How Christians ought to respond to major debates in society is always an issue. Some current examples are same-sex marriage, abortion, the war on terrorism, and U.S. immigration policy. We form our positions based on our backgrounds and religious beliefs, but since our faith traditions differ widely, we are often all over the map just as much as people of other faiths or even agnostics or atheists.
Regardless of the sides Christians take, how we address and confront others is an important indicator of our relationship with God. It reflects how our lights are shining or not shining. When we exercise our right to protest, are we yelling at each other? Do we understand the difference between critical analysis, criticism, and judging? A judge is one who has the authority to render punishment upon someone who has broken a law. Are we holding up signs that damn to a hell those who disagree with us or whose behavior we disagree with, even though we own no hell to send them to? Isn’t this why Jesus, the ultimate judge, warned us not to judge? Are we seeking first to model ourselves after Jesus and how He would have us to address these critical issues of our time?
Fifty years ago during the civil rights movement, one of the most contentious moments in America’s history, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed for a nonviolent protest in Birmingham. Many who were against him were fellow Christians who felt his methods were too radical—even ungodly. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, Dr. King addressed his fellow brothers and sisters directly. In the rhetorical tradition of African American Jeremiads, Dr. King eloquently cried out for justice by using rational, biblically grounded arguments to defend the cause of the civil rights movement. He wrote:
“A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”
Dr. King also defended his methods and behavior. He wrote, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham.”
Dr. King had modeled the “ladder of hope” outlined in 2 Peter 1:4-14 We must have faith in what we believe and that we can accomplish all things through Christ. We need knowledge to apply that faith, so we ought to thoroughly educate ourselves regarding all sides of the issues we are confronting before we act. This faith and knowledge should prepare us to be self-controlled and respectful toward our fellow human beings—to be nonviolent in our interaction and, if necessary, confrontation. We will have the ability to persevere in a way that honors God in our positions and everything we do. And when people who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior see our behavior, they should see not hate, but God’s love in us – even if disagreement remains.
And so, as we confront the issues of the day, no matter how much our individual passions are riled, perhaps we Christians, as varied as we are, should remember to consider what we should be modeling. We should model our speech after the direct, but loving conversational approach of Jesus.