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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Here's A Fellowship, There's A Fellowship: The Struggles Of A Christian Activist In The Inactive Church

When reuniting with an old friend and fellow activist, I told him that I had a certain joy in seeing him that I do not have in being with most fellow conservative Christians. My joy was in the fact that here was a person who shared my concern for the rights of the oppressed. We had both protested together and often discussed what problems needed to be solved.

Having a common concern is the basis for fellowship, but here is the problem for a conservative Christian like myself. II Corinthians 6:14 clearly tells us that there is no fellowship between Christians and non-Christians and so we are not to be "unequally yoked" with them. Regardless of this verse, I have a kinship with many non-Christian activists that I don't have with fellow believers and I believe that I am not the only Conservative Christian who is guilty here.

What I find missing in many of my fellow believers is a significant concern for justice and the plight of oppressed people. Instead, I see a spiritual self-absorption. So rather than caring about and working for those who are oppressed, I see an obsession with keeping one's own religious ducks in order.  These ducks include one's salvation, prayer life, quiet time, doctrine, and time reading the Bible. And as important as these ducks are, this is not the only flock in life.

I'm afraid that many of my fellow conservative Christians are content to retreat into a spiritual bubble and see no harm in doing so. With few other interests, these Christians focus primarily on themselves and their relationship with God and can thus become hyper-vigilant about their feelings and thoughts to ensure they remain acceptable before God. This hyper-vigilance can prevent one from being aware of, let alone caring about, the outside world. And because any serious self monitoring is draining, there is first apathy and then agitation when the outside world--the world God so loved--barges into one's personal world in its not so subtle way. Thus, we might conclude that some conservative Christians, those who have hiding in their religion, are suffering from a self-inflicted spiritual autism.

To such Christians, caring for nonbelievers is reduced to evangelism because nothing else matters. Even when these Christians show charity, it is solely for the purpose of converting their beneficiaries. For what does it profit a person, they reason, if that person gains a triumph over some injustice or has some important need met if they lose their soul in hell. These Christians change their tune, however, once they or those  from their own group need help.

The implications here are disturbing for they are saying that it is only the Christian who merits being relieved from injustice. Certainly, no Christian I know would admit to holding such views but it is how they live. What is revealing is the insistence that helping a nonbeliever is thought of in all or nothing terms when such assistance does no violence to the Gospel. To work for social justice does not contradict the Gospel, but these Christians act as if it does. So to refuse to work or to speak for social justice reveals other motives and loyalties than Biblical ones. This is where my fellow Conservative Christians have been caught, unawares and in the same quandary I find myself. For many such Conservative Christians feel a greater brotherhood with politically conservative Americans than they would with me.

There is another way by which conservative Christians turn further inward. This can be seen by whom they will learn from. Many will pay attention to fellow conservative Christians only. It is as if they are telling the world to listen to them while they refuse to return the favor. How these Christians are interacting with the world is reminiscent of the West that Martin Luther King objected to while condemning the Vietnam War: "The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just." Many of today's Conservative Christians exhibit that same kind of arrogance. But it is not arrogance alone that causes this one-way interaction, it is the desire to remain safe in the spiritual bubble they have created for themselves.

I cannot join my fellow Conservative Christians in their sanctified self engrossment. Such a way of life believes that self-centeredness is wrong only when the objects used for pleasure are taboo. Such a self focus brings shame to the Gospel especially when there are nonChristians who are other-directed (Romans 2:14, 24) and while other nonChristians cannot fathom how a Christian's self absorption can be acceptable while their own is always condemned.

Just as I cannot join my nonChristian fellow activists and live without believing in Christ, neither can I join my fellow Conservative Christians as they shut themselves off from the world. The key differences I have with each group cause me to live in a world full of friends to visit while having no family to come home to.

Yes, there is a measure of fellowship I have with each group. I share faith in Christ with my fellow Christians and a concern for others with my fellow activists.  But there is that separation that always greets me. And because I expect more from those who believe in Christ, it is only my fellow Christians who cause me to be disillusioned. Thus, I don't know how I currently measure up to what is said in II Corinthians 6:14; however, I do know following Christ does not mean learning how to be righteously selfish. And I know that nonChristians can perform very noble tasks (Romans 2:14) and that I should appreciate those whose actions merit my gratitude and respect (Romans 13:7).

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder what Paul meant by "yoked with unbelievers." I doubt that he meant not being friends with them. Look at the whole verse:"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?"The key here is "unequally." I interpret that as meaning, "Don't put them in charge. Don't let them influence you to do what you know is wrong." It doesn't mean don't make friends with non-evangelicals. After all, Jesus associated with all kinds of people whom the religious authorities of that day considered unacceptable. I sometimes suspect that the more extreme sects want to keep their members away from non-evangelicals because they're afraid that the members will start questioning the rules that the sect has made up by quoting passages out of context or with a spin.

Anonymous said...

Paul suffered from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Iambic Admonit said...

I would like to suggest a thought here for your consideration. I would like to you consider that the conservative Christians you are talking about do not fail in activism; they just choose not to participate in the one form of activism that you think counts. There are many other forms of activism and social justice that are just as valid, and perhaps more valid, than the one you describe.

Here are some examples, within our own Evangelical church.

Two people who attend our church are involved with El Systema, the music program that reaches out to at-risk kids -- children in low-income households, with poorer education and few opportunities -- and teaches them great music as a kind of social empowerment. This is an extremely powerful program that has done tons of social good in many countries around the world and many American cities. One of these members of our church is a music teacher for this program. She is, therefore, actively engaged in social justice.

That same young lady is also working for an independent film company (that's filing for non-profit status) making a documentary film about at-risk teens in the toughest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. She sends these young people home with digital cameras, telling them to record their lives. The team then edits the footage and will share it to get the word out about these young people. That is active; it is even activism.

Another young lady in our church directs a theatre company. Once a year, they put on a series of shows to raise money for some social cause. Last Christmas season, she raised $11,000 for the local Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter / rehab center for men. That is amazing social awareness.

Others are on the boards of the Rescue Mission or other institutions/organizations working for social good. Many are involved in the Care Net Crisis Pregnancy centers, that help young mothers to be able to keep their babies, get an education, and improve their lives. I volunteered for this organization at one time, and saw first-hand that they are doing really, really good work.

There are many in our church who work as educators or doctors. While those are careers, they are also (or at least can and should be) socially aware vocations, which can be used to better the conditions of the many, many people they encounter.

So I wonder if you would consider re-thinking your position? Just because someone doesn't join the Occupy Movement doesn't mean he or she is an insular, self-absorbed Christian with no care for the poor. On the contrary.

And there are many reasons Christians might object strongly to the Occupy Movement, on moral and biblical grounds. So perhaps it is not good to impose your one viewpoint on all your fellow congregants.

Thanks for reading this.

Curt Day said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curt Day said...

I was not aware of all the actions people were taking so I appreciate your comments. I told a coworker who was coaching underprivileged kids that what he was doing is as important as what I do.

In addition, if you check the link below, you will find that, in an interview, I criticized my fellow Leftists for not involving themselves with direct work that helps the needy.
http://columbusactivists.org/2011/10/11/to-build-a-mass-movement-we-got-to-care-more-and-be-uncomfortable-says-flaming-fundamentalist/

But I would put the above in conjunction, not disjunction, with what Martin Luther King said:

"I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth."

from http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0115-13.htm