Thursday, September 30, 2010

Christian Civility: A Forgotten Practice?

Here is a recent bulletin article I wrote.

Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center plans to burn copies of the Quran on September 11. A popular political commentator calls President Obama’s “gospel,”  “a perversion.” The news media reports daily on the controversies concerning the so-called, “Mosque-at-ground-zero,” and the so-called, 9/11 Christian Center, near ground zero. We hear daily in the media calls to “Take America Back,” from the “enemies of democracy.” There are appeals to protect the second amendment and change the fourteenth amendment. One does not have to pick-up a newspaper, listen to talk radio, or watch the news long before quickly realizing, religion and politics are the hot topics of the day. A friend recently told me how he was getting a hair cut in a barbershop (a place I have not had a reason to visit in some years), and two of the patrons waiting got into an argument over President Obama’s race and its supposed effect on public policy. In short, the discussion grew heated, and one of the patrons left in anger. There appears to be a growing anger and hostility in our country. What is the role of the Church in the midst of increasing societal, political, and cultural controversy?

A brief bulletin article cannot possibly provide us a fully adequate response to all the necessary details and nuances, so I will limit myself to one major piece that ought to give shape to the Church’s response. The response I would highlight is what Paul says to Titus,  “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men” (Titus 3:1). What drives Paul’s words to Titus is his concern that God’s people will “in every way . . . make the teaching about God our Savior attractive,” “so that those who oppose [us] may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:10; 2:8). In other words, we need to practice a kind of Christian civility that invites conversation and dialogue, not words that invoke demonizing those who disagree with us (or you).

Regardless of how our opinions may agree or disagree about current affairs in the public square, we must all agree to show respect, humility, and a peaceable spirit as we seek to do good unto others both Christian and non-Christian (Gal 6:10). Perhaps as important, as our political views are the Christian spirit and passion by which we express those views. Where our passion rests and how our passion is expressed reveals much about what we consider most important and most dear. One writer I read recently is poignant on this emotional divide between Right and Left political views even among Christians:  “Too often, and for too long, American ‘Christianity’ has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.”

What do we want from our present conversations with those with whom we live with in our country, but disagree with on how best politically, religiously, and culturally to live within this country? Maybe we need to be reminded that the reason we practice Christian civility is because, “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). As Jesus says, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). To whom are your conversations drawing others to that you disagree with concerning current affairs? Are you first and foremost about the cross of Jesus Christ, not the cross-hairs of political fights? Are we as passionate about the gospel as we appear to be about politics? The practice of Christian civility may be a forgotten practice in the present media climate, but let us pray it has not been lost.


Self-Control and Muscles

I recently read a psychology research paper on self-control (insert joke here). The authors survey various scientific research literature on self-control as a limited resource within human capacity. In short, the authors use a "strength model" to study self-control as a type of muscle. Like a muscle, self-control if not worked out consistently will weaken, and like a muscle being worked out, self-control will increase. Here is one interesting finding that came out of this study: Self-control exerted in one area for an extended duration will weaken self-control in other unrelated areas. For instance, individuals trying to quit smoking exerted self-control in refraining from smoking, say while at work, but then if they were subjected to a stress event after work, then their resource for self-control was seemingly depleted, and they "caved-in" and smoked. In another test, dieters exercising self-control in not eating certain foods, lacked sufficient self-control when dealing with frustrating situations. A number of other laboratory tests were done demonstrating the same effect. Like a muscle being worked out, self-control it seems needs a rest period to recover strength and build-up.

There are a number of interesting thoughts and/or implications we can draw from this study. One, if self-control is a limited resource, then what preoccupies our mind and thoughts is critical. If you are stressed out and spending all your self-control efforts on just maintaining composure, then what will you have left for resisting temptation in other areas? I am reminded of Psalm 10:4, "In all his thoughts there is no room for God." We are limited human beings with limited mental capacities, and so we need to choose carefully what we exercise our thoughts of self-control upon. Two, we need to practice the spiritual discipline of Sabbath rest. Without regular sabbath rest, our muscles of self-control will atrophy and we will sin more easily. Three, the discipline of fasting is a good way to workout our self-control muscles, so that after we break-fast, we will have increased strength of self-control in resisting temptations. Four, and finally, if self-control is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23), then can we actually deplete the resource of self-control? While the Spirit of God is unlimited in self-control, we are not! Perhaps one reason God permits us to experience situations that are beyond us is so that we will deplete ourselves and turn to him? But if this is true, and the Holy Spirit is unlimited in the fruit of self-control, then can we honestly say Christians are known for their extraordinary self-control?

You can read this research paper for yourself at: or google, "Self-Regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources," by Mark Muraven