Monday, November 2, 2009

Trick or Treat

John 3:17 "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

Last week the Vatican condemned Halloween. Of course if you have been reading SpiritWalkers over the years, you know my connection to Halloween and the sacred moments I've had with the holiday. Sure, there are depraved souls who use the holiday as an excuse to do depraved things, but I found nothing to condemn in the parade of children who came to my door on Saturday night. Even the banter with the teen who came late and tried to convince me that he deserved all the rest of my candy because he was last was fun.

So although I wanted to write a defense of the celebration, I've done that before. But really, the problem I have with the Vatican's proclamation is bigger than the issue of Halloween. I'm simply tired of the Church and the Christians within it condemning things. It seems to many that we are all trick and no treat.

The Massachusetts Bible Society which I lead just produced a video on biblical interpretation with Liz Walker Journey Productions, called "One Book, Many Voices." Copies will be available on Amazon by Thanksgiving, I hope. In that video, three biblical scholars express their views on the "I am the Way" text in John 14:6. Tony Campolo's view stuck with me. While he takes a standard evangelical interpretation of the text, meaning Jesus is the only way to salvation, he also takes a step back when considering what that means for those who are not Christian.

"I don't know," he says in the video. "And what's more, I'm not about to condemn them. I find that too many of my evangelical friends are in the condemning business. Jesus was quite clear that he came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save the world. And if Jesus didn't come to condemn people, we shouldn't be in that business either." While my own interpretation of the I am the Way text is different (as you can read in God With Skin On), I am completely on board with his comments on condemnation. Christians should get out of that business. It is much more destructive than Halloween.

Perhaps you have heard about the ad campaign that began in the New York City subways on Oct. 26. The ad being plastered in trains and stations is "No God, No Guilt, De-Baptize." It's part of the new, and often quite militant, atheist movement. They have invented a ritual for people to remove their baptism and renounce Christian faith. Dealing with that issue needs its own post (are they saying that mass murderers should have no guilt because there is no God?), but for my purposes here, I want to simply observe that much of what the new atheist movement is reacting against is the Christian penchant for condemning people.

Our public persona has caused people to view us as the people of "Thou Shalt Not." When Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, he didn't pick any of the host of negative ones. He didn't even pick any of the Ten Commandments. He reached to Deuteronomy 6:5, to love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and Leviticus 19:18, to love your neighbor as yourself. Love, not condemnation is what Jesus thought was most important.

We don't get extra brownie points with God for every person whose sin we expose or for every practice we declare incompatible with Christian teaching. God isn't impressed with our seeming ability to discern who God loves and who is hell-bound. And neither are those outside of Christian faith. Our zealous condemning merely reminds them of why they are quite happy to be free of such a mean-spirited, negative bunch of people.

Of course not all of us fit that stereotype, but until the rest of us follow Tony Campolo's lead and object to all the condemnation that is occurring in Christ's name, we will continue to be seen as the people of "Thou shalt not" instead of the people of "Love your neighbor." And more people will propose ad campaigns like, "No God, No Guilt."

On Halloween night, everyone coming to my door received treats, whether they were dressed like Tinkerbell or Freddy Krueger. Let's do the same in our churches. Let's leave judgment in God's hands and spread God's love to everyone--not just those in the costumes we approve.

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