God, I Thank You I’m Not Like Those Others: The Meta-Sin of Culture Wars

Permit me—even forgive me if need be—for tampering with Scripture for a moment to make a brief but vital point:

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt…  The conservative Christian, standing by himself, was blogging thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: ignoring God’s clear commands against homosexuality, not upholding Scripture as inerrant and infallible, giving an ear to biological evolution for human origins, decrying God’s sovereignty in all matters, challenging the historicity of the Old Testament, or even like this liberal Christian.”

Wait, I’m not finished, tolerate me just once more:

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt… The liberal Christian, standing by himself, was blogging thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: bigots for their stance on biblical marriage, supporting fast food chains who are against homosexual rights to marry, hold to Scripture as inerrant and infallible in all matters, teach conscious torment in hell for eternity, actually believe in the historicity of Genesis 1-3, or even like this conservative Christian.”

(I am fully aware of the over simplifications of the above, but its accuracy is not germane to the main point)

Now in writing this, I must be cautious that I do not fall prey to a third, but often unmentioned category: “God, I thank you that I am not like either of these liberal or conservative Christians!” Catch the drift? That is, in light of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector recorded in Luke 18:9-14 there is no righteous high ground for those slugging it out in the in the muddy trenches of the recent culture wars.

After all, Jesus is not here addressing a correct view per se, but an incorrect arrogant mindset. Moreover, what is important to highlight is that by all normal standards of the Second Temple period, the Pharisee was no doubt representing the “biblical side” of things, and thus, making sure to clarify—to God no less!—that he is not a part of those “others.”

Nevertheless, I am not advocating, to any degree, that all sides just lay down their theological, exegetical, hermeneutical, or sociopolitical weapons so we can hold hands across the America (though, that might not be such a bad idea). I am however attempting to convey that while we continue to engage our ideological foes that no matter how right our cause maybe in our own eyes, that we be ever vigilant of a higher meta-sin: presumptuous self-adulation.

Lest we catch ourselves in the just scope of the only righteous Judge of all matters past and present, Jesus himself. By all means let the discussions continue, (“war” is not the correct description) only let us put on Christ with all humility and gentleness keeping in mind the ever present threat of the graver sin abhorred by Christ, human pride.

There were, after all, moments when the various tribes of ancient Israel fought ferociously with one another, but there were other more pristine moments; like the moment the eleven tribes prayed for the tribe of Benjamin who failed to make face at an assembly after their near extinction. Scripture records, “But the Israelites had compassion for Benjamin their kin, and said, “One tribe is cut off from Israel this day.”

I suggest that though we may be absolutely convinced of the just nature of our particular cause, it is more imperative that we engage in a way that safeguards both against religious-self-conceit and the possibility of one less guard assembling to worship God and his Messiah. I rest my case with words from N.T. Wright on the parable referenced above:

But this doesn’t mean that one can tell in the present who God’s elect are, simply by the outward badges of virtue, and in particular the observance of the minutiae of the Jewish law (or for a particular sociopolitical cause for that matter). If you want to see where this final vindication is anticipated in the present, look for where there is genuine penitence, genuine casting of oneself on the mercies of God. ‘This one went home vindicated’; those are among the most comforting words in the whole gospel.

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Lawrence is the Senior Teaching-Pastor of Academia Church in Goodyear, Arizona. He is a pastor devoted to the educational growth of his congregants, and the raising up of a new generation of disciples, who will think, tell, and live out the Christian story. Lawrence is currently attending Liberty University.

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  • http://twitter.com/Ryan_LR Ryan Robinson

    Very similar to Greg Boyd’s latest sermon from Woodland Hills which I just listened to yesterday. The primary point was that even if your theologies (and sociopolitical stances, and ethics, etc) are right, they can still be an idolatry. The way you believe what you think you know, rightly or wrongly, about God can hinder your ability to actually know God. As a theology student myself, it is a very important reminder for me.

