I have always had a strong moral compass, though I can't say it has always pointed North for the right reasons. I must admit that many of the times I have chosen to do good, I simply did so in order to avoid disappointing others and the consequences of punishment that would follow. Intermingled with my moral tendency to favor approval was another ethic that surrounded me - the Puritan Work Ethic. Growing up in farmland Pennsylvania, I was surrounded by industrious, hard working people who worked often, worked hard, and worked well. This work ethic was directly tied to my moral ethic, for God instituted work before the fall (it was not a curse), and whatever we did was to be done to the glory of God. Now I'm not saying that I necessarily adopted such a work ethic in practice, but its ideology has definitely been a big part of my life.
There were two recent, significant events that rocked my world as it relates to moral ethics and effectiveness. The first was our move towards ministry in Romania. When we were accepted into MTW and began support raising, we were immediately faced with a difficult choice. Since both Catalina and I remained in our full-time jobs, had a family who needed tending, and had a variety of other responsibilities to manage - our time to meet with other people and churches was limited. As we developed a list of people with whom we wanted to share our story and our mission and as we began to hear back from churches in regard to our mission, we realized that we were stuck between choosing effectiveness and love. Many church responses we received stated up front that they could do nothing for us financially now, and likely not in the near future either. However, some of them really wanted us to come and share our calling with them. To go to these churches would not net us any financial support, and it was the financial support that would get us to Romania. Likewise, we knew the situation of individuals and families on our list and many were clear that they just could not support us financially. To meet with many on our list would mean to use our limited time on a meeting that we knew at the outset would bear no financial fruit or be effective at moving us tangibly closer to Romania. Doing this carried the risk of extending our departure date or causing us to not go at all if support raising took too long. Either of these events, in my mind, would be letting people down, would not be effectively moving us towards our goal, and would cause me to lose image and approval.
But something about turning down opportunities to share with others about the Kingdom seemed wrong. James clearly spoke to our situation, declaring that preference was not to be given to those with more wealth. We did not want to view our conversations about Romania as something only financial supporters could access. While we recognized that this could extend our time of departure, and though we did have to make some decisions based on the wise use of resources (e.g. not flying up to New York to a church who couldn't support us), we do not avoid contacting individuals or churches based on their ability or inability to give. We believe that in general, all churches and all families should have access to hearing personally about what God is doing in Romania. While this may make us ineffective, we are choosing indiscriminate love and trusting that God will provide what we need for whatever he calls us to do.
This lesson on effectiveness is also one that I am learning as it relates to politics. I have recently read a book by John Yoder called the "Politics of Jesus." It is a fantastic book that explores Christ's impact on the institutions of his day. Yoder explains that Christ's main act in this world was to show deference to God and relinquish his sovereignty. Though Christ is God, he did not grasp at the aspect of control and sovereignty. The Second Adam, unlike the First Adam, did not try to take control into his hands. This is so true, that Christ avoided being crowned king or made ruler three times (on the shores after feeding the masses when he ran from being crowned, in the temple after Palm Sunday when he preached destruction for the religious establishment, and in the Garden when he could have called down legions of angels to save him from suffering and establish his reign). Rather than embrace alternative kingdom paths, Christ humbly submitted to the cup of suffering, though he was tempted not to. In fact, the one time we see Christ clearly tempted is when Peter tells Christ that he will not let him suffer. Jesus lashes out and yells for Satan to get behind him. Avoiding the path of suffering and the cross was obviously a big temptation for Christ.Though Jesus did pray for this cup to pass on the night of his betrayal, he submitted to the will of God and embraced the cross and the cup.
When we think about Christ establishing his Kingdom through suffering, it seems he chose the most ineffective methodology for success one could use. To deny being crowned king by the masses, to deny the institution of the religion of his day, and to deny the institution of kingdoms and the military was unthinkable. It was utterly ineffective. It was so ineffective it lead to Christ's death. Every choice he made to frustrate those in control and every choice he made not to invoke their power was one step he took closer to persecution and death. The cross was not placed upon Christ, he chose it.
As I look at where my heart is politically, I recognize that I have not been like Christ. I have beckoned to the greatest power that is in our modern minds - the national government - to save us from our sins. I have been unwilling to suffer. I have not embraced all of the societal outcasts, as that would put me at odds with religious institutions in some cases and with the government in others. I have willfully sought to control outcomes through the levers of power at my disposal rather than submitting to God in love and praying his will be done. I have made moral compromises because it was required to be effective. I, like many Christians, have thrown off the metric of love and humble submission for the metric of effectiveness.
