On bridge building and Bible reading
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On bridge building and Bible reading
by the Rev. Robert Buehler, pastor
Marbury Church of God

January, 1997

Maggie Heineman, whom I met electronically a short time ago, has asked me to write a comment about this bridge building process. You should know that I have no expertise or qualification for this in any ordinary sense of the word, except that as a preacher of the gospel I do have an interest in clearly articulating and upholding Christian values.

I say Christian values, not traditional values, because in my study of Jesus I find him often coming into conflict with established tradition and especially its religious gatekeepers. As a clergyman, I am keenly aware that I belong to the class of persons in my own generation that roughly corresponds to the scribes and Pharisees and I must watch myself carefully lest the epithet of woe that Jesus used most often hypocrite be hurled at me. 

The gospel of Christ and the responsibility of those who proclaim it is summarized in one biblical passage as follows: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting men's sins against them, and has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation" Similarly Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God." 

We live in a binary society, where complex issues with lots of parts to them are often simplified into a question of choosing up sides, picking winners and losers. The more emotionally charged the issue, the more likely this is to be true. In such a context especially, peacemaking, or even bridge-building, is a difficult project. Those who engage in it are easily subject to accusations from both sides of betraying the "right" side and consorting with the enemy (when that happens, Jesus calls them blessed because they are being mistreated for doing what is right). I chose to respond to Maggie,s invitation because something in Steve Calverly's speech came to me as a word of challenge and rebuke: 

"So what I am asking you to do makes no sense. I'm asking you to be willing to look like political losers. I'm asking you to risk being talked about - to risk being called a "queer lover" because, in the sense of the word that lesbian and gay people use it now, Jesus Christ is the greatest "queer lover" and if you truly want to follow him you will be one too!" 

In that speech Steve went on to challenge Christians, evangelical Christians, to offer love, respect, friendship and protection to lesbians and gays, literally for Christ,s sake. As I read that speech, I had two gut reactions: 

  • This is a necessary expression of the gospel that needs to be heard in our day. 
  • This isn,t my fight, and I don,t need to be involved in this issue. 
But as a Christian, it is my fight. That first reaction came from my faith, the second from my fear. 

So I then ask: where is this battle to be joined? Or, to use the more appropriate metaphor, on what foundation is this bridge to be built? It cannot be about opinion, over who is right or who is wrong. It is rare enough for people to change their opinions, and we don,t have time to waste on fruitless debates that would serve only to more sharply define a variety of positions and the love of God calls us to be concerned not with positions, but with persons. Besides, if I am fighting a battle over opinion, then the project will always be to get people to cross from one side to the other: a one-way bridge, or perhaps a tug-of-war. I suggest instead it is about attitude, about approach and methodology. My appeal is especially to people on "my" side of the bridge, that is, on the conservative and evangelical side. It is we in particular who need to pay attention to what Jesus himself (not tradition, not "family values," not what the loudest voices say that "everyone knows", but Jesus Christ our Lord) has to say. 

Anyone who really pays attention to Jesus Christ will learn from him attitudes and approaches that leave no room for discrimination or hatred. This Jesus of whom we can read in the gospels is the one who was continually crossing boundaries: he touched lepers, was seen with prostitutes, stood alone with an adulteress against an angry mob, befriended tax collectors, and when invited to dinner by respected leaders in the religious community, accepted the invitation but used it as an opportunity to lament the hypocrisy of his hosts. He didn,t waste a lot of words defining sin (except hypocrisy), but spent a great deal of time befriending all kinds of sinners. 

One thing Jesus did explicitly in his teaching was to take from us the responsibility of judging the behavior of others (lest we be judged by the same standard), and give us instead the responsibility of loving others, even those whose behavior hurts us. That responsibility is based on the love God has for all creatures without exception. 

Meaningful dialogue happens where there is mutual respect among persons whose opinions and priorities differ. Such respect begins, I believe, with a decision to conform to at least this one aspect of Christ,s teaching: not to stand in judgment over another human. This is the threshold for further dialogue, and all persons interested in dialogue are invited to that threshold. But we who call ourselves Christians are not merely invited, but rather are commanded to approach not just our neighbors, but even our opponents, with dignity and respect. In the culture war, who will be the first to turn the other cheek and go the second mile? 

"The law came through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

Bob's book:
Buildingon the Rock: Practical Advice from Jesus

How We Agree
(by Bob Buehler and the Bridges Across Working Group)

The Bible and Dialogue
(article by Bob Buehler)

The Victim Wars
(article by Bob Buehler)

Bob's homepage

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text © 1997 Rev. Robert C. Buehler

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