compassionate christianity

I do not find the liberal-conservative antonyms of Christianity useful. Usually the labels are applied to how one approaches the Bible not how they live out the teaching of Jesus existentially. Liberals are just as likely to be hard hearted as conservatives are to be full of mercy of grace. Fundamentalists can make space for gay people while retaining their fidelity to those seven biblical passages that seem to condemn it. I encountered this recently in an article by the current head pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Cali. Pastor Brian Broderson believes a Christian is free to attend a sinner's wedding but not a backslidden believer's wedding. I call that progress.

It seems strange to someone outside of the more conservative branches of the faith that this is even a topic worth debating. But when I was deep into this branch, I worried a great deal about this choice if presented to me. As I think back, my head said no but my heart said yes. If I were to go to such a wedding and face censure in my faith community for such an action my heart would no longer belong to such a community even if my head kept me there. The head is the home of pride, not wanting to admit error. The heart is the home of humility, wounded, tender, tentative, and sensitive.

Children live from the heart. They are impulsive and not well thought. Their heads have to be trained. But Jesus taught that his followers not to keep the kids away from him because the kingdom of heaven is made up of children and their like.

When I was 7 years old, during recess on the playground, I saw some bigger kids bullying a boy in my grade, making fun of his afro. I ran over to defend him. I knew nothing about race relations. But my heart had compassion for another child being bullied.

Theology can be found justifying racial segregation, slavery, xenophobia, and misogyny. All of these theologies threaten God's wrath if we disagree with these visions of God as filtered from the Bible. Will God be mad at me if I link arms with a black kid who is being raised Muslim? Will God be mad at me if I go to my gay friend's wedding? It's a self-protective stance towards my neighbors. Jesus, however, compares God to a good shepherd who looks for lost sheep (even ones who do not belong to his flock) or a single woman who searches all over her house for a missing coin. Jesus celebrates radical generosity, something he pointed out in the action of a poor widow, but can also be seen in children. Children can be scandalously selfish one moment and even more scandalously generous the next. As a parent, I tried to discourage the first and encourage the latter.

I want to do the same with my fellow believers today. I want to encourage Pastor Broderson to enlarge his generosity towards his gay neighbors. Perhaps he will continue to reason within his Biblical lens and think of what Paul instructs regarding backslidden believers: treat them like Rome's tax collectors. Jesus was so compassionate to those tax collectors many became his followers, one even wrote one of the gospels. In short, when a believer backslides love them as much as you love an unbeliever, which means he can go to any gay wedding.

This is not a liberal or conservative debate. It's not a progressive or regressive debate. It's a life of love and generosity and compassion. The Bible can be understood differently, even wrongly, but, as Jesus said, the measure we use against others will be used against us. The more generous we are with others, the more generosity we allow for our own mistakes and failures. The more we seek out the lost and the hurting, like Jesus did, the more we stand alongside the downtrodden and scapegoated, like Jesus did, the more we resemble the God who is love.


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