Image courtesy of Naypong, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I've seen different sects go after each other’s throats over differences in dogma, even small differences in service preferences. I've witnessed heated debates over trivial interpretations of scripture, one word verses another, while the original meaning remains intact in both translations. One church believes they are right and everyone else is wrong, and some are willing to go beyond verbal abuse to physical violence, even to the point of killing. All in the name of Christianity. One woman confessed to me that just seeing a cross caused her to weep with fear. How far from Jesus’ example we have fallen? He must be weeping right along with this poor woman.
Mark 9: 37-39: John answered him, saying: Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, who followeth not us, and we forbade him. But, Jesus said: Do not forbid him. For there is no man that doth a miracle in my name, and can soon speak ill of me. For he that is not against you, is for you.
We Christians tend to ignore that bit of advice. We may not always verbalize our thoughts, or take physical action against others, but we seethe on the inside with our own righteousness. And we are so wrong.
Matthew 21: 43: Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.
Jesus gave us two great Commandments and we obey neither, especially the one to love our neighbor as ourselves. This means those we disagree with and not just some theoretical enemy we will never have contact with. This isn't a request. It’s a commandment and it is required in order to enter into His kingdom.
However, we aren't a lost cause. Paul instigated horrific acts against the early Church, was forgiven and called by God to be one of the greatest of the Apostles. However, first there was a conversion, a repentance, and a true change of heart. Paul admonished, pleaded, did whatever it took to convert others – but he did not hate or wish others to suffer. We may disagree with another’s lifestyle or beliefs, but we are not supposed to hate. Period.
How do we change? How do we stand for our faith without being hateful and violent? For most of us, violence is not an issue physically, but verbally and mentally? That’s another matter. We can start by choosing our words with love rather than righteousness during theological discussions. None of us have all the answers. None of us are authorities on theology. Neither is required to act out of love and respect.
It takes practice and forethought to change behavior. It takes strength to answer softly instead of raging, but we must try, and in doing so, change the image of Christianity from a sect of hate to one of love ― as it was originally intended.
Oh, I can hear some now. We can’t tolerate evil. We must expunge it. It must not become acceptable. Evil is never acceptable, but it is not our task to eradicate evil with evil. It is our task to change ourselves and lead others to do the same, as Jesus did, with love, compassion and forgiveness. It isn't easy.
We do, however, have many good examples to follow. There are Christians exhibiting this kind of faith in their words and actions. They are the very ones we overly righteous consider weak and compromising. They aren’t. They exhibit much stronger faith than ours. Their faith is rooted in action. The only issue is there isn't enough of them. We need to join their ranks, and in doing so, we can by sheer numbers, change the world.
As the song says, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”