If you had to choose between right belief and serving others – if you really had to – what would you choose?
What if the stakes were higher? What if it was not just any right belief, but one of the most definitional, controversial issues in the global church? And what if it was not just any act of service, but was leading the church’s response to one of the most pressing moral questions of our time?
My husband and I faced this when the refugee ministry we served with in North Africa was confronted by the question of same sex unions.
The church that hosted the ministry where we worked, and also where we worshipped, had been part of a recent worldwide split over the issue of same sex unions. The split was very sad, very difficult, and we knew both sides grieved division. We learned that the church where we worshipped and served out of was on the conservative side of the split.
My husband managed donor services for the ministry, and several months in realized that, unbeknownst to church leaders, one of our largest donors was on the other side of the split.
So, what would you do? Was it an issue? We thought no, but some people thought yes – that we shouldn’t take the money when there was unreconciled difference. There were those who thought an ideological and theological split justified cutting all ties, even humanitarian ones.
It came to a head as we left. There were meetings. I don’t know what the outcome was. But what if those on either side of the fence had to keep their funding and support on that same side too? Is that justified? At what point is it OK for belief to get in the way of service? Of hungry people being fed?
What we believe is important. It dictates what we do and how we live our lives. We should always be wrestling with what we believe and why. And we should also understand how it shapes our worldview, and therefore, how we view and treat the people whose lives intersect with ours–our neighbors.
Because if, hypothetically, a church was to stop accepting funds from an organization over a belief about same sex marriage, without other funds available, resulting in services for the poor being cut, I think those seemingly pure ideologies are for naught. Does it not go against the gospel? Surely, hungry people being fed is a much truer reflection of the good news Jesus preached than refusing to cooperate with those with different beliefs.
A few years ago when World Vision lost thousands of child sponsors over changing their hiring policies about people in same sex unions, I was grieved. They lost so much funding, and were so pressured, they eventually were forced to reverse the decision. I guess those against same sex unions won – but what kind of victory is that? And at what cost? Being willing to pull food away from the mouth of a hungry child to make a point about your belief? Is that really what the good news is about?
If our seemingly pure principles and beliefs keep people hungry and poor, then I think we’re wrong. If keeping our doctrines supposedly pure and unstained, regardless of the issue, keep us from meeting the needs of others, I think we’re wrong.
I’m not sure what the set up will be when we meet our maker. I’m doubtful it’ll be a Q&A where we need to provide the right answers to make the pearly gates open for us, as some hellfire preachers may lead us to believe. But if I ever need to defend the errors I’ve made – and I know there are plenty — I’d rather err on the side of love, of showing grace and mercy, and of sharing with others what I have, than of holding tight to my theology with a clenched fist.
When Jesus healed the woman on the Sabbath, the Pharisees scolded him for working on the holy day. Jesus called them hypocrites. When the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and wanted to stone her based on the laws they prided in keeping to a tee, Jesus turned it on them and said that he who was without sin should cast the first stone. In both cases, the Pharisees were so committed to following their ‘right belief’ they didn’t love. And Jesus chose to love.
Many of us have been taught that Christianity is about right doctrine and correct belief. These things are not bad – we should have both, or we risk staying immature forever. But James tells us that true religion is this: “to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” If we feel like our right beliefs make an adequate defense as to why we can’t love, care for, or help certain people, I think we need to evaluate them again.
If it comes to erring on the side of right belief, or of welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, keeping my hand and heart opened or closed, I want to err on the side of loving and welcoming my neighbor.
I’d rather err in welcoming someone to the table than keeping them away. I’m not the one who gets to decide who is invited, anyway. The table isn’t mine to begin with.
Untitled. Acrylic. 2007.