When I was a young lad, my father would counsel, “Put your head in gear before your mouth runs…” It was good advice rooted in Scriptural wisdom. We are encouraged to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and recognize that even the fool is considered wise when silent. Caution concerning ungodly and thoughtless speech abounds in both Testaments.
What is true for hasty speech needs expansion for unreflective thinking. So many practical, relational, structural and even theological misunderstandings and problems come when Christians rush to judgment. In a 24/7, data-saturated world, decisions are often propelled by emotional reaction, ideological entrapment or insufficient reflection.
There are many “hot-button” issues that afflict missional Christians. We often find ourselves polarized and succumbing to the either/or fallacy. Some moments of biblical thoughtfulness united with deep listening to historical and contemporary voices offer a fresh way forward.
Here are some apparently intractable issues that Spirit-inspired thoughtfulness may help resolve:
Issue: Immigration reform is mired in accusation and reactive thinking. It is popular to brush over legal and social issues in the name of hospitality. If one presses for border enforcement and more strictures, charges of racism and xenophobia are leveled. One political party wants cheap labor; the other desires cheap votes. The polarized sides are missing the heart of the matter.
The Thoughtful Path: Hospitality with the rule of law offers a better way forward. Borders, citizenship and reasonable regulation are all parts of a civilized nation and adherence to just laws is the obligation of citizens. “Amnesty” seems only to apply to one group, with many potential immigrants mired in endless hassles on their way to legal status. We need deeper thought about the events of the 19th and 20th century and US-Mexican relations. The narratives are not simple. There is something wrong about offering benefits to undocumented folks that natural citizens are unable to receive. It is equally unjust to deprive people of opportunities for a better life. Prophetic voices must hold both governments and societies accountable for the moral and structural issues that drive the current confusion.
Issue: Peace in the Middle East. In reaction to dispensational Christian Zionism, many Christian groups are excoriating Israel’s political and social policies and demanding divestment as they side with the oppressed Palestinians in the “occupied” territories. Supporters of Israel’s right to exist in peace accuse such agitators of anti-Semitism and siding with violence.
The Thoughtful Path: Christians are uniquely positioned to be peacemakers in this volatile region. Taking some clues from Camp David in 1978 and Mandela’s leadership in South Africa in the 1990s, thoughtful mediation can focus on mutual recognition (something Palestinian leaders have still not offered), shared use of Jerusalem as a capital of both states, with international oversight of holy places and forgiveness and reconciliation for historical violence. Nobel Prizes have been awarded for prior accords, only to see extremists begin new rounds of violence. The thoughtful path refuses to delegitimize Israel or deny Palestinians a state. Thoughtfulness includes considering the unique claims of Arab Christian communities that are persecuted by the Muslim majority.
Issue: Economic justice will not arrive through hyper-individualism embodied in the pagan-secular vision of Ayn Rand or the collectivism of materialist Marxism (in all its iterations).
The Thoughtful Path: Biblical writings on economics and work integrate so much of what divides the modern world. Flourishing economies lift more people out of poverty than redistribution of limited resources. Private property/prosperity and public good are both possible. Ethical wealth creation and cultivation of Creation’s resources are built into the divine design. Prophetic denunciation of unfair work conditions and practices are an important task of the church. Personal virtue and public trust, access to markets and the rule of law are all needed for a free economy to benefit all. In the last 50 years, the conditions of billions have improved…and we have a long way to go. International “aid” that feathers the nests of Western agencies while keeping local businesses unable to compete is as unjust as the historical oppression of multinationals. Christians must work for personal empowerment and the common good, spiritual awakening and structural change and avoid being pawns of powerful interests that take advantage of the desperately poor.
(One more) Issue: Public policies concerning marriage and sexuality. Believers are mostly united on the biblical ideals of single celibacy and marital fidelity; however, the divergences begin when translating this influence to public policies. Fearful of reifying any expression of Christendom, many Christians are opting for a bifurcation of ecclesial policy and pluralist public policy. One can refuse to perform a gay marriage ceremony and still not oppose legislation legitimizing this union as marriage. Other believers, distressed at family breakdown and social implosion, opt for greater influence on public policy. Opponents of gay marriage are labeled homophobes and deniers of civil rights. Believers that opt to separate ecclesial and public policy are libeled as backslidden compromisers contributing to civilizational collapse.
The Thoughtful Path: Biblical sexual morality is clear, even though it is hard. The reasons people have the attractions they do are complex; however, the call to the cross and community life in Christ compels obedience to biblical norms…and offers forgiveness and grace when we (all) fall short. Public policies need Christian input. The notion that believers keep their convictions private is absurd. If we are silent on marriage policy, then we must be mute on economic and social justice, legal inequities, racism and sexism as well! Christians need to lead a civil, intense and strategic discussion on the common good, specifically asking what ethical/moral and social practices a community, state or nation should prohibit, permit and promote. Allowing domestic arrangements for care, visitation, inheritance and other relational and social concerns is not the same thing as calling a living arrangement marriage. While Christians may stand for the ideal, they must love and serve people that are part of ten (yes, 10) major family systems operating today. Hospitality and holiness are possible, with much grace for all.
These are just four of many issues deserving thoughtful reflection. Divine sovereignty and freewill, proper submission to spiritual authority, accountability with boundaries, liturgical practices…. the list is long. We can add just war and pacifism, healthcare administration and control, and other seemingly intractable issues. It is my fervent hope that this exploration opens us to dialogue with other “camps” that will include listening deeply to each other and praying intensely for divine wisdom.
I am a student of the Holocaust and therefore see the modern state of Israel as a positive good for the world. I am a historian and know the narratives of the past century as Jews from around the world have created a place of refuge…and Palestinians displaced by the propaganda of the Islamic radicals and the exigencies of war long for their homes. I am also a preacher/teacher, with Arab Christians as students over years and a commitment to evangelization of all people. Jesus commended peacemakers, not polemicists. He called us to create one community of all nations within the church and be a light to all nations. My longing is for learning in love with the glory of God and the good of all in our hearts and minds.
Thoughtfulness is not boring, passionless cognition. My aim is prayerful reflection on Scripture, history, theology and cultural context so that we are – in deed and word – the light of the world.