Kicking Away the Ladder


(A Lament for Charlottesville, NAFTA and the proper use of Tiki Torches)

It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him.  – Friedrich List; The National System of Political Economy

Georg Friedrich List was a German born economist who developed what is known today as the National System of Innovation.  He was a forefather of the German historical school of economics and many of his ideas formed the bases of the European Economic Community, the predecessor of today’s European Union.  His seminal work on the subject of economics and international trade, “The National System of Political Economy” is a three volume set originally published in 1841 which rivals the works of Adam Smith and Karl Marx in terms of lasting influence in the minds of economists the world over.  Sadly List’s ideas were so controversial at the time that he was arrested and exiled to the United States.  He died shortly after the final publication of The National System and never had the opportunity to defend or expand upon his theories.

List’s work focused on a doctrine of national and international management of trade, global collaboration, and supportive interconnectedness.  In sort, Friedrich List was one of the first proponents of comparative advantage and globalization.  The fact that most of his work was completed while living in the United States and the United Kingdom is in no small part responsible for the rise of western domination in international trade over the last century and a half.

In today’s political and economic climate List’s observations regarding protectionism and oppression can be viewed as very timely and prophetic.  Just this past week, behind closed doors in Washington, the United States, Canada and Mexico began the first of several rounds of negotiations aimed at re-writing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  No doubt many of List’s ideas will be front and centre throughout the process, even if many of the negotiators aren’t even conscious of them.

The very people and systems that have used things like tariffs and subsidies to increase trade, and were once in favour of immigration to bolster the workforce and create wealth now actively oppose all attempts of others to use those same devices to achieve the same things.  That, in a nutshell is the current state of international relations and trade, especially in the west were populist sentiment and neo-conservative economic thought prevails.  America was built on immigration, subsidies and cheap labour, now they want to prevent Mexico and punish Canada for doing the same kinds of things in order to protect their own dominance on the world stage.

But that’s not all.

Economics isn’t just about money.  It’s about politics and inter-human relationships as well.  Earlier this week I watched in horror as white men marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia with Tiki Torches chanting “White Lives Matter” and calling for a return to white privilege and the establishment of a so called white homeland.  Nothing is more repulsive than privileged men complaining about a loss of privilege in the most heavily skewed white male privileged society the world as ever known.   If only these men really understood what it meant to be persecuted for the color of your skin, religion, level of education or economic status?

At the end of the day all violence is in some way about economics and a loss of privilege.  Even a miniscule loss of privilege is still a loss of economic influence in a rapidly changing world.    But change is necessary and hanging on to privilege while people scratch and claw their way up the economic ladder is simply impossible.  The only way to do it is to deny the basic humanity in those below you on that ladder.

And that’s what it comes down to; Humanity.   That is humanity defined in terms of benevolence, not just a collective description of the human race.

In 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  At the time it was a progressive document that envisioned a world very similar to the one proclaimed by the founding fathers in the United States Declaration of Independence.  Among the 30 points adopted by the UN are such stalwarts of humanity as;

Article 1 – We are all born Free and Equal.

Article 7 – We are all equal before the law.

Article 12 – The right to privacy.

Article 20 – The right to public assembly.

Article 21 – The right to democracy.

Article 22 – The right to social security.

Article 26 – The right to education.

Article 30 – No one can take away your human rights.

http://www.youthforhumanrights.org/what-are-human-rights/universal-declaration-of-human-rights/articles-1-15.html

Within the laws of western democracy and any country that is signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, racist rallies like the one that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 13th are an aberration that cannot be tolerated!  Nor can any attempt to restrict trade or curtail immigration.

Freidrich List warned against the potential for both the current contentious NAFTA negotiations and the riots in Charlottesville over 175 years ago.  He could see that at the end of the day, people are selfish and we need institutions like NAFTA and the UN to remind us of our shared humanity.

My prayers are with the victims of racial violence in all its forms and with the men and women tasked with re-negotiating NAFTA.  May we all, first and foremost, remember our shared humanity at times like these.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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Blessed Are Those Who Wield Soft Power


softpowerPolitical values like democracy and human rights can be powerful sources of attraction, but it is not enough just to proclaim them. Joseph S. Nye Jr; Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics

It is not my usual practice to write a review of a book that I have not yet finished. However; the events of the past several weeks and months leading up to the “peaceful” transition of power in the United States have compelled me to break with my self-imposed tradition.

