A matter of perspective

Position determines perspective. A photographer takes shots from many different points of view because lighting, focus, depth perception, etc. create different images from different angles.

The same idea is stated in organizational terms that where you stand on any issue depends on where you sit in observation of that issue. Many problems look much different in the boardroom than on the front lines.

This concept came to mind as I was reviewing the next two values I want to share. As the political rhetoric heats up and as I hear starkly different views from speakers at the two parties’ national conventions, the reality that “position determines perspective” is underlined to me. And there are several dimensions to this; “position” might refer to socio-economic status, age, occupation, family history, religion, political ideology, etc. If you don’t think so, just listen to the different take on the same set of facts: COVID statistics, unemployment rates, economic growth, mail delivery, and on and on.

Don’t misunderstand; I have my own “spin” on these political issues, my own interpretation of “the facts.” (It was once fashionable to quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” It now appears that many political commentators and journalists feel entitled to their own facts.) But a failure to acknowledge that our position informs our perspective leads to misunderstanding and mischaracterization of others’ perspectives.

This political season is perilous for evangelical Christians. We who are called to be salt and light are too often at odds with one another over a political point of view. When I first drafted these value statements, I had no clue that my elaboration on these two would have a political element to them.  But here we go:

#5.  The Gospel is not “culture bound”; we will refuse to encumber it with cultural trappings, insisting that the imperative is to take the Gospel to all people without cultural pre-requisites for salvation.

When first written, this was to caution against requiring certain kinds of music in worship, requiring certain dress codes for attending worship, etc. Right now, for me, the imperative for The Church is to avoid a political litmus test for whether one is a true follower of Jesus Christ.  We are already divided on public policy issues such as abortion and gay marriage; let’s not add party affiliation to our “cultural prerequisites” for whether or not one can call himself/herself a Christian.

I wrote these values to describe what is important to me as a leader in The Salvation Army. For me, the Gospel is preeminent. We are to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human need in his name.” Anything that I say or do that diminishes my capacity to proclaim the saving love of God with clarity and integrity is anathema. The Gospel must not be encumbered. 

#6.  As part of “the universal Christian Church,” The Salvation Army will operate as a body of believers, caring for the needs of its members and enjoying fellowship with believers of other denominations.

Again, this was written to encourage the care of those who are part of the worshipping community of a Corps or ARC, and to discourage isolation from Christians of other affiliations. But this, too, has undergone a “perspective change” more recently. Hear me out–

Salvation Army preachers (myself included) have concentrated on personal piety to the near exclusion of messages that call for engagement in building community. This is based partly on an assumption that community building happens naturally when believers grow individually and partly on the Army’s institutional efforts to serve the community.

But now, it seems to me that caring for the needs of our congregation in these times of COVID and civil strife calls for prophetic proclamation formed from a proper understanding of scripture rather than the worldviews found in news, entertainment, and social media. This means calling our congregation to engage in reconciliation efforts rather than choosing sides in political warfare. This value also calls for us to revisit what it means to obey Jesus’ second great commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself; it means not just individual acts of charity, but advocating on behalf of the poor and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19).

I ask myself, “What would I preach if I were a pastor in Kenosha WI?” … or a Corps Officer in Anytown USA. I know the Spirit answers that question for the searching heart. Thus, I am praying as always for God’s matchless grace to flood your spirit as you minister in His name.

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