by Edison Garcia-Creitoff | 15 March 2022 |
I recently heard a pastor say in a sermon that there seemed to be a civil war in the church between the vaccinated and the anti-vaccine believers. The pastor called on the members not to forget that, regardless of our differences, we are all brothers and sisters; that God is our Father and we need each other as siblings on this earth, to support each other.
He asked that we be prudent, that we build unity and that we stop using hurtful words towards people who do not think or believe differently from us—even if they take different positions towards vaccines. He concluded by wishing that we would not use unkind expressions to despise or criticize the vaccinated or the unvaccinated.
The balance expressed by this pastor seemed good and correct to me. It was a call to be tolerant, to show respect for all, and take affirmative action in favor of peace.
A broader application
Yet I sighed, because it seemed to me that we should extend respect and tolerance beyond this single argument. We should, for example, equally seek peace with our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community. We should stop disrespect, ridicule, contempt and discrimination. We should cease using unkind expressions to degrade their dignity as sons and daughters of God.
Don’t you think that with regard to other matters, just as between those who disagree about vaccines, we can build bridges of peace and stop defamation and disrespect?
If Christ were among us today, knowing what we know about his love, mercy, and goodness, what would he ask of us? Would he let us as Christians judge, condemn, mistreat, and oppress one another? Or would he ask us to minister, care, and show respect?
Among younger Adventists, the church’s and church members’ lack of respect for those who are different from us produces a strong cognitive and ethical dissonance. They see that the ideas of justice shown in the gospel, and the way we practice inclusion in the church, are contradictory. Attitude and action do not match. We know what Jesus said, and preach what he said, but when it comes to such difficult matters such as accepting LGBTQ+ people, we do the opposite of what Jesus expected of a Christian.
Out of alignment
This is nothing new. No person is immune. Human nature is by nature stubborn and opinionated, and can lead us to assume contradictory positions from one another on things like salvation by faith, racial or gender discrimination, social justice and oppression, war, violence, mistreatment of women, the ordination of female pastors, global warming, the return of Jesus, postmodernism, vaccination, the LGBTQ+ community, and many other things.
All these examples, and more that escape my memory, highlight the need to ask whether our hearts are really aligned with the heart of Jesus Christ. Or are we wed to religious distortions: prejudices, conspiratorial ideas, and the doctrines of institutionalized religion?
If those are the things that dominate my faith, but I’m not listening to the direction of the Spirit, the result is predictable: I will fall out of alignment with my Savior.
Dealing with dissonance
Some of us, faced with these contradictory ideas, prefer to stick our heads in the sand, to pretend that they don’t exist. Some say that the church is led by Christ, and we should just avoid being antagonistic about our differences. But that’s not the answer.
Others accept that there are dissonances between the gospel and our actions, but they handle it by focusing only on the letter of the Bible, without adding love, mercy, and compassion. They do so much damage with that attitude that their faith is unable to offer a balm for the suffering. That is one reason we are losing hundreds of thousands of members in our churches. There is an erosion of kindness, justice, and mercy, leading to an exodus. People continue to believe in the coming of Jesus, but they can’t believe in a church with dissonances that distance the suffering from the spirit of Christ.
Sometimes it seems that the church doesn’t have an institutional crisis. In some places, the church seems to be doing well. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. There are very real reasons to be concerned about the future of this church.
I believe that God, in his immense love, is waiting for the repentance of the church for its mistakes. I’m not talking about mere human repentance, a mere saying “I’m sorry.” I’m talking about the repentance that happens within us, the result of the presence of the Spirit of Christ in us. To experience repentance we must renounce human strategies to achieve personal, political, and conspiratorial goals that leave aside Divine guidance.
Instead, we need to be humble and submissive in the Lord, so that he puts repentance into our hearts. The holiness of Christ’s presence in me—and only Christ—will destroy the DNA of dissonance. Then we will increasingly reflect the character and the discipleship of Jesus, his mercy, his compassion, his unconditional love—and we will act accordingly to those whom we sometimes treat badly.
It is time to ask for the fulfillment of the promise given to Ezekiel 36:26-27 (KJV):
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Then and only then will discipleship be born of the Spirit, and dissonances will diminish.
The author has taught ethics and communication for 15 years at different universities in Puerto Rico. He is a social worker, conflict mediator, attorney (J.D.), and lay chaplain. He considers himself a progressive and postmodern Adventist.