Over the Christmas break I have been reading through Joseph Nye’s “Soft Power” which was originally published in 2004 at the end of the first term of President George W. Bush. I can’t help but notice a stern warning in these pages against the type of world we may be entering into in the next few weeks. We are standing a crossroads in history in which a populist leader threatens to lead his nation, and by extension the entire world, into a dark age of intolerance, unilateralism and regression the likes of which we have never seen before.

The policies of the Trump administration could set America’s social progress back 50 years and all but destroy their international reputation as an open, welcoming, tolerant and democratic society. As a result the world’s only military superpower could find itself losing key international policy debates in such economically significant and security related decisions as environmental protectionism, nuclear proliferation and terrorist financing to the interests of Russia, China, the European Union and non-state actors like ISIL and OPEC.

This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

flagworldThe term “Soft Power” was coined by Joseph Nye in 1990 in his book “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power”. Mr. Nye is the former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs under President Bill Clinton and is currently a University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard. His credentials in international affairs are beyond reproach. He actually developed the concept of Soft Power over a long carrier in academics and government which began in the late 1970s but only started using the term extensively after it first appeared in the aforementioned book.

He wrote:

When one country gets other countries to want what it wants this might be called co-optive or soft power in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants.

Ever since its founding the United States has enjoyed a large proportion of what is now known as soft power. The ideals of democracy, liberty and justice that undergird the US Constitution have been beacons of hope for hundreds of millions of people world-wide for nearly 200 years. It is this soft power, more so than its military or economic might that has helped transform the world from a collection of feudal empires into a largely democratic and capitalist one. American soft power, the attractiveness of democracy and an open society, far more so than the threat of nuclear annihilation or economic isolation is what eventually ended the Cold War.

eagleBut the tide is changing and I fear that a Trump administration and other populist movements around the world are only going to serve to accelerate this change, diminish American influence and usher in an era of instability and violence similar to that which caused two World Wars during the first half of the last century.

The countries that are likely to be more attractive and gain soft power in the information age are those with multiple channels of communication that help to frame issues; whose dominant culture and ideas are closer to prevailing global norms (which now emphasize liberalism, pluralism, and autonomy); and whose credibility is enhanced by their domestic and international values and policies… To the extent that official policies at home and abroad are consistent with democracy, human rights, openness, and respect for the opinions of others, America will benefit from the trends of this global information age. But there is a danger that the United States may obscure the deeper message of its values through arrogance. – Joseph S. Nye Jr; Soft Power, The Means to Success in World Politics

Professor Nye wrote those words in 2004, at a time when America was going it alone in an unpopular war with Iraq. At that time when the world looked at America they saw a country that, while it may have started to betray some its founding values in the name of security against religious extremists it was at least consistent in its application of those values at home. Any damage caused to America’s soft power was limited to its politicians and foreign policy. Today I am afraid that the hypocrisy of the Iraq war pales in comparison to the hypocrisy apparent in Trump’s domestic policy. These policies have the potential to betray the very founding principles of “life, liberty and justice for all.”

Just as the Cold War was won through diplomacy and the effective wielding of soft power, I fear that the next war, cold or hot, will be lost through the ignorance, arrogance and cultural ineptitude of populist movements that have no regard for the soft power of liberalism and pluralism that has served progress so well for so long.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated farming operations, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, has written 3 books on Economics and Christian Ethics and presented his ideas to business owners and ministry leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsporject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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Let’s be Rad!


Remember when to call something “Rad” was hip slang? Back in the early 90s, when I was in senior high-school just about everything we said or did was met in some way with the assertion of being “rad”.

“Let’s skip school and go to the beach.” “That’ll be so Rad!”

spongebobletsgotothebeach

We declared things “rad” so much that the term lost almost all meaning.

“Are you ready for the math test?”, “Yah it’ll be Rad!”

Today on his blog (here) Seth Godin reminded his readers of the need to (re)Radical their lives. He’s talking about institutions and companies that used to stand for something but are now so mainstream that they have lost almost all of their cultural influence. Godin is calling his readers to remember their radical roots.

It used to be that to be called Radical meant something.

