Sunday, February 3, 2013

Values vs. Value, which one is driving you?

Luke 12:34 NKJV

 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Whatever it is that we treasure or value, that is where we will commit our passion and our resources. What I wonder and hope to explore in this blog post is whether the church, institutionally and individually, has compromised its values in favor of value. In other words, have we gone silent or absent from the national discussion on things related to our core values, belief system, moral imperatives in favor of gaining greater financial relief, assistance or some perceived racial justice? Where is the heart of the church? To answer that, we must explore where the treasure of the church lies and what does it value.

To some extent, this will be a political discussion and exploration. And yes, I have my own personal political persuasion (Fiscal Moderate & Social Conservative in case you’re interested), but my objective is not to necessarily change or alter your own particular political affiliation. There is no perfect political party; they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, it is incumbent upon us to understand what we value or treasure and the impact that has on our values and choices.

The Individual Church

Individuals make up the church. No different than individuals make up corporations, government, etc. It is easy for us sometimes to demonize organizations and institutions as corrupt, greedy, insensitive, etc. But the truth of the matter is that we are really being critical of the individuals that make up those organizations and institutions. So in this discussion on Values vs. Value, we will first take a look at individuals within the church community.

Keep in mind; depending on which statistics you look at, 50% to 80% of Americans consider themselves to be Christian. George Barna in his book “Grow Your Church from the Outside In” puts the number of American’s that believe in God at 95%! (The Barna Research Group in California does a really good job of compiling statistics, analyzing their results and suggesting balanced interpretations of the data.) You would expect, given such a high percentage of Christians, that most Americans would find things of moral relevance significant in their decision making, very similar to how Jesus determined His priorities. However, I’m not sure that recent political outcomes reflect this value system.

In the latest National elections held in November 2012, we voted to legalize the recreational use of behavior altering drugs (Marijuana) and same sex marriages in many states. We the people have historically voted to legalize the early termination of unwanted pregnancies (abortions) remove any reference to God from public buildings and outlawed prayer from public schools.

In exchange for what I believe/hope most Christians would agree are positions that Jesus would not advocate, we have been provided things like National Health Care (which I am not opposed to by the way), Tax reductions, the proverbial check in the mail signed by the federal government and paid for by working, tax paying citizens and the like. We have received financial gains in exchange for allowing social immoralities to flourish. What we have said, loud and clear, is that we treasure value more than values.

Generally speaking, the same people, politicians, political party that brought us the influx of social services, government spending increases, “help for the poor people”, also brought us abortions, same sex marriages, took prayer out of public schools, etc. What I don’t get is why are we so shocked when these social issues are passed into law?

It’s not like they bait and switched us. They told us up front, they were “Pro-Choice”, that they supported same sex marriages, that they were in favor of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. In order to get tax breaks extended, expanded social services, higher taxes on the wealthy and lower taxes on everyone else, core values on social issues that should be important to Christians were compromised. We knew that going in, yet that is how we voted. We chose value over values. So why are we shocked and dismayed, this is how we voted.

It could be argued that there are no clear choices and that our vote for a candidate or political party does not reflect our full value system. I would agree. However, what do we use as a tie breaker? What do we put greater weight to in making these determinations? When we have to choose between our values and the value created by certain candidates who support undesirable social issues, what drives our voting decisions?

I have heard justifications for voting decisions supporting values over value ranging from racial motives wanting an African American President no matter what, to financial motives looking for help with their Home Mortgages, Student Loans, Welfare support etc. It’s not that the other moral or social considerations are not important, just that finally getting an African American President or financial support is more important. That’s where our treasure is located.

In Washington State, there were 2 major arguments I heard by Christians in support of the legalization of Marijuana and it further illustrates where our heart and treasures lie. One argument was that African Americans were disproportionately incarcerated because of Marijuana related crimes and that by legalizing its use, it would reduce the number of African Americans in jail. We treasure our racial affiliation. The second argument was that by legalizing the recreational use of Marijuana, it could be taxed and the revenue generated from the tax could help fund more government programs. We treasure our social services.

While this may not be true of all Christians, I believe it is a fair characterization that many Christians have placed value over values. We have placed as a higher priority in our lives things of material value over things of eternal value. I hope this blog post helps to bring this unpleasant reality to the forefront of our minds and causes us to do some introspection on our personal value systems and core beliefs. I pray that we are moved and driven by those values important to Christ and not value as is common to secular society. I’m not suggesting Christians have intentionally and certainly not maliciously intended to behave this way, but can’t help but wonder if that is the net result of our actions.

The Institutional Church

Organizations and institutions are an extension of their membership and leadership. Consequently, what we see in individual behavior we should expect to see in institutional behavior. I believe this is also true when we compare the institutional churches values vs. value, though perhaps evidenced in different ways.

Politically, the institutional church has been largely silenced in favor of preferential financial treatment. In exchange for a Tax free environment, the institutional church does not speak out against political parties or candidates and often does not take a formal position on many political issues. This, largely out of fear that if they do, they could jeopardize their tax-exempt status and subject their often incredibly large revenues (contributions made to the church) to various taxes. Again, choosing value over values.

In fact, just recently I saw a bumper sticker that read, “If religious groups want to involve themselves in political discussions, let them pay taxes.” This illustrates how many people believe the institutional church should behave; that we should remain silent on political issues and if we don’t we will have our tax exempt status revoked. Never mind the fact that the congregations of these churches pay taxes, the leadership of these churches pay taxes and that much of properly run and managed churches revenues go to support community needs. (In case you didn’t know it before, let me make it unambiguously clear now… I have no intentions of being silenced!)

