A couple of things that I read today struck me and I wanted to share them with everyone. This day is a day in which we remember Martin Luther King’s efforts in the civil rights struggle.
The first quote is from the late, great Mark Twain. He once remarked, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to pause and reflect.” The second was from a friend of mine. He remarked, “prophets are invariably those people who are called heretics because they call out oppressive powers. You can lock them up but not shut them up. You can kill them but not the truth they speak.”
These quotes struck me in light of what’s gone on in my life over the past year, and what I’ve seen in religious institutions as well over the past few years. I struggle with those who blindly side with churches, pastors, etc. because you’re supposed to, or because they are the religious “leadership.” If you take a stroll through history, siding with the religious establishment is not a place I would have wanted to be in during most time periods.
The great Abraham Joshua Heschel often remarked how sad and distraught he was that the religious establishment he was a part of didn’t act sooner and take the lead in aiding the civil rights movement. This lack of compassion (shown by the religious establishment) often kept Heschel awake through the night. It seems to me that the religious establishment in our country didn’t learn much from past civil rights struggles as they continue to universally drop the ball in issues of embracing the poor, the minority people groups, and the oppressed. If you read through the Bible helping the poor and oppressed is probably the topic mentioned most frequently.
In the first century Jesus was constantly butting heads with the religious establishment that was led by the Sadducean priests. The Sadducees were extremely wealthy and made a lot of money off of a group of people’s guilt and shame relative to the sin in their life. They took great issue with a sage from Galilee calling their practices into question, particularly when he did it in their backyard (Jericho) and used Ezekiel 34 to shower love on a tax collector named Zacchaeus and level criticism against the Sadducean priesthood.
Almost every great leader who fought against religious and political oppression was at one time called, “heretic, lunatic, etc.” It’s important to listen to both sides of an issue with an open mind and open heart. This issue seems to come up with great frequency inside many churches. I’m reminded of a recent conversation I had where a friend of mine told me they disagreed with a prominent author/theologian that I enjoyed reading, but then said this theologian was okay because said theologian was “endorsed by focus on the family.” The content of the theologians work was irrelevant to this person, the only thing that mattered was a stamp of approval from an organization that he has apparently outsourced the decision making function in his brain to.
The challenge in today’s society is not knowing what to think, it’s knowing how to think. This is what lies at the root of the problem in a lot of our countries schools and religious establishments. It seems that thinking independently and critically is becoming more and more rare each day. Followers of the Bible are called to “test everything,” so that is my encouragement to you. Think critically, and think independently. Just because a pastor, teacher, news anchor, etc. tells you something, don’t take the statement as an absolute truth until you’ve researched it and thought critically about it.