I recently submitted a short story to a Christian competition that dealt with the whole LGBTQ debate and Christianity. The feedback I received, which was completely justified for my lack of clarity of thought, happened to spark a somewhat convoluted thought process that intersected with another issue I've been pondering lately: the story of the prodigal son.
So in the story of the prodigal son, there are two sons: the bad one who comes back and the supposedly good one that resents his brother for coming back to more rewards than he got from never received by being good. Growing up a Christian, it took awhile to see what the big deal was about the older, resentful son. I mean, why get punished for speaking up for an injustice? He was cheated by someone who already got his prize. But I have since realized that the difference was that he was too focused on himself and didn't rejoice in the progress and happiness of his brother, and suddenly I fear I can relate.
More recently, I realized that this is one of the few parables without any example of what we should do. Going purely off birth order stereotypes, the older brother mostly still resembles the oldest, with control and a healthy amount of dedication and responsibility. The younger brother also resembles a youngest child, with a rebellious, social butterfly attitude, who ran away from home to stay important in the eyes of others. So if another brother was added as an example, it would make sense that he would be the middle child, who was a balance between the two extremes, wanted peace, and was simply overlooked from the drama of the other two.
Side note: I'm the youngest child, for the record. I'm not glorifying middle children as the good ones as a middle child myself. I would rather use the youngest child, but middle fits better. Still, no one's perfect.
Jesus did everything for a reason. The fact that he had a clear right and wrong to most others of his parables means that the lack of one here is intentional. If I think of those to whom this parable applied in his time, the younger brother would be the rejects of society who accepted Jesus for who he was and the older brother would be the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were too stuck in their notions of tradition and fulfilling the father's decrees in perfection rather than showing the forgiveness and love he intended with the original ten commandments. There wasn't really much of a happy medium in his day, at least that is recorded in Scripture. There were certain Pharisees and teachers of the law that followed Jesus, but not many.
Again, growing up Christian, I've always been afraid I'd turn into the older brother. I have no dramatic story about wandering from the faith and coming back in a flurry of love and renewal. It's hard to relate sometimes to the stories I always hear from older Christians and the music I sing in church about being immersed in God's love because I don't really know anything different. On one hand, I'm scared I'll miss the love that comes with forgiveness, since "whoever has been forgiven little loves little" (from Luke 7:47 NIV). On the other hand, if I can learn from the mistakes of others and not wander, I can stay close to God and learn more about him without the pain and hunger that comes with wandering.
So back to that short story- When I added the piece in my short story involving the LGBTQ debate, I wanted to show my belief that Christians should hold one another accountable for their sins and that we need to see marriage as one man and one woman, but that we have no authority to correct those who aren't under our faith. They shouldn't be obligated to follow our rules because they aren't Christians, and it's only God's place to treat them differently because of it. (See Romans 12:19) I support the notion of leading by example of purity rather than alienating those we should be leading to Christ by our attempts to "Christian-ize" them.
In the middle of my crazy mess of thoughts, I came to the realization that the Christians who are trying to win people over by forcing them into the Christian standards are going about everything like the Pharisees. They're too busy with the rules and regulations that they neglect showing people the love of God, and this upsets the whole image of those are supposed to be accepting and loving. Yes, I know that being hated by the world is just a side effect of being a Christian sometimes, but it shouldn't have to be because some outspoken people happen to be judgmental, and then those watching turn this into a stereotype.
This isn't just about the issue of different views of love and marriage. There are examples of Christians oppressing other people all throughout history. Catholics used to persecute the Protestant believers who simply wanted to worship differently, and there is still a huge division in denominations because of it. America was founded in part by people who wanted to escape religious persecution, but then the few Catholic immigrants in the early days were mistreated by the majority of Protestants living in the country. In the Scopes Monkey Trial, a teacher was arrested and tried for giving his students a history lesson in Darwin's ideas about evolution, and then the Christian offensive was damaged by the prosecuting attorney's inability to grant the freedom of thought. He tried to force a rigid interpretation of the Bible on those who wanted to expand their ideas in science beyond the superstition of that day. Nowadays, we're forcing ideas about abortion on feminists as they force ideas of feminism on us. And now the country built on religious freedom is being led by none other than Christians to ban people from entering the United States based on religion.
I'm not saying we should be doormats. We don't need to go out and vote on every progressive idea on the ballots. We have a dual citizenship, and it's our duty to protect our own rights as well as those we represent. The issue Christians have with different marriages is that other people are pushing their own agendas on us as well. If a pastor does not believe he feels comfortable putting God's blessing on something God has clearly defined as against his design (see 1 Corinthians 6 for more info, I may post about this later if I have enough to talk about), then he has his own rights of religion to uphold. If a Christian sees an issue that would be sinful for them to accept, they should not accept it.
And so we run into the dilemma- how do we know where to draw the line between being pushy and being a doormat? I would argue that prayer and plenty of time reflecting it with God is the best option. If you discover you cannot condone abortion but that you're okay recognizing legal marriages as something other than the religious marriage Christians accept, you have a right to your own opinion, and all I can say is that I pray that your opinion is based on your religious convictions and not selfish ambitions.
The important thing is that we remember what makes us this version of a modern day Pharisee. We need to remember justice as well as the love of God. We need to accept people as people and worry about their salvation before their decisions that are out of our control. We need to recognize other opinions as the same level of importance as our own, and we need to take the time to listen to these ideas and find the truth of what the other side wants. Even if we vote against an issue, we need to treat those it affects with respect. Our world is so full of extremes based on slight differences, and we as Christians need to show something united: Love.
So about the nonexistent middle brother: Maybe Jesus didn't define what we should be because it's always changing. Maybe we need to find for ourselves what our version of accepting home the lost with joy really means.
With this in mind, I finally found the way to face my fear about being the older brother. It doesn't matter whether or not I ever do wander and return in life, and it isn't about feeling the love of returning. I believe the middle brother is nonexistent in this story because it's not about those who are perfect, but the lost on both fronts, and I need to become the example everyone else can rely on for what Christians really should be. And I can't do that except to stay close to God to learn his will, and then the wonder of his will can finally be revealed through me. I challenge you to do the same.
*Also, if you have strong opinions about anything above, please leave a civilly worded comment. I want to know the different perspectives of everyone who reads this. Have you been cornered into someone else's agenda? Have you been stuck between a rock and a hard place with deciding on how to respond? Do you have any interesting perspectives being in the middle of two extremes, or having a perspective no one understands?