Friday, June 24, 2011

Feeding Sheep or Picketing Wolves?

Well, we've reached the end of June, or as I like to call it, the month from crazy town! After Annual Conference, the Princess and the Pea, VBS, a wedding, the babies' birthday (complete with two parties, one involving a road trio to Tampa!), I was reasonably sure my article this month was going to be "borrowed" from the Bishop's blog again. But then I ran across this quote in an article two friends drew my attention to, that I thought was worth discussing: "When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, and Peter responded yes, Jesus didn’t tell him to picket the wolves. He told Peter to feed and tend his sheep."

The article, written by CNN religion blogger Jason Locy, was in reference to the Church's approach to gay couples adopting, was proposing that if each church in a particular denomination would support one family adopting a child out of foster care, (instead of just protesting) and put it's money where it's mouth is, then there would be no kids getting bounced around the system without a permanent home. The article, posted by friends of mine who're also adoptive parents, argued that if we spent more time taking care of people, and less time fighting the culture (or each other), we would do much more to accomplish the goals of the Kingdom than picketing against homosexuality, abortion, or whatever.

Our church probably has a higher per-pew rate of adopted or foster kids, both children and grown-ups, than I've even seen. Or maybe I am just more aware of it here because of Bobbi's work at the Children's Home Society. So I think we are probably well invested in that form of care-giving. But I think there are, as always, deeper questions we can ask

As with many left-right polarized issues, this is an oversimplification of a much more complex issue. At the root, it's kind of a classic conservative-liberal debate...which is more important to the kingdom, the teaching of holiness, or the transformation of society? The two are not mutually exclusive, although limits on time, people, and money may make it difficult to do both at the same time. And so denominations and churches tend to specialize, or at least lean to one side of the spectrum or the other. Some are very vocal about issues of morality in terms of personal actions and choices...the aforementioned issues of abortion and homosexuality, drunkenness, drugs, all sorts of things, although deeper heart sins such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and such aren't as popular to talk about. Others are very active in social concerns such as helping the poor, civil rights, immigration reform, and of course, adoption policy, although sometimes these seem to follow cultural trends, or call on other organizations to do the care giving (such as the government). Again, these do not exclude each other, but for some reason, groups that focus on one do not often speak out about the other. Which is unfortunate, because there is much good to be done in the kingdom, and although each group, the same as each individual, has things they are better at than others, it leaves us with lopsided views of Christianity, and what is important to God.

If you take the quote one step further...Jesus told Peter to care for His sheep...but isn't part of caring for sheep defending them from wolves? Teaching our people to know what's God's will for their life, and what isn't. And showing them what is utterly dangerous for their souls and even their bodies.

Now mind you, there are a lot of sheep in wolves clothing...and no, I didn't write that wrong. It can be easy to forget that the people we are arguing with and picketing against are just as much God's creation, just as much in need of grace. It's easy to characterize them as wolves, and demonize them. It's another thing to interact with them knowing God has a plan for them too. Now yes, as another friend of mine pointed out, Jesus was rather hard on the shepherds who should have been taking care of the sheep, and on false prophets, whom He did call wolves, who would take advantage of His Sheep. But even these, though we must exercise caution around them, are still individuals whom God wants to bring into right relationship with Him.

A balanced Christianity cares for it's sheep, all of them, by providing spiritual sustenance (Scripture teaching, worship, prayer, etc), teaching them which pastures are safe to graze in and which have wolves (training in knowing true Christianity from false and understanding the life of holiness), and tending to hurt and lost sheep (evangelism, caring for the poor and orphan and widow, prison ministry, etc). Again, I probably oversimplify here. But it is so easy to narrow our focus, and to so to an extreme. To be so busy preaching outward morality that we forget that all of that must be undergirded in love. Or to be so focused on righting the wrongs of the world, and we forget to right the wrongs in our own souls.

Jesus said to care for and feed His sheep. But sheep have a lot of needs. Let us remember all of them, as we go about the business of being Christ's church.

Blessings on your journey!