Thanks in a Thankless Space

One of the Bible stories that I keep coming back to recently is the story of the two men walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). It almost seems like a throwaway periscope of scripture but it is truly beautiful to me. These two largely anonymous men are walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They are followers of Christ – not amongst his chosen twelve, but close enough to the inner circle that they were present when the women returned from the tomb to report that the Master’s body was no longer there. Imagine the dizzying heights of joy and the depths of despair these two men experienced in what we now call Passion Week. The exhilaration of Palm Sunday only to be followed by Christ’s arrest, death, and (at least when we meet them) the strange disappearance of His body.[1] How dejected they must have been at the current state of their religious movement. I have come to see their walking away from Jerusalem as not only a physical and literal walk but a figurative one as well. I can imagine these two men, walking away from the city that is the center of their faith, too hurt by the weekend’s events to want to return. The beauty of the story, of course, is that Jesus joins them in their walk away from the church to encourage them and to explain what is happening and how it all fits together. A story of sadness turns into joy as the men return to Jerusalem to tell the others about their encounter with Christ.[2]

I thought about this story this week as I prepared to write this column for Thanksgiving. A particular quirk of fate has tasked me with a column on Thanksgiving and I usually try to focus on the positive for this holiday.[3] Much like the men on their way to Emmaus, I found little positive to recount, at least when I look at the broad landscape of our church. When I consider the past year, I see sexism wrapped in the clothes of supposed unity. I see unjustified financial mismanagement that I believe ethically violates the trust of the members who contribute, not only out of the goodness of their hearts, but also as an exercise of spiritual discipline. I see racism still baked into the fabric of this denomination and its rooting out becoming an even more difficult task. I see homophobia persist in ways that, theology aside, cause me to question whether the church is fully capable to address any sin, let alone the supposed sin of people’s innate preferences. This year I have seen people take the figurative walk to Emmaus and never return. While I am saddened by that I am also reminded that a church where issues like racism, sexism and homophobia are in the forefront, cannot make any demands on the behavior of others.[4]

Despite the current situation, I find myself filled with thankfulness. First, I am thankful that God is not bound by the institutions that represent Him. He is the ultimate expression of freedom. He is the unmoved mover. We are tied to Him, not Him to us. I am thankful for this because it means that even when the institution cuts you off, they have not cut you off from God. Second, I am thankful because Jesus is more than willing to meet the people walking away and cause their hearts to burn within them as well. The most moving part of the story of the men on the way to Emmaus is that Jesus shows up. He doesn’t even show up in a disruptive way. He becomes as they are – travelers on the way of life, even though figuratively they are now all moving in the wrong direction. This gives me confidence that all of us, whether we are in the church or not, can be found and encouraged to see things in a new and better way. Finally, when I look at the broad view of my church, I am encouraged by the Spirit of God that I have seen move amongst the people who believe in him on the ground, regardless of what the institution does. I am blessed by the example of the women who continue to live out their calling despite its lack of recognition. I am excited by those who continue to work to create a better relationship between the church and the LGBTQ community, despite the inherent difficulties of that task. I am encouraged by those in our church who continue to fight for the disadvantaged and downtrodden, wherever they might find them. Their existence is proof to me that the Spirit of God still resides here, ready to be heard and followed, and that is always something to be thankful for.

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[1] I think anyone would be hard-pressed to believe, especially the way the story develops, that these two men would’ve believed at the time that Jesus was risen.

[2] I also imagine that these men naturally would’ve been present on the day of Pentecost and received the Holy Spirit along with many others.

[3] I forsook this principle last year to talk about the church’s misuse of the concept of unity.

[4] In short, a church with these problems should not be demanding anyone’s continued loyalty.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10045
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Amen + Thank you, Jason!
Happy Thanksgiving to our US, Canadian, Caribbean and Liberian brethren! :stew: :poultry_leg: :green_salad: :cake: :football:
(although some of them had an earlier Thanksgiving holiday)

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Jason, while many are leaving in disgust, some choose to stay, adopting the optimistic view that perhaps spiritual eyes will be opened in the church and it will become a safer place for sinners, instead of an exclusive club for the righteous. My focus more than ever is on relationship with Jesus and mining the written word. For too long I was a smug SDA, pretending to be right about everything. Now I’m re-assessing what it means to take the name of Jesus and actually follow him.
Adventists have to learn to stand on their own two feet and work out what they believe based on Scripture, not based on church policies and politicking. Instead of policy men, we need men and women of courage and faith. It’s time we embraced an inclusive gospel and learned how to affirm each other in Christian love. We need more open dialogue on the significant issues, including some that you have mentioned here. Think what it would do to the church if we were to rediscover the freedom of the gospel!

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Has there ever been a time when the “church” completely and faithfully fulfilled the comprehensive vision of Jesus for his people? It was a struggle while he was alive (prejudice–Samaritan woman; lust for power–James and John at the "right hand; cowardice and doubt–Peter and Thomas, and so on) and continued ever after until now. We are, as they on Emmaus were, pilgrims on a journey whose destination eludes us, yet seems to be clearer each step we take. God be thanked, Jesus knows who we are and journeys with us. Love this Jason!

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Thank you, Jason, for this essay. If there were Spectrum awards for “Article of the Year” this should be the recipient. Short, sweet, and makes the point beautifully.

Far too many Adventist’s have made church an idol rather than a gathering of sinners seeking Jesus. This article puts the emphasis back where it belongs. We are all His children whether we’re inside or outside the church, no matter our struggles or victories. We are all His.

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I too am reminded to a state of thankfulness knowing that there are still some SDA Christians who have not been thrown into the confusion that many have been duped with. The LGBTQBPR practices have sought rather militantly, destructively, and intolerantly to weaken God’s design of mankind and the family unit.
Not all have such a thankless view in our space as this writer has portrayed. Love the sinner, hate the sin, and help the disadvantaged and downtrodden to the freedom from their bondage. Praise God and His holy name!

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Sorry, Friend, but If your family unit is weakened by non hetero-normative or non gender binary individuals or relationships then your family unit was already in grave trouble and it has nothing whatever to do with gay, transgender, or asexual people.

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Wow, that is quite a twist! I didn’t state that my family unit was weakened. Try reading my writing again but apply greater reading comprehension if possible.

That is a broad brush painting that includes your family and mine. My family is fine because I don’t believe for a minute what you are stating, so apparently yours is the infected family because you do believe it? It only stands to reason, extrapolating logically from your statement.

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Wow again! Your deductive reasoning could certainly cause concern if used in a position of leadership as it lacks the ability to accurately weigh discussion with logic and common sense or is quite uninformed of how our society has been degrading over the years.

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Ah… so all the woes in society go back to being the gays fault then. I understand now. But how about the supposedly Christian parents who divorce, who beat their children with belts and paddles and fists? How about the ones who abandon their children to the streets, saying he or she ran away, rather than put up with the supposed embarrassment of admitting their child is gay? How about the Christian father, grandfather, who is sexually abusing their son or daughter or grandchild, or the teacher in our Christian school who is having sex with her male student? How about the ones who demand their children walk the straight and narrow, all the while living a double life of blatant sin in front of their children?

No, it’s not the gays fault. It’s the fault of people who seek to place blame on others, or on a specific group of supposed sinners. It’s the fault of people who demand a state of perfect obedience to the letter of the law for gay people while all the time granting to themselves state of perfect grace for their own sin as they continue to commit it.

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Very succinct and thoughtful essay.
One thought: I’ve read recently that it was a married couple on the road, not two men. Doesn’t change your narrative.

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You are almost there! Finally you are beginning to get to a reasonable understanding of my words. Much of what you refer to has contributed to the degrading of the family, however, not all of the degrading is due to gays or other such wanderings from God’s design but yes the LGBTQBPR has contributed and continues to contribute to the degrading of the family unit.
As a church, we members will do well to love the abuser but hate the abusive behavior, love the divorced but hate the divorce, love the teacher that is having sex with the student but hate the dysfunctional behavior, love the LGBTQBPR but hate the dysfunctional behavior. All of this dysfunction makes it very difficult to love the perpetrators but Jesus did and does.
It is quite a jump when you assume what was not said and attempt to make it sound as if someone is stating something that they really did not, so I encourage you to choose your words more carefully when attempting to “check for understanding” in your written communication.

Where you find this design in the Bible?

Cain marrying his sister, presumably?

Is it in the Abraham story where Abraham has a child with a slave and then God blesses the offspring?

Or Abraham who married his half sister and then handed her off to the Egyptian leader for his harem?

Is it Solomon and his many wives and concubines?

David and his wives?

In the seduction story in Ruth?

All of these stories are presented in the Bible without criticism. So I suppose they are the examples to follow.

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Wrong.

It’s the way the rest of us unlovingly treat non gender normative individuals, non hetero normative people, along with a whole list of other people and people groups that Christ referred to as “The Least of These.” That activity is the single largest contributor to unloving relationships and conditions demonstrated within the family and without it.

Christ never once said “the world will recognize you are my disciples by your firm stance against gays and Sabbath breakers.” He said, “They’ll know you’re mine by the way you love.”

There’s a reason for that. He knew that by setting ourselves up as the former we only contribute to the degradation of society instead of building it up. There’s a reason his entire ministry was devoted to ministry among the least of these and the public calling out of those who set themselves up in judgement of them. And don’t even begin to try and tell me that it’s not judging, that it’s using discernment, because that’s not the case and everybody knows it, even those who use that excuse as self justification.

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Just curious about the way you have handled this issue,

  1. Do you love those people? (I am referring to them as persons not their presumed “dysfunctional behavior”)
  2. IF so, how have you demonstrated such a love for them in practical ways.
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I can speculate, but what do you mean by LGBTQBPR? I Googled it. Google doesn’t know, so it seems it is something you made up? I know LGBTQ+, but not BPR?

By “dysfunctional” do you mean the suggestion by well meaning (but wrong) Christians that these people should remain alone their whole lives, and not love the person they love, or is it when they are free to love who they love?

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To JohnCarson, timteichman, George Tichy,
What appears to be taking place is that a comment I made is being stretched into another topic. Going there will be too far off the original subject written by spectrumbot’s “Thanks in a Thankless Space”. I have clarified my comment with JohnCarson to where he appears to understand but may wish to disagree, so I will not be following the straying on to another subject. Have a nice week and I hope you look forward to a wonderful Christmas!

You wrote several different ways that we should love the sinner but hate the sin - various sins. And used strange acronyms and were unclear. I asked for clarification. I am not more off topic than you are, assuming any of this if off topic.

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Be thankful that you have the privilege of only commenting on “Thanks in a Thankless Space,” and not the reality of experiencing blatant division, Sabbath to Sabbath when the road forks, and you can either go right to the SDA church at 515 Mooresville Pike, Columbia, TN (14.3 miles from my house); or left to the SDA church at 870 Mooresville Pike, Columbia, TN (14.3 miles from my house). Today, when an SDA visitor questioned the situation, I calmy and sadly replied “money and racism.” It did not feel good at all.