Recently, I saw a post on social media that began with ”Some of you pastors have “survived” a long time by being neutral in the “culture war” and then continued to judge all ministers as cowards and patronizing those who do not take the author’s stand on certain cultural issues. As a pastor, I have not remained neutral on cultural issues. I have taken the side of Jesus and the gospel. I have taken the side of unmerited grace demonstrated in and through his life, death, and resurrection. I am on the side of God’s inclusive love made known in Jesus who dined with saints and sinners alike and who offered compassion to those who were outcasts and judged by their own culture as unworthy. I am on the side of Jesus who valued women equally with men and treated all genders with respect, care, and worthiness. I am with Jesus who valued life, even the lives of our enemies. I take the side of Jesus, who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and held the authorities of his religion and culture accountable for their unjust acts toward the widow and the orphan alike. And, then commanded those who would follow him to go and do likewise.
Yes, the church and the secular world have often been at odds with one another through the centuries. Some label our differences or disagreements as a war. I choose to see the secular world as Jesus did, a fragmented place where healing and reconciliation are needed, not more conflict or violent words. I choose to hold our authorities accountable to the same love and grace, the same justice Jesus desires for all of God’s children, justice that comes from healthy relationships built on honesty, equality, acceptance, and love. I choose the side of Jesus who stopped acts of violence against women and was a safe man in their midst. I’m on the side of Jesus who taught that God desires us to know and have happy, healthy, thriving love in our lives, no matter who we love.
I am anything but neutral in the ministry to which I am called. I take the side of the Apostle Paul who called us to put on kindness, compassion, meekness, humility, generosity, forgiveness and above all else, love (Colossians 3). I’m with Paul who taught us to welcome the stranger, the alien just as God has. I stand on the side of the Hebrew prophets who stood in solidarity with the oppressed of their time and called us to stand with our sisters and brothers for whom the systems and yes, sometimes even the laws, of our culture do not offer freedom, but instead oppress, suppress, and deny freedom (Isaiah 58, Micah 6, Amos 5). I take the side of the Apostles who shared everything in common so that no one had any need (Acts 4). I am on the side of Jesus who sends us to grow disciples, loving learners and followers, to the poor, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned (Matthew 25).
Being a follower or disciple of Jesus is not akin to being a soldier in a war, because Jesus was not a general or commander in chief. Jesus was and is the Prince of Peace. Secular culture has opted to take many paths throughout human history, some positive and some destructive. As disciples of Jesus, we bring wholeness to this fragmented world by demonstrating an alternative path, built on unconditional love, filled with enduring hope, leading each of us to peace.
I may never use the hot button, divisive, extremist labels or phrases from the right or the left that some would like me to preach from the pulpit to accommodate their need for affirmation. I will continue to preach the gospel of God’s undying, unconditional love and grace, made known in Jesus and given freely for every person. And, I will preach and work toward the beloved community that may exist when we value each other as recipients of this same love and grace.