Webster defines Radical as an adjective meaning:

  • Very new and different from what is traditional and ordinary
  • Very basic and important
  • Having extreme political or social views that are not shared by most people

 

I hate to break it to my 17 year old self but skipping school to go the beach with your buddies might be rebellious but it’s not in the least bit “rad”.

Radical thinking is new, it’s different, it is usually quite simple while at the time carrying significant weight. Being radical means going against the grain and influencing change. But radical thinking has also been confused with anarchy which I must be quick to point out – it is not.

The first Christians were radicals. So were the first Protestants and the first Reformationists. Democracy was at one time radical. So was electricity, indoor plumbing and the horseless carriage. The internet, while in many ways has become mainstream, in many other ways it is still radical.

Peace, social-justice and pacifism in the face of violence and oppression? Now that’s radical!

peaceful protest

Radicals change the world. Not just because their views are different or extreme but because they are basic and of great importance.

Radicals build tribes of like minded followers and then something shifts. What was once radical becomes common place. As Godin puts it:

“The question each of us has to answer about the institution we care about is: Does this place exist to maintain and perpetuate the status quo, or am I here to do the work that the radical founder had in mind when we started?”

One of my favorite radicals was a man named Saul Alinsky. Alinsky is widely recognized as the founder of the modern community organization. Throughout the 1950s and 60s he lead the organization of grass roots movements to improve the lives of the inner city poor in his home town of Chicago and then moved on to Los Angeles, Detroit and New York City. Alinsky was a radical in every sense of the term. His ideas were new and different, to some they were extreme but most importantly they were simple and they addressed the important issues of the day.

In 1971, one year before he died, Saul Alinsky published what has become a manifesto of sorts for those of us who wish to change the world. The opening lines of “Rules for Radicals” reads:

What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.

But my favorite line from that book is far more subtle and speaks of a different kind of radical, the quite humble kind that I promote and strive to be.

The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe in complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice.

 

You see, radicals don’t have to be arrogant, violent, loud or even certain. Doubt in the mind of the radical leads to humility and openness. It leads to democracy and eventually change.

 

If you want to change the world you must be radical, but also humble and hold your vision of a better future in an open hand so that others can come along side you a help shape it, direct it and when the time is right, even take it from you and make it better than anything you could have ever imagined.

 

A world run by people like that sounds pretty Rad if you ask me.

 

Sometimes I Hate The Bible


For my regular readers it should come as no surprise that I am an unashamed, evangelical Christ-follower. I strive to look at the world through a “Jesus Lens”. I live my life not just from a perspective of “What Would Jesus Do?” but what would he think, say and teach others to do as well.  But sometimes I have to admit I really hate the bible, and here’s why.

bible

For me following Christ begins with the understanding that God IS Love (1 John 4:8), Jesus is God, (John 10:30) and that as Little Christs, which is what Christian means, we are to be just like Jesus. If we track the logic backwards therefore, as much as it is possible we need to be Love incarnate.

But what is love?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7]

Or maybe it’s this.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love: joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. [Galatians 5:22,23]

The point is that if I am to be Love, like Jesus and God, I cannot be impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, proud etc. Neither can I be violent, out of control, our lose hope.

But here is where I fall down. As much as I want to be all these things I am also faced with the reality that in our world we are surrounded by unspeakable evil. Just turn on the news any day of the week and you will see examples of brutality, oppression and prejudice, bullying and hopelessness resulting in the murder and suicide of innocents. As well as all manner of depression and anxiety you can think of. I want to cry out: Where is the mercy? Where is the justice? Where is the punishment for those who perpetrate such evil? And yet as a person of Love I am called not to offer retribution but the very things I see as lacking in this world. Where indeed is the mercy, justice, hope, honor etc, not just for the victims but also the perpetrators? Do I have it in me? Can I show love to those I deem as evil?

Jesus said “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Paul got even more practical and explicit when he said “Feed your enemies” (Romans 12:20). But who is my enemy and who am I to judge in the first place?

Paul leads in to his suggestion by saying that God will judge and repay the evil doers, (Romans 12:19). It’s not my job. It’s not even really my job to decide who is evil and wrong in the first place. No my job is to simply love, God will do the rest.

