In Matthew 23:24 comes a startling statement from Jesus : "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." The shock comes from the fact that these individuals swallowing things whole while picking out the tiniest object they found objectionable were not pagans. They were not those who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Deborah, or Huldah. These were the righteous of the day. These were the ones who enjoyed a position as being leaders in the faith, keepers of the law, the godliest of the godly - the Scribes and the Pharisees.
I am reminded of that verse whenever contemporary society jumps on a social issue hobby horse: abortion, marriage, homosexuality, war, poverty, racial injustice, wealth inequality, women's rights, or climate change. They have issues - a lot of them! The issues are all important and there are many ways of viewing their impact on society even among Christians.
It is at that nexus of Christianity and social issues that the problems seem to emerge. So much of conservative Christian America identifies itself with these social issues. A specific and preferred view of them creates many problems and is used, inappropriately I believe, to define what it means to be Christian, conservative, and American.
As important as those topics might be they are the gnats that take our focus as true followers of Christ with the camels we swallow whole.
The camels include these serious substantive personal and social problems. Address these and there is a strong, positive witness to the grace and love of God. "I was hungry and you fed me...." A real 'when the rubber meets the road', 'put your faith where your money is' acting out of the substance of the Gospel.
We swallow, without thought, these massive camels...
Unforgiveness. We refuse to forgive. We keep out hurts open and painful. We never forget.
Intolerance. They are not like us, don't share our view, and we stop listening and that leads to lack of conversation and communication that ends in intolerance. How shall they hear, see, experience the Gospel when no one is talking?
Jealousy. Always looking at others to measure your own success instead of measuring yourself against the life of Christ. As people living "in Christ" we are new creations and our values as Christians should not be those of the world. Nor should we compare ourselves against other Christians. Look only to Christ.
Arrogance. The know it all syndrome. Self-sufficiency run amuck. The doorway that allows pride to trip us up.
Hatred. God is love and those who hate set themselves in opposition to God.
Greed. The eternally hungry who refuse to eat the Living Bread of Christ and be filled. They want more and more of power, money, good times, and anything that pleases them.
Lying. Liars lie out of fear so the crux of this issue is a lack of the courage to face consequences, tell the truth, and make a decision.
Lust. Lusts of the flesh, the soul and the spirit. Lusts of sex but also lusts of power, prominence, respect, self-value. Lusts of pain, drugs, food and drink. All lead to a dark and sin filled life.
Strife. These are people who stir the pot, make trouble where there was none, distract people from keeping their eyes firmly fixed on the life of the disciple of Jesus Christ. Their close friends are all these other camels.
Put away the childish emphasis on the gnats - God can take care of all those issues through a change in human hearts and minds - and focus instead on those camels swallowed whole.
Choose Substance - character, spirit, behaviors of the Christ follower - over issues and see the difference.