Why don’t we want to be called God’s children? // Part 2: Making peace in a culture of verbal violence

I closed yesterday’s post (which should be read first for this one to have the right context) lamenting the tone and direction of so much of the public conversation about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman:

You don’t have to believe what Jesus said [Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God] or even believe Jesus is real to look at all of that and wish for something better. That instinct transcends race, creed, and all of our other differences. Unless your soul has been completely seared by so much heat and so little light, some elemental pulse of humanity in you has to know we weren’t made for this.

And yet I believe that realization creates a particular responsibility for those who do follow Jesus. If we claim to believe what Jesus said — that those who make peace will be called God’s children — it’s time to put up or shut up. The world around us is sinking into a canyon of hatred and anger and division, and we’re too busy proving that the chasm isn’t our fault to climb in and help. Either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that many of these fights aren’t even about right and wrong anymore because they have devolved into the kind of cyclical verbal violence that eviscerates God’s image-bearers and mocks the way He made people to relate to one another, we continue to use our precious words and energy to play around in the breach rather than make peace.

Let me be clear about this: there is a difference in a peacemaker and a peace-keeper. I am not suggesting that we tiptoe around patting everyone on the head, never having an opinion about anything. But if our reaction to the Zimmerman verdict or Obamacare or gay marriage or whatever else lights our fire isn’t running through the filter of the Gospel and driven by a compulsion to abandon the safety of our finely-built boat and swim alongside the people we think are in dangerous water (or just wrong), then we are fighting the wrong damned fight (and my word choice is intentional and theological). If our response to people we don’t understand, even if they have wronged or offended us, is to churn out angry or defensive words instead of graciously and sincerely seeking to understand them, then we are motivated by our own defense and vindication and not the coming Kingdom of Jesus. If we can’t identify the line between healthy conversation and futile bickering…if we are teasing out people’s anger rather than provoking them to love and real life…if we are drawing them offsides and mocking them rather than meeting them where they are and listening to them, then we are deciding that we’d rather play those games than be called God’s children.

It happens. I get it. We’re human — again, wonderful and awful. But it’s time to acknowledge it for what it is — overt disobedience to a whole pile of scripture that is every bit as problematic as whatever sin we think we’re addressing. The Bible goes after this at least as aggressively as any of the hot button cultural wars we seem so eager to fight. A sampling:

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions.

Whoever is patient and slow to anger shows great
but whoever has a quick temper magnifies his foolishness.

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I confess that my journey into obedience to this part of the way of Jesus has been and remains long and difficult. I fail regularly, and my internal mechanisms are still being reformed even in areas where I have learned to keep my mouth (or computer) shut. So as is always the case, each and every “we” here is sincere.

But I think we have a problem that goes well beyond the natural margin of human error. I think it’s time to stop and ask why we have decided that these fights we can’t let go of are more important that assuming the identity and occupation of God’s children. Why don’t we believe that making peace in the way Jesus said God’s people make peace is enough to reconcile all things, including the issues that have us twisted in knots? Why can we not recognize that when we decide that the end of advocating for the right position justifies the means of repeatedly poking people with sharp sticks just to try to bleed the life out of their wrong position, we have become what we despise?

If we are preoccupied with convincing others that they are wrong and proving that we are right — especially about secondary issues of politics or culture — then we are at risk of telling a different story than the Story:

It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. (2 Cor 5:19)

That’s our message to the world around us, no matter how much they injure or offend us and no matter how wrong we have decided they are. It’s the only message that matters: God loves you relentlessly, and he sent Jesus not to condemn you for what you’ve done wrong, but to forgive you for anything and everything you’ve done wrong — to lead you back home and make you free. Jesus not only reconciles you with God, but he reconciles all broken relationships. He’s the one. That feeling deep inside you that people aren’t supposed to hate and hurt one another forever — that there has to be some way out of this. There is. It’s Jesus, who has done what no one else could: prove that the way to real life isn’t through conquest and getting our way, but through service and sacrifice and death. 

A few sentences after declaring that Jesus is the Great Reconciler and that we exist to announce and embody his reconciliation, Paul quotes God (speaking through Isaiah):

When the time was right, I listened to you;
and that day you were delivered, I was your help.

And then he says this:

We are careful in what we teach so that our words won’t be a stumbling block…

God’s response to the same world we’re fighting was to listen and become their help. If we are his children, we not only follow his lead, but we take care that our words do not clutter anyone’s path to God’s message of reconciliation.

If our other messages and pet arguments and causes in any way distract people from seeing Jesus the Reconciler as he is…if they make us messengers of an incomplete reconciliation…if we are causing or exacerbating broken relationships instead of modeling the full reconciliation of the Gospel, then we are not only pushing our own agenda, but we are creating obstacles to the Gospel itself.