None of this can be seen more clearly than in the previous election. I remember how Catalina and I were torn between our votes. On the one hand, voting for Hillary Clinton would be a compromise for us due to the pro-choice platform on which she ran. We couldn’t vote for that. On the other hand, Donald Trump’s haughtiness, bigoted, generalized, and demeaning statements and self-proclaimed messianic platform that ran on fear did not encompass Christian love. I could vote for Clinton in hopes of preventing Christians from being viewed as pro-birth-only, or unloving hypocrites. On the other hand, I could vote for Trump in hopes that despite his reprehensible demeanor, he could appoint Supreme Court Justices and push bills that could limit or overturn abortion and move our country onto higher moral ground in certain areas, at least legislatively (though legislating morality likely won't change hearts, and in fact may lead to their hardening).
As we were researching the pros and cons of each candidate and viewing the vitriol making its way across our Facebook feeds, something clicked for me. I didn’t have to compromise my morals or Christ’s image. Yoder helped me to realize that I was assessing politics all wrong. I was thinking about how I could manipulate the lever of politics to produce a certain end – morality, legislation, image, etc. To get the end I thought was best, I was willing to compromise in some/many areas. Love my enemies? Not if they’re in X Party; I need to bash them and be disrespectful so as to undermine their image and power. Edify the church? Not if they disagree with my political position. I need to question their Christianity. Be fruit inspectors and warn believers against false teachers? We don’t need to look at fruit and be discerning of leaders representing our party. if someone says they repented, regardless of what the fruit in their life looks like now, we’ll stand behind them. Repay evil with good? That doesn’t work in politics. We are free to respond in the same ways our opponents have and would if they had the power. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of compromise I had to sift through! As we contemplated our vote, we just could not escape the dilemma of choosing effectiveness unto desired results or obedience to God's standards and faith in God's sovereignty.
Even as I sit here decrying the metric of effectiveness, I do so with a hypocritical heart. In the back of my mind I am thinking about how stupid of a write-up this is. What if someone who supports us reads this and drops us because they don’t think you can be a Christian without having voted for such-and-such a candidate? What if fellow missionaries get mad at me because I am questioning the ethics behind only pursuing meetings that may be financially fruitful? Expressing such thoughts may not be the most effective thing. But I have come to realize the need for asking a greater question than “what is effective?” I have to ask “what is loving?” Would it be loving of me to keep such concerns to myself rather than sparking dialogue? Would it be better for me to not ask brothers and sisters in Christ to examine their lives for a subversive ethic that can be damaging to their walk with Christ and their reflection of Christ’s image to the world? I think silence would be the inappropriate decision at this point. I am finding that keeping ideas and actions in the dark allows them to grow into ungodly and ungainly things. What are the ideas that are off limits in our culture? Religion, politics, and money (not coincidentally, the three major topics in this post). Just as a festering wound left untreated becomes gangrenous and poisons the blood, so festering religion left unchallenged turns into false teaching, mysticism, moralism, and hypocrisy. Festering political ideology entrenched and unchallenged turns into polarization, power plays, us vs. them mentalities, and a lack of love towards groups who are different. Festering views of money left unchallenged turn into greed, materialism, the absence of charity, and waste. It was because of Christ’s lack of silence on such potentially dark areas of society and his refusal to ally with the powers that be which lead to his persecution from all sides as he willfully inched closer and closer to the cross. We need to be willing to be like Christ. Just as a father disciplines his children because he loves, so it is with those of us who are trying to push back against things that concern us, but in the context of cordial conversations. We want the body of Christ edified and the image of Christ upheld. We are questioning whether Christians are allowing our culture today to define what success looks like rather than Christ and his metric of the cross. Maybe I’m wrong about everything I said so far, but we need to talk about these things reasonably.
While Evangelical Christians are being told that now is the time to strike – while conservatives are in power – I want to encourage you to shine a light into the recesses of your heart. What is your ethic? Is it love – even for your enemies - or is it an ethic driven by results and effectiveness through manipulating certain levers of power within our society? What compromises have you been willing to make recently for “God’s” Kingdom? Do your compromises align with God’s expectations for how you are to act? Does the potential for persecution or failed moral legislation legitimize moral compromises?
I have become more convicted, as of late, that the metric of effectiveness pervades every facet of my life. I didn't even bring the topic of the workplace into this. If I did, it would extend the conversation by at least double, and heap an unbearable load of guilt upon me, and likely us all. As I look around at my fellow American Christians, I see that they struggle with the same thing. The temptation that befell Adam and the temptation that Christ continually faced is the temptation to which we have collectively succumbed to. It seems I want to be so effective for God that I am willing to compromise obedience to him and his ethic to do so. I am in constant need of pushing back my fervor for advancing God's kingdom - or my own kingdom disguised as God's. No matter how stupid it seems to throw away power and position for love and obedience, such foolishness is the wisdom of God. A louder voice. More vitriol. Greater numbers. Stronger legislation. They are all lies. These may be the means by which we will be effective, but they are not how we are to be measured as Christians.