Editorial: Receiving truth from ‘others’

Detail from 'The Sower' by Jean-Francois Millet, 1814-1875 (Wikipedia image)

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One of the great challenges of following Jesus involves learning from estranged Christians and—gasp!—unbelievers. Most Christians believe we possess divine truth. So, we’re naturally disinclined to receive truth from “others.”

But we err when we discount their veracity out of hand. We rob ourselves of vital lessons, and we rob them of dialogue that may help them glimpse God’s truth.

knox newEditor Marv KnoxThis is valid for at least two reasons. First, all truth is God’s truth, and God tends to spread truth promiscuously, much like the Sower in Jesus’ parable. Second, people can express truth, even when their words are subject to dispute. The passion conveyed in questionable comments often is poignantly true.

This summer, I’ve learned from non-Christians and people who once believed. They sent me emails after I wrote editorials about Texas’ new abortion law. The first editorial called on Texas Christians to get ready to help take care of the babies who will be born because of the law. The second editorial presented common reactions to the first editorial.

Along the way, I received personal and often painful emails. They expressed surprise to find an empathetic discussion of abortion and at-risk children and mothers on a Baptist website. They came from people who, for the most part, carry emotional scars inflicted by Christians.

I’ve decided to share excerpts of those emails with you. Prepare to be shocked. Most likely, you’ll disagree with what they say, or at least how they interpret what they have seen. But read nondefensively. Try to learn from their experiences and recognize how to embody the presence of Jesus to people who have been hurt by Christians.

We might be stoned

“I married a boy from a good Baptist home, his father a minister of the gospel. We went to church. We embraced it all, and when our children were born, we took them before the congregation and ‘gave them back to God.’ We were there every time the doors were open. But then the Sunday school teachers kept bringing up politics, and we came to realize we just didn’t fit in to that church anymore. If, heaven forbid, they found out we were dirty, filthy liberals, we might be stoned. …

“I personally consider myself a Christian and have a very clear daily dialogue with Jesus. But my husband has pretty much become an atheist. …

“The church will never be what you describe, because the majority of members really do enjoy the ‘I’m better than you because …’ part of it.”

“Holier than thou”

“I left the Baptist church after 55 years due to the irresponsibility shown towards poverty and due to the ‘holier-than-thou’ tactics of congregants.”

Proud to renounce Christianity

“I gave up on Christians long ago. … I place my faith in your continued failure. Maybe if you loved more and hated less … we might all be in a better place. I am proud to renounce my Christianity and dissolve any ties to that organization.”

Judgment vs. compassion

“I have never doubted the compassion of the Christ, but many of his followers believe in judgment rather than compassion. I hope that this editorial is a sign of much-needed change.”

Turned away

“The hypocrites in religion have turned so many, like me, away from organized religion. If the pro-birth members of the GOP were to write such an editorial, they would replace ‘babies’ with the word ‘parasite.’

“While I remain firmly pro-choice, I feel if everyone who is not had your rational mindset, we would have little need to argue. We waste too many resources on this struggle, resources that could go to supporting mothers and families who find no or little choice available to them.”

Perspective from a pro-lifer

“I came with a group that offered pregnancy counseling services from a Christian perspective. …

“There was way too much quoting of Scripture to a secular crowd that had no point of reference. It was as if we were speaking Chinese to them! …

“I was appalled that a preacher at the rally at the Capitol said to the crowd, ‘Whether the folks in orange realize it or not, they are tools of Satan.’ I watched the pro-choice folks …, and I was ashamed I was in blue. … Yelling that in the public square makes them recoil in hate and widens the divide.

“Before we roll up our sleeves to take on the task ahead of us, I know we must get on our knees and repent of our disdain of those who are ‘not like us.’ Our first order of business as the church in Texas is to be filled with the Spirit of God so we can truly love the lost and show compassion. Otherwise, our work will be nothing more than a clanging cymbal. We must remember the Lord’s kindness leads to repentance. They will know we are Christians by our love.”

