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No Longer Primary

“Let us not flatter ourselves; we can never be the better for our religion, if our neighbour be the worse for it.”
—William Penn, a Quaker and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, the English North American colony and the future U. S. State of Pennsylvania

From the Doctrine & Covenants, Section 164:

5 It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.
6 a. As revealed in Christ, God, the Creator of all, ultimately is concerned about behaviors and relationships that uphold the worth and giftedness of all people and that protect the most vulnerable. Such relationships are to be rooted in the principles of Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness, against which there is no law.
b. If the church more fully will understand and consistently apply these principles, questions arising about responsible human sexuality, gender identities, roles, and relationships; marriage; and other issues may be resolved according to God’s divine purposes. Be assured, nothing within these principles condones selfish, irresponsible, promiscuous, degrading, or abusive relationships.
c. Faced with difficult questions, many properly turn to scripture to find insight and inspiration. Search the scriptures for the Living Word that brings life, healing, and hope to all. Embrace and proclaim these liberating truths.

What’s wrong with this counsel?

It doesn’t solve the question of homosexuality, either way.

What’s right with it?

It doesn’t matter, the question is not primary. We need to re-evaluate our priorities; former ways of defining people no longer are primary.

So, what keeps us from viewing ourselves and others from a changed perspective?

President Stephen Veazey said in his Sunday night message before deliberations of the conference got started:

“Perhaps, by putting perplexing questions in our path, the Spirit helps us see how our own judgmental attitudes and biases keep us from being Christ’s community. Jesus spoke directly to this all-to-human-tendency to condemn the ‘sin’ of others while quickly excusing our own faults when he asserted: ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?’”
—Matthew 7:1–4 NRSV

“Jesus stressed that we should be very slow to judge other people because our sins may be just as great or greater. Perhaps the Spirit challenges us with hard questions so we will become more reliant on God’s guidance rather than our own thinking and emotions. Maybe we need humbling.”

President Veazey, also, said:

“During my morning devotions the other day I read from Psalm 25:9: “He leads the humble in what is right…” While reflecting on that verse, I also read Doctrine and Covenants 10:6: “Put thy trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good; yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Sprit.”

“It occurred to me the sequence of phrases is important. We must learn to “do justly” and “walk humbly” before we can “judge righteously.” Being competent in justice—God’s kind of reconciling and restoring justice—and humility must precede making decisions about difficult moral issues.”

I also believe it is our own society that hinders our ability to be “competent in justice.”

Donald B. Kraybill calls God’s kingdom The Upside-Down Kingdom, and in the Upside-Down Kingdom “agape love becomes the mode of governing. The Greek word, agape, means unconditional love. Wholly unselfish, agape surpasses passion, friendship, and benevolence. It supercedes self-interest. Agape is more than unselfish feeling. It acts. It loves unloveables, even enemies. Compassion, generosity, forgiveness, mercy—these are the essence of agape.”

Kraybill also says agape love revises the widespread social rules of reciprocity and retaliation.

“Throughout the world, reciprocity shapes our expectations for giving and receiving favors. If I buy you a cup of coffee, you are obligated to say ‘thank you’ and return the favor sometime. The norm of reciprocity assumes that people should help those who have helped them. We feel awkward if we can’t reciprocate a gift. We consider rude those who break the rules of reciprocity. It pervades all aspects of our relations.

“The subtle flip side of this norm is that while we’re expected to help those inside our web of reciprocity, we’re not obligated to go out of our way to do favors for strangers. We have no obligation to outsiders. That’s why random acts of kindness to strangers are so surprising. The norm is we can ignore strangers without feeling guilty, but when it comes to enemies, we have a duty to hate them.

“Jesus slices through the norm of reciprocity: ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them…And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.’ (Luke 6:32-34 ‘And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?’ (Matt 5:47) In other words agape love stretches far beyond simple reciprocity. Agape isn’t about returning smiles for smiles or favors for favors. Even sinners play by that rule. It’s no big deal if you simply play by the rules of reciprocity, that’s not kingdom love.

