Breaking Ranks with Jesus

Breaking Ranks With Jesus

As many of you know, for the last couple years, I’ve been on the hunt for better descriptors than generic words like “friendship” and “connectedness” which don’t, for me, scratch the surface of the spiritual properties of bondedness.

Unfortunately, often times, the gifted critic in me is better at identifying the opposite of the values I stand for. What bothers me the most? What deficits am I working against? What will I always, in almost every scenario, refuse to keep quiet about?

One of the frustrations that haunts me is the practice of breaking ranks.

To delineate in a way that won’t satisfy all of you, I’ll note I’m all for difference of opinion, for holding to your convictions, standing your ground. All day long.

But sometimes, honestly asserting what we believe seems to cross this hazy line into a kind of sticky image management, where we make it our policy to take the stage (or send out a press release or post an open letter to whomever) for the express purpose of dividing ourselves from others.

Today, I was reminded of that, as it came to light the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod demanded an apology from one of his pastors. The offense, it seems, was that one of his pastors had offered a prayer in a service honoring the victims or the Sandy Hook shooting…in which members of other religions participated.

Morris responded by offering said apology.

As a human being who hopes to live charitably, and more so, as a person of faith, the deficit of love in this action frustrates me to sickness.

Really?

We used Christian beliefs to justify telling another human being to publicly recant a prayer? To take back words presented to God on behalf of the hurting, because the time and circumstances in which they were offered were not deemed appropriate? Or, at least, to act as though the prayer should never have been offered in the first place?

To say that when surrounded by devastated, hurting human-beings, it can somehow be the wrong thing to appeal to God on their behalf?

Or that somehow a person’s allegiance to God is compromised, rather than embodied, when they offer a prayer to God while surrounded by people with divergent beliefs?

I understand the religious dynamics at play, but it troubles me that a group of believers would logically sanction this choice to tell the world it was more important, in the name of Christ, to disassociate from that prayer that day then it was to let that act of kindness, offered in the name of Jesus, stand.

I won’t, however, disassociate myself from the guy who offered the apology or even from the guy who demanded it. Because I know what it’s like to feel torn between doing what you think is right and doing what some particular religious camp might expect or demand of you. This was the pressure the pastor identified, “There is sometimes a real tension between wanting to bear witness to Christ and at the same time avoiding situations which may give the impression that our differences with respect to who God is, who Jesus is, how he deals with us, and how we get to heaven, really don’t matter in the end.”

So I have to claim my identity next to the other humans, on the right, on the left and in between, who habitually and hopefully unintentionally sometimes skew God’s grace in tasteless ways.

But I still can’t help but pointing out the terrible irony at work when this happens.

How I’m pretty sure if Jesus was walking the planet in this era, a lot of current day Christians would demand he issue a press release to clarify he was just eating with the drunks, but he himself is not a drunk. That we’d pressure him to post something on his blog to stress the prostitute just tags along after him, but he doesn’t embrace her as a member of his team. That we’d ask him to issue a public apology for teaching in the synagogue, lest he accidentally give people the impression he–like some of those in the room who believed differently–didn’t accept the Messiah.

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10 Comments on Breaking Ranks with Jesus

  1. Andrew
    February 7, 2013 at 8:37 pm (439 days ago)

    So is sanctioning relativism any better?

    Reply
  2. Sarah
    February 7, 2013 at 8:45 pm (439 days ago)

    @Andrew, I don’t think being present with those who hold different opinions reduces our ability to hold or express our own convictions, do you? I hear echoes of mercy, not sacrifice…

    Reply
  3. Mandythompson
    February 7, 2013 at 9:08 pm (439 days ago)

    Eh? I want to assume that there’s a list of Biblically-grounded reasons why this manner of prayer, in the presence of unbelievers, would be unacceptable.

    None come to mind.

    Reply
  4. Sarah
    February 8, 2013 at 9:47 am (439 days ago)

    @Mandy – Right. Sure there’s a kernel of biblical idea in there that’s been developed into a religious expectation.

    Reply
  5. Matt Appling
    February 8, 2013 at 10:27 am (439 days ago)

    This kind of thing happens more than it would seem. Years ago, we had a serious moral dilemma to deal with, and we dealt with it as we felt the gospel compelled us. Our higher ups didn’t like how we handled it, so we got punished and publicly embarrassed. But I stand by the choices we made, and I’m still proud of what we did, even though we paid the price for it.

    Sometimes, you have to break rank in order to answer WWJD.

    Reply
  6. Sarah
    February 8, 2013 at 10:31 am (439 days ago)

    @Matt, sorry that happened. I know that drill. It’s a sticky thing to sort out that line of conscience that says “Obey God rather than men” when those men are sometimes the ones holding position in the religious world itself.

    But it sounds like you’re on the money. When we have to choose between aligning our consciences with what God is stirring or what men expect, we know where to err.

    Reply
  7. Andrew
    February 8, 2013 at 10:44 am (439 days ago)

    So you don’t think we’re creating confusion for people who attend those events or promoting some illusion we’re “all in this together” and believe the same thing?

    Reply
  8. Sarah
    February 8, 2013 at 10:54 am (439 days ago)

    Thanks for commenting @Andrew. I’m guessing some of the tensions you’re raising are drawn from the same concern as the church officials here.

    So this is my two cents…

    No. I don’t think in the free and highly literate Western world we live in that anyone is confused over whether Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus etc. believe the same thing.

    And while I assert the right to differentiate beliefs I hold to be important from those I would personally deem less transformative or fraudulent, I believe I can be separate in belief system while still being “all in this together” in the way I experience life.

    There are certain norms–birth, suffering, family, death being some of them–that transcend groupings and engage all humankind. Then, to grieve the brutality found in humanity, next to all those who share our race, is okay by me.

    But again, I work from a mindset that insists we don’t have to feel threatened by opposing ideas or divergent thinkers. If there’s a person we can keep company with who voids our ability to experience God, then that would be attributing more power to that being than to God himself.

    Reply
  9. Morgan Guyton
    February 8, 2013 at 11:20 am (439 days ago)

    Sanctioning relativism? That’s rich. It’s Pharisaic Judaism that thinks in terms of separating yourself from the unclean. The way we bear witness to the truth of Jesus Christ is to pray in public regardless of what other faith groups are listening or participating. If you really believe that Jesus is the way, truth, and the life, then you’re not going to need to add a “By the way you’re wrong and I disapprove of what you’re doing” to your prayer. You bear witness, period. To the larger point of correctness vs. communion, I offer this: https://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/communion-or-correctness-the-underlying-question/

    Reply
  10. Sarah
    February 8, 2013 at 11:38 am (439 days ago)

    @Morgan, I am so darn happy with what you just said that I’m going to just let it stand for itself. Thanks for commenting.

    Reply

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