Pro-birth, not pro-life

“In my four years at (a Texas Baptist university), I witnessed a lot of hypocrisy by some of my fellow students who would proclaim a moral high ground because of their Southern Baptist affiliation and yet fail to treat their fellow humans with respect and kindness. For a girl who grew up with ‘And they will know we are Christians by our Love’ as her favorite hymn and thought the Golden Rule trumped any kind of denominational in-fighting, it was devastating. …

“For the non-Christian population—and even for many from the less theologically conservative end of Christianity—a single-minded political fervor and legislative impetus to ensure every baby is born, while there is either silence on or advocacy for the reduction of services and resources that help a child … does look like the only value is pro-birth, and not at all pro-life.”

Success questionable

“I fear the people who supported the bill the most have the least care about taking responsibility for the consequences that will naturally follow.

“We do indeed need to get ready to take care of these babies. However, based on how we take care of those already with us, I question how successful we will be with the ‘help’ of our Texas Legislature.”

I’ll take my chances with hell”

“The majority of those who claim to be Christians are actually just materialistic, feel-good-on-Sunday Pharisees. …

“I hope you and every other Baptist answers before God someday for the suffering you are going to cause and have already caused by curtailing contraceptive availability. … While reducing abortion availability may have some argument, reducing availability of contraceptives to poor working women does not, and you and your lot are responsible for that as well. And increased contraceptive availability is proven, statistically, to reduce abortions! Yet it was de-funded! …

“Be proud and smug about yourselves. You can claim every poor woman’s death now as your own personal ‘kill,’ like in some sort of childish video game. Be proud of your body count, because that is what you’ve created.

“I don’t know if there is a God or not, Mr. Knox. But if there is and if that … group—mean-spirited, hypocritical—embodies what he represents, I think I’ll take my chances with hell.”

The way backwards

“We can thank Texas for leading the way backwards toward a Christian version of Sharia law, where woman are marginalized baby factories, under the thumbs of their male-dominated society. Because that’s what the Legislature really wants, isn’t it?

“Are we so out of touch with reality to think that politicians—the most protected and corrupt members of our society—are looking to make the lives of women and children ‘better’? No.”

Marching in lockstep

“I’m continually shocked this decade by the hostile actions … against women, children, minorities, and immigrants. And I’m further dismayed by the Christian Right, who marches lockstep behind them. Do they believe Jesus would really treat people this way?”

Lack of Christian compassion

“I am very concerned about the lack of compassion and assistance that is offered by Christians to those who are marginalized by today’s culture.

“About 15 years ago, I applied for and received public assistance for me and my two children for about a year. … I worked three part-time jobs at the time and was very grateful for food stamps and health care. … I was not lazy, uneducated or unmotivated, and I have never felt a sense of entitlement. I feel both sad and resentful when my ‘friends’ and ‘peers’ speak with such scorn, anger and bitterness about those who receive benefits.

“I can honestly say that no one ever offered to help in any way with my (autistic) son—not even to offer to stay with him while I bought groceries. … I can guarantee that no one who adamantly opposes abortion would be willing or able to care for my son. …

I have wondered many times whether my son would have been more fortunate if I had, in fact, had an abortion. I cannot imagine life without him, but I can certainly understand a woman seriously considering that option for an unborn child. …

“And I frequently find, as I get older, that I question exactly where God can be found in the Christian culture of today.”

Final thoughts from Marv …

Do these comments break your heart as they broke mine? You may be angry with me for publishing them, or for publishing them without refuting them point-by-point. That’s your right. But I hope you tuned in to the pain and agony they expressed. The truth of these statements lies in the experiences of the people who shared them. Their pain and sense of estrangement comprise a reality—a truth—with which we must deal.

Several times, I responded to these dear people: “I’m so sorry for your pain. If I had been treated as some Christians apparently treated you, I don’t doubt I would feel as you do now. I hope and pray you will encounter kind and compassionate Christians who will embody Jesus’ love for you. Millions of them are scattered all over the world. And even the sweetest and gentlest only dimly reflect divine compassion.”

You may be thinking, “I’m not the kind of Christian who turned these people away from God.” I pray you’re right. But all of us need to strive daily to express Christian love into a hurting world. And thinking kind thoughts isn’t enough. We must express that love tangibly and practically. Taking care of babies, children, mothers and pregnant women is an excellent place to start.

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