Some years ago I read a blog that began in this way: "I was told in Sunday school the word 'Christian' means to be Christ-like, but the message I hear daily on the airwaves from the Christian media are words of war, violence, and aggression. Throughout this article I will spell Christian with a small c rather than a capital, since the term (as I usually hear it thrown about) does not refer to the teachings of the one I know as the Christ."
As I ponder what we Christians, today, must be in order to exemplify a Christ-like walk, I must first admit that I am fed up with the above sort of Christian bashing.
Wars can be found in every century and culture.
It is true that Christianity began its life in a brutal world. Life was not valued, people were slaughtered in Roman circuses and arenas and slavery was the norm. But the growth of Christianity slowly changed that.
Today, we protect the rights of individuals. We believe in individual worth. We get upset over injustice. We are horrified by child abuse and outraged by slavery.
We even worry about traumatized detainees. Where do you think that mindset comes from? It comes from our Judeo-Christian background.
Why can't the Christian bashers see all the good Christianity has created?
We Christians are committed to what the Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 2.16-17, "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king."
Paul of Tarsus writes that we should honor those in authority "not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience." (Romans 13:5).
In other words we should be obedient not just because we don't want to get in trouble. We should be good citizens and respectful of others because it is right in the eyes of God.
We are to be model citizens. We should submit to the government joyfully as a way of honoring the Lord. We should not give anyone cause for offense because we do not do what is right. When people are offended at us let it be because we act like Jesus, not because we are lawbreakers or obnoxious.
This does not mean that we should remain politically aloof. We must be informed as to where our representatives stand on various issues.
We are given the right every two, four or six years to vote for new leaders. We should exercise that right intelligently. We should write our officials when we disagree with them on an issue; this is legal and appropriate.
However, we must never resort to threats, personal attacks or abusive speech. This is not effective and it is not Christian. Our job is to address issues and to do so in a way that treats the person in authority with respect and honor.
The separation of church and state does not require a divorcement of religion from politics, or God from government, or Christians from their duties of citizenship.
Religious people have as much right as anybody else to state their convictions in the marketplace of ideas and (with some limits) to convert their religious ethics into public policy by preaching, teaching, voting, getting involved and even running for office.
And candidates for office need not shed their religious beliefs or keep silent about them.
As true as this is, we have a task, a mission, to fulfill in this world, and that is to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We have a duty to minister to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to urge lost sinners to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. We are to live in this world, subject to the powers that God has placed over us (see Romans 13:1-7).
Be blessed in this task.
Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission.