“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” Matthew 12:25
Through various channels (conversations, social media, etc.), I have come to see that our church family has people with differing perspectives regarding the #TakeAKnee movement. If you’re not familiar, I’m referring to the increasing number of professional athletes taking a knee at their games during the national anthem. The athletes believe it is a way to peacefully protest the systemic racism they see in our country.
In response, many have leveled severe criticism. People are saying taking a knee during the national anthem is an insult to our country, especially to those who have served in the military in order to protect the freedoms Americans enjoy. People are talking about boycotting the NFL. The President said and tweeted various criticisms. It is clear where he stands on this issue.
If you’re part of the University Presbyterian Church family, it is important for you to know that, when it comes to this issue, you’re in mixed company. Some support the athletes; some do not. It is an opportunity for the true Enemy of God’s people to drive a wedge between us. He certainly hopes we will grow angry at one another over this. He certainly hopes we will begin to reject one another over this. Would that all of us might call upon the name of the Lord and pray our diversity wouldn’t interrupt our unity. It doesn’t have to; and it won’t if we keep our eyes on Christ.
Here are some things to consider.
1. Love is job #1
We are Christians. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. Therefore, through faith, we are able to love and respect those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. Let’s not forget, for Christians, love is job #1 (Matthew 22:34-40). As you think about people with whom you disagree on this issue, Jesus would have you focused less on proving them wrong and more on showing them love. If you want a quick reminder of what that looks like, I encourage you to meditate on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (seriously, take a moment to look it up).
2. Self-righteousness is our default position
Ever since the fall, human beings have naturally felt the need to be right (righteous). In our fallen nature the idea that our worth and value are intrinsically tied to our righteousness is pervasive. The feeling that we must prove ourselves right influences much of what we do. Self-righteousness is our default position. Therefore, before we jump onto one side or another, we would do well to preach the gospel to ourselves. We ought to remind ourselves that we have no righteousness of our own. Our righteousness comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This will help us avoid calling others wrong in order to make ourselves feel right (something we are all prone to do). If we remind ourselves of our alien righteousness we can take a side (if we so choose) for unselfish reasons.
3. Charity is a Christian virtue
In the fourteenth chapter of his letter to the Romans Paul discusses Christian liberty of conscience. There were some early Christians who ate meat and there were others who did not. Paul exhorted the Roman Christians to avoid judging one another and to allow one another to operate according to faith and conscience. He said they should “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (vs. 19) and that the most important thing was for everyone (regardless of which side of the debate they were on) to operate according to their faith (vs. 23). How people should peacefully protest and how people should show respect for their country both fall under the category of Christian liberty. Each one of us is free to agree with one side or the other, but we are not free to judge those with whom we disagree.
4. You're free to not take a side
It light of Christian liberty, I feel we should acknowledge that nobody is required to choose a side. Some are likely waiting to learn more before they say anything. Some likely have an opinion, but do not feel the need to make it public. While we’re working to avoid judging people with whom we disagree, let’s also avoid judging those who choose to remain silent.
5. The best advice I’ve ever received
As Christians, we seek to order our lives around that which God has revealed through His word and Spirit, especially the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we do not have explicit teaching on any given matter, we search for implicit. If we aren’t sure we have either, we seek to use sanctified wisdom. When it comes to disagreeing with people, here is the best advice (sanctified wisdom) I’ve ever received. Years ago I heard author Dennis Haack say we should neither agree or disagree with someone (or some group) until we can say: “I understand.” Seek to understand people on the other side of this debate. Perhaps there are aspects of their story that cause them to lean the way they do. I agree with Mr. Rogers (of PBS fame) who said, “Frankly, there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love once you've heard their story.” What a beautifully challenging thought.
Beloved church family, people in our church disagree on this issue. It is likely people in your Life Group disagree on this issue. People in your immediate family might disagree on this issue. My prayer is that we would: love one another, avoid being self-righteous, show charity, let people think, and seek to understand those with whom we disagree. If we do these things, we’ll remain united and we’ll love one another better. When that happens, people will know we belong to Jesus. As He said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
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