Friend of Sinners

Tonight in Bible study we got on to considering the accusation that was hurled at Jesus, ‘friend of sinners.’ We managed to move on from the fact that this wasn’t just a regular title, that it wasn’t just a reassurance that he was a friend of ours, as sinners.

We spoke about the fact it was intended as an insult, and as such it must have warranted more. We thought about his friendship with Mary Magdalene, the women at the well, Zacceus (or however you spell it), Judas Iscariot, the Roman Centurion, the lepers, the unclean, the misfits, the down-trodden, the bottom of the heap. We revelled in the fact that he loved the likes of those.

Then we wondered what it would mean for us to inherit the title. I mean, if we want to be like Jesus, we’d want that title too – ‘Friend of Sinners.’ What would the Salvation Army look like in this town if it really was the friend of sinners? We recognised that there exists within us all a prejudice against someone somewhere. We can all be pretty disapproving.

I recalled with pain the fact that I was never quite able to work through my feelings towards the pimps in Glasgow who used to keep those lovely young girls tied up in that lifestyle. Sure, I know God loved them and hated what they did, but its the only situation I can remember that I’ve had trouble distinguishing a person from his sin. Sounds silly, perhaps, but if I am to be a friend of sinners, I must be willing to be like Jesus and refuse to see them anything else than a person Jesus died for.

I remember constantly the challenge that Jackie Pullinger gives out: do you have a soft heart and hard feet that make you willing to go to any extreme to win the lost, or do you have a hard heart and soft feet that won’t take you anywhere?

I know what I want to answer. The question is: can I? can you?

Not touching hate with a bargepole

Continuing on from the thoughts on my last blog, I don’t know if anyone caught the BBC 2 documentary (by Loius Therreaux or however you spell it)on Sunday night about the Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church.

I found this documentary incredibly interesting. Let me first talk about all that was beautiful about the family. Firstly, there was a strong sense of family love. These people have caught a good dose of Christian community, even although that has partly been formed by the controversy surround them (more about that later). There was a strong respect for parents, for the structure of a family.

There was also, especially amongst the young women, a very beautiful Christian modesty. By that, I mean that these (quite attractive) young women weren’t hooked on the dating culture, nor were they actively looking for husbands. They weren’t closed to the idea of marriage, but they were more committed to serving the Lord than being distracted by marriage.

Now, I am a married man, I love being married, I love my family. However, I often think that singleness is undersold. Paul speaks about the values of singleness in that it does free a person to serve the Lord without having the responsibility of having to think of the needs of others you are responsible for. Although I wouldn’t want to be unmarried, I think that I’d have considered singleness a lot more if I had had the sense to think of it.

More than that, they dressed modestly. This is quite a non-politically correct statement to make, but I think many young women today (and men perhaps) need to cover up. I don’t say this because I’m old fashioned, or because I’m sexually addicted, but simply because modesty is a beautiful thing. Am I totally weird in thinking that there is great beauty in modesty? I get really tired of being ‘presented’ with the breasts and bottoms and tummys and legs and thighs and shoulders of Christian women.

We seriously have to consider how we instruct our young people on the topic of dating too. I don’t know many (or should that be ‘any’) young people at all who have managed to keep themselves pure. That’s a sad statement. Of course, when we think of Primitive Salvationist practice, I suppose modest was enforced. I’m not suggesting we return to that….but I am suggesting that modesty for both men and women springs from the life of holiness. I’m not advocating an Islamic fashion trend, just a percent extra modesty!

Now for what I see as the major flaws of this church/family which cause the serious controversy. Now, there is a sense in which I share their thoughts in a sense, but they carry that through to a sad and hateful conclusion. They believe that their nation (USA) is under judgement from God. They proclaim that all the catastrophe that comes upon American is part of divine judgement. I can agree to part of that, because its a scriptural notion. I believe God does judge nations. They also practice the very biblical instruction to rejoice in the judgments of the Lord, because they are all good…even negative judgements.

What I have a problem with is the way they express this belief. They have become hateful. They preach hell without offering the way out. This is hellfire preaching…preaching hell without offering the way out.

This church practices the deplorable practice of picketing the funerals of servicemen in Iraq, amongst other things. They also picket churches and anyone else who advocates homosexuality. Their favourite slogan is ‘God hates fags’! They are anti-semitic, anti-catholic, anti-mormon and actively picket all of these.

I think it is totally possible to have a strong evangelical line on all these things. Its possible even to speak out condemning certain things, but there IS a spirit in which these things should be done. You see, I strongly oppose catholic, mormon and JW doctrine, witchraft, the occult etc etc, and I’d actively witness to any of those, I’d witness at a spiritualist or new age fare, I’d protest at Jerry Springer, but not with hate.

What I found sad about the whole thing is that the so many beautiful Christian values that this family/church exemplified we tarred with the brush of hate, making the very scriptural values they promote come across as part of an obscured and dangerously extreme Christian life. This is a concern about evangelicalism and fundamentalism that we always must guard against.

If you missed the documentary, you missed an interesting programme. Certainly thought provoking with regards to the ways in which some of the ‘normal’ aspects of Christianity were presented as weird!