11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11,12)
Have you ever heard Christians use the argument: "People dislike what I'm doing, thus I must be doing something right"?
I listened to a radio discussion between Jarrod McKenna (peace activist) and Sam Childers (aka "Machine Gun Preacher"). It was broadcast just over two years ago, after the release of the movie "Machine Gun Preacher", based on Sam Childer's Ugandan ministry of protecting orphans from militia groups. To the credit of both panelists, the conversation was respectful and the tone was fairly relaxed.
I use this particular example because Childers referenced this specific passage in Matthew to justify his ministry over the years. He used it as a prophetic voice to give creedence to his methods, ideas and beliefs. Jesus said to expect junk from the public-at-large; thus because Sam experiences junk sometimes, he's doing God's will.
This passage, like so many others, has been ripped out of the context in which it was said and used to justify all sorts of stuff. Now, after having heard Sam in person, I know he has a passionate heart for the children he works with. Do I agree with his methods? Not particularly. Does that mean this bibilical passage was written about me? Hardly.
These words were spoken during The Sermon on the Mount — Jesus' most famous verbal sharing. It was after telling the crowds that the peacemakers and the mourners and all the downtrodden are blessed already and would be a part of kingdom, that people would ridicule and scorn these ragamuffin souls. It wasn't for any rebellious, crazy idea anyone determines as God's will.
Jarrod brought up a good point: Sam and Jarrod both looked at the use of guns and violence from different perspectives. That aside, how safe is Sam making life for other aide workers by wielding an AK-47? Sam might be listening to God, but what about the prayers of the other aide workers desiring more peaceable approaches?
Where I became frustrated in this particular conversation was Same's dodging and feinting. He refused to talk about specific areas of concern, and chocked us his image of riding a motorbike, gun strapped to his back as "branding" — something Hollywood did. This very well could be the truth. We all know Hollywood glams up anything for a buck. He also made some erroneous assumptions about Jarrod, calling him "religion". It was an easy out. Dismantle any pushback with a few bible verses and no one can touch you. I would have appreciated some more direct answers from a man who claimed to have such a direct approach with God and ministry.
This is just a tangible example I crossed paths with this morning. Sam is hardly the only Christian in the world to use and abuse Jesus' words. Sometimes we get a holier-than-thou halo on us, claim that because we serve God first and alone, people just have to suck up what we're all about. It's here, among other places, that life becomes messy.
It is so true that God leads people into crazy situations, to do crazy things, and be crazy people. And despite society's affirmations that it honours differences, people don't like different. At least, people don't like people more different than themselves. There are true, genuine folks who would wish good things, good ministries, good relationships, good community destroyed.
But in light of how miscontrued this passage has become, Christians are often quick to sluff off any and all criticism "because God told me to do this". I've written before about good and not-so-good community development: if we're not careful, we end up doing well-intentioned deeds that are wrong-headed and hurt others.
Often people draw stands against us because we've hurt them somehow or dehumanized them. It's not Jesus they're balking at. It's us.
Now it's true that we aren't perfect. That's another myth Christians really need to work hard to debunk. When we couple together some kind of divine calling while polishing our halos, it's hard for other people to accept our vocation. And it's far too easy for us to simply blame the public for dissing Jesus.
There are going to be times when the world hates us for who we are and Who we're about.
But when we proof-text the Matthew passage to justify our actions that probably need some healthy scrutiny, we're in a danger zone. We turn our bodies into teflon — no human can touch us. We're touched by God. True or not, it doesn't excuse us from looking deeper in out how our lives are actually imitating Jesus.
So when people tell me that I must be in God's will because of the pushback I've received, I get skeptical. When people tell me that they're doing God's will because others have given some pushback, I get skeptical again. People disagreeing with our vocations, methods, beliefs or ministries is nothing new. It hurts the ego like all get out, but it's nothing new.
But it doesn't mean people are out with the whip of Satan to destroy us either.
Lady Wisdom would urge us to listen well to the voices around us, and discern deeply from there. I believe God does indeed call us to radical and remarkable things, but when God speaks S/he doesn't only speak once. There's continual communication and revelation. Gentle voices of concern could be Lady Wisdom prompting us to rethink our roles and our lifestyles.