  • Cuecatsucks

    I get and appreciate the point you are making. However

    Take for example the school bully. Everyday he come to taunt and tease the weaker, to laugh and point fingers as he cruelly humiliates his victim , to relish in the joy of bending others to his will and feeling superior in his might and strength. Then one day, the victims stand up and cry out, ENOUGH, you will NOT do this to me anymore and begin to point out the ways in which the bully has abused his victims. At some point it is possible for the victim to become the bully, but I do not fault them for taking a stand and speaking out against injustice…even if it hurts the wittle feelings of the bully. I am more than obviously aware of the concept of turning the other cheek in his name, but when you put forth proposals that suggest the victim is just as much to blame and try de-legitimizing the pain they’ve been forced to endure, you’ve gone too far in my opinion. As we learned through the civil rights struggles we’ve already endured, there is nothing inherently evil about standing up for what’s right. It’s all in the approach we take. We do it out of love not hate, but make no mistake, it must be done.

    • Cuecatsucks

      and if the Church continues to stand by allowing the bully to wreak havoc like some disinterested third party that doesn’t want to get it’s hands dirty, or worse yet, stands up for the bully, you will see more and more people wanting nothing do with God or religion.

    • Lawrence Garcia

      Well, as to speaking out against injustice, I would grant a resounding and uncomprimising, “YES”! However, the aim of the post is not about not naming injustice where it is to be found. It is about doing it in way that will not lead those doing it into self-adulation and self-righteousness. We need to engage each other in way that is characterized by gentleness and meakness—something I have not seen with most blogs on the subject. So please, by all means continue (I stated this in the post), however, many of them are our Christian brothers and sister, and therefore we have a biblical mandate—all of us—to love one another and to speak the truth in love.

      • Cuecatsucks

        agreed!

      • Cuecatsucks

        Let me try this one on you. Part of what I’m trying to suggest is that maybe the oppressed don’t have have the same motivation as the oppressors. I’m not saying that none of them are prideful or arrogant, but they are more likely screaming out in pain over repeatably being punched in the face. I am not gay. I am someone who believes in God and loves Christ. I am horrifically ashamed by what my fellow brother and sisters do in the name of Christ. I’ll sit by and eat up all the conversation that can be had about how we stand up in love against evil. I think it’s a necessary conversation that we all should be participating in. Perhaps the ideas in this article are what it looks like when addressing on side or the other, but seen from the perspective of someone who sees the self-inflicted damage the church is doing and having a heart for those that have been hurt, it just doesn’t ring the right tone or focus to me. All things are not equal.  When the main thrust of your action becomes sticking up your middle finger to those who are watching you, you may have filled a bunch of chicken restaurants, but you continue to drive people away from the church.

        • Lawrence Garcia

          I would say that, sure, maybe those speaking against oppression do not have the same motivation that those who are supporting this or that sociopolitical issue; that is a real possibility for sure. Nonetheless, it maybe equally possible to misconstrue the reasons the otherside is standing on the position they do, let’s say, the position against gay marriage. I find that much of the issue is ‘interpretation’ by which I mean that if you decided that supporting C.F.A is hate and injustice then anyone supporting it may fall in the scopes of your percieved justice. But, maybe its not hate or injustice per se, maybe they sense injustice as well; so here we have both sides calling each other out in the name of “injustice.” This is the impasse that I sense we’ve run into on the issue. This, of course, is not the reason or logic of the post which is a more a “if-the-shoe-fits-wear-it” type address. I certainly did not mean the post to be a all encompising critique, but more of a warning against a “meta-sin” that both parties(on any issue by the way) need to be gaurded against. After all, Saul of Tarsus assumed his violence was justified in the name of God, but he later realizes that he is actually attacking Christ himself. Thus, I believe it is imperative that we understand some of the theological rules-of-engagement first, before we get so entrenched we begin substiting clear commands of Scritpure, like “love your enemy” for a pursuit of justice, though of course important. We need to think clearly and soberly about issues and we need to transcend the fray occasionally to gain different perspectives. Other wise, this,these issues shall never be resolved.

          • Cuecatsucks

            Replace the word “gay” with “woman” or “black” or any minority oppressed people and the argument is the same. We either believe in justice for ALL or justice for none. What I’m telling you, is the people looking at how the “Christians” are behaving, see it as intolerance, rejection and judgement. All good intentions aside, it is about a group being discriminated against. Since the penalty for each and every sin is the exact same, there are no big sins or little sins. All sin separates us. So maybe Christ’s message to love one another trumps the self righteousness of picking on people who sin differently than you or I do. I see that as THE issue that is eating the Church up from the inside. If your only point is warning against a “meta-sin”, then my only point is that you are saying things you didn’t intend with a whitewash job like that. I personally am perfectly aware of what some people thought they were doing. I haven’t even spoken to one of them that had any idea that CFA gives millions of dollars to hate groups that promote discrimination. They only know the marching orders given to them by the media. There has been no critical thinking, just a “how high” in response to jump. I’m not picking on you. I respect Kurt’s blog and I respect your right to your expression. I was hoping maybe it would lead to a discussion of how we dialog in love with those we disagree, but I sense the dialog is falling apart. I’m just the canary in the mine trying to alert you of the danger. I’m certainly no one to anyone but God and my family and who cares what I think anyway?

