Archive for the ‘Christian Ethics’ Category

Today I read an article by Ann Coulter about compassion-by-personal-experience (http://newsbusters.org/blogs/ann-coulter/2013/05/08/ann-coulter-column-beware-evangelicals-liberal-clothing).

Now I tend to avoid Ann Coulter, normally. She is funny, in a sarcastic way, but too sharp for me. She is often jarring to my (I hope) Holy Spirit-led, “let this mind be in you” soul. But she is also often spot-on in her analysis, even if she is spot on with a black eye, instead of the persuasiveness that Paul encouraged Christians to have (1 Cor 9:12).

Anyway, in her article, she speaks of “evangelicals” that the media like to put on parade every few months about one topic or another, to try to convince Christian folks to get on the “reasonableness” bandwagon that this month’s token evangelical spokesperson is on. In the case of this article, the “reasonable” evangelical will be all for amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Ms. Coulter shares quotes from main stream press articles of folks who have met illegal aliens in their churches, and have come to “have compassion” on them, and so embrace amnesty-for-all as a solution to their suffering. That is, as a result of their personal encounter, they have come around to the “reasonable” conclusion that they should support open borders, amnesty for all, and no consequences for breaking the heretofore law.

In her article, Ms. Coulter deconstructs this idea, and she succinctly summarizes the flaw in this thinking with this: “Principles do not vary depending on personal circumstances.” She says this after another very insightful comment: “This new Christian ethic of compassion-by-personal-encounter is also bad news for the”… others whom those evangelicals have not had a personal encounter with. In this case, she cites the millions of American blue-collar workers unable to find work because of the massive illegal influx of illegal immigrants. But her phrase “new Christian ethic of compassion-by-personal-encounter” is well taken.

Of course, the model of the Christian’s compassion should be Christ. He had compassion upon the multitudes, because he perceived they were as sheep without a shepherd. But he didn’t meet each one personally, determine that because they were suffering at the hands of the Romans, or whatever, that he should advocate for that change. In fact, when a follower indicated that he had been cheated by a family member, His response was, “who made me a judge over you?” (Luke 12:13-14). His response wasn’t to go change the aggrieved man’s circumstances.

Christ’s form of compassion, which we will emulate more and more the longer we dwell in him and He in us, is compassion for all mankind, the seen and the unseen. Christ left the glories and beauties and perfections of heaven to be made in the debased image of man, in order that he might reconcile God and man. Now that is compassion! And it didn’t come as a result of personal experience with each of those humans, listening to their sad stories and then acting to eliminate their sadness. We get our personal experiences of God when we become part of His family. So his compassion does not require personal experience (see Matt 5:45).

Anyway, this is only one of several examples in Ms. Coulter’s article of how being moved by our emotions for the suffering of those we can see, can stop us from thinking about the suffering of those we can’t see. It’s similar to the mom of a serial killer who says her boy was always nice to her. She uses her own emotional feelings about her son to determine the truth about his character as a whole, and it obscures her ability to see the suffering of his victims.

Ann Coulter’s point is that those who do not think past their own emotional responses to something, are stymied in their understanding of whole truth, because they fail to see a greater principle beyond their own feelings.

My dear husband said recently that “principles are between God and man, but standards are between men and men”. He was referring to how in many Christian circles, men lay “standards” of behavior upon one another, and that they confuse those standards with principles. Principles are truths about God and His dealings with men. Standards are measurements that men lay upon men. Ms. Coulter’s article shows that this plays out in every sort of Christian body, not just the “standard-driven” ones that most readily come to mind.

That is, a standard is something to measure up to (hence the phrase “measure up to the standard”), and men give them to each other. But a principle is a thing to be guided by (hence the common phrase “a guiding principle”). God’s principles, like God the Holy Spirit himself, guide us. Man says “measure up”. God says, “follow me”.

The new emotion-driven “standards” in the church, perhaps based upon the emotions of those who might have felt rejected in the past, are “tolerance” and “acceptance” and “judge not…” and all of that. These are the new standards in the new evangelicalism.

