Liberal or Conservative?
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27
I spend a fair amount of time in addiction medicine, where I work alongside others who have the same desire to help the addicted. I know I do work with some who are politically conservative, but I’d guess that most of those whom I work with lean liberal. That is, until I go to the jail. There, I work alongside law enforcement personnel, whom I’d guess are more conservative. This is oversimplifying things I’m sure, but I’ve always seen conservatives as the party of law and order, personal responsibility, and faith. On the other side, I’ve found liberals to be more interested in reaching the poor and helping the struggling. The left’s criticism of conservatives then, is that they just don’t care about those who are less fortunate. The right’s criticism of liberals is that they’re godless heathens who simply live however they want.
This dichotomy is found in churches too. There are conservative churches that are all about doctrine and holy living. Often, they aren’t interested in social justice or helping the poor. Then there are churches that seem to be soft on doctrine and rules, yet put a lot of time and effort into social causes. The criticism of the doctrine-oriented church is that it doesn’t do the work of Christ in the community. The criticism of the social justice church is that, while it may feed the poor, it doesn’t actually lead them to Christ. These are over-generalizations, but you get my point. It’s natural for us, in our politics and in our faith, to gravitate one way or the other.
I’ve gone both ways. I’ve been the legalistic rule-follower who had little interest in helping the less fortunate. I’ve also been on the side of reaching out to help others while letting my own struggles slide. In retrospect, I can see the failures of both extremes.
In today’s passage, James described pure and undefiled religion. In it, he said that to truly follow Christ is to keep oneself unstained from the world, but also to live in it, helping orphans and widows. It’s not enough just to avoid sin and it’s not enough just to help the less fortunate. As Christians, we are to live purely and we’re to love those around us.
Do we spend time each day working on our flaws, abandoning them to Christ? Do we expend any effort to help the less fortunate? Being a Christian isn’t just about believing the right things. Following Christ means living holy while loving our neighbors.