RELIGION COLUMN: Compassionate Christianity is the answer

Published 1:23 pm Thursday, December 26, 2013

By Jake McCall

I have only been on this earth for 34 years, so my experiential outlook is limited, but it seems that we may be living in one of the more uncertain times of our nation’s history. Every era has its challenging seasons, but things seem perilously unsettling with government shutdowns, healthcare chaos, personal and national debts rising dramatically and moral decline. And what is especially unnerving is that almost half of the population has some type of financial dependence on this unraveling government. Almost half of the population counts on this dying giant for food, money and medical care. What happens when the dying giant gets even closer to death?

We can have the conversation that other people’s irresponsibility, dependent spirit and multi-generational abuse of the system is not our problem—and that can feel right—but I hope that true Christians are ready to take a different approach. I hope Christ’s church will see this opportunity to begin taking back some of our mission that we squandered away when the government wanted it for the purpose of exercising control.

There was a time when the church in America gladly carried the majority of the burden of education, welfare and medical care, all in the name of Christ. History shows us that it was not easy and many mistakes were made, but the church’s influence was great because they truly saw it as their responsibility to attend many of the basic needs of society. Government saw this profound influence and they wanted it and pursued it. As the church gave it up, the government embraced it and has grown it ever since, but it is now unraveling at a rapid pace and it cannot be sustained.

I believe that a new door of opportunity will begin to open. A potential barrier for that opportunity is that, as government has continued to dish out undeserved benefits, our hearts have become hardened both to the system and to the people enslaved to the system. I confess that I am writing this article with big hopes and little focus because I don’t know what the next step is supposed to be, but I know the next step for the believing body of Christ has to be led with compassion, and that compassion must overcome frustration. And I also know that there is a historical precedent for the church (all churches coming together) to be the primary caretaker of the community in which it is located while still being faithful to the Gospel. The goal would be for it to happen through the unified generosity and concern of citizens and members instead of coercion and excessive taxation. The goal must also have aims of created opportunities and empowerment for those in need, instead of enslavement and dependence. We’ve seen that the government can’t do that, but the Bible and history says the church can.

In Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity,” he described how Christianity thrived in a pagan culture. By referencing a letter that was written in that time period, Stark quotes Emperor Julian, who ruled Rome in 362 A.D. and hated Christianity. In that letter, Julian stated, “Those wretched Christians support not only their poor, but ours as well. Everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.” It is also recorded that during times of disease and epidemics of that period, the Romans would push away sufferers—even family members—in order to avert the spread and contagion of the disease. It was Christians in that part of the world who took charge of the sick, ministering to them in Christ. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, refers to a time as this in the following tribute: “Many Christians, in nursing and curing others, willingly transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.”

A time may be coming when food pantries and small benevolent ministries, as good and honorable as those are, will no longer suffice. When they come—and as the giant dies, they will come—I hope we don’t push those in need of food, medicine and education back to the government.

—Jake McCall is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. He is the pastor at Grace Fellowship Presbyterian Church. His column appears each Thursday.