Herald Journal Columns
Oct. 4, 2004 Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

We must teach civility and compassion, as Jesus did

By Pastor Bill Baldwin, Prairie Community Church, Lester Prairie

I have nothing against teaching our kids about Noah’s Ark or Moses parting the Red Sea as the Israelites escaped the Pharaoh in Egypt, but I sometimes wonder if it makes any difference in their lives.

I have nothing against teaching our kids all the church doctrines and beliefs that have been part of the church from the beginning, but there still seems to be something missing.

I certainly don’t have any trouble with teaching our kids about Jesus and his miracles and healings, but when Jesus just becomes the answer to every question in Sunday School, without having it mean anything to apply to daily living, I think we still don’t have a religion with the power to transform.

As we continue to see more problems in society like school shootings, gangs, drugs, domestic abuse, bullying, road rage and so on, it seems clear to me that whatever we’ve been teaching in church, isn’t creating people who treat all life as sacred.

Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but maybe we don’t love ourselves enough to have much to give to our neighbor.

If not in church, where are we going to teach our children about civility, compassion, respect for all life, a “live and let live” attitude, and a mindset that makes it clear that we are all in this together?

It has long been a criticism of church people that they behave holier than holy for an hour on Sunday, and then promptly forget about it for the other 167 hours in the week. This is a gross exaggeration, but there has definitely been a gap between what is taught in church, Sunday school and confirmation, and the kind of people we are in the world.

The Apostle Paul was already dealing with this in his day, when he had to urge people not to plunge headfirst into sin just because they are forgiven. Forgiveness of sins, he taught, does not mean that we can sin more so we can be forgiven more. Rather, we are to live lives worthy of what Jesus taught and lived in his lifetime.

And what kind of life did Jesus promote? Jesus taught that we are to be people of grace and compassion. We are to have great concern for those who are poor, hurting, or outcast for any reason.

Jesus did not judge people for their lifestyles, but rather met them where they were and just loved them. He modeled a very mature way of being in the world.

Interestingly enough, in the Gospels, we never hear about whether anyone made a lifetime conversion to following Jesus because of what happened to them. Jesus met them and listened and, sometimes, healed them, and then, they parted ways and went on with their lives.

The great thing about Jesus is that nothing that he did was about him or his fame or glory. His focus was always on being a very compassionate presence in the moment, and letting people continue to make decisions for themselves after their encounter with the master.

Jesus was also a great teacher of basic respect and civility. If I say that I am a Christian and a good member of a church, and then I treat anyone poorly, can I say I am really a follower of the Master Jesus Christ?

Jesus was not at all exclusive, he was very inclusive. Jesus was not judging of certain types of people, unless they were people who treated others poorly.

In my humble opinion, we need to be teaching the fundamentals of civility, compassion, and respect at church and make it central to who we are and why we are together.

We need to be teaching our children that if they play any part in treating others in the community with cruelty, they have parted ways with Jesus.

We need to be teaching our children that anytime they make judgments on anyone because of ethnicity, economic status, social class, disability or ability, or anything that can be used to dehumanize or isolate them from the group, they are acting totally anti-Christian.

Part of civility is teaching proper respect for authority, and consequences for disrupting the opportunity for others to learn and enjoy life. It is absolutely necessary for parents and teachers to have the authority to set rules and boundaries and enforce them.

Without rules and boundaries, as we are tragically seeing in the world today, there is chaos and mayhem. Without enforced rules and boundaries, people get hurt or even killed.

We say we’re afraid to enforce rules in school or at home because we don’t want to hurt our kids feelings or whatever, but look at the huge cost to all of us. It is essential to teach everyone that every life deserves respect.

Teaching people responsible, acceptable ways to live in society is the church’s business. We don’t just teach the religious and spiritual sides of life, we also teach people the basics of how to treat others.

Jesus lived in a time of governmental and political domination by the Romans, and religious domination by the Pharisees. He definitely had a concern for creating a world where neither religion nor government imposed harsh controls on people that diminished, rather than enhanced, their quality of life.

We do have the real potential to revert to the behavior of savages if we continue to foster an “every person for themselves” attitude in society.

If we believe we are created in the image of God, and created a little lower than the angels, then we have a commitment to living up to who we really are.

How we treat each other really does matter, it really does give away our true beliefs. Yes, we are living in a very imperfect world, but we have a goal to shoot for in becoming more like the compassionate man of Nazareth, Jesus Christ.

No, we won’t ever treat each other perfectly, but we can all certainly do a whole lot better. Slow down on the road, greet your neighbor or a total stranger, and lighten up.

Peace be unto you.

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