However, this is just one area in which the institutional church may be compromising values in favor of value. So much of operating and managing a church resembles operating and managing any secular business venture. And in large part they are very similar. Businesses and churches need to generate enough revenues to cover their expenses or they will cease to exist. Both businesses and churches have to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits and other forms of liability exposure. They each must provide a service deemed valuable to a customer base or risk not having enough business to remain viable. Businesses and churches do not function on their own, it takes talented staff to operate both and those staffs need to be fairly compensated. The church has an added benefit because of the wealth of talented individuals who lend their skills and abilities to the church through their volunteer efforts.

There is a key difference however, between the motivation of the church and that of secular businesses. This key difference is often forgotten or buried into the deep recesses of thought when many churches conduct their business. The motivation of the secular business is to generate a profit acceptable to it owners and/or shareholders. The motivation of the church is to minister the gospel and serve the community. For the church, financial resources are a means to an end, they help to facilitate ministry. In the secular business world financial resources are the end themselves, that’s why the company is in business. While many of the actions taken by the church and secular businesses are the same, their motivations are not. This is where we can see if the institutional church has compromised values for value.

For example, does the socio-economic status of individuals come into play when determining who has access to the church leadership, the level of influence in shaping church decisions, preferred seating and/or parking, etc.? I understand it takes financial resources to operate a church, but would you deny services offered by the church to those who cannot afford to pay for them? If you are not a tithe paying member of the church, can you get ministry from that church? Is the only way to get a book, copy of a message or bible study is to pay for it?

I’m not suggesting that people that can pay for these things shouldn’t. It takes financial resources to operate a church and everyone affiliated with their local church should do their part to help it operate with excellence. In fact, in the 1st Century church established by the Apostles, everyone in that particular church community funded the gospel by contributing all of their worth to the cause. (Acts 2:44 – 45) Those who could contribute, but chose to try to withhold from contributing their fair share faced life threatening consequences. (Acts 5:1 – 11) You wouldn’t have a functioning church in our current society for very long if you didn’t have capable individuals supporting the church’s efforts with their financial resources.

However, we can get so caught up into value that we lose sight of values… so consumed with financing and funding ministry that we forget about ministry. Keep in mind, the reason for a church service on Sunday morning is not to raise money, it’s to minister the gospel and serve the community. When we dominate the service with offerings, fund raising, selling items, etc. we have compromised values for value. The conference is intended to bring ministry to those in attendance. And while it costs to put on the conference and attendees may have to pay to attend, the rate should be determined and driven by the costs to hold the conference and not by a desire to make a name for oneself or live the life of celebrity.

I am not opposed to wealth or wealthy people; I just don’t believe it is healthy for the individual or institutional church for that wealth to be gained on the backs of those you are called to serve. 1 million people giving a dollar is a lot different than expecting 1 thousand people to give 1 thousand dollars.

We Can Do Better

I believe individually and institutionally the church can do better. Individually, we can be diligent and conscientious about our choices, understanding that they provide insight into what we value. Sometimes, we may have to have a harder go of it materially in order to take a stronger stand on things socially. While it may not be on the top of any of our lists of most enjoyable things to do, if it becomes necessary to make adjustments to our lifestyle or standard of living to support issues Christ would support, then so be it!

We cannot look to our political or governmental elected officials as saviors. Yes, we have a responsibility to vote and select the candidates who best represents our total interests. No, there will never be a candidate that represents all of our interests equally or well. However, when at a crossroads values should trump value in our selection.

In the meantime, our efforts should be to actively address the social and economic issues that plague our community. But we should address them in a manner that will not compromise our values. We will not have to worry about a disproportionate number of African Americans being incarcerated for drugs or any other crime for that matter if we are effective in addressing what lies at the core of African American criminal behavior. Passionately and skillfully addressing things like single parent homes, dysfunctional dual parent homes, the proliferation of alcoholism and drug addiction, the sexualization of women, education support, etc. (Coincidentally, this is true beyond the African American community)

If we eliminate the drug customer, the drug dealer will go out of business and all of the ills associated with them. If we can address the issues that cause people to want to escape reality or cope with the harshness of life through drugs and alcohol, we will not have to worry about the legalization of recreational marijuana use. If we can effectively combat unwed pregnancies & sexual promiscuity, promote personal responsibility and accountability abortion laws will not matter because there will be no one seeking abortions.

Prostitution would not be a viable source of income if there were no John’s patrolling the streets looking to pay for their sexual gratifications. If we can positively influence men to control their impulses, view women as more than objects to fulfill their sexual appetites, we wouldn’t have an issue with prostitution. If we could help these desperate women extract the value invested in them by their creator, they would find alternative sources of income and eliminate the supply of willing participants for the John’s advances. Again, this would eliminate or at least reduce the challenges communities face with prostitution.

I understand that much of this may sound idealistic and admittedly it probably is. But that is the genesis of radical societal change. There must be an idea so profoundly different than what the current norm is, that its adoption results in prolific change. This is where our heart and treasure should be. This is what we should value. Putting our financial and human resources, our talents and abilities, our passion and desires towards those immaterial elements of life that reflect the values so passionately pursed by Christ. We can do better individually and institutionally.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Values vs. Value, which one is driving you?