Monday, January 20, 2014

A Reflection on MLK Day: What Does Your Faith Mean?



I just finished reading this interesting Huffington Post piece

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/martin-luther-king-faith_b_4623051.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

where the author offers a list of seven criterion by which you might evaluate whether or not you are a "Martin Luther King, Jr. kind of Christian."   Here they are, without the supporting King quotes:

1.  Does your faith encourage an active and prophetic stance towards creating justice in this world; or does it explicitly or implicitly encourage a complacency towards inequality here on earth with the idea that faith is more spiritual than social and that it will all work out in the afterlife?

2. Does your faith affirm the fundamental dignity and worth of all people and reject any claims of superiority, ether explicit or implicit, based on identities including race, religion, sexuality, gender, class or nationality?

3.   Does your faith encourage critical examination of the context and deeper meanings of teachings and scriptures and is it open to continued revelation of eternal truths that come with new knowledge, instead of a fundamentalism that idolizes the past?

4.  Does your faith promote non-violence, and believe that war is only to be used as a last choice or not at all? Does your faith confronts and rejects any teachings that might cause anyone to act with violence or incite rage or hatred towards others?

5.  Does your faith further interfaith cooperation and empower your ability to feel compassion for the suffering of those who are different from you and see the wider interconnected responsibility of the human family instead of caring only about and for those in your immediate group?

6.  Does your faith promote social justice and equality as well as individual charity as both integral parts of the Gospel?

7. Is your faith grounded first and foremost in love, and do you believe that love, not dogma or judgment, is the defining characteristic of God?


Interesting questions, to be sure; but for me, what I think it most important about them is not that they allow us to make judgments about what kind of a Christian I am [or my neighbor is!] but that they push each one of us individually [and all of us, communally] to think about what our faith means in our lives--that is:  How does it make a difference?  How does it matter?  How does it change how I view the world, myself, God and my neighbor?  

Sometimes I think we Christians just take those questions for granted, and assume that what our faith means is that we are going heaven, or that God loves us, or that we are forgiven.  Now, I don't disagree with any of those things, but all of them are self-reflective, and encourage us to turn inward, rather than outward.  They suggest that the Christian faith is some kind of private possession, aimed at my own personal advantage, which has neither ramifications nor relevance to my larger life in the world.  This is both false and unfaithful.

Instead, the Christian faith is lived at the intersection between the vertical axis of our relationship with God, and the horizontal axis of our relationship with the human family and the whole creation.  Faith finds its meaning in love [and I say this as a card-carrying Lutheran!], and love is our joyful response to God's prior love of us--and the gift of our forgiveness and justification in Jesus Christ.  

Christian faith isn't meant to be kept under lock and key, trotted out only on Sunday mornings as a means to reassure ourselves of our good standing before God and then put safely away for the rest of the week.  Our faith is vibrant and dynamic--it wants to get out there and do something, both to glorify God and serve our neighbor.  It is in this loving activity in the world that faith finds its meaning--not that we are saved by that activity, or that we get heavenly bonus points or bragging rights for that activity, but rather that we both experience and show forth the transformation worked in us by the power of the Holy Spirit as we are conformed to Christ, who lives in us.  It's a faith that's not just for Sundays, but for every single day of our lives; not just for ourselves but for others.

1 comment:

  1. Just this morning I listened to the NPR Jan podcast "is the black church divided?", highlighting the priorities of black theology, and calling the American church to step up our public witness. Interesting to consider these questions in light of that piece. Check it out, if you haven't already

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