[Introductory word: Family Systems Theory calls for a focus upon one's self, rather than upon another, when seeking to improve interpersonal dynamics. After all, one's own part within a relationship is the only part one has the power to change. Following Family Systems Theory, the words below apply to the behavior of none other than the author. Others are welcome to find themselves in the narrative as they may choose.]
LGBTQ issues stand near the top of the world's social agenda. In America, the recent Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in favor of same-gender marriage appears to represent accurately the reality of our "5-4 nation." That is, the American populace is sharply divided on the issue of same-gender marriage, although the majority has prevailed.
Rather than listen carefully, prayerfully, and sympathetically to the voices on each side of the divide, I could uncharitably judge these folks or those -- you know, them! But Jesus told us not to do that. "Judge not, lest you be judged," He said.
While conveniently neglecting the beam in my own eye, I could focus on the speck in the eyes of others. But Jesus taught us not to do that, too. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" He asked.
I could refuse to love those with whom I disagree, and refuse to pray for them. But Jesus commanded otherwise, didn't He? "You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,' but I say unto you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
So how am I to relate to persons on each side of the same-sex v. traditional marriage debate? Perhaps I could, and should, first present the arguments on each side of the debate; but others more qualified than I routinely render that service. Besides, my whole point pertains to the manner in which I am to treat all parties, regardless of the merit of their position in this cultural battle. Right?
In the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, religious persons such as I pass by a person beaten, robbed, bloody, and in great need. Then a person of no social standing helps the abused victim. The story offers a view of different kinds of people as they relate to the vulnerable: some beat 'em up; some pass 'em up; and some pick 'em up.
The context of this story? After teaching that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, Jesus was challenged by a religious person, demanding, "Who is my neighbor?" By telling this story Jesus turned the tables on the questioner, masterfully substituting the real question in play: "AM I a neighbor?"
Countless dear people created in the image of God, good persons loved dearly by God, each for whom Christ died, are hurting on both sides of this battle in our so-called culture wars. What does the story have to say to me? How might the Story of the Good Samaritan apply to my life? Clearly, I must answer these questions: Will I beat people up? Pass them up? Or pick them up?
Sometimes I wonder what questions the Good Lord might ask me on Judgment Day? No need to wonder. A copy of the final exam appears in my New Testament, Matthew 25.
• Did I feed the hungry?
• Did I give water to the thirsty?
• Did I care for the stranger?
• Did I clothe the naked?
• Did I look after the sick?
• Did I visit the prisoner?
In other words, did I help those in need?
To be sure the New Testament makes perfectly clear that one's eternal destination is determined by what one does with Jesus Christ, not by one's doing good deeds. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life."
But Jesus also warned, "Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven."
Hmmm. . . . Evidence of one's saving relationship with Jesus Christ manifests itself in the way others are treated? Yes, appears so. "Inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these my brothers you did it unto me," Jesus emphasized.
Did you notice four of the Judgment Day questions above pertain to helping people who suffer involuntarily (the hungry, thirsty, sick, and naked). No one volunteers for these states of being. Then one question refers to a situation which may be either voluntary or involuntary: being a stranger. Circumstances may vary dictating this dilemma.
The final question, it must be noted however, relates to caring for those who have voluntarily made bad choices: prisoners.
The bottom line? I am expected to minister to and care for the needy -- regardless. No strings attached. Whether their condition is brought on by voluntary or involuntary choices I am to love, care for, and help my fellow persons in their hour of need.
My takeaway? I am neither to judge mean-spiritedly those on the far Right, nor those on the far Left, neighbors along the social, political, religious/secular divide.
I should never be false to my convictions, nor violate my conscience. No one asks that of me, however. While I respect all others, I must respect myself, as well. That self-respect comes more easily as I listen to the hard struggles of others, genuinely care for them, and seek to be a compassionate friend.
This, I take it, is life lived in a manner pleasing to God.
God is love. And I am to love, too.
As the Reverend Billy Graham once put it, "God's job is to judge. The Holy Spirit's job is to convict. My job is to love."
My other job is to chip away at the block of wood in my eye.