Ask my parents, my wife, my friends, or anyone and they'll tell you: in general, I'm a rule follower. I had a few friends growing up who could qualify as "rule followers" but I was always amazed by those around me who always knew how to push the boundaries.
There was an art to that, I think. Pushing the boundaries, knowing exactly which dial to turn and how far and stretching the truth to make yourself seem more innocent than you were in fact being. It was artful. Even from a young age, I would look on those rule breakers with admiration; their knowledge and foresight of what would and wouldn't get you into trouble was simply incredible.
I'm not positive why I always felt like the rules strictly applied to me. I've had many theories (what my parents would think, what people would think of me, how one might react to a change in actions…once one develops oneself as the "good" kid it is nearly impossible to act in any other way without feeling as if you're disappointing someone). Whatever the rules were, though, I always followed them pretty well. While I had great admiration for those who perceived the "rules" as not being applicable to them, I lacked the courage to pull the trigger on doing something that could potentially get into trouble.
I've noticed something about my life recently, though. I don't seem to mind much of those rules online. While online, I'm willing to engage in conversations that can and will easily change the way I'm perceived in the real world. I've been told over and over, "Bryant, be careful what you say…people are reading" or "Aren't you worried that the ordination board will see this?" It is as if they are saying, "Play by the rules, Bryant."
Ha. I always thought of myself as a rule follower.
Take the current homosexuality nonsense argument going on right now. I've been adamant on social media networks that I think that all Americans deserve the same rights. If marriage (and the benefits from it) is one of those rights, it seems silly to me to flirt with oppression by denying gay couples those same rights. In America, everyone should be equal…those are the rule by which we are playing.
Comparatively, I've been relatively silent about homosexuality in the church. I strongly believe that every denomination will have to (and has unsuccessfully) deal with these people they insist on calling "issues." People within their congregations are classified as "homosexual" and these churches will have to figure out how they feel about something society and scriptural study has long deemed "wrong." If we're being completely honest, I think there is a strong argument to be made that the biblical writers thought that homosexuality was "wrong." The scriptural passages by and large simply seem to read that way. In the church, many things decide how we treat people and activities and these are, often, mirrored after what we find in Scripture…these are the rules we play by.
Games are nothing without rules. America ought to play by its rules, which seem pretty cut and dry when it comes to treating everyone equally. The Church ought to play by its rules too, which don't always (either scripturally or historically) seem very cut and dry.
As a minister of the gospel, as I readily see myself these days, I get a lot of criticism for posting things on topics of this nature on Facebook. "Bryant, the ordination board can read your postings…they may be worried about how you handle certain topics." Sadly, I see this as saying, "Bryant, the ordination rules go like this: follow our every word and instruction, do not rock the boat, get through the process, and serve the church." But, why oh why? The church in America has done itself enough harm by refusing to speak about content that is applicable to the daily Christian or non-Christian's life. These things include but are not limited to: sex, drugs, guns, war, sex, violence, government control, etc. And…perhaps more than other times in history, we have American voices speaking into the minds of Christians speaking so loudly that the rules by which each group plays are confused. The confusion runs so rampant that ridiculous paintings of Jesus holding the Constitution exist.
Do we not worry about the taming of the ordination process? Do we not worry about pastors called to speak prophetically being beaten down by those above them in power? Do we not allow the inherent controversial nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ to live its way and do its work? Or do the voices of America speak louder? Is that why we have rampant patriotism within our Southern churches? Is the confusion the fault of America or the Church?
All of these questions are, I think, deeply connected. Until we let our pastors artfully break the rules, we will never reclaim our voice in the lives of the world. And until the church reclaims its voice in the lives of this world, we will struggle with such a confusion about the rules: America or God? As long as there is a confusion about the rules, we will continue to fail as a Church.
We gotta stop telling ourselves to stop rocking the boat. I don't think Jesus approached it that way.