“Agape is a norm of excess. in the parable of the Good Samaritan, he didn’t play by reciprocity when he got off his donkey to help the beaten man. Your heavenly Father doesn’t play by that rule either. God sends rain on the unjust as well as the just. (Matt 5:45) God models the norm of excess. We should be merciful as God is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

“Agape love exceeds the norm of reciprocity in three ways. First, the initiative is now ours. Instead of waiting to return a favor, we make the first move because God has already favored us.

“Second, agape serves others regardless of their status. As the story of the Good Samaritan suggests, strangers, foes, and outcasts are cared for as well as friends.

“Third, agape love doesn’t expect a return. Because God loved us first, His love urges us to pass it on (to pay it forward) offering the favor to someone else instead of returning it to God.

“Jesus said, ‘When you host a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid. But when you host an elaborate meal, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ (Luke 14:12-14)

Kraybill also says while the positive side of the norm of reciprocity is do good to those who do good to you, the downside, however, allows us to harm someone who has harmed us. It is fair play to retaliate if someone deliberately hurts us. The norm of negative reciprocity covers the spectrum of human behavior from sibling pinches to international war. If people injure me, I may injure them. In fact, the negative side of reciprocity not only permits self-defense, it legitimizes a spiraling cycle of endless retaliation. The revenge may even exceed the original insult to ‘teach’ the aggressor ‘a lesson.’ We reflect this when we say, ‘She had it coming to her,’ ‘He got what he deserved,’ or ‘It serves them right.’

“But Jesus suspends the negative as well as the positive side of the norm.

“‘You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.’ (Matt 5:38-44)

“Is Jesus calling us to be sponges that absorb any insult or injury? To the contrary, Jesus was likely calling His disciples to resist evil with these symbolic acts of nonviolence.v

“Jesus proposes not a retaliatory blow or dropping to the ground in submission—but a third way. Offer the other cheek and rob the aggressor of the power to humiliate. By offering the other cheek, we are saying, ‘Try again. I refuse to be humiliated.’ Such nonviolent resistance exposes the evil act and shames the aggressor. It does not compliantly accept injury but resists it, not with violence, but with love. Jesus’ examples of giving one’s last garment and walking the second mile illustrate the same principle on nonviolent resistance. But symbolic acts of resistance should never vilify or demean the evildoer. Any resistance must be guided by love because Jesus calls us to love our enemy.

“Love our enemy? Yes, love for enemies is the ultimate flip-flop, for it demolishes the norm of reciprocity. Enemy love flows from the entire spirit of Jesus’ stories and ministry. Jesus offers upside-down responses to seven types of aggressors.

“‘But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.’ (Luke 6:27-30)

“Jesus reverses typical solutions to evil. Revenge and retaliation are obsolete in the new kingdom. As assertive love supercedes reciprocity, so forgiveness obliterates the tit-for-tat of revenge. Forgiveness replaces retaliation. It’s the distinguishing mark of the upside-down kingdom.

“Jesus models forgiveness even on the cross. Amid bloody torture, Jesus pleads on behalf of his enemies, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34) He urges us to ‘to love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:12-13)

“In the new kingdom we treat enemies as friends. This kind of forgiveness, however, is risky. When faced with conflict, our natural impulse is fight or flight. Jesus offers us a third way—agape love in the face of evil. He doesn’t run away, fight, or resist, he demonstrates God’s patient grace. He offers forgiveness, He loves His enemies who literally torture him. He practices God’s patient forgiving love. And it is this courageous love that has the power to transform enemies into friends and convert villains into humans with a force more powerful than any other. Jesus modeled God’s new way—the power of patient grace and forgiving love.”

“It is impossible to forgive someone if you feel superior to him or her.”
—Timothy Keller

Brian D. McLaren, in his book, The Secret Message of Jesus, says:

“...this carpenter’s son from Galilee challenges every existing political movement (the Zealots, Herodians, Sadducees, Essenes, Pharisees) to a radical rethinking and dares everyone to imagine and consider his revolutionary alternative.

“What is that alternative? It is to seek, receive, and enter a new political and social and spiritual reality he calls the kingdom (or empire) of God, or the kingdom (or empire) of heaven...

“If you are part of this kingdom and [someone] forces you to carry his pack for one mile, you’ll carry it a second mile as an expression of your own benevolent free will, you choose a higher option, one above either passive submission or active retaliation.

