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Is Contention, Dissension and Division the New Normal?

You don’t need a genius IQ to figure out that the world is divided, split, fractured. Arguably, this has been the case since man broke the unbroken human-divine connection in the Garden. Since then it has been a ripple of billions of sub-fractures that have splintered society. Then came Jesus and he united the unthinkable, made one the implausible, and formed a family from diversity. There has been nothing else that comes close to His unifying embrace of humanity.

Yet here we are in 2022 with our paltry opinations dribbling precious unity away like desert sand running through arthritic fingers. We have avid covid camps, rabid pandemic politics, and infallible science splits where our opinion is the right one, of course. We are experts in masking, vaccinating, and herd immunity when the only real herd we have is the hubris herd stampeding through the narrow canyon of our limited perceptions. “We” know best; “they” are uninformed. “We” are thinking long-term; “they” are short-sighted. “We” are magnanimous towards humankind; “they” are the selfish fringe who are fraying the fabric of society. “We” are free people; “they” are sheeple. “Ours” is the realm of thoughtful reflection, “theirs” the misguided meanderings of conspiracy theorists.

For a moment let’s forget about the CDCs, the EMAs, the Fauci, Gates, Big Pharma, and WHO players. Let’s rather examine ourselves in the Body of Christ since we are big players in the divisiveness, dissension, and downright nastiness that is threatening to become The New Normal. We have forgotten Jesus’ last prayers “that they may be one, even as You and I are one.” We have condemned our brother and sister who have a differing perspective. Where Jesus died to turn the hearts of children to parents and the hearts of parents to the Lord, we have tuned our ears to CNN or Fox News and divided that which Christ came to unite. Families have become fractured, and friends have broken covenant relationships. Each has labeled the other “crazy” and the devil has sat down smug. “How easy it is to get Christians to turn against each other,” he must be saying. He has dangled the bait of self-righteousness and we have taken it, hook, line, and sinker.

Is this New Normal actually new?

If we spent more time reading the Word of God than watching media (and social media) we would know that attempts to divide the family of God are not new. Take, as but one example, the situation in Rome when the Apostle Paul wrote believers there a letter. People with both Hebrew and Roman roots had become followers of Jesus. Then, for a season, the Jews were expelled from Rome. While they were away the church still flourished and the Roman-origin disciples enjoyed their newfound freedom in Christ. Then the Jewish believers returned to Rome and were upset that their fellow believers were not as tuned into the Hebrew traditions and laws. They seemed to be ignoring the historical roots from which the branches of freedom sprung. The net result was division about secondary issues such as religious laws, what food could be eaten, ways of worship, and more. Paul spoke into this context in Romans 14:

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

Notice the implied assumption that one group felt they had more faith than the others! Paul then gives some specific examples, dealing with food. This advice came before there were factors like organic, gluten-free, vegan, low-carb-high-fat, and more.

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Have you crossed people off your guest list, whether literally or the guest list in your mind? Next, he moves on to days of the week and ends with a hint about conscience.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

Conscience is key. Note: con + science = conscience. Pushing my opinion on someone else whose conscience leads them in a direction different from mine is downright ungodly. Today we cancel people who think differently. What’s the basis of our judgmental action?

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

Many have created slave camps hemmed in by what Paul calls “petty tyrannies.” And society as a whole is groaning under the tyranny of the minority, the tirades of the experts.

What would Paul say in this semi-Pandemic era?

We should try to figure out the underlying principles that stem from the counsel given in scripture to different groups about how to get along. Paul’s sage advice seems to break into several categories: faith, freedom, and conscience. 

Paul says we are answerable to God; we want people to be answerable to us? Why did/didn’t you get the jab? Why do/don’t you drink caffeine /wine /beer/kombucha/ whatever? 

So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. 

On the topic of faith…

Most readers of this blog will understand that our eternal security is not founded on our family of origin, education, or accomplishments in life… not even on our religious tradition. The gift of Christ to the world was the greatest level-setter when it came to how people can access God and his benefits, and we receive Jesus Christ in faith. The Jewish believers could point to faith precepts in the narrative of their history; the Romans did not have this heritage. Paul leveled their disconnect by highlighting the basis of salvation: faith in Christ alone.

On the topic of freedom…

If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

On the topic of Conscience…

Scripture posits that we should live with a clean conscience, not a superior intellectual position. We do this by living sensitively and courteously. Hateful social media comments, regardless of the “rightness” of your views, are not cool. It is not my responsibility to rectify every piece of “misinformation” I see. God made us for freedom and he is in charge of the process of spring-cleaning our conscience. Our sparklingly enlightened position is not meant to be a lightsaber for slicing our opponents. We should live in the Kingdom of God, not in some Star Wars induced cosmic battle against our own family.

Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything, as it is in itself, is holy. We, of course, by the way, we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

Some free advice to all of us

What might Paul say to us? Perhaps he would say:

  • You both have a point
  • You both can be wrong
  • Don’t get stuck in your position
  • Don’t force others to comply with your perspectives, however “passively” you do it
  • Don’t sacrifice love, your fellow human, for your viewpoint 
  • Do what you, do in faith: if you don’t, it is sin
  • If you use your superior knowledge and stance to judge others, you are in trouble with God who is their master. You are not the master or the boss, and you are certainly not their boss, so you cannot dictate behavior to them.

It is time to mend fences even if we never blend opinions. The issue is a stance of humility before God that causes us to bend the philosophical knee to our brother and sister. As a practical matter, these could be useful ways to start sentences…

  • “I am probably wrong about …”
  • “We have a lot to learn yet it seems...”
  • “Time will tell whether I am wrong or right...”

And these are unhelpful ways to start sentences:

  • “Science says…”
  • “You Vaxers/Antivaxers…”
  • “There’s no doubt…”
  • “As everyone agrees …”
  • “I cannot associate with…”
  • “In my humble opinion…” which is usually neither humble nor completely factual, just an opinion.

What if the energy spent building mental encampments is a huge distraction sucking us away from our bigger commission? If we are spending time making arguments for our case and against their case, perhaps we are obsessing too much. If we are dissociating from people for whom Jesus is busy preparing a place in heaven, watch out: you may be neighbors. Better to get along now.

Paul’s advice continues:

  • “Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others.” 
  • “So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you?”
  • “So be sensitive and courteous to the others…”

What will be your New Normal?

The Kingdom of God is a place where we live according to the heart’s desires and ways of the King and we do the best for his other subjects. We don’t live solely from our own wisdom nor for our personal preferences and desires. It is not a place where we put up a restaurant welcoming only those who eat what we prefer, complying with our superior dietary knowledge.

God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

Feel free to insert food, politics, economics, or pandemics: “your jobs is to single-mindedly serve Christ.” I cannot be self-serving and serve Christ. I, therefore, have to ask myself whether my perspectives during this current era are self-indulging or other-serving. Has my victory in Christ given way to vitriol and vindictiveness? Or is the freedom I feel—to not vax or vax, for example—creating a prison for others. I read a joke recently that said, “Sometimes I hold my fork up and look at my husband through the fork; for a moment I am happy as I can see him behind bars.” Eat with your hands if you must, don’t carry a philosophical fork into your new normal.

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