I’ve been reading a book on Anglican Ethics this past week (“Ethics after Easter”) and came across a wonderful idea. Anglicans prefer commending ethics to demanding ethics. We would rather advocate than enforce. I found that rather moving; always being glad when my own moral sense lines up with some broader sense of the community (“Ethics before Easter” is in the Church Teaching Series). I would, though, go one step farther.
I think that Christians are called to demonstrate ethics first, commend them second, and only enforce them at a distant third. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). I take two very hard lessons from this. First, if we fail at loving one another, we’ve missed the point ourselves and have no business evangelizing. We need to take the log out of our own eye. Second, if we think we have love but others don’t see it, it may not be love.
Sadly, Christians have become associated with ignorance, intolerance, and judgment. A survey of Millenials (the generation after Gen Y) showed that the number one thing that alienates them from religion is hypocrisy. We have work to do. It’s time for remedial Christianity. Unlike the first three centuries of the church, unlike the missionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries, we live in a world where people know Christians. People have seen Christians in politics, locally and abroad. People know the behavior of Christians from television, radio, and above all from their friends and associates.
Ethics must first be lived, not perfectly, but thoughtfully, ardently and diligently. The Christian life takes work. Christian love takes work. Convince yourself that you have something to share – a community worth bringing to the world. Then share it.
There are three stages: live, share, ask.
First, live the Kingdom life, by loving your neighbor.
Second, when people see that you live in a different way, share how that happened.
Third, when a community of faith has arisen around you, ask people to return when they have fallen away.
As sad as I am to say it, we’re still in stage 1. I think that Episcopalians are inching into stage 2, but it will take hard work not to lose the ground we’ve gained. I also think we’re fighting against other, more visible Christians in the US.
If we can live in love, then the world is truly made new. I’ve seen it. Still we can only evangelize by sharing the genuine love we have for one another. Nothing less than honesty will do.