Furthermore, all of this got me to thinking about how this plays out in other areas of my own Christian walk.

It is easy to unwittingly be guided my own experience, and the emotional response I have from it, as I judge scripture’s meaning. I have seen this in lots of Christian thinking (KJVOism, what folks wear/see/hear, etc.) I think even the Armininianist/Calvinist debate is a good illustration of the ability of experience and emotional response to determine the understanding of the scriptures.

The Arminianist apologist tends to emotionally be the self-doubter, what the personality gurus call a “melancholy”. Hence his tendency to focus on the “if you” passages of scripture.  The Calvinist apologist tends to have a more take-charge-full-of-confidence personality type. Hence his tendency to focus on the “done deal” passages of scripture. Emotionally, the Calvinist can be impatient and irritated by the self-examining, which can all-too-often strike them as self-absorbed and thereby humanistic. (And lest I have offended anyone in either camp, I only give this by example as another illustration of how emotion affects understanding of the scriptures.)

Each of us, by personality, responds to the same input differently. Thomas doubted the Lord, Peter rebuked the Lord, John tried to manipulate the Lord (with his brother and mom), etc. They all experienced the same God-in-flesh. But by their personalities, they emotionally responded to Him differently.

Thomas’ doubts can make standards for others to uphold (“discernment” is often the Christian pc word for doubt). And So too with Peter’s “boldness” and John’s “tenderness”. The history of Christendom is replete with folks making doctrinal stands (and denominations) out of understandings based on feelings

But Jesus’ response was not to the feelings-driven-standards, but to the God-guided-principle:

He rebuked Thomas for his pride (I can know the truth), Peter for his pride (I can tell what is, or even do, God’s will), and John for his pride (I am God’s special choice).

As is obvious here, the principle in this instance is: God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. That is, Christ taught the apostles, who tended to be led by their personalities, in principles, not standards. (If he had been concerned for standards, he would’ve washed his hands more, never gotten grain in the fields on a Sabbath, etc)

The point I am trying to make is that Ann Coulter’s point about our emotional tendency to miss the truth is well taken. We meet a homeless man that is a junkie, and we feel such compassion for him and his suffering. And it is easy, by listening to him, to feel that his wife or parents are unfeelingly cruel for finally forcing him out. But we forget to consider those unseen folks who have likely been hurt by the sin of the one we can see. As Ms. Coulter articulates so clearly, the emotion driven open-borders-because-I-have-deep-feelings-about-the-pain-I’ve-met-in-the-pew solution obscures the open-borders-have-caused-the-pain-I-haven’t-met truth.

I have been wrestling with this myself, though not re: the immigration issue. But in the issue of unseen family members harmed by the new church attendee who has many sad stories themselves, how do we respond? I like the way that the young pastor-son of my own pastor responds in his church: God and we accept you: but now cut out the sin against your family. It is Christ’s words to the woman caught in adultery in John 8:11. It’s not, “we accept you, so we will go tell your family that the things you’ve stolen from them to support your drug habit, they should’ve given them to you anyway.”

God’s compassion and love is unconditional. He loves us as we are. We do, after all, reflect his image, and what’s not to love about that image? But he also loves us enough to, and has the power to, change us into a greater goodness, a greater likeness of that so-easily-loved image.

The church member who looks at the illegal driver and says, “hey, they should change the laws so you won’t be driving illegally” needs to see past their own emotional feelings to say to the illegal who lost his car for driving illegally, “I will help you meet the needs of your family, but you must obey God by obeying the laws of this land” (1 Peter 2:13-14, amongst others). (And Ms. Coulter’s point on this is well taken too: we must actually HELP the suffering person, inviting them to our home, etc.)

It gives me pause to think about how the seen suffering can emotionally obfuscate the unseen suffering, and thereby twist the truth about what is a righteous and God-honoring response. God’s response is never, “you sinner! God hates fill-in-the-blank!” But neither is it ever, “Oh, your sin doesn’t really matter, it’s your suffering that God wants to alleviate by changing, not you, but the world that rejects your sin.”


Read Full Post »