Sunday, December 12, 2010

Love Neighbor 2

The first of this section is here.
Certainly the idea that we should love our neighbor seems uncontroversial enough for a Christian.  But the question of how that love works out in practice has often been controversial.  Nevertheless, very many Christians in many traditions would share the loving values that also seem common sense to the Wesleyan tradition.

For example, one of the distinctives of John Wesley's ministry was the attention he gave to coal miners and others that many of his social status deemed beneath them.  He was a key participant in a movement within England that not only ended in the abolition of slavery not long after his death, but that very well may have saved England from the bloody revolution that took place in France near the end of his life.  In the 1800s, the ongoing Wesleyan tradition gave birth to the Salvation Army, whose mission to the poor is so well known that few realize it is also a denomination in the Wesleyan tradition.

It is fascinating how so many Christians not only ignore the clear and consistent principle of helping the needy in Scripture, but have actually convinced themselves that those who do are almost evil.  Perhaps some of this push back goes back to the early twentieth century in America, when those who most pushed a "social gospel" were Christians who had largely stopped believing in things like the virgin birth or Jesus' bodily resurrection.  But a key perspective is to see this group's concern for the poor as all that was left of their Christianity rather than some substitute for it.  Proponents of a social gospel looked to Jesus as their supreme moral example, even though they did not consider him to be God.  We can feel free to critique their rejection of orthodox faith, but how deeply ironic to critique their moral impulse to ask, "What would Jesus do?"

Bringing good news to the poor and the dis-empowered thus remains a core Wesleyan value.  It is not only a key value of the Pentateuch, where Israel was to help the needy in its land (e.g., Deut. 15:11).  The need for "social justice" was also a key point of God's critique of Israel in the prophets (e.g., Isa. 10:2; Amos 2:7).  A key element of Jesus' announcement of the coming kingdom was "good news to the poor," so much so that Luke makes it the inaugural message of Jesus' earthly ministry (Luke 4:16-21, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2).  The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats assigns eternal destinies based on whether a person has fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, and clothed the naked (Matt. 25:31-46).

And helping the poor and dis-empowered was a key value of the early church (Acts 2:44-45; Gal. 2:10; Jas. 2:15-17; 1 John 3:17).  Understandably, the majority of these examples and instructions are directed toward the needy within the church.  However, the principle is to love everyone, to do good to everyone, even if the needy within the church are a focal concern (e.g., Gal. 6:10).

The application of principles must take into account the complications of life.  Today we would identify many more types of people as needy than only those who are hungry.  There are the addicted, the generationally poor, the abused.  The goal of loving them remains, of moving them to healthy forms of life.  We want not only to give out fish but to teach to fish and to help others want to fish in the first place.

Yet it is also the nature of things for us to come up with excuses for not following through on what we need to do.  And thus things like the abuse of help for the needy or setting up an artificial tension between social and spiritual gospels can get in the way.  The principles remain clear.  The sins or abuses of others has nothing to do with our impulse to love and serve them.  And the social gospel is not in competition with the spiritual gospel.  They are the same gospel, and a person probably will not receive your word of "salvation" if they are hungry or greatly in need.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

The question you pose, "how does one understand their faith", is one that has to be grappled with IF one concerns themselves with religion, as a personal endeavor.

Is religion culture specific? Is religion universal? Is religion inclusive/exclusive? Where does the nation-state (modernity) dissolve, diminish or affirm religious conviction? These are issues for our country regarding Church and State.

Some traditions believe that one should represent right behavior, other right belief...and one's belonging has a lot to do with how one interprets belief and behavior.

You argue for the Weselyan tradition's behavior affirmation supplementing the prophetical message to take care of the poor. But, this is not the way that consevative Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists understand their tradition, as theirs is a supernaturalistic understanding of and to their faith. Would the conservative/liberal tradition within the Wesleyan tradition be similar (naturalism/supernaturalism)?

Religion is how one frames their understanding of faith. The question for me is about liberty not as much about faith. Faith without (political) liberty is 'hope in the by and by", or the "Big Man in the sky", which is no hope at all. So, liberty comes first. I affirm the right to dissent, because I believe in the "consent of the governed".

Liberty is about government/leadership, not the State. The State is absent liberty because it absents "God" from any frame of reference. Political liberty means that those that want to affirm religion, can have that liberty and must have that liberty. It is the right of man to have such liberty of conscience in how they will or won't choose to worship God.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

After re-reading my post, I recognize that it doesn't seem to connect with "Love of neighbor". What I am trying to say is that how we understand faith has a lot to do with how we understand "how to love our neighbor", since the Christian tradition affirms love of neighbor.

It seems that you don't leave any room for another way to understand "love of neighbor". Love of neighbor is just as much about what we DON"T do, as what we DO, do. Government should not be about what we Do, do, but about what we Don't do...individual choice should be about what we choose to do...that is liberty of conscience in regards to love of neighbor. Otherwise, we co-erce a social program upon the individual.

On the other hand, others would impose a supernaturalistic answer to "love of neighbor". This is also inappropriate.

Liberty of individual conscience protected by the boundaries of law, must be THE value to uphold to protect our free society. Because without liberty none of us will be protected from co-ercion and corruption.

JohnM said...

Overreaction to unbelief and abandonment of the spiritual gospel for the social gospel is part of the explanation for Christian indifference (relatively speaking) to helping the needy. But maybe that isn't, as Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story".

The social gospel enjoyed some success and so came big time government involvement in helping the needy. This may have created the impression that things like assistance to the needy are secular concerns, since what the government does is supposed to be secular. No need to add any Christian ingredients.

Then public assistance came to be understood as entitlement. Entitlements are benefits enjoyed by virtue of being (supposedly) in an entitled category. The entitled compete with, and are among, all manner of special intrest groups lobbying for public and private funding. The needy then are seen as no more special than any of the others. A Christian may well wonder what any of this has to do with discipleship.

Of course it very often happens that Christian indifference to the truly needy is exaggerated. I've moved around a lot in my life and attended or visited a lot of churches, and of different denominations. I've yet to come across one that was entirely indifferent to need and suffering.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You make some good points.

I don't have any resistance to helping the poor.(I've just worked on selling White House ornaments for the needy). I DO have a resistance to anyone telling me what is appropriate for me to do or not do, as it concerns the poor. That is like affirming redistribution of wealth, though it is distribution of 'charity' as deemed appropriate by some social program.

And I agree that Churches don't for the most part deny the reality of real needs, or social issues. I don't want to be determined. That is objectifying me, where my personal interests and concerns are irrelavant. That is subservience to beauracratic interferrence with the personal...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I know what happens to those that are "enabled" by the "hero", the "co-dependent", etc. It doesn't do anyone any good to help those who refuse to help themselves, or refuse to learn from their mistakes. It takes wisdom to be a good steward when it comes to these kinds of "needs". "" the whole world is in need. One could spend their life endlessly trying to make inroads into poverty, and die with more to do. Povery has become a political issue that gets politicians "voted in" and more taxes that they can spend with little accountability. (other than gettting voted out)...but the debt that accumulates because of such spending continues its effects on our economy. This makes slaves of us all to the national debt!

JohnM said...

Wonder what happens when the national debt eventually renders all of us needy? :)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

My husband and I have talked about that. And this is what some may want, so that most of us will be dependent on their "charity".

Isn't this what happened in the French Revolution? And what about what is happening in England and Greece right now, on a smaller level? Will we go back to trading services to each other? growing our own food? learning survival skills, as it concerns cold and heat? I don't know, as I don't want to overreact, or become a doomssayer....but we also don't need to take precaution...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Correction: we need to take precaution...