Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12

I’ve written before about how the far-right cries for “religious liberty” actually mask efforts to limit the religious liberty of non-Christians. In that post, I mentioned a few examples Christians use to claim persecution and a need for freedom to choose to honor their religion by withholding service from others. I went on to suggest we should create alternative scenarios that switch roles and question how we would want to be treated in that situation.

Jesus spoke the words above – known as the Golden Rule – in the midst of a lengthy message that, quite frankly, undermines quite a bit of what white Evangelical Christianity in America stands for. But these words from Matthew 7:12 should sum up our entire attitude toward others, particularly outside the church. Unfortunately, non-Christian culture in America far better embodies this command than white Evangelical culture.

The entire heart of this command is self-reflection. In order to do to others what we would have them do to us, we have to really contemplate what we would like to have them do to us. Then we have to consider how that would look for us to do the same to them, and finally we carry it out. That’s all very wordy, and partially why the “Golden Rule” is often expressed as “treat others how you would like to be treated.”

Ironically, however, white Evangelical Christian culture is horrible at self-reflection. One of the most important aspects of faith in Christ is recognizing our failings and repenting of them. That requires humility and a recognition that we are no better than those around us. But the dominant “Christian” culture in American society, while preaching humility, doesn’t believe or adhere to it.

Human nature judges others by their actions and results while judging ourselves by our intentions. We quite literally hold ourselves to a different standard than we hold others because we know our thoughts and intentions but don’t know others’. This is the source of probably 90 percent of fights in relationships.

The dominant “Christian” culture in America takes this to a whole new level. We judge ourselves by the blamelessness we find in Jesus, meaning we can do no wrong. Then we judge everyone else by the simple dichotomy that if we’re with Jesus and pure, they’re outsiders who must be the cause of all evil.

The way I’m saying this is incredibly harsh and sure to prompt some angry responses. Unfortunately, however, it’s true.

We hear it in all the angry preaching (in churches, on street corners, and in politics) accusing everyone else for the problems in our world. We cling to any perceived attack on Christianity and blame it for the failings of society. We point to any and every issue in society and blame it on those outsiders who have turned from Jesus, all while progressively climbing higher and higher on our high horse of judgment.

Jesus saw the people around him struggling with poverty, illness, and moral failings, and his heart broke for them. He sought them out. He loved them. He provided for them. He recognized that they were made in God’s image, and he responded accordingly. As a result, the religious zealots of his time sneered at him and disdainfully branded him a “friend of sinners.”

White Evangelical Christianity in America doesn’t do that. It sees the pain and brokenness of our world and joins the sneering. It starts moralizing about how much better Christians are than the sinners around them. It claims a mindset that says we’re so morally superior to those around us that they see it and are bitter towards us. Then it blames that mindset for people’s negative response to Christians, completely ignoring our heavy-handed superiority complex.

In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.

As we blame a mystical “secular order” for bringing about all the pain in our society, we ignore the role Christians have played in history’s pain. If America truly was built as a Christian nation and we’ve since abandoned that, what does that say about the Christianity we’re professing? Throughout America’s history, our country has been (and continues to be) rife with sexism, racism, lack of support for the poor and sick, mistreatment of immigrants and children, among many other things. If we want to claim we’ve lost some great morality from our culture, when did we ever have it?

“Christian” culture in our country (as I expect would also hold true around the world) has been rife with hypocrisy throughout its history. We’ve had oppressive structures in place that protect predatory church leaders over the women and children they abuse. We’ve had a sexist mindset that places virtually of the blame on women for men’s moral shortcomings. We’ve had quite the history with racism that includes claiming a Biblical mandate to support slavery, Jim Crow laws, and more. This isn’t even scratching the surface. For every moral failing in our society, and there are many, Christians have played an active contributing role.

But we judge others by results and ourselves by intentions. In our minds, we’re the innocent Christians seeking to save the souls of those around us. Any possible missteps are surely unintentional and can’t be held against us. That’s why we spew hateful rhetoric to people all around us, claiming to carry a message of love (as Jesus did) but mutilating it with disgust and loathing.

We call that both our First Amendment right and the great commission of Jesus. However, when people respond by (rightfully) pointing out that our words and actions are hateful and disgusting, we don’t recognize that as their First Amendment right. We claim they’re persecuting us. Then we retreat into our camp of righteous anger, refuel, and go back out there.

As I wrote in my religious liberty post, Christians in America seek the legal right to treat others horribly while limiting others’ rights to respond in kind. It is the opposite of Jesus’ call to us in Matthew 7 (or really throughout his entire ministry). We point fingers at everyone but ourselves, treating the world around us with such bitter hatred and resentment that there’s no wonder others have no interest in hearing our message. We are forever unwilling to look in the mirror and see our own failings, take ownership, and repent.

In all situations, consider how you would want it to happen if the roles were reversed. That’s what Jesus told us to do. I promise even the slightest consideration of this premise in our daily lives will radically transform our attitudes and actions toward the world around us. It will force us to acknowledge their humanity, their feelings, their pain. And it will force us to acknowledge our role in causing it. Maybe then we’ll actually be able to engage the world the way Jesus did.

In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. It worked for Jesus. It can work for us.

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