Posts Tagged civility

Bring No Bitterness into the New Year

Many people regard New Year’s Resolutions with the same disdain they attribute to the much maligned fruitcake. I am a proponent of both. For several years now I have made the same New Year’s resolution and I ask God to help me to keep it.  I will take no bitterness into the New Year. Whatever has happened during the past twelve months that tends to sour my disposition, I resolve to let go. Whatever offenses I have suffered will not be dragged into the New Year.

Forgiveness is not as easy as it might sound. Partly it requires developing a thicker skin and realizing that I take far too many things personally. I need to lighten up. This is one of the concepts my friend, Dr. Monty Knight, discusses in his book, Balanced Living; Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weakness. Continuing with Monty’s philosophy, I don’t have to go to every fight to which I am invited. That is a major concept. Let it go. Tom Newboult, a minister of religious education, once told me that sin is giving more importance to the moment than it is worth. In other words, don’t dwell in the negative. I think Tom hit the nail on the head. What a great concept!

Turning a negative into a positive is another methodology for dealing with difficult situations. Since I administered a not-for-profit agency for most of my career, I would often be attacked with, ”Well, Mitch, you are just an idealist.” My reply became, “Thank you. I hope so.” The main thing about forgiveness for those of us who are Christian to remember is that we are able to forgive because we have been forgiven.

Bitterness is a terrible task master. It will ruin your life and suck all the goodness you receive into a dark hole. I recommend a proactive approach. Go on an active campaign to make those around you glad that you are there. Build them up by helping them feel good about themselves. Say something nice. Compliment him or her in a real genuine way. Call the person by name. Offer a specific compliment about a real accomplishment. On the other hand when you receive a compliment acknowledge it graciously with a simple “thank you.” In my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, I discuss the power of words, but I am by no means the first to come to that conclusion.

Practicing my resolution of taking no bitterness into the New Year has helped me live a more productive, less stressful life. I believe you will experience the same happy results if you give it a try. I warn you that this is not easy and requires a proactive intentional effort.

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“Religious Liberty” is being hijacked; Rev. Dr. Molly Marshall – BaptistNewsGlobal

It is much easier to sit in front of my computer screen and opine about government, politicians, policies and the challenge of living in a democratic municipality than it is to enter the political process as one voice among others. It is much easier to limit my engagement to spaces and contexts where most are in agreement. It’s easy to sit in our Sunday school classes and talk about our responsibilities in the public square. It’s much harder to actually move from theoretical advocacy to responsibly and faithfully inhabiting those places where decisions are made about the common good.

I recently had such an opportunity as the city in which I live was debating whether or not we need a nondiscrimination ordinance to protect LGBTQ persons in our community. I went to a public meeting as a private citizen, as a person of faith with clear convictions about justice and as a religious figure who serves as president of a seminary that resides in the area the city council oversees. I went as one voice among others (which is always helpful to those of us given to pontification).

Members of our community had been working on this for more than a year. It takes great patience and strategic thinking to make policy change. As one who came late to this movement, I grew in respect for those who have labored to garner support and sift what is at stake. They are serving the common good in ways that may surpass some of our faith communities that are more insular.

I was pleasantly surprised by the level of civility. No one clapped, hissed or booed. Persons listened attentively to those with whom they disagreed on the nature of human sexuality, religious freedom and public accommodation. And we stayed a very long time in order to give each one opportunity to present perspectives on the proposed ordinance. I found myself on the opposite side of some other clergy, especially Roman Catholics, which was painful since I care intensely about unity of the Body of Christ.

I felt it important to stress that persons of faith can find inclusive ways to express their own religious freedom. It requires empathy and attentiveness to those whose experience we may not understand. I spoke about the journey our school has been on, seeking to be nondiscriminatory in all our functions.

“We must work to preserve human dignity and religious liberty for all.”

For the past seven years, Central Baptist Theological Seminary has had a non-discriminatory policy that names gender identity and sexual orientation. Our board is far from a wild-eyed liberal group; rather they are sober, faithful people who believe in religious liberty, justice and compassion. They acknowledged that we know a lot more today about human sexuality than when the Scriptures were penned. We believed it was the right position for a school that prepares leaders for ministry.

Some in attendance at the city council meeting were stunned that “a Baptist can be open minded,” as one put it, after I articulated our institutional perspective. The popular (and rather monolithic) conception of who Baptists are is less than admirable.

I presented a few brief words of witness from the perspective of religious liberty, especially as the rhetoric of discrimination is heating up nationally, kindled by the Trump administration. Reportscontinue to surface that the president is asking the Supreme Court to legalize workplace discrimination against gay employees.

Religious liberty does not mean persons can do whatever they please. We live in community as citizens in a democracy that has both legal and social obligations. The free exercise of religion is within a larger commonwealth, which has implications for the religious liberty of others.

