How Should Christians Face The Controversies Of Our Day?

Jesus set the standard for justice and mercy

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We are finally past the election, but my sigh of relief has morphed into the forlorn realization that each party remains married to their offenses. I have always hated politics, so I intentionally avoided conversations and Facebook posts on the topic. But even now, after the people have voted, the heated discussions continue. Many are feeling despondent, fearful about the future of our nation, and apprehensive about how this new leadership will affect them personally.

This messy, and often volatile, exchange between people on both “sides” of the argument has left me pondering where the church fits in. For what issues should we take a stand . . . because even among Christians, these things are not clear-cut. And once we figure out these issues, what is the best way to fight for them?

The ways of the world have infiltrated almost every dimension of the Western church, so much that it is often difficult to distinguish believers from nonbelievers in today’s culture. Many Christians dress and talk and spend their money the same way nonbelievers do, they hold the same grudges, watch the same shows, and fall into the same competitive and comparison traps. Sadly, I have watched countless Christians trail blaze their way through the current controversies by slinging their opinionated accusations at others (which only alienates those they are trying to “reach” in the process). Ghandi summed it up well when he said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Unlike the banter I have watched during this election, Jesus demonstrated both justice and mercy as He responded to the cultural and religious controversies of His time. However, instead of sentencing people for their faulty beliefs or behaviors, He acted in ways that liberated them from their bondage (Luke 4:18). Maybe we can take some cues from the way Jesus confronted the challenges of His day.

  • First and foremost, Jesus loved people just as they were. Full stop (Romans 5:8). He knew people had to belong first before they would believe (and subsequently behave). Jesus’ efforts were not centered on influencing people with His ideas. Instead, He loved and valued the people while simply modeling a “better way,” and inviting them into a deeper experience of life, liberty, and love with Him.
  • Jesus always stood for truth, but He never used it as a weapon. As my dad used to say, “Proper truth without proper love is not truth at all.” God rejoices when His children are walking in truth (3 John 1:4) because truth and freedom go hand-in-hand (John 8:32), but ultimately it was not Jesus’ wisdom that led people to repentance; it was His kindness (Romans 2:4).
  • Jesus was neither passive nor aggressive with others. He did not bow to the fear of man and only speak that which was “politically correct,” yet He also never attacked those who opposed him. Instead, Jesus was assertive at the right times, willing to take a stand against the religious abuses of the day, but also willing to walk away from a situation when it was unproductive to engage. He looked to the Father for guidance in everything, so He knew when to speak and when to remain silent.
  • Jesus never used fear or condemnation to manipulate people, and He never attempted to push an agenda on others. Instead of quarreling with people who disagreed with Him, He simply spoke the truth and let it fall on receptive hearts. Jesus knew that argumentative debate (touching someone’s mind without touching their spirit) would not convert others to God’s ways. When people did not receive Him, He simply “shook the dust of His feet” and moved on. (Matthew 10:14)

Jesus astonished the people with the way He confronted the inconsistencies among the religious elite (Matthew 23), the way He extended grace to the outcasts (John 4:1-29, John 8:1-11, Luke 7:36-50), and the way He could redirect people in the midst of controversy to the heart of the matter (Matthew 22:15-22). What if the church today followed Jesus’ example when confronting the moral and religious controversies of our times? What if we became notorious for overwhelming others with our love instead of offending them by our “stance?” What if we listened more and talked less (James 1:19, Proverbs 10:19, Ecclesiastes 5:2)? What if we stopped attacking what we hate and just promoted what we love (Galatians 5:6)? If Jesus did not come to judge the world, but to save it, shouldn’t we follow His example (John 12:46-47, John 3:17)? As Francis Frangipane said, “We can be legitimately angry about things that are absolutely wrong, but at some point our indignation must climb to a more noble redemptive expression. The church was not created to fulfill God’s wrath but to complete His mercy.”