Sometimes I hate the bible for its ambiguity in the face of our on modern reality. What about gay marriage, nothing specific. What about aborting a diseased fetus, nothing specific. What about ISIS, nothing specific. Other times I hate the bible for the things it is perfectly clear about. What about the gay gym teacher; love him. What about the mother who made the agonizing decision to end a pregnancy that would have resulted in a disabled child; love her. What about that jerk in cubicle three; love him too.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. [Matthew 7:1-2]

So yes, sometimes I hate the bible and I’m not afraid to admit it, but it’s my love for Jesus, God and my community that keeps bringing me back.  Does anyone else feel the same way?

 

#DiscipleshipFail


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of discipleship. What is it, how do we do it and most specifically, in our highly networked world can we accomplish effective discipleship over social media?

Several years ago I was a part of an urban church that struggled with the way they communicated throughout the week. This was the late 90s, before the onset of the Social Media revolution. There was no such thing as Facebook, or Twitter or even MySpace (remember MySpace?).

It was my first experience doing church in an urban setting. I grew up in a small town of about 1500 people. Our church was made up of farmers and small business people. Everybody knew everybody else and we had the opportunity to interact in various was throughout the week as we went about our regular business. When I got married I moved to the city and for the first time experienced what it was like to go a full seven days without the opportunity for a single point of contact with any of my fellow congregants.

E-mail was a still a relatively new concept at the time and folks were just staring to embrace this technology as a way to spread news and updates during the week. The church secretary established an email list and sent out updates from time to time about things like service opportunities, upcoming events and just general interest. Sending a message out over this list was also how the board of directors chose to announce that they had just fired our pastor.

fail

I won’t go into a lot of detail but about a year previously we had hired a new pastor out of the mission field who had never led a large urban congregation before. He was in a bit over his head and had a few theological disagreements with some powerful (i.e. wealthy) members. Rather than call a congregational meeting to explain the situation and take a vote the board of directors made the decision independently one night and sent out a mass email the next day informing the rest of the congregation what had just transpired. In today’s vernacular it would be the equivalent of making a status update on Facebook.

That whole experience, and the way in which it was handled shook the congregation to its very core. What followed were weeks, months and years of soul searching, conflict resolution and growth. Not to mention a new policy on the use of e-mail.

I was reminded of this event recently when a friend of mine got a little offended by a comment made on Facebook. The issue with Facebook and other social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ is the same as the issue my former church had with E-Mail. While it is a great medium for exchanging information it is a terrible medium for conveying emotion. I don’t know the exact proportion (is it 75, 80 or 99 percent) but I do know that a very large amount of communication is non-verbal. Emoticons help but you cannot convey anywhere close to the proper amount of non-verbal cues for communication in a text based medium.

Which brings me back to this idea of discipleship. In its simplest sense discipleship is the act of mentoring and learning from a master. But it goes much deeper than that. Discipleship is a two way street, with people walking the same path, doing life together and learning from one another in ways that are far deeper and more meaningful than any teacher and student relationship. Asking questions and receiving answers or just general comments on Social Media, while potentially helpful in starting a conversation or keeping it going is easy and simple but true discipleship should never be limited to a text based conversation. We miss far too much true communication when we take away the physical, personal interaction.

We need to make an effort to make discipleship personal and interactive and Social Media isn’t enough of either of these things to do it effectively.

– What has been your experience with Social Media as a discipleship tool?

– What other things have you done to keep the social in your media use or to take the media out of your social interaction?

Feel free to send me your comments but if you really want to have a meaningful conversation, call me.

 

 

Barriers


This is in continuation of my last post on Privilege.

I’ve been thinking about the various barriers that we erect, both consciously and unconsciously in our world. What they are for and how they affect our society.

brick fence

There are the obvious barriers. Locked doors, gates etc, that require a key or a pass code to get past and there the more subtle barriers that mutely prevent passage to groups of people based solely on physical attributes, ethnicity or education.  A long flight of stairs for example is a barrier for the physically disabled just as  an English only sign is a barrier for a recent immigrant.

Some of the barriers we erect are there for our own safety and security others are there to intentionally create in group and out group distinctions. In a democratic society we like to think we have created a meritocracy that allows access based on achievement but many of these barriers are set so high, and so arbitrarily that the only way to achieve or “merit” access is through an arbitrary, often hereditary head start.

Equality, openness and tolerance of differences have been big buzz words in recent years. It has been said that the great struggle of the 21st century will be the struggle for equality in human rights. This will be achieved in part through the removal of barriers.