          • Cuecatsucks

            I’ll give this one last shot. The Bible has been used in the past to justify slavery and all sorts of ugly things. Today we don’t tolerate racism and discrimination against black people (it still happens). If this was all about black people and not gay people would your focus still be the same? Would you still still be accusing the people standing up and speaking out of the sin of idolatry? or might there be a different focus?

          • Lawrence Garcia

            I find it interesting that you think I disagree with the need to speak openly and if need be, strongly, against oppression in all of its forms. I’ve conceded to precisely that point; so again, yes!—we should! And I am surprised, at least that is how I read it, you assume that I am being uncritical; after all, one cannot be more critical than to be first self-critical; and second, to attempt to understand the position of those you are in disagreement with sincerely. Which I think should be done. Moreover, the post is not taking a stand, to any degree either way, on the C.F.A fiasco. That was not the intention of the post whatsover. Moreover, the C.F.A issue is part of a wider ideological divide between so-called conservatives and liberals; an issue which itself has divided the church on many fronts. Where I do disagree with your position, on the strongest terms possible, is that while in speaking out against opression (which by the way, ironically both sides consider themselves to be doing)  that it is simply not an issue that human arrogance/pride/divisiveness is being committed. This borders on a sort personal-pragmatism that ignores the sins being committed so as long as the job gets done. There is no wisdom here, after all, something upon which the New Testament is unanimous on is the unity of the church; and according to Ephesians this is also a “witness” to the world of God’s wisdom. Our witness in Scritpure is predicated upon the diverse unity accomplished in Christ; I suggest that if our ways of addressing modern sociopolitical issues threatens this then we should seriously reconsider our methods. So no, all sins are not alike, they can indeed be forgiven equally, but they do not carry the same consequences. So, yes, defend the helpless, lift up the poor, strengthen the feeble, feed the orphan and the widow, and house the homeless andthe stranger; but by all means, let us never forget that we are to humble, self-critical, and ever mindful of our own need of forgiveness, and above all, continuing to love those who we most disagree.

  • Simon Nash

    Amen. I was juist going leave it amen, but I’ll add another quick amen to Ryan’s comment too – this blog post does go very nicely with Greg’s talk and his recentn matching post on Reknew. I wish I had seen this yesterday when I wrote about faith and certainty on Anoigmatic. I think the poultry wars have served one useful function; to make us reflect on our discourse.

    I saw a great tweet today from someone called Mike Huddleston, which I think went viral “Dear Religion, While you were debating what chicken sandwiches were okay to eat, I just landed on Mars. Sincerely, Your Pal Science”.

    What must people think of us (because they sure don’t make fine distinctions between different kinds of Christians).

  • Pat68


    the Pharisee was no doubt representing the “biblical side” of things, and thus, making sure to clarify—to God no less!—that he is not a part of those “others.””  

    As I read this, it occurred to me that we have a wrong conception of God if we go to Him praying or simply thinking about how we’re not like those “others”, that He will somehow accept that weak argument and side with us.  

  • KateHanch

    Looking at these “cultural wars” with a sense of humility, realizing that we only know a speck of God’s character, can help us be respectful of people who disagree with us. They are also in the image of God. Perhaps humility is more important than correct orthodoxy? 

  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/rhbrandon Bob Brandon

    As with all parables, which character do we actually relate to?

  • Scott Hale

    Lawrence, here’s my conundrum: What happens when a whole community of “redeemed tax collectors” starts gathering together, all “beating their breast” in sincere humility and brokenness, and how do they resist noticing that THEY are much nearer to God than the prideful Pharisees down the road? How do we avoid that vicious magnetic draw of every human heart to notice (even correctly) that WE are “doing it right”!?


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