Howard Snyder is by all accounts a wonderful person. He is an academic, a professor and an author and I had the privilege of briefly meeting he and his wife when he was Chair of Wesley Studies at Tyndale Seminary. Mr. Snyder is intelligent and passionate in his dealings but above all he is a godly and gentle man. I regularly read his beautiful prayers which are posted daily on his Facebook page and some of his past ones have even been assembled in a book.
That is why it was interesting this week to see him share an opinion that could be viewed as controversial:
“I can’t vote for anyone that believes abortion is okay. That is my platform.”
This is the right wing’s favorite kind of voter. This allows political leaders to pollute the environment, gut the EPA, remove necessary restrictions on business, oppress the poor, deny justice to aliens, undermine the judiciary, explode the national debt, lower taxes on the wealthy, etc., etc., without having to worry about any opposition from the kinds of folks who hold this one-issue view.
Just say, “I oppose abortion!” and you can get away with anything else.
This is the trap of one-issue voting. Biblical truth has many dimensions and points of application, given who God is and how society functions.
So this is a good time to re-read and study carefully the Old Testament prophets, and then re-read what Jesus taught.
Of course Mr. Snyder was not saying he approved of abortion (he is pro-life) but that ‘pro-life’ extends well beyond just a discussion about the unborn. There are many other places in the world where Christian love for life needs to be expressed and applied. Watching the comments he received shows that most people understood the balance he was hoping to explain, but of course a few felt the need to declare war on him.
Frankly it is very discouraging to watch anyone use God or the Bible to justify their favourite topic but it’s more difficult when Christians do it. Entire sub-cultures of Christianity close their minds in order to obsess over things like creationism, Noah’s flood, homosexuality, the second coming, prayer in schools or whatever.
I have been saying for quite some time that evangelicals have been taught to believe in an issue oriented faith. While saying on one hand that it’s about Jesus and new life, our faith in practice is a list of narrow beliefs that we are all expected to agree with. But spiritual birth is not about pieces, it’s about wholeness.
Naturally Rachel Held Evans pulled it together gently but bluntly in her book Faith Unravelled:
“It seems that a whole lot of people, both Christians and non-Christians, are under the impression that you can’t be a Christian and vote for a Democrat, you can’t be a Christian and believe in evolution, you can’t be a Christian and be gay, you can’t be a Christian and have questions about the Bible, you can’t be a Christian and be tolerant of other religions, you can’t be a Christian and be a feminist, you can’t be a Christian and drink or smoke, you can’t be a Christian and read the New York Times, you can’t be a Christian and support gay rights, you can’t be a Christian and get depressed, you can’t be a Christian and doubt. In fact, I am convinced that what drives most people away from Christianity is not the cost of discipleship but rather the cost of false fundamentals. False fundamentals make it impossible for faith to adapt to change. The longer the list of requirements and contingencies and prerequisites, the more vulnerable faith becomes to shifting environments and the more likely it is to fade slowly into extinction. When the gospel gets all entangled with extras, dangerous ultimatums threaten to take it down with them. The yoke gets too heavy and we stumble beneath it.” (Faith Unravelled)
Have you ever heard someone make the Bible say something they wanted it to? I have. I’ve heard a pastor or speaker (or heretic) quote a verse to prove their point and found myself thinking, No, that’s not really what it’s saying, or Yes but there is a totally different meaning in another verse.
There is constant human pressure to be right, to have the best answers, to have it all figured out, and we put a lot of righteous energy into applying measurements to ourselves and others. But that is not the faith I see written about in the Bible and it’s not the faith I have learned to love in my own life.
One of the things we have to learn is that we are evolving (oops! another touchy subject). It’s true though: God’s way is to take the ingredients of our person, then patiently mould us into something more. That was a common concept in our (my) religious history – being formed by God. We naturally chafe at that idea because we always believe we know better than God how things should be but ultimately it is best if we are open to God’s craftsmanship.
This Lectionary reading from Sunday is about a nation but this analogy is also applied to individuals elsewhere in Scripture.
The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.
Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. – Jeremiah 18:1-6 (NLT)
Interesting thing about christian history: whenever Christianity becomes wealthy or powerful it loses its heart and becomes more and more like the humans who govern it. (Sound familiar?) It loses its way and needs to be re-moulded.
We resist these thoughts of course because we like to be in control but Scripture reminds us that there is a moulding, shaping process where God simply asks us to yield our easy opinions and willful attitudes to him.
Later, Jesus would up the ante even more by pushing aside the notion that following him is simply a prayer and a value system:
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. – Luke 14:25-33 (NIV)
Notice that Jesus does not soften or compartmentalize what it means to be his disciple. Words like ‘hate’ and ‘everything’ are a strong way of underlining the importance of what he is communicating. What he is communicating is that we must choose to follow him, not a system of beliefs and we should not do so unless we first consider that it is about giving up our comfort and easy assumptions.
We must be willing to be moulded.
Have you also noticed that Jesus frequently asks questions rather than providing pat answers? Have you seen that he often leaves his words and parables dangling without hard answers? No rules, politics or narrowness – they are dead. He allows us instead to listen, think, and be moulded into newness with his Spirit
As someone who has journeyed on both sides of the conservative/progressive line, I can tell you it is easy to find a way to justify my opinion by bringing God into it. The beauty of the Good News of Jesus is that it is deep and wide and can’t be harnessed, defined or contained by our bold lines.
This afternoon as I was reflecting, I tearfully realized that this is a real thing. God does mould us through our lives and, looking back, I am puzzled and amazed at how deep and meaningful that has been for me.
When we make our faith about single issues, we ignore the vastness of God and diminish the sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross.
The Word of the Lord.