Thus, the limits of religious liberty have to do with whether or not its exercise causes harm to another. Precluding employment, housing or public accommodation is life-threatening and injures already vulnerable citizens. We are aware of the statistics of incidences of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth and adults; additionally, violence against this community is rampant.

Congregations are free to do what they choose about including or excluding sexual minorities from membership, roles of leadership either ordained or lay, and whether to provide pastoral services (including weddings) to LGBTQ couples. The church or synagogue or temple can determine how it will exercise its religious liberty. It can exclude in a way a civil society cannot, yet many religious leaders are learning how to include and accord dignity to those formerly marginalized by faith communities.

As the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has concluded: “A baker or florist’s religious beliefs do not provide a blanket exemption to state or local laws that protect customers against discrimination in the commercial marketplace. Granting an exemption could drastically undermine nondiscrimination laws which provide important protections for religious customers.” This balanced perspective offers a helpful approach to the thorny issues a community faces. Baptists and other communions caring about religious liberty can trust the BJC as a reliable guide on current legal challenges.

“The limits of religious liberty have to do with whether or not its exercise causes harm to another.”

We must work to preserve human dignity and religious liberty for all. This means that employment, housing and commercial services are equally available to all. It is the right thing to do; it is good for our community; and, yes, it is good for business. Across the nation, the law is trending toward equality. The church must not lag behind.

We must not be absent from the social landscape. Schools and churches are members of the larger community, and we are called to participate constructively as faithful interpreters of gospel values. Keeping silent is not helpful in our times when the principle of religious liberty, as set forth in the First Amendment, is being hijacked by religious leaders and others who give it a narrow sectarian meaning that argues for personal privilege and concomitant discrimination.

The proposed ordinance passed with a 5-2 vote. It was an act of compassion and justice for which I am grateful. I pray it will be but one of many grassroots-led actions for the common good in the days ahead.

Related commentary:

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Civility or incivility, an alternative for the Church: ‘communionism’

As culture demands civility or incivility, an alternative for the Church: ‘communionism’

ERIC MINTON  |  JULY 20, 2018 BaptistNewsGlobal

The partisan bloodbath currently passing as our national political discourse has led to renewed discussion over the act of discussion – how we should go about dealing with our ever-widening differences. Some of us advocate for a new civility, one that seeks to dig out one another’s humanity from underneath the mountains of memes we now use to punctuate our preferred political positions. Which, in this post-apocalyptic-Ridley-Scott-directed-Presidency, comes across a bit like Lord Grantham clucking his tongue at a hastily re-arranged coterie of deck chairs on the Titanic. It seems glib, condescending and aloofly privileged in a world where there are children sleeping in cages near the border.

Others of us clamor for all-out-war on the “enemy,” with whom we live daily or see at holidays or worship alongside weekly. According to this thinking, blood has already been spilled by someone else, and when the Visigoths are at the city walls all appeals for decorum and proper protocols are sacrificed on the altar of our hemorrhaging and smoking democracy. In my experience I’ve found it difficult to ferret out the “truth” or the “facts” once the dopamine kicks in following my release of a string of self-righteous, ad-hominem sentence fragments.

I’m saying this too seems glib, condescending and aloofly privileged in a world where there are children sleeping in cages near the border.

Now that we’ve exhausted ourselves by either endlessly tone-policing or cathartically releasing our animosity into the ether of our broken national conversation, perhaps we might finally be ready for the world’s worst question most often posed by the world’s worst “therapist,” Dr. Phil: “Well, how’s that workin’ for ya?”

“Our raging incivility – or cool civility – isn’t very effective in keeping children out of cages, families out of poverty or your aunt from refusing to come home for Christmas because of your grandfather’s preferred news outlet.”

From where I sit, our raging incivility – or cool civility – isn’t very effective in keeping children out of cages, families out of poverty or your aunt from refusing to come home for Christmas because of your grandfather’s preferred news outlet. Which begs the question, is there a third option between civility and incivility that we’re too emotionally dis-regulated or cynically withdrawn to recognize?

In his initial correspondence to the early Christian community in Corinth, the Apostle Paul famously invoked “Communion” as a way of bringing this disjointed first-century community together. Here he is, blogging from the nearby city of Ephesus: “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” . . . 

Paul ends the paragraph rather ominously: “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

The Gospel of Luke’s account of that same meal echoes Paul’s (chronologically) earlier treatment: “. . . And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”

 Again, the closing line, this time from Jesus, is telling: “‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.’”

For most of my life, whenever folks attempted to prove Jesus’ divinity, they typically led with the miraculously sacrificial nature of his death on the cross and his tomb-clearing follow-up album, “The Resurrection (Part 1).” But then I read about how Jesus ate a whole meal with people who had known him for years and still misunderstood what he was trying to do, why he was trying to do it and what it meant for them and everyone else. One of them was so desperately misguided and politically motivated that he even sold Jesus out for money.

Yet, there our Lord was, supping with them all the same.

