Monday, January 10, 2022

Baptismal Vows? Obviously Optional.

We live in a country now ruled by tribalism. We are not ruled by a republic, we are not ruled by any specific religious belief: we are ruled by tribalism. We are guided by individualism, which runs contrary to the spirit of a republican democracy and is the antithesis of Judeo/Christian core beliefs.

From Founding Father John Dickinson’s 1768 “The Liberty Song.”:

Come, join hand in hand, brave Americans all, 
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty's call; 
No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim, 
Or stain with dishonour America's name.

From the Old Testament:

I will be your God. - Genesis 17:7-8
You will be My people. - Exodus 4:22; 6:7
I will dwell among you. - Exodus 29:43-46

From the New Testament:

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. - Romans 12:4-5

So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:24-28

But these words from the Word have been largely ignored. People have and can justify anything if it helps their cause, since Satan can quote scripture too! Racism was (is) defended. Not allowing women to vote was once justified. As I shared in Sunday’s sermon, more recent major strides in acceptance and grace have not come from the brave actions of the Church; they came from secular political expediency and the loyalty of friendship. When did the stigma of divorce become lessened? When Ronald Reagan (a former divorcée) became a candidate for president. When did AIDS research begin to be federally funded? When President Reagan’s good friend Rock Hudson died of AIDS.

What institution has treated divorcées and AIDS patients like lepers? The Church. When did change happen? When a beloved politician (and those wanting to elect him) had us confront change and acceptance. In these cases change was good. It was past due. It was ethically and morally right. The people who loved Reagan and wanted him to be president had to swallow some pride and prejudice to elect and support him.

When did my friend's white grandfather begin to soften his views on other races? When his great-grandson brought his African-American fiancé to meet him. 

Well. We're not so big without our Facebook and Twitter page, are we?

Today, we find ourselves in more factions and tribes than ever before. I don’t know an institution in America free of it. Even those who claim unity under the labels “Democrat,” “Republican,” and in my circles of “United Methodist,” and “WCA/Global Methodist Church” find themselves with warring factions from within. Democrats are not united in their support of Joe Biden anymore than Republicans find unity in being Donald Trump supporters. Many who are leaving the United Methodist Church are not leaving to go to the Global Methodist Church but becoming independent/non-denominational. Why? Many reasons, but the guiding principle is, "I want what I want." 

It's my observation that the Church prefers majoring in the minors as opposed to living out the Great Commandment and Great Commission. We value individualism more than we do unity because unity means that there IS something bigger, more important, more overriding than what “I” think. “WE” is the first word of the U.S. Constitution. The Lord’s Prayer begins, “OUR Father,” (and not "My Father."). If you’re going to be American, and you’re going to be Christian, “I” isn’t the priority. “WE” is the priority. Those aren't my words, but the words of the Constitution and the Scriptures. 

In order to embrace “WE” and “OUR,” we have to take a dose of humility. Humility that our limited intellect cannot always grasp all of the wisdom in the world and most certainly cannot grasp much at all of God’s wisdom and truth. Over the years, we’ve realized that epileptics are not possessed by a demon, because someone’s child or grandchild was an epileptic, and helped us to understand that it is a biological anomaly, not an evil spirit. We realized that divorcees are not evil or “fallen people,” because someone’s child or parent was a divorcee, and helped us realize that they were part of a fallen relationship. We are starting to realize that LGBTQ+ folks do not choose who they are, because someone’s child or parent is LGBTQ+, and helped us realize that they didn't choose to be who they are, but that they have always been that way as long as they can remember. 

Self portrait by Sarah McCracken Weekes

I’m not an epileptic. I’m not a divorcée. I don’t know what those things are like, but I’ve dealt with people who have or who have children who have, and I have learned to be compassionate - not judgmental - because of their witness to me. I do understand LGBTQ+ folks don’t choose who they are, because I have a child who is such.  She can’t explain why she is who she is, but she knows that she can’t “change” it. She also knows who and Whose she is, though the church she grew up in has been slow to say that. (When she chose to get a tattoo, it was the word "Agape," in Greek letters.) The cynic in me suspects those attitudes will probably not change dramatically until we have a president (probably a Republican one) who has a gay child. Then it will be "more acceptable."

Why do we give our politicians more power than church leaders, or more importantly, Jesus? The answer is simple: where our treasure is, that is where we will find our heart. Jesus is much too radical for us who love “I” and “ME” more than “OUR” and “WE.” Until we truly accept that, and accept our baptismal vows as having priority over any other vow, oath, or pledge that we could take, we will render more to Caesar than we will to God.