we discussed how the disciples in - especially seen in Acts defend their faith- its usually because people are demanding an explanation. Peter preaches a rock'n sermon at Pentecost because the people think they must be drunk- but NO its only 9 in the morning and Peter gives a testimony to why they are the way they are. Stephen is cornered by unethical and manipulative practices and must give an account to why he has been doing and saying what he is doing. We hear the story of Paul told by Luke in Acts but then Paul tells his own story quite differently to the Galatians. Each person gives a witness- telling the story of their faith because they are called to defend their faith.
As we were talking in my class about these apostles defending their faith, I thought- and asked my class- is there a difference between Defending and "Defensiveness"? The thought occurred to me that Yes! Yes there is!!!
I love Rachel Held Evans and her book "Evolving in Monkey Town" where she discusses how she has been taught from a young age to "defend her faith." As a conservative evangelical fundamentalist she was taught bible drills and proof text to defend her faith everywhere- the world was battle and they had to win for Christ.
Her book reminds me so much of my childhood in Lynchburg, Virginia. Lynchburg is a beautiful town surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and filled with good meaning people of faith. I say good meaning- which shows that I have come a long way. When I left Lynchburg, I was convinced that many of the folks were hate filled, I really think that they are well meaning. And again, I'm using a lot of "they" language. I realize this. You've got to know that that when I talk about Lynchburg it is with love, respect, and some sarcasm (and I'm usually not a sarcastic person) but sometimes, you just gotta laugh.
I think I may look at Lynchburg in perhaps the way Jesus may have looked at his hometown. I would certainly listen and follow if I were sent to serve there, my pain is healed, my nostalgia is still with me...
Lynchburg is the home of Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church and Jerry Falwell. When I grew up there - there was Scaremare- a haunted house designed to frighten you into believing in Jesus. There were students, usually from LU who somehow came into our high school and would place literature, tracts, etc in the rest rooms. Every year on the anniversary of Roe V. Wade, protestors would protest in our high school parking lots, sometimes banging on our cars and yelling at all of us teenagers about abortion and how we were going to go to hell. If you did not act a certain way, attend a certain church, or whatnot.... you were "going to hell." I was told this a lot. When I said I was a Christian. They'd say- no you have to be baptized this way and say this prayer. You have to do Christianity our way.... (and seriously folks, I'm not making this up) This was my context.
I attended a Methodist Church in Lynchburg from the time I was about 9 to 12. I joined with my Grandmother and the pastor said, "You'll come up to the front, I'll say this you'll say that..."
And I said, "I have some questions." (I was 10)
He said, "Like what?"
I said, "Well... for instance, what's reincarnation?"
He reached over and patted me on my knee and said, "You don't need to worry about that b/c Methodists don't believe in reincarnation."
I said, "How do I know I don't believe in it, if I don't know what it is?"
Before moving to Lynchburg I had gone to a wonderful small, rural Presbyterian U.S.A. church where I had seen a husband/wife co-pastor team, where I had been nurtured to ask questions, where I had swung on the steeple bell after church and played hide-n-seek in the cemetery. Where I had asked my pastor at the age of 5 "If God made everyone-- who made God?" He said, "Ask your mother." I said, "She told me to ask you." He said, "Keep asking God and keep asking questions." And I did.
So I get to this Methodist Church in Lynchburg and everytime I ask a question in Sunday School I'm told to be quiet- to play bible triva, to do my bible verse memory work, to stop asking those questions. I was told- a lot --to be quiet. I was a very precocious child- but shouldn't they all be? Aren't all kids? My girls ask why all the time? Don't I want them to keep seeking and learning and growing?
This is one of the huge places where I connect with Rachel Held Evans- in her world--questioning was bad... They were taught that all they needed was to "defend their faith"!
1 Peter 3: 15 says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
As we were talking about the disciples and the ways they shared their faith tonight in Disciple II Bible Study- the Disciple did so, often because they were defending themselves. An explanation was required... What is really interesting is to see how they defend their faith?
How they respond is interesting.
-When Peter responds to the folks at Pentecost he makes reference to the tomb of David. Last week as we read that it hit me for the first time- that they are in the same place very close to one another. I realized this because I was there last year! Somehow reading it this time this context hit me.
-When Stephen speaks to his accusers he speaks primarily about the Israelites and their story starting with the patriarchs on through the story of Moses and how they had betrayed God and made idols. He is drawing on how they are doing this still today.
-When Peter responds to the Galatians he doesn't tell his story the way Luke often tells his story- he speaks only of receiving the message of Christ from Jesus- he doesn't speak of Ananias or others - he focuses on who he was and who he began and why- because of Christ.
Each of them respond specifically to give an explanation- to defend - to those who have asked or demanded an explanation.
As we read their responses tonight I realized- they are passionate, they are firm, they are true to their lives- they are speaking to the context and they are assured - they defend who they are and their faith but they are not defensive.
We are to defend our faith- but defend it with gentleness and respect.
Growing up- Christians often seemed defensive, angry, mean, antagonistic, ..like they were trying to pick a fight with me...
One person shared tonight in my Disciple class about a relative of hers who has decided he is an atheist and he tried to have a "prove to me why you're a Christian" argument and she stayed calm and just shared a bit about her faith but refused to get into a debate with them. She said she remembered something I said from Disciple last fall--- when folks say they don't believe in God I usually say, "That's okay, God believes in you. and God loves you and there is nothing you can do about that- God will always love you no matter what."
I'm not interested in proof-texting or debating, I'm interested in relationship, in loving, and in sharing how my life has changed by Christ.
It seems to me that when folks are taught to "defend their faith" rather than grow in their discipleship-- they're looking for a fight. To me, that's being defensive. That's looking for a fight- what! Lowe's calls there Christmas Trees- "Holiday Trees"? We are so persecuted.... (There is real persecution out there that has nothing to do with feeling like I need commercialism to support/affirm my faith).
But that isn't what defending your faith is supposed to be about.
Paul defends who he is not because he's trying to fight with the Galatians, but because he is compelled to share.
When I ran a bag lunch program for the homeless in downtown Detroit every day I was just about cussed out and just about ever day I had someone ask me, "Why are you doing this? Why do you act this way?"
That often came after I said no to a bus ticket, or extra lunch, or cash, or whatever- and then they would cuss me out- and then I was say -- "Well you have a blessed day. God loves you and so do I."
And then would come the questions...
the the defense for the hope I have--
The story I would tell may depend upon the situation, the person, their story and how it may connect ... but the core message was always there-
God loves you
God loves all of us
When I remember the folks from Lychburg it always felt like they were defensive, they were angry...they did not seem filled with peace or abiding in love. They seemed scary.
I think we're called to defend- defend with gentleness-- not be defensive.When we feel fear- when we start feeling defensive-- perhaps we need to count to 10, we need to pray, we need to remember the core of our story, stay calm, and feel the peace of Christ, speak from a place of truth and authenticity and tell our story.
What do you think?
Is there a difference between defending and defensive?
What are you stories?
How can we be better at this as Christians?