Four Threats to the Church Today, Part 2
Earlier this week, we looked at two things threatening the church today: the way we are influenced by politics and the way we talk about sexuality. Today, we will look at how we treat people of other faiths and how we are losing our humanity poses great threat to the church.
I grew up as a Baptist in a small rural community in Missouri. I understood other religions at that time as being the Roman Catholics at St. Rose of Lima in my hometown of DeSoto or the Pentecostals up the road north of town on Highway 21. The world I grew up in seems quaint now and very different from the world of my children. I never met a Jew or a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Hindu until I was in college. My children had them as their best friends in grade school.
I left for college in the fall of 1979 to attend a state university. It was during that semester that Iranian extremists seized the US Embassy in Tehran. It was my first encounter with the Muslim world, there on the television every night in the common room. I remember being shocked to see how all the other guys taunted and tormented the two Pakistani and Indian students who lived on our floor. They were not Iranian, but they looked different and they were from that part of the world so they were easy targets for the fear everyone felt.
This is the third threat that endangers the church.
3. The way we love those who believe differently than us. We have always struggled with this threat. For me, it was the Catholics and the Pentecostals and the other Baptist churches who weren’t getting it right. The stakes or higher and more public now.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians have played out before us on our evening news for years. The seizing of the embassy in Tehran and the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon made us feel vulnerable. The attacks of 9/11 felt personal and in our living room. Eleven years later we are still grieving and reacting in ways more complex than a simple reflection can capture.
The church must remember there are dark chapters of our history when we have not loved others as Jesus called us to love others. Loving others was important enough to Jesus that he reminded us on several occasions to love people who are different from us or not kind to us (cf. Matt. 5.43-48).
Riots are breaking out in the Muslim world and lives have been lost because a pastor named Terry Jones in Florida promoted a badly produced anti-Muslim film. We should be telling every Muslim we meet that what he did was not a Christian thing to do. Spreading hate does not look like following Jesus. Check out this thoughtful article, “Rise Up Against Christian Extremists” by David Burroughs, for more on this threat.
Jesus said it best, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12.31).
The fourth threat is very personal. It strikes at the core of who we are.
4. The way we are losing our humanity. Perhaps, it is the loss of our humanity that allows some people to act so hatefully toward others. We have lost touch with what it means to be human.
It is too easy to blame the loss of our humanity on our increasingly digital lifestyle. Since a fundamental human characteristic is the need for relationships, the digital world changes the way we relate to each other but it does not need to diminish it. In the end, we are human beings paying attention to each other trying to find points of connection as easily and readily as we can. Humans have been doing that for millennia.
The threat to the church is that we can forget that we are made in God’s image. When we forget this, we lose a piece of our humanity. We are made to love, to forgive, to create, to steward, and provide. Each and every time the church fails to love those who are different it loses its humanity.
When the church does not forgive those who has hurt it. When it does not think imaginatively to solve problems and create solutions to human need. When the church doss not encourage and act as a steward of God’s creation. When the church does set as first priority meeting the needs of others. When all these things happen, when any one of them happen, then the church has lost its humanity. It has not been the image of God.
We were made to reflect God’s image in the world. Let us love. Forgive. Create. Steward. Provide. Let us be fully human.
Do you have some examples of ways we could love those who are different? Some ways we have lost our humanity? What do you think?
Next week, the future of the church and then on to other topics.