Ricky Smiley is a TV personality who seems to have a reputation as a phone call prankster. One of His routines is to call unassuming Christians and get them to “lay their religion down.” Lay my religion down is a euphemism I heard ad nauseam as a young child growing up in the church. It meant the person was going to proceed to consciously act in a manner they clearly understood was not consistent with proper Christian behavior.
As I have matured (at least I hope I have) I have begun to realize this sentiment that was so pervasive in our culture was not really acceptable. In fact, I would venture to posit if you can really leave your religion down on a whim because some situation has upset you then you really do not possess genuine faith or at the least you should not hold a whole lot of confidence in.
One particular day Smiley called this African-American (A-A) (ethnic identification is in no way an attempt to state this is an unique A-A issue, just for description sake) older female. She greeted Smiley with the typical Christian language many of her ubiquitously on a typical Sunday Morning. You know the type, “How are you doing? Response: “I am blessed and highly favored” or some close facsimile. Smiley was pretending to be a school official the lady’s daughter was attending. After a few generic pleasantries shared between the two Smiley dropped his prank issue. He informed the caller her daughter was caught stealing and displaying conduct that was offensive. The caller immediately dropped the veneer of being a saint with seasoned conversation and proceeded to drop F-bomb after F-bomb. Even having no direct knowledge of what her daughter may and may have done the caller continued to react in a manner that would make the most hardened sailor bush.
Remember she literally began the conversation with “I am blessed and highly favored” to using language that is unacceptable in any and all contexts. I share this story to speak about the vitriol I am routinely receive from people who claim to serve the same Christ I serve. While I serving on a pastoral staff in Northern Virginia I actually had a member write a letter to the Senior Pastor and referred to me as one of the “Three Stooges.” Looking back the irony was my first reaction was relieve because I initially thought the member was against me because of my race. Consequently, I counted it a blessing he lumped me into the entire Pastoral group and thought our incompetence was based on factors other than race. Talk about small victories.
Just over the last two weeks I have endured encounters that have left me perplexed and mentally drained. I am down for a good and spirited debate more than the average guy but I understand the basic “rules” for proper argumentation. It is wholly proper to “attack” the other person’s argument but NEVER to attack the person personally. When it is done this is called ad hominem which is Latin and means, “against the man.”
The Bible explicitly admonishes us to “do good unto all men, especially unto those who are of the household of Faith.” Conversely, the expectation is Evangelicals are expected to display civility to all people but especially to fellow believers.
When in doubt as to how to take a statement we are always supposed to give the person the benefit of the doubt and NEVER assume the worst. When in doubt to ask clarifying questions to avoid misunderstanding and sometimes allow the other person to realize they might have been coming on too strong and modify their statement or opinion.
Evangelicals should be the main people bringing light to the subject, rather than heat. We are people who lead the way in turning the other cheek, to walking the second mile. But the reality is many Evangelicals seems to be the thin-skinned on Planet Earth.
I love to recount the story about my grandmother. She had this saying that still sticks with me today. She repeatedly and famously would say, “A religion that can’t take a lick, ain’t worth a lick.” We have to be resilient enough and secure enough in our self-esteem to not automatically feel we have severely wounded when someone simply has a different opinion than ours.
This week I engaged in a conversation with a brother who I study the Bible with on a weekly basis. I expressed an opinion he took exception with. In a situation like that he had several options available to him. Ignore it like I do for many of the opinions I see expressed on social media. He could have asked clarifying questions to ensure he was understanding me properly. He could have respectfully and cautiously entered the fray and have his perspective included for consideration.
Since I am writing none of that was done. He responded in a very aggressive manner expressing his umbrage (his words) to my position. He then proceeded to directly accuse me of hypocrisy and assumed I was supporting the Democratic agenda. Prior to this interchange we had gotten along famously. But you see that is the reality of most of our generic Christian fellowship. We avoid speaking of controversial issues because we know a powder keg awaits if we do.
That is sad, because it is in the authentic Evangelical community love should so pervade our relationship that we can frank and honest dialogue where we enter as brothers and leave the conversation, while not necessarily reaching consensus, still sharing brotherly affection.
It sickens me that believers are still displaying the same parochial believers we see from the secular community. That is one of the main reasons that most people shy away from having real conversation. We are told we should never discuss politics or religion in public.
Let me state in the most emphatic manner acceptable in an context such as this. That worldview is a bunch of malarkey. The Bible says we are bring EVERY thought captive to Christ. Do religion and politics fall under the definition of EVERY.
Well, I am may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but I believe it does. Now, it goes without saying having these type of frank and sensitive conversation takes a lot of wisdom, patience and understanding but if we are going to have authentic relationships we must be willing to roll up our sleeves and be willing to have iron sharpen iron.
Let me know what you think and keep your hands to the plow!