In the wake of the Houston subpoenas, my good friend Jim Herrington has been working for peace and reconciliation in the resulting tension. As he has done his work, he has posted a number of updates, reflections, and challenges to the church on his Facebook page. What he wrote yesterday was extremely helpful and, to use a word I do not use often, prophetic. I asked him if I could repost it here because I believe it is so important for us as individual Christians and the Church as a whole to consider how we show in a culture that is increasingly post-Christian.
Jim’s opinion matters in this because Jim loves Houston. Deeply. He has committed his life to the city, and has gained the respect of many pastors, leaders, and city officials because of his work in Houston. Rather than listen to pundits across the country who are not relationally invested in the good of the city, I encourage you to listen to someone who is.
As you read his words, I challenge you to read it differently than how you read most other things. Rather than reading to see if you agree or disagree, or if you think he is right or wrong, or about the comment you might leave, read Jim’s words and simply ask yourself, “What if this is so?”
What if Mayer Parker doesn’t hate Christians?
What if we are no longer living in “Jerusalem” but are now in “Babylon”?
What if a large part of the Christian response has been anxious?
As I reflect on my experience of making several posts related to the subpoenas issued by Houston’s city government to five pastors in the city, I’ve observed a distinct generational difference in the responses. That came into clear focus for me today at a breakfast meeting with a team of pastors from Denver. They were asking about my experience and how people had responded to the series of posts. I said, “Mostly my older friends have been silent or critical of my stance. Mostly my younger friends have been appreciative and encouraging.”
One of the pastors, a young man, then said this to me. “In my experience the older people that I know do mission as if we are still living in Jerusalem where we are the dominant culture. My younger friends realize that we are living in Babylon. The posture of exile is the appropriate posture for us to take.”
How the world occurs to you impacts how you respond.
This young pastor’s perspective reflects my own experience. I believe that the Church has been being marginalized for some time now, and I expect that to continue. I believe that much of the marginalization is a result of our own behavior. Survey after survey indicates that Christians are viewed as angry, judgmental, people who want to dominate the culture with their own beliefs and values. While I recognize that this is not true of all Christians, the pervasiveness of the research done by a wide range of individuals and organizations speaks to the truth of what I’m saying. The vast majority of people look at the lives of Christians and simply do not see much that is worth emulating.
I’m trying to stand for a different kind of future – one in which all the citizens of our city are respected – and especially those who hold different beliefs and values than mine. I am trying to stand for mutual respect, authentic dialogue, disagreeing civilly, and staying connected in loving relationships even when difference seem deep and unreconcilable. To me this is what love looks like.
In the case of HERO, I recognize that there are deep differences. I believe there could have been a win/win here. But, to get to that, parties on either side would be required to really know and love the person with whom they differ. Relationships would need to be built so that trust is established. Only in that context can we do the kind of conflict that leads to shared solutions that honor all parties. Sadly the nature of the adversarial relationships that have emerged in recent years means that parties on both side of this issue have in some ways engaged in demonizing the other.
I have deeply appreciated the Mayor’s stance in all of this. While she clearly has a point of view that grows out of her life experience, she has actively engaged herself in building bridges with the Christian community. She’s appeared on KSBJ, Houston’s largest radio talk shows. She actively supported the work of Loving Houston in it’s first year. She held a fund-raising dinner to raise money for a Christian orphanage in Zambia where approximately $75,000 was raised. She raised money to launch For Houston Kids (approximately $85,000), and she spoke at ATCO last year, a gathering of missional leader in the Christian community. She did all of this with a generous spirit that honored the contributions that each of these groups were and are making. What I also know, because I’ve cultivated a relationship with her, is that she has been demonized by many Christians and she’s taken a lot of grief from the GLBT community for being a bridge builder.
If living in exile is a good metaphor for how Christians will live in this post-Christian society, we must recognize that increasingly we exist as a minority population, and we must recognize that efforts to dominate the culture only serve to further marginalize us. I believe we must, instead, follow the Mayor’s led by living faithfully out of our values and guiding principles, building relationships with those who don’t share our values, and working together to see the prosperity of the city for all the citizens who live here.
I am hopeful. This younger generation gets what I am saying. And they also get that we will contribute to creating the kind of city that we all want to live in – one where everyone is safe and has enough – by being the kinds of people who love God and who love their neighbor as they want to be loved. None of us wants to be dominated. So why would we try to impose our view on others. None of us wants to be disrespected, so why would we disrespect those who see the world differently. None of us wants to be marginalized, so why would we take actions that marginalize others.
In the short term, I’m saddened by the way so much of the Church shows up in culture – for sure I’ve been disappointed in the way much of the Church has responded to the HERO process. But, in the long-term I believe that God is doing something new and that there is an emerging generation of leaders who see this new thing clearly. Imperfectly but persistently I’m trying to living fully into each moment in order to align my life with the new thing God is doing.