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Be cautious in your rush to condemn others

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By Dave Charlton

 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 

11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

 

– Matthew 9:9-12

 

Throughout the years of my ministry, I have often noted passages (such as the one above), that demonstrate how Jesus was well-loved by many – and also reviled by some – because of his association with those whom were deemed as “sinners.”

There are other passages that tell us this as well, some of which are parallels; among them are Matthew 11:16-19; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32, 7:31-35, 7:36-50, 15:1-2, 19:1-10.

Human nature being fairly consistent throughout the ages, there has always been – and perhaps always will be – many who will seek to place parameters on what constitutes acceptable associations. It seems to me, in our very contentious and divided times, that we are erecting increasing numbers of boundaries in terms of our associations, as more and more people want to tell us who are the modern day “sinners” with whom we should not associate.

If, for instance, you vote for the “wrong” candidate you might find yourself an outcast in your own family. Or, if you appear on social media wearing the “wrong” political garb, or with someone who is, you will find yourself quickly vilified.

This is done, generally speaking, because our associations are seen as making us complicit in the wrongs of the world and supportive of the ills of society. Some will not register with a political party because they do not want to be viewed as supporting a point of view to which they object. Others will not associate with people of particular views or beliefs because they believe their association with those individuals will make them supportive of views to which they object. Still others will not patronize certain businesses because they object to the manner in which that business is operated.

All of us, I imagine, have some line we will not cross when it comes to our associations because we do not want to be seen as being guilty by association with something to which we object.

Let us consider, however, this argument of complicity, or guilt by association. The reality, that we do not generally want to acknowledge, is that we are all guilty, in some way, of complicity in the wrongs and the ills of the world.

The moment I draw a line of association that I will not cross, I then become suspect to the reality that I might not have drawn that line in the right place. While I might pride myself for being free of guilt in certain cases, it becomes necessary to ask whether I am free of guilt in all cases. This is, I believe, the consideration we must make if we are going to hold to such a hard line of personal, political, and philosophical purity, believing we are free from all guilt, which is a state of purity that many now seem to believe they have achieved. Before declaring yourself free of any complicity in the wrongs of the world, however, consider some of the following.

Sunday is the Super Bowl, which tens of millions of Americans will watch. Though there is always some controversy that swirls around the Super Bowl, this year it is different, and I am not speaking about the obviously blown call near the end of the NFC title game.

This year, controversy has erupted over the Super Bowl halftime show, specifically over the question of whether or not musical artists should agree to perform. In past years this was such a plum opportunity that it signified that the chosen performer had arrived at a status reserved for only the most elite of musical acts.  This year, however, some of music’s most well-known artist have declined the invitation to perform, acknowledging it is because of the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, who began the knee-taking protests in 2016 as a way to protest racial injustice.

Does the act of watching the Super Bowl overlook not only the merit of those protests, but also the lack of seriousness with which the NFL seems to take the risk of head injuries and the subsequent dangers of CTE? Or, does viewership of the game make one complicit in the NFL’s rather misogynistic treatment of the female cheerleaders?

And what about the phones and other electronic devices we love to use? Do we know their full origins and whether or not questionable labor practices were used in their production? More than one electronics company has been accused of very troubling labor practices in the manufacturing of those greatly beloved devices.

And does attending a movie at the local cinema mean we have overlooked the toxic culture in Hollywood as it relates to sexual harassment and gender inequality? And what about this year’s Women’s March? Half of the groups that sponsored last year’s march dropped off the list this year, with many admitting it was because of the association of a few leaders of the march with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Did that association link participants, then, with antisemitism, resulting in a protest against a protest movement?

Does using Facebook make one complicit to the problems of that social media platform, especially the of the use of fake accounts in an attempt to manipulate our elections?

And, in light of global warming, am I more complicit in that dire situation unless I consciously lessen the amount I drive and much more strenuously limit my use of fossil fuels?

I want to be very clear and say that I strongly believe there are valid and necessary reasons to disassociate one’s self from businesses, political points of view, and other segments of life that violate our sense of morality and/or what we understand to be issues that are either harmful or morally objectionable.

There are businesses that I personally do not patronize because of my objections to matters such as their business practices, beliefs, or political endorsements. There are political parties and candidates that I reject because I do not want to be seen as giving even tacit agreement to what they espouse. There are philosophical, spiritual, and moral points of view with which I do not want to be associated.

This does not mean, however, that I am free of all entanglements that are problematic to the point that I have separated myself from them. I have drawn my own lines beyond which I will not cross, but it does not mean that I have, in every instance, drawn those lines in the right place or that there even enough lines drawn.

The bottom line is this – as much as we all desire to think of ourselves as morally, spiritually, politically and philosophically pure, we are not. In some way, through some association, we are all complicit in something that is either objectionable or outright wrong. For this reason, then, we should be a bit more cautious in our rush to condemn others or to see ourselves as morally superior.

We are all, in reality, “sinners” of some sort, so let us ease up on the sanctimonious self-righteousness that springs so quickly from us and replace it with a greater measure of grace.