Unclean Perfection

St PeterHow much effort does it take to condemn? How much time and energy do you have to use in order to feel that you have put the world right because it doesn’t conform to your own view? In the end just how much are you willing to loose in order to condemn and destroy?

At the moment the social networks are buzzing with disgust and horror over the Phelps family and the Westboro church. People across the world are quickly distancing themselves from these fanatics who claim they are doing the work of God. Christians are saying that the family aren’t Christians and don’t speak for them while others are lumping everyone into the same basket. I choose to do neither.

The church, as people who’ve read my previous posts will attest, is an institution that I struggle to respect and dignify. Christians on the other hand are human and as such I take each one as a special case just as I do any human being. That way I can never put all Christians, all black people, all Caucasians, or any specific group into a ball and hate them all because some have hurt me. As someone who struggles daily in his own faith it would be unfair to those who are taking the log out of their own eye rather than digging in mine for a splinter.

So I can look at a Christian who resects me and my life journey and respect them back. We may not agree but in essence we are both working in our own ways to deal with the shit of the day. But with people like the Phelps family I struggle. I know the command is to love my neighbor but when my neighbor is upsetting every person they come into contact with its very hard to take the Christian path and not condemn. To me the idea of picketing a child or soldier’s funeral to tell the world it is God’s judgment for sin is abhorrent to me. But I try, I struggle to calm the anger, and find a place that I can be at peace with myself and God.

In the end I have to keep coming back to something which happened to my namesake Peter. Here was a Jewish guy who was hungry and his God, loving as he is, dropped down from heaven a blanket filled with stuff to eat. The only trouble was that it didn’t conform to Peter’s religious laws so like Gordon Ramsey he sent it back to the kitchen with a firm NO! So God sends it back again and again is faced with a full blanket of food. Nice huh? God takes the time to send you a gourmet meal and you refuse it. But God being God gives it a final go and sends down the blanket again only to be met with a whole list of reasons why Pete can’t eat the stuff. He also reminds God what a good Jew he has been by reminding him “that nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”

Its a great story but if you don’t read on you miss the point and are left believing it was just another “test” that Peter managed to pass by keeping the law. What actually transpires is that Peter, still hungry, is called to the house of a Roman called Cornelius. This guy has sent his servants to Pete asking if he would come and visit. Seems pleasant enough except you see Cornelius and his crew were…. gosh golly…. they were gentiles! To a Jew that was verboten cause unless you were of the faith you were unclean. Pete being a good little Jew was going to send the servants away and not have anything to do with this unclean rabble. Right?

Wrong! Pete had learnt his lesson. He realized that we humans have no right to decide what is clean and unclean, especially when it comes to people. Not only did he give the servants a room for the night but he then went and spent time with their boss Cornelius and took some of his circumcised friends with him to show them what God meant. Funnily enough God didn’t smite these gentiles when he got there, there was no expectation for them to be acceptable to Pete before salvation would be granted. No the holy spirit descended and they spoke in tongues. God had decided that they were “clean” so sod man’s thoughts on the subject. After all, as Pete himself said “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” So he baptized them and they got him to stay for a few days to worship with them.

In the end like all good stories evil has to be triumphed over, and when Pete gets back home he cops an earful from the circumcised brigade. They berate him for having eaten with unclean people. Not “you tried to baptize unworthy people” but rather its the fact that they are unclean and eat unclean food that seems to have set their togas on fire. Pete’s a good debater though and realizes that the dream about the blanket really is more. He tells them the story and tells them that God himself said “what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” To conclude Pete tells them “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?” And the people who were saying he was behaving badly realized that it was they who were in the wrong.

My point is this. The Westboro church and others like them delight in deciding what is clean or unclean. In doing this they always fall into the “clean” camp. I can’t deny their own salvation that’s between them and God, but like my namesake I see God as more powerful than them. I look at a world that hurts and needs love and refuse to call anyone unclean. Its just not my job. My job is to love the world for all its broken, unfinished beauty because I’m broken and unfinished too. There’s no glory in it. I’m not better than anyone for admitting it. It’s just the way it is. God will decide who’s unclean and I suspect it will not be those who have had an abortion, happen to be LGBTQ, don’t follow a particular denomination, it will be those who condemn and judge in his name without his permission.

When we deal with the world as Christians we need to remember that the old “Jewish” idea of law and ritual was thrown out and we were given the freedom to love the world and not have to be set apart from it. There is no clean or unclean just people who we are commanded to love as we would want ourselves loved, and we are reminded that we have all sinned so we are no better or worse than anyone else. The way that Christ talks about sin there is no big or little sins. No cardinal sins, no mortal sins, or grave offenses. There’s just sin which separates us from God and Jesus is our way to circumnavigate that.

So remember when you deal with these kinds of people no one has the right to call you unclean because God’s view is the only one that matters. And that’s between you and him.

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