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Faith Matters: Christians cannot put themselves first

Putting self first just can’t work by Steve Sheely | August 7, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

The pandemic has had a surprising side effect. It is an X-ray. Covid-19 has illuminated our culture like a CAT scan. We have seen things that were previously unseen -- surprising things.

I'm talking about the amazing courage of healthcare professionals. The commitment of at-risk, front-line workers. The compassion of neighbor helping neighbor. These revelations have inspired me.

But we've also seen something else. Something not as inspiring. We've seen a rejection of basic science. We've seen a vicious disease become politicized. We've seen people more concerned about their own rights than the well-being of others. These revelations have brought me despair.

But what troubles me most are those who have repeatedly demanded their own rights at the expense of others. And especially problematic is that many of these people identify as Christians. Christianity has no Biblical basis for personal rights at the expense of others. Actually the example of Christ and the teachings of Scripture describe a lifestyle of sacrifice and compassion. That a mature Christian could put their own rights over the well-being of others mystifies me. Meanwhile, Arkansas is top 10 in church attendance and bottom 10 in vaccinations. What have they been talking about in Sunday school and worship services all of these years?

But our X-ray shows something more sinister. As generations of white American churchgoers are focused on their own agendas, they are desperately defending their place at the top of the social pyramid. Offering simple respect and opportunity to those vulnerable to covid – as well as minority groups, the poor, immigrants and those with nontraditional sexual orientation -- is seen as threatening. Covid has revealed that many Americans, including churchgoers, enjoy their social status at the expense of others. This is heartbreaking.

Sadly, enjoying privilege at the expense of others is characteristic of some Christian groups. No wonder churches are shrinking. And these attitudes are profoundly faithless. Any believer in Christ is forgiven and bestowed astounding status by God: His very Spirit, adoption as sons and daughters, and an eternal, glorious future. Why would anyone offered such incredible gifts need to leverage their social status at the expense of another? Is what God has offered us in Christ not enough?

Our sister church is an African-American congregation in the Arkansas Delta. We joyfully sponsor a soccer league that supports at-risk Hispanic youth. We recently began a partnership with a local Marshallese congregation. We have wonderful relationships with wonderful people because we intentionally follow the Biblical mandate that God's people lovingly value those across social barriers -- instead of following a mandate of self-interest that leverages our status on the dignity of others.

So maybe your church asserts individual rights over the best interests of others. Or maybe your church proclaims a gospel of "We're better than 'those' people." Or maybe your church clings to a political agenda that nostalgically yearns for the days of white, Christian privilege. This is problematic -- but don't worry: there is still time to repent and God is merciful.

Print Headline: Christians must help the needy

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