Thankfully, there seems to be a “mercy” shift among some religious circles as people discover that God doesn’t want the church living in an “us against them” mentality. These Christians are realizing that “other” people (whether Muslins, atheists, homosexuals, etc) can be wise, loving, wonderful individuals. As believers reach out in friendship towards such people, their prejudice starts to dissolve . . . which is a beautiful thing. Christ set a similar example for us as He reached out to the “other” people of His time (the tax collectors, women, Samaritans, prostitutes, etc). He valued them even when society did not.

However, when some believers finally grasp that God genuinely values and loves these “other” people, and that we are called to do the same, they assume this includes accepting their alternative lifestyles and beliefs as another viable option. Some people leap from one extreme to the other, from a paradigm of complete exclusion (which was steeped in bigotry and pride), to one of complete inclusion (which can be ignorant of God’s Word). These individuals come to believe that disagreement is an “unloving” form of exclusion, and as long as everyone is seeking love, everyone can define their own version of truth. Certainly I would rather err at being too loving than too legalistic, but I would rather not err at all! So, is there a way to love and include others who believe differently, without compromising the core truths of our faith and identity in Christ?

I believe diversity can come together in unity. We can find common ground with people outside our spiritual perspective and work together to make this world a better place (end hunger, homelessness, malaria, sex trafficking, etc). We can live and work respectfully besides these people while celebrating the gifts they bring to the table . . . since they too were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).

But, Scripture warns believers not to be unequally yoked with others (2 Corinthians 6:14), and we can learn from the Israelites’ recurring fault in this area. Every time the Israelites merged their lives with foreigners, they ended up adopting idolatrous practices and worshiping other gods . . . and things never went well for them when they did this.

There is a difference between lovingly interacting with someone, and “yoking” yourself to that person in an intimate friendship. God instructs us to take our light into the darkness, but this is very different from socializing with the darkness. Jesus ate with the sinners because they were the ones who needed Him most (Matthew 9:11-13), but there was a distinction between His interactions with these people and His relationships with His inner circle (the twelve disciples).

Whether we realize it or not, we are shaped by the environment we live in. The opinions of others, the cultural norms of our times, and the mindsets of those around us, all play a role in influencing our perspective (1 Corinthians 15:33). Because of this, we must be careful about the activities and people with whom we engage. That which is blatantly evil can be denied without argument, but Satan comes disguised as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). It is the slow persistent exposure to worldly practices that appear to be harmless (or are rooted in the wisdom of man instead of the wisdom of God) that can deaden our sensitivity to the Spirit and lead to compromise (Proverbs 14:12).

Christians are called to be holy and set apart (1 Peter 2:9-12), but we don’t stay pure by isolating ourselves from the world in a Christian bubble; we are simply told not to be of this world (1 John 2:15-17). We need to remain alert to the falsehoods and deceptions in this world (1 Peter 5:8), test everything with God’s Word, and only hold onto that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, Romans 12:2). We cannot embrace beliefs and habits that oppose the foundations of Christianity– we must preserve the morals of our faith. To concede in these keys areas would threaten our intimacy with God, which is the very life source of all things true and good. (To be clear, nothing can ever separate us from God’s love; this is unchanging no matter what we do (Romans 8:38-39) . . . but worldly compromise would impair our ability to hear God clearly, hindering us from experiencing the fullness of His abundance for our life, and potentially leading us into deception).

Unlike Gandhi's experience with Christians, I pray the world would encounter a church that reflects the true heart of God, one that demonstrates His justice and His mercy. Though some Christians believe respect entails keeping the peace through “political correctness,” I believe there is a time when Christians should divide from the world, and maybe even from others within our faith. In my article, "God Does Not Always Desire Unity – So When Should Christians Divide?" I address when it is best for believers to separate from others (within or without the church), and what that might look like. What we choose to stand for can make all the difference in the trajectory of faith, individually and as a community.

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.