We cannot remove them all. Safety and security will still require us to lock certain doors. We also need to limit access to certain areas based on merit but we can take steps to remove some of the more arbitrary barriers based on physical limitations, ethnicity and gender. Yes gender is still a barrier to some professions even in the more enlightened and progressive regions of the world.

This is not a how to post. I have no solutions. I’m not even sure I completely understand the problems. I am simply becoming more and more aware of barriers that exist all around us and questioning why they exist.

And I think that’s the first step, to ask why. Why is this door locked? Why are their stairs here? Why can’t a foreign trained engineer/doctor/professional, get a job in their field of expertise in any country in the world simply be demonstrating a grasp of the local language?  I think a lot of barriers exist simply because no one has had the courage to ask why.

A Few Thoughts on Humility


I run an organization called The Meekonomics Project. If you’re reading this you probably already know that. What you might not know is how much I have struggled to live out the values that the name of the organization professes.

You see, I can be really arrogant at times and I hate that about myself.

arrogant

A friend of mine once told me it’s a bit of an occupational hazard. When you are in the advice business it’s hard not to come across as a bit arrogant. People come to you with questions, and  you’re supposed to have the answers. But what happens when people decide not to take your advice? It’s hard not to be a bit arrogant about it isn’t it? We tend to write people who disagree with us off as stupid and a waste of our time. But that’s just the height of arrogance.

As I have worked through my tendency to be arrogant here are a few things I’ve learned that help promote humility.

1 – Acknowledge the questions. Say something like “Hey that’s a really good question, thanks for asking.”

2 – Ask clarifying questions. “What do you mean by that, can you give an example?”

3 – Admit what you don’t know. The adage says “You don’t know what you don’t know”, so when faced with a question you’re not completely sure about acknowledge that, say something like, “You know I’m not 100% sure let me get back to you.” Then if you like you can move on to #4.

4 – Avoid absolutes. Phrases like, “What I and others have found”, “In my opinion”, “This has worked in the past”, take the emphasis off yourself and frame the response in a way that makes you look less like a dictator and more like a fellow traveller or learned source who’s just a little bit further down the same road.

humble

Remember, in this day and age information is exceedingly easy to get. When people have questions they can usually find the answers on their own with just a few clicks of a mouse. Any business that is based on advice and expert commentary needs to be aware of that. The value you add is more in how you deliver it than the content you provide. In my opinion a little humility goes a long way to building a lasting, trust based relationship with your clients while arrogance only serves to alienate people and give them reasons to discredit you, especially if your brand has the word meek in it…

I Just Have to Say Something…


I don’t want to write about this topic.  I had hoped, like many that no one would ever have to write about this topic again.  But sadly we still live in a society that is full of ignorant philistines that just can’t understand how things are really supposed to work.

I’m talking about the recent racist uproar caused by, of all things, a Cheerios commercial.

You can view said commercial here;

There are two things that I find disturbing about this story. 

First the obvious, that racism is alive and well in North America.  That’s just sad.  I thought the civil war was over and the civil rights movement accomplished its goal decades ago.  There is a black man in the white house for Pete’s sake!  Get over it!  The constitution clearly declares all men (and women) created equal if you don’t believe that maybe you need to go back to kindergarten because you’re an ignoramus who should have failed the first time!

The second thing I find disturbing is a little more subtle.  According to CTV News, and a few other major news outlets, somehow this story is being spun in a way that makes the advertisers themselves culpable in their own criticism.  As one news anchor put it, this just shows that advertisers haven’t done enough to reflect the way American society really is. 

Huh? 

So what you’re saying is that since TV programs and commercials haven’t shown enough interracial families in the past they should expect a back lash?  That’s almost as dumb as the back lash itself!  I applaud advertisers who make an effort to tell it like it is.  Maybe in this case they are a bit late to the party but that is no excuse for the Neanderthals who insist in vilifying the idea of interracial marriages and families in the first place.   Racists are racists and giving them the excuse that they’ve never been shown this on TV before is bull.  You can’t give them any reason to hide behind their ignorance! 

The civil war is over.  The civil rights movement is over.  You lost.  Move on!

The Year That Was, Part Five


So here it is, the one you’ve all been waiting for, my number one post of 2012.

