What Side Of The Street Would Jesus Be On?

 

I’m a pastor and I struggle a lot with religion.

I struggle a lot with the damage and hurt that has been done in the name of religion and Christianity. I know people have been hurt by other religions, but I can only speak for my faith and how it has been mismanaged and abused.

In the name of God, horrific things have happened in our world, from wars, to political power plays, to sex abuse scandals. Organized religion has used God as their power tool to gain control and leverage for personal pleasure in a world that would like to hope that there is a God who cares and there are spiritual leaders they can trust.

Republicans have their view of Christianity, the Democrats have their view of Christianity, and both use those views to leverage power in the political systems.

When it comes to love, war, our enemies, forgiveness, judging, sex, money, relationships, material wealth, power and the way we treat the poor, we are no longer asking the most important question: “What did Jesus do and teach about those topics?”

What do you say to someone who was sexually abused by a religious leader, or was shamed and made to feel less than while trying to find their way as an adolescent or was kicked out of their church for having an abortion or was marginalized because they did not have the resources to give to their church?
What do you say to a homosexual who has heard the words, “God hates faggots!” from Christian protesters?

What do you say to a young girl who has been kidnapped and sexually trafficked while the church world keeps building bigger buildings and ignoring the call to rescue?

One of the biggest dangers of organized religion is it quickly becomes “us” verses “them.” The “righteous” verses the “unrighteous”. The “saved” verses the “unsaved.” The “good people” verses the “bad people.”

When I was in my 20’s, in the late 1980’s, abortion was a hot topic issue. As a Christian, you were expected to join groups of protestors and hold up signs on busy roads in your city that said, “Abortion Kills”, and “God Hates Abortion.”

My heart was conflicted. I would be shamed and looked down on by my fellow Christians if I didn’t do this, but my heart said that regardless of my personal belief on abortion, this method did not seem right.

The day came and we went to a busy road by the local mall, and as we held up our anti-abortion signs on one side of the road, there were people on the other side holding up signs about a woman’s right to choose. We were divided by personal beliefs, but we were also divided because we did not even know each other.

There were no conversations about our two beliefs, only a few hand gestures and a few angry shouts from both sides. As the day went on, cars driving by would either honk with approval, using the thumbs up method to say we were being heroic or cars would honk with disapproval, using the middle finger as a very subtle method to let us know what they thought of our signs and beliefs.

I didn’t get into one conversation that day with “the other side.”

I went home feeling like something was wrong. I went home feeling like Jesus wasn’t with me that day. I felt guilty for not wanting to do my Christian duty again, but I also felt like my heart was farther from the heart of God.

I began to read the Gospels and I saw how Jesus would welcome and hang out and accept the very people the religious leaders of that day rejected. He had a way of setting people free from destructive habits, while giving them dignity, value and worth.

It was during that time that I met a woman named Miranda who had just recently become a follower of Jesus, and was dealing with a lot of shame and regrets from her past.

One of the regrets was that she had had several abortions and was struggling becoming pregnant now that she wanted to. Even worse, she felt like she was being judged by her new Christian friends because in their opinion, not being able to have children was possibly God’s punishment.

As I got to know Miranda, my heart broke for her. I learned that she had grown up in a very difficult family and had run away at sixteen. She went looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong places and ended up pregnant several times from one night stands. I had no idea how much pain and shame was involved with women who have had abortions, pain and shame from family, friends and sadly from the religious community.

As I began to understand in a small way her pain, my heart began to soften again. I began to understand my calling as a follower of Jesus is to love people, listen to them and point them to the One who brings hope and healing.

Miranda is involved, these days, helping women who have the scars and guilt of past abortions, and helping young pregnant girls who want an alternative to an abortion. No signs and no judging, just a listening ear and a hopeful hand.

I look back on my feelings that day on the streets, holding up those signs, and I realize God was speaking to me. My feelings that something wasn’t right were whispers from the Holy Spirit saying “I didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it.”

Watching and learning from Miranda, I believe now more than ever that Jesus would have been on the opposite side of the street than me, not protesting, but healing, listening, loving, caring and redeeming.

I find myself more these days, wanting to understand, listen, empathize and love rather than just wanting to be right. Because when all I want is to be right, I no longer care about the person, their hurts, questions and dreams.

I have learned that I can be theologically correct while driving people away from the Good News,
Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” Jack Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth.” But I think Jack was wrong. I think we can.

The truth is that Jesus came to heal the broken hearted, he came to forgive, restore, redeem, give eternal life. The journey of Jesus going to the cross and resurrecting from the dead to defeat death once and for all is called “the Good News!” That is the truth.

For those of you who have been hurt, shamed, abused and manipulated in the name of God, I am so sorry!

But don’t run away from the Good News. Don’t run away from the truth that can set you free. Don’t run away from Jesus.

I am asking Jesus these days to give me the courage and compassion to walk to the other side of the street and listen, empathize and offer healing and hope to those who do not know about the truth that can set them free.

14 thoughts on “What Side Of The Street Would Jesus Be On?

