“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:12
The Ride Home.
I was riding in the back of a rideshare car the other day when I ended up having a conversation about Voice of the Middle Ground and its mission. I also, at the driver’s request, ended up sharing a little about my own personal story and its connection to that mission. Part of the way through that conversation, the topics came up of the 2016 election, the hanging of the American flag in predominantly white churches (They, like me, were mostly engaging in these spaces.), and how the presence and conversation around both of these topics was something that caused them to believe that caused them to believe that they were uncared for and unloved. They looked on at these things and at their brothers and sisters in Christ and asked themselves the question: Could they walk with these people knowing and seeing firsthand how little other Christians actually seemed to care.
My Own Experience.
Sadly, this experience that my driver shared isn’t one that seemed alien to me. As much as they had experienced these things, there wasn’t any way for me to deny having also felt these things, being in a place where I still sometimes feel them when these kinds of conversations come up. There is pain. There is brokenness. There are times when I, like so many others go through periods of darkness in relation to these issues where all I want to do is shrink into myself and allow myself to live in the space of these emotions I’ve been trained by others in the church world who “just don’t get it” to pretend just aren’t there.
The Unhealthy Reality.
The reality that there are those in churches today who feel like I do and like this driver did and who are in positions where church culture basically tells them to stuff their emotions isn’t healthy. More than that, it doesn’t really mesh with the kind of authentic Christianity Jesus calls Christians to, or bringing it home, what he calls you and me to.
No, the type of authentic Christianity Jesus calls us to is one where we bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), encourage each other (Hebrews 10:24-25), and where we both in our individual and connected lives of faith recognize that, no matter what storms we face, Jesus is right here in the boat with us (Matthew 8:23-27).
In other words, we’re called to a Christianity that’s less about being of the world and more about being salt and light in it, less about the American flag or any flag, and more about a lifestyle where, as Jesus encourages us, we’re known by our love.
But how do we connect that to this conversation about the flag? Now that we know some of what we’re looking at in terms of these hurts, how can we move forward with ears, eyes, hands, and hearts in service to Christ as agents of healing? A good place to start would be this verse in 1 Corinthians 6:12.
Let’s Walk It Out.
I Corinthians 6:12 is one of those verses we see used a lot, especially when it comes to teaching us what not to do in our lives of faith. But I want us to take this and pair it with John 13:34-35 so that, as we’re looking at all of these passages together what we see is not condemnation but instead a call for us as we live our lives in this space of the world around us to live our lives among those who are hurting as those who, we ourselves have experienced being wrapped in the all-encompassing love of God.
What does this mean? It means that, as we think about whether or not we keep an American flag in a place where we want people from all backgrounds to feel free to come and learn about who Jesus is and his love for them, we allow Christ’s love to overflow from our hearts and into the lives of those he calls us to love, even to the point where we give up some rights so that others may know Christ…even so that brothers and sisters in Christ who are hurting because of the pain of the past can be strengthened in their faith. But it’s also more than this. There’s a cultural change that needs to take place in the Church.
Truth is truth and we shouldn’t try to change it for any reason. But, could it be that, as we have conversations even in the halls of the Church, that we’re having conversations based on opinion and not Biblical fact? If we answer this question “yes”. And, as I myself have witnessed there are definitely times when we’d have to, then we’d also have to say that our conversations in the hallways of our churches are also things that contribute to people feeling as though they need to hide in plain sight. In these spaces and in these times, it’s important for us to take a step back and prayerfully think about this question: What can I do as a member of a church and also what can my church do to create an environment where people encounter the love of God far more than they encounter what can come across very easily as a love of self or an allegiance to country?
I realize I’m leaving you with a question. But if we want to be able to engage with the culture, sometimes sitting with the questions is part of the journey it’s important for us to be prepared to take.