getting at when they claimed to hold “no creed, but Christ”, and when they taught: “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity.”

Rule number five: never forget that we are all in this together and we don’t get to take our ball and go home if things aren’t going our way.

We need to hold a commitment to community. There is an old Chinese Christian saying: “Agree to differ. Resolve to love. Unite to serve.” This is at the center of all Christian community. No matter how much we may disagree, we can still be agreeable while doing it, and we must never let our disagreements distract us from our call to love and to do the work at hand- namely, the building of Christ’s Kingdom.

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