Our Faith Demands Personal Devotion and Public Action | Sojourners

Our Faith Demands Personal Devotion and Public Action

Photo by Akira Hojo on Unsplash

Some Christian leaders are promoting their version of half-hearted faith. They’re selling the idea that faith’s underlying values apply to only some of our decisions, but not all.

They’re preaching that the values Jesus embodied and preached — love, compassion, forgiveness, healing, inclusion, caring for the needy, promoting peace — should be excluded from our collective lives.

Jerry Falwell Jr. is one of the more prominent salesmen of this watered-down faith. In an interview with The Washington Post, he put it this way:

“It’s such a distortion of the teachings of Jesus to say that what he taught us to do personally -- to love our neighbors as ourselves, help the poor -- can somehow be imputed on a nation. Jesus never told Caesar how to run Rome.”

I don't know whether Falwell is being dishonest or disingenuous. But I do know that Jesus was executed by Rome because he was deemed a threat to the Roman way. His values directly contradicted and challenged Caesar’s values. Caesar understood the all-encompassing nature of Jesus’ teachings far better than Falwell. Jesus drew upon his Jewish tradition of an all-encompassing faith.

We’re to love God with all our hearts and all our lives, not just convenient parts of them. We’re to love our neighbors — all of them — the same way we love ourselves. This applies to all we do, individually and collectively.

Faith is an all or nothing proposition.

If we’re honest with ourselves, though, this part is a real struggle for us. We prefer to limit faith to areas of our lives where it’s comfortable. We restrict our love to the people we find appealing — people like us.

We’re meant to grow into a deep compassion that mirrors God’s compassion for every person and all of creation. Everything is intertwined and can’t be separated into imaginary boxes of where love applies and where it doesn’t.

We can’t love our neighbors one-on-one and harm them through our collective decisions. It’s not faith if we’re making unilateral decisions by Jesus’ values and choosing anti-Christ values when we act in unison.

Unfortunately, the Americanized version of Christianity has long endorsed this approach. White Christians promoted slavery. White Christians enacted and enforced Jim Crow laws that treated our Black brothers and sisters in horrific ways. They rationalized this treatement by claiming “good Christian values" apply to personal piety but not public policy.

Although one form of religion mustn’t gain privilege or supremacy in our society, our faith compels us to ground our collective decisions in the loving values that are the foundation of all true religion.

Our conversations about the many challenges confronting us — poverty, immigration, racism, sexism, environmental destruction — must always begin with an acknowledgement of our shared responsibility to care for God’s people and God’s creation.

We’ll disagree about policy details and how to most effectively accomplish our goals, but we must be in accord on our underlying values and intentions.

If we choose a different starting point for our collective decisions — fear, greed, mistrust, selfishness, militarism, nationalism — then we’ve lost our way and any semblance of faith as well.

We can’t plop a few dollars in the collection basket to help those in need and then support public policies that treat them as a nuisance.

It’s an abdication of faith if we express our personal thoughts and prayers after a massacre while doing nothing to collectively heal the scourge of weapons and violence in our society.

If we’re living by faith, we’ll find ways to follow the scriptural imperative to care for immigrants instead of demonizing them in our public discussions. We won’t terrorize immigrants with our words and our policies.

We can’t live by “blessed are the poor” in our individual lives and lobby for the rich and powerful in our social endeavors.

We can’t do peacemaking personally and war mongering collectively.

We can’t limit our faith to a few convenient areas or artificially divide our hearts into zones of love and hate and indifference. It’s all or nothing, or it’s not faith.

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