The Problem of Hot Button Issues Becoming Identifying Markers
July 8, 2013 5 Comments
There have always been hot button issues facing Christianity. One of the challenges that faces churches who take a non-status quo position on these issues is to change their practices without setting up their position as THE identifying marker of the congregation. Whether you agree or disagree with a church’s position, you can understand why churches who take a stand end up identifying themselves through the issue. They bucked the trend. They went against the grain and did something that probably cost them some people, hurt some feelings, alienated some people and may have resulted in lost contributions due to their decision and convictions. That is called trauma. When people experience trauma, all too often that trauma gets so ingrained in their thinking that it becomes their identity. It becomes nearly impossible to view your life outside of the pain you experienced. Churches go through that too. In their mind the change was so significant and challenging and the pain so hard to go through that it is hard to think about the congregation without thinking about that issue. It can become a part of their DNA, resulting in the congregation having great difficulty viewing themselves as Christians without reference to their stance on the hot button issue. I am not saying every congregation who takes a controversial position does this but it happens. It is one thing to see that issue as part of your identity and quite another to make the issue your identity.
We have to be very careful in how we view our identity. These issues don’t make us Christians. Following Jesus makes us Christians. Faith in Christ, our baptism, our participation in the Lord’s Supper are core identifying markers of the Christian faith. When we start placing other issues over and above more core/central parts of our faith it is too easy to become exclusive and take on an air of superiority. It is easy to start thinking real/serious Christians need to believe as they do or need to be identified with them on that issue. If taken to an extreme, Jesus is no longer seen as the central identifying marker of our faith and these issues end up as the focal point.
So if you are going to take a stand on a controversial issue, it may be traumatic in many ways. Don’t let that experience elevate the issue beyond what is appropriate in the life and identity of the church.