“If you are part of this kingdom, you won’t curse and damn the notorious sinners and scoundrels to hell; instead, you’ll interact with them gently and kindly, refusing to judge, even inviting them to your parties and treating them as neighbors—being less afraid of their polluting influence on you than you are hopeful about your possible healing and ennobling influence on them.

“If you’re part of this kingdom, you won’t be blindly patriotic and compliant...instead, you’ll be willing to confront injustice, even at the cost of your life. You won’t nestle snugly into the status quo, but you’ll seek to undermine the way things are to welcome the way things could and should be.

“If you’re part of this kingdom, you begin to live in a way that some will say is stupid and naive. (Turning the other cheek? Walking the second mile? Defeating violence with forgiveness, sacrifice, and love? Come on! Get real!) But others might see in your way of life the courageous and wild hope that could heal and transform the world.”

What is this “courageous and wild hope”?

McLaren, in his book, Everything Must Change, says:

“On a visit to Argentina, he hears the story of a women, her husband and their daughter visiting a remote native indian village and wanting to help them by building a local school. For the last sixteen years this family has gone above and beyond to help this small village. But while listening to their story a question occurs to him: Why didn’t the local people try to build a school before?

“She didn’t hesitate a second when he asked her... ‘The people had no hope. When people have no hope, all they think about is scraping by for one more day. There is no tomorrow, there is no creatively, there is no will to organize, people can’t think straight, because they have no hope.’ Then she paused, seeming to recall something she had almost forgotten.

“‘You know, when we first came to the village, the people would never speak their native language in front of us. They were ashamed of their native language and would only speak Spanish. So we began to ask them to teach us words in their native tongue. They couldn’t believe that white people were interested in learning their language. That simple act of curiosity seemed to tell them that we weren’t there just to help them as some superior people helping inferiors. No, we were there because we genuinely loved them—no, not just that—we liked them. . . . It wasn’t the resources we brought that made a difference. It was our presence. We were simply among them as people with hope, among them as people with love, and that made a difference. They caught our hope.’

“As she spoke, I pictured Jesus, wandering through the village of Galilee, walking among his own oppressed and dominated people, people who, like the people of this indigenous village, had lost their hope. Their hopelessness left them paralyzed and powerless between two primary schemes of despair—the violent despair of terrorist resistance or the resigned despair of capitulation and collaboration with their powerful oppressors. He didn’t fix all their problems, even though many of them wanted him to and hated him when he didn’t. He didn’t organize an army or hatch a plot or design liberal democracy or create a new get-rich-quick business plan. He didn’t scapegoat anybody—if anything, he kept letting scapegoats off the hook, taking their side to the consternation of their hyperreligious critics.

“Instead, he simply let the people know he liked them—and so did God, that he was interested in them, that they didn’t have to be ashamed of who they were. He came close to them in their illnesses, wept with them at the graves of their loved ones, ate at their tables, drank their wine, listened to their words, let himself be injured by their pain—and, although it isn’t recorded in any of the Gospels (canonical or otherwise), I imagined he laughed at some their jokes too.

“And he did one other thing: he told the people something, something outrageous, something so familiar to us, so familiar to me that it is only in rare moments that I get a glimpse of how wild it really was. It wasn’t an if/then statement—if you do this and this and this and this, then you’ll get that result. That would have been more pressure, another chance to fail.

“No, all he did was tell them that something was already true: the kingdom of God is here. Already. Here in its full flower, no, but here in reality, yes. Whether you believe it or not, whether you notice it or not, whether you like it or not. And all that he invited them to do was to believe it. And somehow, some of them did.”

Where can we find this kind of hope?

A Congresswoman from San Francisco comments at the 2007 Sojourners Pentecost meeting:

“Where is hope to be found? Right where it has always been: between faith and love.”
—Nancy Pelosi

“Sing to the Lord, you faithful followers of his; give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a brief moment, and his good favor restores one’s life.
One may experience sorrow during the night, but joy arrives in the morning.”
(Psalms 30:4-5)

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. And with the resurrection of Jesus and the advent of the upside-down kingdom of God, I believe hope is the joy in the coming morning.

—Priest Robert Thomas
rough notes from a sermon given in April, 2010