I wrote this for my fellow Christians after the Orlando shooting on June 12th. Then Brexit happened on June 24th. Now it seems more relevant than before.
I have a choice to make.
My choice is that I am going to go out of my way to let people who are different to me know that:
- I’m not a threat to them,
- I care about them, and
- they can be themselves around me.
And this choice increases in importance if I have theological or political points of disagreement with these people.
No, it is not easy to walk a path that balances integrity with compassion, but that is what I believe we are all called to do as Christians. And we are called to do it, particularly when – not despite when, particularly when – we see people doing things and/or holding views that we think may be misguided in one way or another.
This does not in any way mean we should diminish our passion for what is right – for seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
We don’t need to go far into the debate about gay marriage before we come across questions around the authority and meaning of scripture, role models, the family, the body, society’s understanding of love and faithfulness, and the meaning of male and female. As for Brexit, there are questions over trade, national security, human rights, legal sovereignty, national identity and Britain’s vision for its people and will interact with those from other countries.
It is absolutely right that we care about these matters.
if we want to speak into contentious issues in a way that balances integrity and compassion, I would challenge all of us to consider three questions.
And these questions are applicable to many circumstances – not just the ones that prompted me to write this. I’ve deliberately worded them neutrally, because they need to be accessible to both sides.
Question 1: Is our message a message of hope?
A message of hope will always convey truth; a message of truth, will not necessarily convey hope. But hope needs to be our priority. When people truly grasp the hope we have in Jesus, they change. In contrast, when they feel threatened or criticised without the prospect of hope, they tend to dig their heels in. Wherever we have the possibility of bringing hope to people, that is what we need to do.
Question 2: Have we wept over our message?
If we have a message that conveys a challenge, that needs to speak of righteousness in the ears of our listeners more than it needs to speak about hope, have we wept over the reasons for why we have a message? Jeremiah had many messages of judgement that called people to repentance, but he was a prophet of tears. Jesus had many hard words for Jerusalem, but he also wept over that city. Paul wrote of the many people who live as enemies of Christ, yet he did so with tears. If we have a message of challenge, we must weep over that message.
Question 3: Who needs to hear the message first?
If we have a message more of challenge than hope, and we have wept over it, have we considered very carefully who needs to hear that message first? Because it should be directed first towards the one with the plank in their eye, not the one with a speck.
Fruit comes from the Spirit
At the end of the day, the fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, patient endurance, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, does not come from law, from theology, from scripture, from orthodoxy, from tradition, from self-discipline, from the people around us or from ourselves. It comes from the Holy Spirit – who is a person, who is alive, who thinks, who feels, who listens, who speaks, who responds, who laughs and who grieves.
If we want to live a holy and compassionate life, that brings transformation into this world, we need the Holy Spirit to live in us.
There is no substitute.