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Thinking Out Loud

Grace is Not PC (Part Two)

by Michael Jinkins | Mar 14, 2017

In her Spring Convocation Address, one of our professors, Dr. Christine Hong, appealed to her audience to listen to the stories of others, however difficult those stories may be to hear.

Grace is Not PC Part TwoI have often felt that we would be surprised to discover that many of the things we find most difficult to hear and disagreeable in others originate in their suffering. And if we could only discern the source of their suffering (whether inflicted long ago or ongoing), we might understand them better, and be better able to live in community with them. To listen closely enough to locate the suffering in someone with whom we disagree is itself an act of vulnerability and love.

This means, as C.S. Lewis once observed, the old adage, "to understand is to forgive" may be in need of some refurbishment. In fact, "to love without condition is the only way really to understand someone else." Love precedes forgiveness and understanding.

I would imagine that if we were able to locate the source of someone else's suffering, we would discover suffering not unlike our own. We might find that we have far more in common with those with whom we disagree than we ever imagined possible.

This is something of the spiritual dynamic that St. Paul is describing in the passages following his discussion of the fruit of the Spirit (which we addressed last week). After having listed a variety of sinful acts, including sexual immorality, debauchery, selfish ambition, hatred and rage, Paul discusses how we should deal with one who is "caught in a sin." This is where the compassion exemplified in listening is converted into active kindness.

St. Paul writes:

"Brothers and sisters, if one is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore that person gently. But watch yourself, or you may be tempted too. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. ... Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. One reaps what he sows. ... Let us not become weary in doing good. At the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." (Galatians 6:1-10)

I have been struck again and again by how coming to know and listen to someone very different from ourselves can change our perceptions, can open us to people to whom we may not previously have extended friendship or community. Such personal knowledge can change us. Perhaps we meet a child who is being taunted and bullied because she is struggling with her sexual identity, such as the child whose courage and whose parent's support helped the Boy Scouts of America open its membership to transgender children. Listening closely and with compassion to the child's suffering, the issue ceases to be one of bloodless policies, and becomes an opportunity to "do good to all people," as the Apostle says.

Recently, as our Seminary Council* made a recommendation that we adopt a policy that ensures that those who are on our campus can go to the restroom consistent with their gender identity, I suspect that most of us around the council table had in mind someone we have known, listened to, perhaps loved as a friend or sibling, someone whose story we knew personally and deeply. And when the unanimous vote was taken, the sense around the table was not that we had acted for the sake of some abstract "political correctness" but as witnesses to the grace, love and justice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In contemporary American culture, my deepest hope is that the word “Christian” will cease to be used either as an epitaph disparaging the faith of any group or as a badge of honor signifying self-righteousness and self-satisfaction. Most of all, I pray it will stop being used as an excuse to divide.

The Word of God may compel us to act in ways that will have social, cultural or political implications, but the Word of God is free, and the Word of God will not be the captive of any partisan ideology. Our only excuse, our only rationale for action is that we are all broken, fallen people who have found grace in the God who, at the cost of his own suffering and death, became human to redeem us from sin and death. It is all about grace, or nothing at all.

*The deliberative body consisting of faculty members, senior administers, some other administrators and staff, and elected student representatives who are charged with responsibility for the community life of the seminary.

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