  1. I agree with the overall premise, however Jesus did not always engage people in the most kind way. In John 4 he brazenly calls out the woman at the well for having had 5 husbands. In Matthew 5 he tells people that if they even lust they are adulterers, and if they have hateful feelings they are murderers in danger of hellfire, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I know as Christ followers we are called to be kind and compassionate and loving. Yet, we are also called to boldly proclaim the Truth, and this Truth, as Jesus himself said, would often divide people. “I have come, not to bring peace, but a sword.”-Matthew 10:34. I guess I just struggle with knowing when, in the face of evil and sin, the gloves come off.

    • I think the key is dignity and respect and approaching people on equal ground knowing we all have brokenness and evil in our hearts. When Jesus told the woman at the well about her life, he offered her something better and actually treated her with dignity and respect by talking to her, while others treated her like an outcast. Telling us about lust and hate being the equal to adultery and murder was teaching us that it is not just our outward actions that are sinful, but the core to our sin is our heart. He told us that so we could not fool ourselves by thinking that just because we aren’t doing bad things outwardly, that it doesn’t matter what is going on in our heart. I have found that with the topic of abortion it has become a political and religious talking point and battle, and we have forgotten the hurt and pain and guilt that so many women have experienced. They feel lied to by our culture that says, it’s just a fetus and it is no big deal, and they feel judged by the religious world, who more times than not, have not had a lot of compassion. We have not offered them an alternative. We have not offered them the “living water” that Jesus offered the woman at the well. We have just drawn lines and judged. I guess that was what I was getting at by writing this. Grace and Truth are far more the same than they are different. I think it is just the way I approach the truth and how I share it with others. If I confront the evil in others, I must go to them knowing I have the same capacity for evil in myself. Just a few thoughts. I love your thinking and your response and your passion!

  2. My family business that I grew up in dealt with so many people from all different life styles. Which included broken homes, sexual and physical abuse, hatred, cigarette burns and drug and alcohol abuse. Walking apart from people isn’t the way it’s suppose to be. Walking with them it is. We should love them and have compassion and empathy for them just as Jesus did. All of these, are so modeled at Green Valley each day. It’s what had brought me to this church, what is still so present day after day and why I love being apart of Green Valley.

  3. I too, have struggled with “religion” most of my life. The churches I grew up in spent more time condemning, judging, and separating themselves from the lost and those who did not believe as ‘we’ did. When I came to Green Valley I finally discovered that this is what Christ intended His church to be….A place free of judgment…a place that offers hope and help to those hurting and in need…a place of safe refuge where the lost can find salvation. Thanks for sharing Ken, as always, you are an incredible inspiration to all of us.

  4. wow ken that story is amazing! i did not you had your own website. very cool. you are an inspiration. i can relate to miranda. never once has GVCC or the pastors made me feel less than or judged. Jesus is the Truth the Life and the Way!

  5. Thanks to everyone for their comments. I can relate personally on several levels but I will save that for another day…what really touched me is that this is what we deal with at Hope House on a daily basis. In fact sexual abuse by clergy and relatives has played a part in some of our precious families lives…leaving them feeling a shame that is only rivaled by the hopelessness that has taken root in their souls. For many, that level of hope and shame presents itself in a feeling of being so unworthy they turn to drugs, alcohol, self injury and trading sex for money, housing or false-acceptance. In turn, society only sees the outside act of the substance abuse, prostitution and crime. Without Jesus we would never give these “undesirables” the time of day. Jesus is the only pure example of how to treat our brothers and sisters. Jesus is he only way to offer hope to the hopeless, dignity to the shamed and opportunity to the marginal. And it is true, sometimes offering Jesus comes in the form of tough love and the messiest of grace- as is all too often the case at Hope House which is home to women and children most definitely on Jesus’ side of the street!

    • Wow! I don’t even know what to say. And that is rare. Thank you Shannon and all the Hope House leadership board and volunteers for all you do. You are offering hope and the redemption of Jesus in such a compassionate way. Mom’s are finding life and their children are learning that they are a masterpiece, forgiven by God, to do great things.

  6. Ken…I love this blog…it is probably the main reason we attend GVCC…the gospel is presented with love, and people are treated with dignity no matter what their background. I used to be one of those judgmental Christians, until my ex-husband left me after 29 years of marriage. It was then I felt judged and scorned by those very “Christians” I used to be a part of. God has changed my life in such a dramatic way since then and I no longer lash out at people involved in sin…instead I love them and reach out to them, knowing how much they must be hurting, and realizing I don’t know their full story. Thank you for writing this blog…it reminds about my priorities and encourages me to continue to embrace and love those who are in a tough time in their lives. God loves them, just like he loves me, and He has great things planned for them when they realize they are worthy of His love.

  7. With both an analytical mind, I wanted to know the Christian comeback to every argument when I was younger. I could out argue anyone, and was always floored when it still didn’t convince people to change their beliefs. It took some time to grow up and realize that love, not arguements – even if they are right – is what changes the hearts of people. I love GVCC because it understands that the truth is love because God is love. Thanks Ken.

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