The world outside the Church doesn’t read the Bible. It reads Christians. May it read in us an eagerness to be called God’s children rather than children of another cause. May it read in us a love for making peace that is better than our best opinions and solutions. May it read in us the willingness to listen and understand before speaking. May it read in us the courage to step into even the bloodiest of frays and point the way toward grace and understanding. May it read in us the selfless story that points to Jesus as the reconciler of all things and the hope of all humanity.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church

On the heels of my guest post on GRACE’s website in May (which I republished here), I have been part of a small group of women and men led by my new friend Boz Tchividjian who are invested in both the Church and in care for survivors of abuse. As various scandals and tragic stories continue to surface, we noticed two troubling things happening: the Church often was dropping the ball in caring well for the abused, and the Church’s public voice on the issue was quickly being narrowed to the headlines from these cases and a few public statements by evangelical leaders that, for us anyway, came up short. We were and are convinced that this is an issue of primary importance to both Jesus and the world around us, and we desperately want to see the Church articulate and embody the heart of Jesus for the abused and forgotten. We have poured some of that energy into the drafting of a public statement about this issue, which is printed below. We certainly don’t think statements like this actually solve problems, but we hope this can be a starting place for many. Our goal is to rekindle some hope that there are women and men leading the Church with the guts and compassion to do whatever it takes to love broken and hurting people, showing no partiality based on titles or positions or appearances. Prior to publishing the statement this morning, we invited a number of others to sign on, and their names are listed after the statement. We hope many of you will sign on as well, both by adding your name online and by sharing it in your own spaces (blogs, other social media, etc.). 

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church. These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children. This is a longstanding problem in the Christian world, and we are deeply grieved by the failures of the American and global Church in responding to the issue of sexual abuse. We do not just believe we should do better; as those who claim the name of Jesus and the cause of the Gospel, we are convinced we must do better. In the hope that a time is coming when Christian leaders respond to all sexual abuse with outrage and courage, we offer this confession and declare the Good News of Jesus on behalf of the abused, ignored and forgotten.

Through the media we have been confronted with perpetual reports of grievous sexual abuse and its cover-up. Institutions ranging from the Catholic Church, various Protestant churches and missionary organizations, Penn State, Yeshiva University High School, the Boy Scouts, and all branches of our military have been rocked by allegations of abuse and of complicity in silencing the victims. And while many evangelical leaders have eagerly responded with outrage to those public scandals, we must now acknowledge long-silenced victims who are speaking out about sexual abuse in evangelical Christian institutions: schools, mission fields and churches, large and small. And we must confess we have done far too little to hear and help them.

Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Weisel, once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim…silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy, school administrations, boards of directors, or military commanders have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the “little ones” – often children, but also others who are on the underside of power because of size, age, position or authority.

It goes without saying that sexual abuse is criminal, but within the Church we also believe that it is the work of the enemy of our souls — evil, horrific sin perpetrated in dark and hidden places, forever altering lives and destroying the faith of the abused. How could such evil be present and overlooked in the body of Christ? Surely as his followers, we would do everything in our power to expose the deeds of darkness, opening the mouths of the mute, the afflicted and the needy. The Church must never hinder those who so desperately need to run to God and his people for safety, hope and truth, while also providing them protection from the great deceiver.

But we have hindered the victims. By our silence and our efforts to protect our names and institutions and “missions,” we, the body of Christ, have often sided with an enemy whose sole purpose is and has always been to destroy the Lamb of God and his presence in this world. Our busyness and inattention have often resulted in complicity in allowing dark places that shelter abuse to fester and survive.

We must face the truths of our own teachings: To be a shepherd in the body of Christ and blind to the knowledge that your sheep are being abused by wolves in your midst is to be an inattentive shepherd. To judge merely by outward appearances is a failure of righteousness. To fail to obey the laws of the land as Scripture commands by declining to report and expose abuse is to be a disobedient shepherd. To be told that wolves are devouring our lambs and fail to protect those lambs is to be a shepherd who sides with the wolves who hinder those same little ones from coming to Jesus. To fail to grasp the massive web of deception entangling an abuser and set him or her loose among the sheep is to be naïve about the very nature and power of sin. To be told a child is being or has been abused and to make excuses for failing to act is a diabolical misrepresentation of God. To know a woman is being raped or battered in hidden places and silence her or send her back is to align with those who live as enemies of our God. Protecting an institution or organization rather than a living, breathing lamb is to love ministry more than God and to value a human name or institution more than the peerless name of Jesus.

Dear church of Jesus Christ, we must set aside every agenda but one: to gently lead every man, woman and child into the arms of our Good Shepherd, who gave his very life to rescue us from the clutches of our enemy and from sin and death — who rose from the dead and called us to the safety of his side. As we follow this Good Shepherd, we will “eliminate harmful beasts from the land, make places of blessing for the sheep, deliver them from their enslavers and make them secure in places where no one will make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:25-28). Surely it is for such a time as this that the Church has been empowered to boldly and bravely embody the Good News to accusers and accused alike, and to forsake our own comfort and position to love the hurting with an illogical extravagance.