As I’ve gotten older and survived more than a few contentious Thanksgivings, I’ve come to realize that the Last Supper isn’t some boring intro we survive once a quarter in order to remember some othermiraculous part of Jesus’ life. Communion is the miraculous part.

The fact that a God (which is what we believe Jesus to be in the flesh) could stand to be misunderstood to the point of death by 12 people who would then be responsible to carry on his work after he was goneis beyond comprehension. A few towns over, in Babylon, they believed their God literally created the earth by ripping another monster in two (it’s an awesome story).

In America we believe our God has all the words – especially the best ones.

And in that rented room 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, before the dry ice and laser lights of Easter, we find out that the Christian God is totally okay with people missing the point about who he is and what he’s here to do. It seems like he even sort-of expects it.

Perhaps, then, Jesus’ invitation to “do this” over bread and wine wasn’t to hermetically seal his words and actions behind a veil of professionalism, theology and traditionalism. What if, instead, the “do this” is for the whole of humanity to look one another in the eyes over good bread and better wine as a way of bringing all of us concretely back to the realization that there is something elemental – sacramental, even – about the fact that we all live on bread and wine, even if we give up or give in or misunderstand the way of Jesus. Or if we have different political ideas that cause us to sell him out again and again.

We all hunger and thirst, and Jesus just keeps breaking himself open and pouring himself out again and again.

As a way of bringing proper acknowledgment to the extremely radical (and unpopular) nature of just this kind of dinner, we might be better served by changing its rather tepid title from the Lord’s Supper to something almost blasphemous: communionism.”

“Communionism” is a practice demanding that followers of a misunderstood God engage in concrete solidarity across tradition, political identity, geography, theology, socio-economic status, ethnicity and what Paul later called “the dividing wall of hostility” in order to bring a whole new world into being – together. A world that begins with bread, wine and a shared commitment to surviving difference together, not by ignoring it or sacrificing it, but by looking it in the eye and washing its feet and passing the plate.

Honestly, what sounds more like Jesus to you: only participating in religious rituals with people who have the appropriate credentials? Or breaking bread and pouring wine with people who sold you out and abandoned you and constantly misunderstand you and your motives?

These days it seems as if our polarized and violent civilization could use more followers of Jesus radically committed to bravely eating with difference, even if the difference is almost impossible to bear. To commune together, even when there’s good reason for withdrawn civility and hostile incivility, seems a miraculously unlikely experience – one that requires profound faith.

Which is probably why the Church has spent the majority of its life protecting the metaphor instead of practicing its meaning.

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Honest Questions to Ask About Some Christians’ Vitriol – Nick Lear

June 4, 2018
Section: EthicsDaily.com’s Latest Articles
My hope is that an honest effort to consider and answer these questions might just help us (Christians) to be more aware of our own behavior, Lear writes.

There are times when I read what another Christian has written or said, and I wonder whether I am reading the same Bible as them because I can’t justify their behavior based on what I read in my Bible.

Now, I realize that in writing this column I am opening myself up to an accusation that I am making judgments about other people, and that’s something Jesus said we should not do.

So, I am writing this in the form of open questions based on my observations rather than accusations against anyone in particular. And I am writing this to Christians; the rest of you can relax.

I ask these questions of myself as much as anyone else, and if I am being honest, I am uncomfortable with some of my own answers. As always, I am not suggesting that I live a fully sorted life as a follower of Jesus, but I want to be open to his Spirit’s transformational prompting.

Where in the Bible does it say that it’s right to use unpleasant, vitriolic and hateful language against someone with whom you disagree?

Doesn’t the Bible say that the way people will know we are followers of Jesus is by the way that we love one another?

How can it be right that Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and the second one was to love others, yet some comments that Christians have posted online about fellow believers and some behavior between Christians appear to be devoid of love and full of hate?

And how are some of the hideous comments made against those who don’t claim a Christian faith showing them what God’s love and grace are like?

Where does it say that it’s OK to condemn someone for interpreting the Bible differently from you by denouncing them as “unbiblical,” which presumably means the denouncer has absolute confidence that their interpretation is entirely “biblical” and there’s no chance they could be wrong?

Wasn’t Jesus regarded as “unbiblical” in his day?

Where does the Bible tell us that we should consider ourselves better than others, using our superiority to tell them how and why they are wrong, and we are right?

Why do Christians spend so much energy arguing about relatively trivial things like doctrinal differences and not spend as much time and energy tackling poverty, injustice and conflict?

Jesus spoke much more about the use of and love of money than he did about doctrine, didn’t he?

Given how much Christians have been forgiven, and how much Jesus said we should forgive, how come some of us find it so difficult to apologize to other Christians when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness?

Is admitting we are wrong so difficult?

I realize this is rather an incendiary post, and it really isn’t my intention to have a go at anyone in particular.

My hope is that an honest effort to consider and answer these questions might just help us (Christians) to be more aware of our own behavior and open us up to God’s Spirit changing us to become more like the Jesus we follow.

Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.

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