I mentioned earlier in this count down that this isn’t really a current affairs blog but once in a while something happens in the media that I simply can’t ignore.  Back in July I watched quietly while one of those instances took on a life of it’s own on social media.  It was the anti-gay comments made by the president of the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain in the United States.  At first I thought that the whole thing would blow over but it just seemed to go on and on, for weeks on end.  By early August I was getting a bit fed up and then when I got drawn into another discussion about race relations in the South I just couldn’t hold back any more. 

On August 3rd I posted this commentary, to date it has been viewed 73 times (6 of them in the last week for some strange reason).  I hope I never have to write about this issue again but I know that’s just wishful thinking, there are bigots everywhere, even in the so-called Christian left. 

“Like” if you share my frustration…

Chick-fil-A, KKK and Bigotry On All Sides…

Church Unity – The Whole World is Watching, We Have To Get this Right…


Those of you who have followed my writing for the last few years should have noticed by now that there are a few things that I am really passionate about. 

1)      Responsible stewardship

2)      Peace, Justice and Reconciliation

-and-

3)    Church Unity

It’s that last one that I want to touch on again today. 

A few months ago I wrote a post about the Chick-Fil-A controversy in which I was careful not to come down too hard on one side of the debate or another.  I got criticized for that.  Not because my opinion was viewed as wrong by a certain element of the Christian Church but because, as one person put it, they couldn’t figure out what my opinion was and therefore couldn’t decide if I was a heretic or not. What??

I couldn’t figure out what to say about that other than to ask them to read the post again.  My opinion on the specific issue wasn’t what I was writing about it was my opinion about the behavior of a church divided that mattered.   

This past week in my morning devotional I happened to read through Romans 12-15.  Contained in these four chapters are some of the most beautiful descriptions of Church unity and instructions on how people at different points on their faith journey are to work together ever written. 

Over the years, as a pacifist I’ve had to defend my position on the church’s role in government and society on numerous occasions.  Inevitably the discussion ends up landing on a “proper” interpretation of Romans 13.  If the entire book of Romans were just that one chapter, my detractors would have a point, but when I remind them that Romans 13, follows Romans 12 and proceeds Romans 14, the conversation usually stops, or is deflected in a different direction.  Why is it that people who are strong in their convictions about certain things just refuse to look at them in a broader context?      

 Here’s what the passage in Romans 13 says. 

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. [Romans 13:1-5]

They way most people read that is to provide justification for their assertion of a Just War theory or that it’s important for Christians to get the right guy in power so the will of God can prevail but that’s not what it says at all.  If you read that passage as a stand-alone statement it’s very easy to interpret it as meaning that we are to do everything the governing authorities say without question because ultimately God has put them there for His glory.  That’s easy to say when you agree with the government but what about when you don’t?  How many Christians today, especially right wing evangelicals would honestly agree that Barak Obama is God’s servant for their good?  Conversely, how many left leaning social justice Christians would vote for Mitt Romney on the same grounds?

 Who’s in power isn’t the point.  The point is that God can and does use whoever is in power to achieve His goals at different times.  What this passage is saying is that we are to have faith that whatever is happening on a earthly level, God is still in control and we need not try to force our agenda on top of what God has already done. 

 If Romans 13 gives the church instruction on how to live under governing authority, Romans 12 gives us instruction on how to govern ourselves within the context of the church. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2]

We then go on to learn what a “living sacrifice” does; it is a humble part of a larger body, loves sincerely, “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”, (v. 12) and “lives at peace with everyone” (v.18).  This is unity in action but it doesn’t stop there. 

After the aforementioned passage in Romans 13 on submission to governing authorities we are reminded that love is the fulfillment of the law.  “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (v. 10). 

And then it gets really interesting… 

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. [Romans 14:1-4, emphasis mine]

 Here’s where I really get into some trouble but to me this is the heart of the matter.  While truth is not open for debate, as one of my detractors once put it, one’s ability to live by faith and his or her ability to accept or apply that truth may vary significantly at different points in their life.  There is therefore no point on brow beating people with a truth stick.  God’s grace is sufficient no matter where you are in your faith journey, ours is not to judge but to walk along side and support.

Finally in Romans 15 the point is driven home indisputably. 

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. [Romans 15:1-2]

Don’t judge your neighbor for their weakness but please them and build them up.  Wow!  Many would say that is just pandering, I call it being compassionate and acting like Jesus.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. [Romans 15:5-7]

Amen! – Go and do likewise…