Sunday, February 22, 2009

Undeserving Neighbors

Romans 5:8 “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

We live in pretty strange times. During the Bush years we heard a lot about the Christian influence on government and how we were a “Christian nation.” And there was a lot of emphasis on social values related to abortion and gay marriage. Christians differ about those things (although you never would have known it from the media) but you did have the sense that the religious community was thinking about policy and at least trying to apply it.

Now, in our new reality, we are really in trouble. We have major, major issues that affect not only all of America but the entire globe. What strikes me is that for at least six months now, the “secular” media has been devoting large chunks of airtime to what are, in essence, religious issues and questions. Even specifically Christian ones. The table is prepared for us, yet no one is coming to the feast.

As the collapse began, it was the issue of greed. Everybody talked about it. The Roman Catholics have named it a deadly sin. The Bible is so full of talk of greed that if you cut those passages out, you’d be left with tatters. Even now that first course of the meal remains largely untouched by people of faith, although it is an issue that we agree on across the liberal-conservative spectrum.

Next came depression and despair. I wrote here about TV anchors wondering aloud how to give people hope. We had a huge election that was all about hope. Some of that salad course might have been consumed in the privacy of local churches, but I didn’t see the religious figures on the news in the way the gay marriage and abortion folks had been. Hope is a uniter, not a divider in Christian faith. We could speak together, but largely we haven’t.

And now, the entrée has been served, and if we don’t get our butts into those dinner chairs, liberal and conservative alike, then we deserve every bit of criticism that has been heaped on the Church and organized religion. Since Congress began putting together the meat of a stimulus bill and now into the rich sauce of a housing proposal, almost half of every news program I watch is people arguing against any part of a proposal that will help people who don’t deserve it. More than that, this course is so rich that the mainstream, secular media is asking almost every single night, whether it is right and proper to help our neighbors, our honest-to-goodness-live-next-door neighbors, if they contributed to their own misfortune.

Neighbors. Get it? Love your neighbor?

The core of the Bible for mainliners is generally the Great Commandment: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The core of the Bible for evangelicals is Jesus dying for our sins even though we didn’t deserve it. Grace is the church word for receiving what we don’t deserve. That’s why we sing that it is amazing.

It is completely understandable that those with different faith systems or no faith tradition at all would worry about helping out the guy across the street who doesn’t deserve help. But, literally for heaven’s sake, not a single Christian on either the right or the left, should be objecting on those grounds. You may not like it for other reasons, but if you profess anything at all like Christian faith, you should be able to recognize and support grace when you see it.

My new book, God with Skin On, is all about the concept that the job of Christians is to continue to do to others what Jesus did for us. By doing so…by giving others the experience of God in the flesh—God with skin on—we help others recognize and accept God’s love. If you have never received something you didn’t deserve on this earth, recognizing that God would do such a thing for you is too big a chasm to jump. There are proposals on the government table that would offer grace. Will Christians oppose it on that very point? Oppose it on other points if you will, but not that one. Has there been any climate since the Great Depression when it was more fitting for Christians to speak out on “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors?”

Where are the Christians at this meal? The main course is served!

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