Today’s Readings: Psalm 84; Isaiah 24:14-23; Matthew 20:17-28; 1 Peter 3:13-4:6
I learn all sorts of interesting stuff via my participation on Facebook. This week I learned that there was a document unleashed on the world called The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. You can find a copy of the document at http://manhattandeclaration.org.
While there are certainly many perspectives contained in the document with which I disagree; I would certainly defend the right of those who participated in the formation of the document to take their stand of conscience. I would expect they would defend my right to disagree. If not, they would be hyprocrites since their third truth they seek to defend is “the rights of conscience and religious liberty.”
There is aspect of the Declaration, however, that disturbs me greatly. In referencing their support of their three foundational principles, the creators of the document wrote: “[the fondational principles] are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture…” Here’s what that piece of the statement raises for me.
Since Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th Century, Christianity has enjoyed a place of power and privilege in most Western societies. Sadly at times this power and privilege has caused us to lose sight of the very principles Jesus espoused (see an overview of Christian history ranging from the Crusades and Inquisition to the establishment of the slave trade). We have developed such a sense of entitlement that we have come to confuse honest dialogue with “an assault from powerful forces in our culture”. In other words, we have confused the sort of suffering that was referenced in places like today’s passage from 1 Peter with the loss of one’s sense of entitlement.
Even more so, there seems to be a hidden notion that suffering/loss of entitlement is always bad and must be done away with. I would disagree. As the author of 1 Peter noted: “Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14 from The Message).
So what does this mean in everyday terms?
Lots of folks would interpret the ramifications differently. For me here’s what it means. As a Christian, I feel compelled to actively respond to the issues that are important to me first hand – rather than simply make broad pronouncements to others. When it comes to issues involving unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, for instance, I have spent a good deal of time over the years working to ensure individuals had access to information and resources that would prevent those pregnancies. When it comes to issues involving the health and vitality of marriages, I provide pre-martial/pre-holy unon counseling to couples I join and make sure I make myself available to couples in crisis seeking spiritual support. When it comes to issues involving “the rights of conscience and religious liberty”, I work to defend those rights by speaking my conscience and encouraging those around me to do the same – even if they disagree with me. Each of these actions has brought about some degree of personal suffering/risk.
I would be the first to admit it takes a lot longer to approach issues this way. In the end, however, I have found such an approach to be immensely gratifying as I have seen it change attitudes and lives (including my own!).
So how do you perceive what it means to suffer for what is right? Does it mean enduring a loss of power and privilege, or does suffering involve other things for you? Til next time…