Mark Naylor, Ph.D.
Coordinator for Intercultural Leadership Development |
One lesson I have learned from this time of Covid fear is that sometimes there is no right answer. Decisions have to be made about what to do with respect to masks and mandates, and how that affects gatherings, whether classrooms, weddings, worship services, memorial services, or family events over the holidays. Whatever decision is made, people will be excluded, differences will be emphasized, and divisions exacerbated. I have been excluded at times and I have participated in meetings where others have not felt welcome.
I have no solution to the dilemma of making decisions. But I have been convicted about my attitude and speech. Self-pity, defensiveness, and criticism of others seem to be my consistent companions during this journey. I would like to say they are “unwelcome” companions, but I find that I have cultivated their influence through my reactions and judgements against those who not only think differently than I do, but who also vehemently oppose the stand I choose to make. Covid narratives throughout the media and internet harshly condemn those who don’t agree. Different sides have their narratives, those demonized for being a danger to society, and those decried for infringing on rights and freedoms.
Jesus has a solution for this divisiveness. In a recent Northwest staff meeting, Jesus’ words in Sermon on the Mount were quoted. Peterson’s translation in the Message captures the emotion well, “Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire” (Mt 5:21-22). Our fearless president, Ruth, immediately responded with, “I’m toast!” Everyone at the meeting commiserated. We are guilty. We stand with G.K. Chesterton in his response when challenged with the question, “What is wrong with the world?” He reportedly said, “Dear Sir. I am.”
However, Jesus did not say those words for our condemnation, but for our redemption. In Mt 7:1 he provides the way for us to counter these harsh narratives that are constant and loud. Jesus says “Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you” (TEV). This passage is appropriate for this season of lockdowns and fear when there are many unknowns that call for caution and humility rather than claims of certainty. A refusal to condemn “those people,” who see the situation differently from us is an appropriate response. We follow Jesus by choosing the path of grace and love in our thoughts and deeds towards those who act in ways that do not fit our perspective, even when we believe they are causing harm in some way.
For church leaders, especially, it is important to maintain our faith in and primary loyalty to the One who unites us. Keeping our eyes on Jesus is the way to avoid division in the middle of conflicting beliefs about and responses to covid restrictions. Martin Luther defined faith as “a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.” Grace means that whatever decision is made about the gathering of God’s people, harsh judgment and condemnation is not part of our response towards those who believe or choose differently. Leaders especially need to extend such grace both in public and in private. Grace means sensitivity to those who feel condemned, marginalized and dismissed. Grace means praying for leaders who must make decisions that will be criticized regardless of the decision. Grace means caring for those with a different position than our own, listening to them and communicating freedom and respect. Grace means looking for alternate ways to say “you belong” and “you matter” when decisions necessitate exclusion.
It is hard to stand firm with grace when we are battered and weakened by the storm, but Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Mt 14.27 NASB).
 The Society of G.K. Chesterton, Apr 29, 2012. https://www.chesterton.org/wrong-with-world/?__cf_chl_f_tk=1ORbxtTOUezUZ.ecqXvsI6YRA6yrcRD_f.oAg7BxkZU-1642537090-0-gaNycGzNCNE
 Martin Luther’s definition of faith, from An excerpt from "An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans," Luther's German Bible of 1522 by Martin Luther, 1483-1546. Translated by Rev. Robert E. Smith. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/martin-luthers-definition-faith