“It’s about time someone stood up for morality.”
I see that quote (and others like it) fairly often on my Facebook newsfeed. Most recently connected to an article about why Christians shouldn’t drink. Before that, it was a Facebook status about how Christians shouldn’t use curse words. Then it was something about gay marriage.
I don’t think it’s bad to have conversations about what kind of lifestyle best honors our creator, but for many of my Christian friends, morality is the battleground in which we’ve entrenched ourselves. The fight to restore morality has become the central battle between many evangelical Christians and the culture they find themselves in. As though a higher moral standard is the best thing we have to offer the world around us.
And it’s not.
There are many “moral” people who will never know the joy of a true relationship with the Creator of the Universe, and there are many “immoral” people who will live in that joy, even though they never totally master their own sinfulness.
So when Christians make statements about how we need to stand for morality, it just falls really flat for me. Because the Church ought to have so much more to offer than just a higher standard of morality.
Don’t get me wrong. I want everyone to be good, kind, moral people. I want people to be honest, compassionate, understanding, and loving.
But I don’t think we need to take a stand for morality to get there.
After all, Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time standing up for morality.
I mean, he obviously had a few moral teachings. He definitely tried to teach his people how to have a more fulfilled and holy life. But he never praises people for taking a stand for morality. He didn’t make morality the central point of his ministry. That was a different group of people, and Jesus clashed with them on a regular basis.
Because when we become a group of people who are known for what we stand for, rather than who we stand with, we’re not actually Jesus-followers anymore. We’re Pharisees.
I’m not opposed to morality. I think it’s quite nice. But that’s not the purpose of my faith. Jesus didn’t die to make me a better person. The cross wasn’t an instrument of correction. The cross is the instrument of self-sacrifice by which Christ brings us into oneness with the Father. The cross is the beginning and the end of the path of service, humility, and love.
But when issues of morality become the center of how we engage with the world, we miss out on actually being able to spread the Gospel. When living out our faith just means taking a stand for things, we have a hard time following Jesus. Because in order to stand for things, you have to stand on people, and Jesus never did that.
The Pharisees in the New Testament are the embodiment of this. When Jesus brings healing to a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees cry foul, because it’s against the morality of their Law.
The man with the withered hand becomes an unfortunate casualty of the stand for the Sabbath.
When the goal becomes upholding all the facets of the Law, you are automatically oppressive of those who do not or cannot maintain that code of conduct.
And when our sense of morality becomes our defining attribute, we make casualties of people too. When we take a stand in order to opine the falling moral standards of our nation, and we send a message (however unintentionally) that our worth as a people comes from how good we are. That those who engage in immorality are worth less (and perhaps worthless), because they cannot live up to that standard.
But the Law was never meant to be a hammer with which to beat those who could not live up to it. And Christianity was never supposed to be a moral standard of living. Being a Christian doesn’t mean taking a stand for morality. Not even Christ did that.
Actually, the Incarnation of Christ is the exact opposite of taking a stand for morality. Rather than standing up against human sinfulness, Christ entered into our sinfulness with us and helped us stand under the weight of it. Far from taking a stand for morality, Christ takes a stand for the immoral. Jesus stands up against the oppressive morality of the Pharisees, against impossible standards and pious displays of righteousness. He stands up on behalf of all who struggle with being pure and righteous, and he becomes an advocate for them.
And notice that Jesus is able to stand for people while maintaining a high level of personal morality himself. Just because Jesus’ is an advocate for immoral people doesn’t mean that Jesus tosses morality out the window. To the contrary, Jesus’ morality is a byproduct of the way he interacts with God and people. The morality of Christ lives out of the compassion of Christ.
But when we hold up our picket signs, write our blog posts and Facebook statuses of moral outrage, and otherwise cry out for the day when people will live right, we miss out on the reality of the Incarnation that is God who stands alongside us. Not against us or the things that we do. Alongside us. Helping transform us into bearers of God’s image.
Because Christianity isn’t about not drinking, not having premarital or extramarital sex, or not saying bad words. It’s not about acting correctly and making others act correctly with you.
When asked what the Greatest Commandments are, Jesus responds this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Most Christians are familiar with this passage, but I don’t think enough emphasis gets placed on that last sentence.
All of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
If you Love God and Love Others, everything else will fall into place. Without either one of these commandments, you lose the entire Law.
And you can’t Love God or Love Others when you’re standing against them.
But the flipside of that is equally significant.
If you keep both of those commandments, you have the whole Law. You don’t need morality. You don’t need to stand up for what’s right. If we love God and love others, everything will be taken care of. You don’t have to protest. You don’t have to write Facebook statuses recalling the good old days when people were moral.
We just have to love God and love others. We love God through loving others. We love others by standing up for them. Not by standing against them. Not even by condemning their actions. Not by calling them to a higher sense of morality. But by helping them bear their burdens, and helping them come into contact with God who takes the lead in transforming us all.
The Good News is not that we have to be better. The Good News is that God is drawing all of us back to God’s self. We just get to participate by loving each other.