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- On the Road: Individual Rights and Selfless Service August 17, 2017
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I have been pondering a few things and wanted to invite you all into a possible conversation or thought process. In our heated political scheme which seems to become increasingly divisive, I have wondered at how we make decisions around the expression of individual rights. This has been exasperated by the events in Charlottesville and informs how we work through the ideologies that perpetuate racism, bigotry, or any other type of “ism” that makes one person less to make someone greater. I heard a politician say that in our context today it is about who’s rights trump another’s rights. If that is so, how do we choose the best way to act as a follower of Jesus? What happens when the rights of one person clash or oppose the rights of another? Are there contexts for when one expression may succumb to another expression? Are there ways to have win/win scenarios rather than win/lose outcomes? Furthermore, in our disagreements, how do we not fall into acts of violence? (Another topic)
Focusing upon the question of the expression of individual freedom and what happens when it clashes with someone else’s rights:
When I was growing up (mid 70’s), smoking was rampant. There was not nearly a place you could go where you were not subjected to cigarette smoke. Both my parents smoked for years. Smoking was allowed in most public spaces…except for churches, I guess. Airplanes, restaurants, football stadiums, hotels, movie theaters, bowling allies, and just about any other space were always filled with smoke. Smoking was an individual right and a lot of people smoked. But what about people who did not smoke but had to constantly be subjected to it? There simply were not a lot of places that did not ban smoking. What about those with asthma or other respiratory issues?
Over time, the conversation began to change. As more and more health warnings were issued and people started to express their desire for cleaner air, discussions shifted to those who had a right to breath clean air. Now there were two competing sets of individual rights: the right for a person to smoke and the right of a person to breathe clean air and not be subjected to unwanted smoke. It took several years for the ideology shift. Today, most of us benefit from the decisions that made access to breathing cleaner air more important. Rights of smokers was limited with substantial parameters placed upon where one could smoke when in a public venue.
Here are my questions. How do we choose whose right is more important? We will not always have the politicians and judges making decisions so how will we choose? What is our process?
Is there a point or context where one person’s rights must be limited for another person’s rights to be expressed?
As followers of Jesus, how does the body of Scripture…not cherry picking one or two verses out of context…inform our decisions? What does the Old Testament, the Gospels, Paul, and other writers say?
To give a biblical situation, Paul faced a dilemma that he discusses in First Corinthians. It was whether a follower of Jesus should eat meat offered to idols. There was one group of people who were adamant that meat offered to idols was the equivalent of worshipping that idol and should not be consumed. Others believed it did not make a difference. If you prayed and gave God thanks for the meat, it did not matter. You were basically acknowledging the idol had no power or meaning. Paul tended to agree with the latter group and did not recognize the power in the idol. Food was consumed, digested, and passed through the body. It made no difference if sacrificed to idols. However, Paul, out of love and high value on unity and peace of his fellow brothers and sisters and for those new in the faith, said that if his eating meat sacrificed to idols was a stumbling block, he would put aside his individual freedom for the sake of the other. He desired there to be no stumbling block for a person and their relationship with Jesus. Chapter thirteen of Corinthians becomes a beautiful expression of what love looks like when we put the needs of others above ourselves. That was what a “stronger” believer did. It was always about putting someone’s needs above your own. It was about selfless service. And it was not just a “good idea”. Jesus expected and expects us to live by this command.
I wonder if this account gives us any guidance in the complexities we face. As a nation built upon the expression of individual freedom how do we become faithful to Scripture and align ourselves with Jesus when we look at our own liberties and when they may come into conflict with the expression of someone else’s. These same questions go the heart of our issues regarding racism and bigotry. I wonder if we all took the high road what might that begin to look like?
I would be interested in hearing how you work these out and if you have children, how you teach this to them. What are the ways you use Scripture and especially Jesus’ two commands: Love God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself, to inform your decision making?
I would enjoy hearing your insights around this delicate yet important topic.
Grace and peace,
Week 7 in Tuskegee Youth mission camp in Tuskegee came to a close with 2 great home repair teams! A team from St. Mark UMC in Birmingham returned for their second summer. They worked very hard with Ms. Sarah in … Continue reading
After Tropical Storm Cindy moved on, we enjoyed a great – DRY! – week of extending the love of Christ to end substandard housing in rural Alabama! It’s hard to believe but this week marks the halfway point for youth … Continue reading
Week 2 of youth mission camp brought us 3 teams of new friends serving with ARM for the first time! Our Tuskegee team, Crossroads Bible Church, came all the way from Norris City, IL. They had 3 highly efficient construction crews … Continue reading
This past Friday, after our Tuskegee summer ministry team was wrapping up the afternoon, a woman arrived at the church. She explained her involvement in a car accident. The ministry interns were trying to decide how to help and momentarily left her unattended in the fellowship hall. Our ARM merchandise table is stacked with ARM shirts, hats, cups and more. Earlier that day, the staff had a small fundraiser and a few mason jars that had some bills and change in them were in the room.
When the staff came back into the fellowship hall to help, she had disappeared. As they looked across our back lot into the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, they noticed her. She was now outfitted with an ARM sweatshirt (in nearly 90-degree weather) and baseball cap. There was also $40 in cash missing from one of the mason jars.
What would you feel in that moment? Anger? Frustration? Confusion? How could anyone boldly come into a church and steal from it? That money goes to help families with home repair, something she may not have known. Is there no decency anymore that someone can blatantly steal from the church and in broad day light? What nerve!
It was time to call the police. They described to the police what had happened and the police quickly arrived on the scene and picked up the woman. End of story, right? However, the police added some unknown details shedding some new light. The woman was mentally ill. During transport to a mental institution in Birmingham she had fallen out of the car. I guess that is how she defined a car accident. (That raises some questions on how well she was being supervised). The police had been searching for her with no luck until the students called.
As I pondered this situation, I felt myself overwhelmed with compassion for this woman, this daughter of Jesus. Before I knew the fuller story, I was wrestling with whether we needed to press charges or if we could design some type of community service. Hearing of her condition, that was quickly resolved. But then I thought further. If she had not stolen from our staff nothing would have triggered our students to call the police. They would have worked to meet her need and then sent her on her way. This meant she would have wandered aimlessly through the town. Night would fall and she would be a lone, vulnerable, and mentally ill woman navigating the streets of Tuskegee. No phone, no family, no friends.
Not fully cognizant of her actions, stealing may have saved her life. Funny how God can work in the hardest and most difficult of situations. God can use anything for His good and in the strangest of ways, He provides. This summer our day camp kids have a theme called “COGPOW” meaning Child of God, Person of Worth. After this woman’s actions, this puts COGPOW in a whole new light for me.
May we all have compassion and display love even when someone is doing something wrong. God may be providing care in a crazy, foolish, and upside- down way. I love our God! Jehovah-Jira, God our Provider!