What’s your cause?
It seems like more and more these days Christians are becoming identified with their causes, instead of with Christ. Sure, we can put some of the blame on the media, and those who don’t like us, but I think we also have to accept some of the blame ourselves. I know some Christians–and you probably do too–whose Christian commitment seems all about commitment to a single cause, whether that is opposing abortion, promoting traditional marriage or trying to convince everyone they should be “real Catholics,” like them (whatever they take that to mean). And then there are those who use causes to promote an unChristian agenda, pretending they are motivated by Christian morality, when really they are motivated by something else. This usually manifests itself in a certain selectivity as to who they go after. They raise the alarm about someone’s shortcomings, criticizing them for failing to sufficiently follow the Church’s teaching, or failure to support a given cause. But often such failings are only evident in those who don’t agree with them politically or ideologically, while those who do get a pass for the same failures. Take, for example, those on either side of the debates about whether President Obama (with his problematic views on abortion) or President Bush (with his endorsement of torture and the death penalty) should be allowed to speak at a Catholic university. It seems to me you can only go one way or the other on this subject. Either both should be allowed, or both should not. Frankly, I find myself more inclined to the latter these days. At least that would speak of some consistent Christian outlook, rather than picking and choosing based on one’s political convictions. Sure, we can argue the relative merits of various pro-life positions, but personally I think that obscures our belief that all life is sacred, which I believe is the Christian position, no matter how you parse it.
This is not to say that Christians should not be involved in what are worthwhile causes. And it also doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize that one can only put one’s energy into a limited number of causes despite their support for and belief in various others. Indeed, I believe that some people are especially called to be proponents of certain causes. I’ve seen this happen with a number of my students over the years. It’s when people start to believe that those who are dedicated to a cause other than their own cannot have a legitimate calling from God that things get out of whack, and uncharitable and even hateful behavior can ensue. When those, for example, who are dedicated to the causes of social justice look askance at and even speak ill of those dedicated to pro-life causes, and vice-versa (and many of us know this is happening), the fabric of the Christian faith starts to tear, and suddenly Christians both answering the call of God see themselves to be on different “sides.” And the battle is on to be the winner of the title “real Christian.”
I have found myself examining a lot lately the extent to which my causes can get in the way of my commitment to my calling. As I interact pastorally with all varieties of people, I realize that as much as I would like them to see things as I do, to adopt my causes, the more important thing is that I help them to discover the unique vocation that God is calling them to. And I am urged to remember that their calling and mine all find their foundation, measure and answer in our common, ultimate and most important cause–the cause of Christ. When any cause starts to seem more important than this one, that’s when I hope with God’s help, that I can step back and reassess my priorities, so as not to lose sight of Jesus, even if that means climbing a sycamore tree like Zaccheus, or like Peter stepping out of the boat and into the sea.