“We have to fight for what we believe.”
We see and hear a lot of this mantra these days. I did a quick Google search and found some 1.1 million hits on just the quote “fight for what you/we believe”. That’s a lot of online discussion! And the underlying content for this discussion runs the gamut from conservative to liberal, from right to left, from all perspectives and all positions.
We have become a divided nation over the fights for what we believe, and in many respects, we are also a divided Church as a result of our battles.
For Christians, in particular, what does it mean to “fight for what we believe”?
As I look to Scripture and to the examples set by Jesus, by the Apostles and by the early Church, I see models that don’t look much like the “fighting” we do today.
The early Church did not take up arms to defend themselves against arrest or persecution or even torture and martyrdom. No one stepped in to defend Stephen or to stop the arrest of Peter or even to oppose the stoning of Paul. For the new followers of the Gospel, “fighting” certainly meant something other than physical violence.
And the people of the early Church did not see their fight as a call to change the existing political, social and religious structures of their societies. They didn’t protest or rally or riot to pass Christian morality into law or to eliminate pagan practices or pagan institutions in the towns and cities where they lived.
No, they did their fighting for their beliefs in their communities and neighborhoods. . .through their efforts to make a difference in the lives of the people they lived with. They fought by caring for one another. . .by walking out the core of Jesus’ teachings: loving and devoting themselves to God with everything they could muster and loving others, believers and non-believers alike, as they loved themselves.
Did they always get it right? Of course not! They messed things up. . .sometimes in very big ways. They were scolded publicly, in the very letters of Scripture, for all the ways they missed the point and were deceived and misguided. They made bad choices and often went in the wrong directions.
But they started from and eventually came back to the places where their “fight” really was: in the trenches of daily life — loving and caring for one another in community, extending love and compassion to the lost, and making a difference in their world, one act at a time, one relationship at a time, one choice for mercy or grace or forgiveness at a time.
From that base grew the most powerful and pervasive movement in all of human history.
Somewhere along the line, however, the people of the Church lost the vision of where our “fight” was supposed to be. We turned from our primary call to love and to care for others, and we adopted instead the mission to fight for what makes things better for our own. We became more invested in protecting what we have — mitigating the risk of loss — than we are in showing the love of Jesus to others.
Today, our definition of “fighting for what we believe” remains adulterated. We have lost sight of the target.
Consider just one example that typifies how we fight for our “Christian” values: many of us are warring with our government and our neighbors over whether we should turn away thousands of needy refugees in order to avoid the risk of allowing persons who might do us harm to enter our country. We argue that nothing should be more important than the protection of our own.
In what way does this fight reflect the values or the example of Christ?
In what part of Scripture do we see Jesus or the early church choosing self-protection over the call to care for those in need?
The answer is self-evident.
And the refugee question is just one example of the ways Christians today “fight” in arenas and over issues that fundamentally conflict with what Scripture says it means to be followers of Jesus. We march and protest in opposition to the state of our culture. We fight, in the name of religious freedom, for the right to discrimination against individuals who personify moral choices that conflict with our own. And somehow under the banner of our faith, we advocate for policy positions that promote protection of our interests through military strength abroad, public safety at home, border security, and the right to self-arm and self-defend.
Nowhere in Scripture or in the models of the early Church do we see the promotion and veneration of the Christian worldview take priority over the call of Christ to extend grace, mercy, provision and hospitality to those in need. And yet, so often, that is exactly what our brothers and sisters fight for today.
Truly, we need to re-visit what it means to follow Jesus. . .to be a Christian.
And in our self-examination, we need to reconsider what it means to fight for what we believe.