It's becoming increasingly clear to myself, at any rate, that we need to be careful about how we as people who profess faith talk of and to each other; I mean, something beyond "toleration" of atheists, or anybody for that matter, when we have a duty, as Christians, to live out our faith before the full glare of the world.
If anything, I know that we are all of us trying to be Christ-like, and I would hope and pray, that e-seekers who just happen to "land" here and "check it out", might like what they see.
My illustration from things-in-Discipleland:
This past weekend, at two (2) DoC discussion rooms on the web, things got a little lively. And vindictive.
It's a usual fact-pattern: Somebody swings in, usually not even a DoC, posts and hounds somebody who might have said that he or she is gay or lesbian, or a Democrat, and a Christian–which then brings the predictable onslaught of hate-words.
Having gotten the validation that the rest of us are apostate, that poster swings right out of there, and is never heard from again.
Same thing, again, this weekend.
An anonymous poster finally hit the right note s/he had been seeking: Announcing in fairly firey (and I gotta admit, kinda "fun"–at least that person has an [occasional] panache for pronouncing the wrath of God on the rest of us) way that the entire DoC denomination was the great 'whore of Babylon' and that all of us were going to hell, because none of us read the Bible correctly.
There was, of course, the usual backlash of words.
The poster also gave away where s/he goes to church, which was shown to the rest of us by a website: "No," the poster finally admitted, "I'm not in a DoC church. I just have a prophet's heart and wanted to let the rest of you in the DoC church know that you are all liberal, have departed the scriptures, and are going to hell."
What burdened my heart was NOT the self-righteousness and anger of the poster (who will more than likely be dearly-departed from our website soon–having given us the message from the Master re: our fates) was this: Some of the posters who responded were just as angry, and self-righteous, in their "defense".
Friends, brothers and sisters, we need to give great consideration and caution about we talk to and of others.
Atheists, agnostics, and–perhaps most scandalously seriously–residents of Cleveland all merit charity, respect and consideration.
What's becoming evident, my kindred, is this: If an internet seeker just happened upon our little "spat" on the Disciple-side-of-the-web this weekend, what would s/he have thought about us?
Maybe, "People of faith are just as intolerant, and self-righteous, and angry sometimes, as any other"? Perhaps.
As far as I can tell, this gc.net website has the far-reaching potential of uniting Stone-Campbell people in a place and a way that can make us better if we are charitable about how we talk to each other–and yes, to atheists.
Atheists deserve more than respect and tolerance; they merit Christian love from us–as does the entire world, for that matter.
I'm not picking at the author of this post.
If anything, I'm disturbed at the intolerance and anger, sometimes, I see sitting ugly and squarely in the privacy of my most secret room, when I see an intolerant poster attack my particular faith community.
If gc.net can bring members of the Christian churches/churches of Christ, the occasional fruit-loop-like DoC (i.e. me), and the churches of Christ together, as might be happening–with Barry's presence here, other DoC's, and others, then we might have the opportunity to present something like "Restoration spirituality" or "RM faith" that speaks to seekers–Which is what a lot of lurkers, I'm sure, are asking of themselves about us: Wondering and testing us to "live our faith" and "live our love."
What's the qualitative difference, say, between us Disciples, and say, others?
I would hope that it would be something like what Tertullian told the Emperor distinguished the North African Christian communities, "See how the Christians love another." In truth, I see that we have a long, long way to go.
As to atheists, I find that they bring issues to their particular "stance" a lot of times just as much as many of us (including me).
I've had people join some of the congregations I have served because they thought that the "field was ripe unto the harvest" for Amway prospects, or the dog-shampooing business.
I've known people fleeing fundamentalist hurt and hatred, but still trapped into a rigid-religion that found expression in telling me "Preacher, you MUST preach more on sin!" They usually leave the congregation, disappointed and angry at me.
Our movement has produced some people marvelously adept at dissection and debate.
I wonder, how will people take apart these slender central, Christian confessions: "God is love." "Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father"?
I wonder, might we attract now, in the 21st century attract lurkers and seekers to Christ by continuing and deepening the regard we have and share for each other–and atheists? Not to convert–only God births faith (we just carry the message)–just to invite.
I've known atheists and agnostics who are terribly hurt. I've also known some who act out more compassion for the poor and defenceless than most Christians I've met. It just depends.
Whether one believes in God, or Yah, or the (literal) "Father and Son–plus Mother-God and the Spirit personage" of the Mormons, or Vishnu, or Bob the bilingual, talking albino squirrel–or none at all–I could care less.
That is, if one's belief, or professed non-belief, fails to lead to love-in-action, and we Christians believe that the Son of God is Love incarnate and revealed, then the shouting will never end. And the love-in-action will, more than likely, never take over.
I hope and pray for the day when our love as Stone-Campbell people attract seekers and the passionately engaged for humanity. This website, and the way we talk to each other, is a place to plant that seed.