Individual Rights and Community Well Being

After a long break, I’m excited to return to writing.  Today’s question comes from Yvette.  Yvette actually submitted the question a month ago, but I was too tired to respond.  I’ve caught my second wind and am now ready to respond.

Yvette wrote: “Pastor Craig my comment is actually a question of Christianity— why do so many ‘Christians’ put their ‘freedoms’ above the teachings of Christ and still claim Christianity?? IE— wearing a mask of COVID19 to protect his fellow brother and sister?? I am truly baffled.”

Great question, Yvette!  I am bafflected – and saddened – by the way so many people of faith have responded to the COVID crisis as well.  Let me see if I can respond based upon my experience.

In a perfect world, those who follow Jesus would be SO committed to that journey that they would be able to rise above the social context in which they live (i.e. the prejudices and biases) and walk exclusively in the ways of Jesus.

Sadly, that has rarely been the case.  Like most folks, followers of Jesus tend to get shaped by the culture and times in which they live.  Instead of using Jesus’ radical vision and values to reshape the world, they instead use the world’s vision and values to reshape their understanding of Jesus.

Let me give you an example.  Many followers of Jesus, for instance, grew up in a society that reviled and persecuted LGBTQ+ people.  The persecution and revulsion was often embraced in the name of Jesus.  When the laws began to change and treat LGBTQ+ people as if they were equal, these followed of Jesus ignored biblical injunctions that said, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20 – ESV) and instead screamed that their First Amendment Rights were being violated that allowed them to discriminate/hate on their sister or brother.  Notice their appeals for the right to discriminate are based on the Constitution and NOT Scripture.  I have wept many times over how regularly some have tried to twist Jesus to justify their bigotry.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon.  It has been going on for centuries.  Those who participated in the slave trade in this country four hundred years ago used certain passages of Scripture such as the book of Philemon to justify the existence of slavery.  In the late 19th and early 20th Century, many followers of Jesus used the pastoral letters in the New Testament to justify their decision to deny women the right to vote.  I could go on and on with examples of these horrors, but I think you get the idea.

In all of these cases, individuals are elevating THEIR personal agendas (and their personal interpretations of Scripture) over what’s called the metanarrative of the Christian Faith (i.e. “The most important [commandment] is this : ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these” – Mark 12:29-31 – NIV).

That’s the part from which many followers of Jesus need to repent: putting our perspective over Jesus’ ways in ways that denied our love of neighbor.  As the first Republican President of the United States – Abraham Lincoln – said so powerfully over 150 years ago: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on my side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Which takes me to the other half of the equation: our cultural obsession with elevating the desires of the individual over the welfare of the community.  This is something that was created not just by those who profess to follow Jesus – but by people of many traditions, and no traditions.  It’s not only the followers of Jesus who have put the individual before all else.

If we are ever going to move forward and care about the welfare of others/community, each of us will have to find a way to balance individual rights with the community good in our own lives and relationships.  It’s going to take hard work.

I am certainly committed to balancing what – in my religious tradition (The United Church of Christ) is referred to as the balance of autonomy (individual) with covenant (relationships with God and others).  My question for each reader is this: “What will YOU do to balance the rights and demands of the individual with the welfare of the community?”

The only way we can solve this challenge is if each and every one of us – Christian or not – commits to doing our part to restore the balance.

So what do you think?

Also, what other questions are on your mind as we start this new year?  Thanks Yvette for getting us started in 2021!

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 55-year-old who currently lives in Los Angeles, CA but will soon be moving to New Jersey. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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1 Response to Individual Rights and Community Well Being

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    I think a lot of this disconnect stems from how we define “community.” If you go back to the beginnings of this country and look at John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” speech, you’ll find all sorts of talk about unity and the rich taking care of the poor and everyone working together in love and peace. But if you read closely and look at the context in which it was written, the thesis of the whole thing is that they are going to a “good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it,” and that God will raise them up to triumph over their enemies there. So their idea of “community” was not the community of humanity or even the community of the place in which they planned to live, but the community of those who belonged to their congregation only. Killing, enslaving, or otherwise ruling over everyone not like them was part of their covenant with God, they believed.

    Any Bible verse or secular philosophy that speaks of “the good of the community” can be misinterpreted by those whose instinct is to define “the community” as “MY community, the community of people like me” rather than simply “people”—or better yet, the planet. If you are only looking out for the interests of people like you, it’s easy to assume that whatever is good for you is good for them too and that pursuing your individual interests is the same as pursuing group interests.

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