To all who have been abused, broken, deceived and ignored, we have failed you and our God. We repent for looking nothing like our Lord when we have silenced you, ignored you or moved away from you and then acted as if you were the problem. You are not the problem; you are the voice of our God calling his church to repentance and humility. Thank you for having the courage to speak truth. May God have mercy on us all and oh may the day come when his church reflects the indescribable love and compassion of Jesus, even to the point of laying down our lives for his precious sheep.

Dated this 17th day of July, 2013.

Click here to add your voice and sign this statement along with those listed below.

Carol Ajamian, Retired

Jim Arcieri
Pastor of Community Bible Fellowship Church in Red Hill, PA

William S. Barker
Professor of Church History, Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Steve Brown
Professor, Emeritus of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary, President of Key Life Network, Inc., and Author

P. J. (“Flip”) Buys
Associate International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, South Africa

Rebecca Campbell
Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Theological Seminary

Alan Chambers
Founder, Speak.Love

Kelly Clark
Attorney with the law firm of O’Donnell Clark and Crew, LLP in Portland, OR

Julie Clinton
President of Extraordinary Women

Tim Clinton
President of the American Association of Christian Counselors and Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Liberty University

Wentzel Coetzer
Professor of Theology at Northwest University (Potschefstroom, South Africa)

James Courtney
Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Margaret Courtney
Co-Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Glenn Davies
Bishop of North Sydney, Australia

D. Clair Davis
Chaplain at Redeemer Seminary

Chuck DeGroat
Associate Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary and Senior Fellow at Newbigin House

Mary DeMuth
Author and Blogger

David G. Dunbar
Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diana S. Durrill
Pastor’s wife and Sexual abuse survivor

Michael J. Durrill
Pastor of Valley Community Church in Louisville, CO

William Edgar
Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Rob Edwards
Pastor of Mercy Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Forest, VA

Mr. Rinaldo Lotti Filho
Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil (Sao Paulo)

Elyse Fitzpatrick Counselor and Author

Ryan Ferguson
Pastor of Community Connection at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

E. Robert Geehan
Pastor of The Reformed Church in Poughkeepsie, NY (RCA)

Shannon Geiger
Counselor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Dallas, TX

Douglas Green
Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Fred Harrell, Sr.
Senior Pastor of City Church in San Francisco, CA

Robert Heerdt
Chief Investment Officer at BenefitWorks, Inc.

Walter Henegar
Senior Pastor of Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Atlanta, GA

Craig Higgins
Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Westchester County, NY and North American Regional Coordinator for the World Reformed Fellowship

Justin Holcomb
Author and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary

Lindsey Holcomb
Author and former case manager for sexual assault crisis center

Peter Hubbard
Pastor of Teaching at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

Carolyn James
President of WhitbyForum

Frank James
President of Biblical Theological Seminary

Karen Jansson
Board member of the World Reformed Fellowship Board Member and Treasurer of the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, USA

Kathy Koch
President and Founder of Celebrate Kids

Matthew Lacey
Development Director for GRACE

David Lamb
Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diane Langberg
Clinical Psychologist and Author

Daniel N. LaValla
Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical Theological Seminary

Samuel Logan
International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and Special Counsel to the President at Biblical Theological Seminary

Tremper Longman
Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College

Kin Yip Louie
Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at China Graduate School of Theology

Fergus Macdonald
Past President of the United Bible Societies (Scotland)

Todd Mangum
Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Dan McCartney
Professor of New Testament at Redeemer Seminary

Scot McKnight
Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and Author

Jonathan Merritt
Faith and Culture writer

Pat Millen
Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Seminary

Philip Monroe
Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Amy Norvell
Director of Classical Conversations in Bryan/College Station, TX, Pastor’s wife, and Sexual abuse survivor

Thad Norvell
Pastor at Community Church in Bryan/College Station, TX

K. Eric Perrin
Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Cherry Hill, NJ

Michael Reagan
President of the Reagan Legacy Foundation

Matthew Redmond

Nathan Rice
Director of Middle School Ministries at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Bellevue, WA

Tamara Rice
Freelance Writer and Editor

Adam L Saenz
Clinical Psychologist and Author

Karen L. Sawyer
Vice Chair and Chair Elect of the Board of Trustees, Biblical Theological Seminary and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Arcadia University

Scotty Smith
Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN

Ron Scates
Preaching Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Dallas, Texas

Andrew J. Schmutzer
Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute

Chris Seay
Pastor at Ecclesia in Houston, TX

Mike Sloan
Associate Pastor at Old Peachtree Presbyterian Church in DuLuth, GA

Basyle J. Tchividjian
Executive Director, GRACE and Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law

Laura Thien
LMHC and Board Chairperson of the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville, SC

Jessica Thompson

Rick Tyson
Senior Pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA

John Williams
Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Washington Island, WI

John Wilson
Pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Australia

William Paul Young