Dear faithful, biblical sisters and brothers who are trying to follow Jesus in this time called America,
I write to you during a summer of Supreme Court decisions and annual church meetings when religious news has, once again, become focused on sexuality and contraception (and whether your state legislature or employer should have a say in these matters).
As these are deeply personal matters, I understand that people care about them. As they have to do with life and love and our most intimate relationships, I’m sure God cares about them too.
I also know that there is no one “biblical” position on sexuality or contraception. Faithful people debate these issues and come to different conclusions.
But I am deeply troubled and frankly baffled by the way these old debates from the 20th century culture wars consume our energy and render us unable to speak about and act on the issues with which Jesus is so clearly concerned. “Woe unto you, teachers of the law,” our Lord says, “… you have neglected the weightier matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”
To be a bit more specific, our Christian concern for the 11 million people living without legal status in the US, under constant threat of deportation, has gone largely unnoticed (despite a significant campaign to #PrayforReform). Yet, the Bible says, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
Our faith in the God of second chances has not made the headlines, even as 65 million people with criminal records struggle to find employment, education, and housing and avoid returning to prison. But the Bible is clear: “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Our deep commitment to peacemaking has not be noteworthy in a world riddled with conflict, despite our Lord’s blessing for the peacemakers, who “shall be called the children of God.”
Our generosity has been little noted in the midst of conversations about growing income inequality. But Jesus said, “Give to whoever asks,” and Paul said of God’s people that “whoever gathered much didn’t have too much and whoever gathered little didn’t have too little, for each only took according to their need.”
I haven’t seen a single story this summer about the extraordinary nature of Christian love in America. But Jesus was clear: “By this will everyone know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” There is no weightier matter.
What Jesus calls “weightier matters” are not issues we should care about because they touch a personal nerve. They are issues we care about because they impact us collectively.
This is what the American church has largely missed in our public witness: it makes little difference to most people whether we proclaim that God agrees with their personal decisions. But it makes a difference to everyone in our communities whether we stand for justice, love mercy, and keep faith with God and neighbor.
Would that we did more of the latter. It would be news indeed.