Editor's note: This is the perspective of an author who has served as missionary and pastor. His voice reflects the wide diversity in the international church.
The line was long that night at the chuck wagon as hungry patrons lined up to eat pulled pork sandwiches smothered in barbecue sauce, fresh corn on the cob, and hash brown potatoes. From across the street, the loudspeaker at the Caldwell Night Rodeo competed with the sounds of the diners and the cheering crowds. I was serving the meat for the sandwiches, and my wife, Carolita, was spooning on the sauce. It was the annual Kiwanis fundraiser in Caldwell, Idaho.
As the people came and went, my thoughts drifted across the U.S., the Atlantic Ocean, the Normandy beaches, and on to Paris, some 7,000 miles away, but worlds apart. If only the French could see me now!
Radically, my life had changed again. How? Thirty years in France affected the way I see myself, my ministry, and my world. Would I be able to navigate through an abrupt exchange of cultures as well as a world that seems changed every time I turn around? Could I keep my balance, adapt to new surroundings, and retain the values that I consider essential to my faith and life in general?
It's all about maintaining perspective, about retaining an understanding of who I am and what is truly important and vital to me. In a real sense, I can't get away from the influences that are at work around me and in me. Nor can I resolve all the differences and contradictions that come from a childhood in Southern California, two years in the Peace Corps in North Africa, several years in the Midwest, 30 years in France, and now 18 months as a pastor in Idaho.
In looking at the word perspective, there are two points that help my understanding. First, perspective is simply a way of regarding a situation or topic—it is a point of view. Secondly, perspective is also a dynamic process. It is a capacity to assemble all the relevant events and ideas of my life and put them into meaningful relationships.
A number of factors determine perspective: childhood experiences, religious training, education, books read, contact with people from other cultures, political convictions, economic considerations, personal biases, exposure to media, personality traits, and so on. Both objective (factual) and subjective (personal opinion) components make up what we call perspective.
It would be false to say that we who are believers and followers of Christ have a "strictly Christian perspective" of our world.
This would assume that we are able to divorce our Christian beliefs from all of the other factors mentioned in the previous paragraph. In fact, one of the basic tenets of the Wesleyan movement is a holistic faith that leads us to believe our Christian lives must be integrated into every aspect of our daily lives.
It would be more correct to say that we have a perspective that is "compatible" or "in harmony" with a Christian way of life.
That would presuppose that there is not just one point of view for every important issue in life and that all Christians are not required to view things in the same way. There is enough biblical evidence to sustain this argument, especially in the area of eschatology (doctrine of the last days), the various modes of baptism, and the variety of denominations and schools of theology (Reformed, Wesleyan, Orthodox, Catholic, just to name a few).
Can Nazarenes who embrace a particular political orientation truly confess their attachment and respect for Nazarenes who find themselves elsewhere on the political spectrum? More specifically, can supporters of global warming and national health insurance have fellowship with advocates of a small federal government?
If not, then our church becomes hostage to political agenda and litmus test policies for church members. At the same time, we run the risk of the Church of the Nazarene being identified with the frequent failures of political reform and economic policies, as well as fallen public officials. What can we do to avoid this?
The most important thing to remember is that we are a people of the Via Media, the Middle Way.
This belief dates all the way back to John Wesley's origins in the Anglican Church, first called the Via Media in the 13th century! Our early Nazarene leaders reaffirmed this belief as our church was organized across the U.S. and Canada in the early 20th century. We are a church that invites those from across the religious spectrum to join with us, with the Christian doctrine of "full salvation" as our central rallying point.
One of the early cries of our leaders was for "social justice" as they echoed the words of Christ in Luke 4. These words were certainly understood to mean more than "spiritually" captive or oppressed.
When Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr debated the early theories of our physical universe, they were faced with evidence that appeared contradictory. Some said that light was made up of particles while others said it was composed of waves. Experimental evidence supported both postulates. It was finally and definitively shown that light was both particle and wave!
Two totally contradictory theories, both true, came together to present a "deeper truth."
If we bring this concept into the contemporary era, we can use the present international debate about illegal immigrants to illustrate the same principle. It is true that laws pertaining to citizenship and legal entry into a country exist everywhere. It is a Christian belief that we should respect the laws of our country. At the same time, the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, strongly supports the idea of compassion for the foreigner, the alien, the oppressed, and the voyager.
On the surface, political events have made it appear that the two concepts are contradictory. Is it possible that there is a "wider" truth that embraces both respect for the law and compassion for the alien?
Our grave danger is to limit ourselves to a "narrow" truth that does not allow for all the truth to be expressed. The result is a polarity that does not permit dialogue, honest sharing of opinions, or a resolution that is compatible with "both truths."
Hospitality is also a very important characteristic that helps us to maintain a proper perspective. (We are not talking about just inviting someone over to dinner!). When we say hospitality, we mean an expanded variety, biblically-inspired, that allows us to be open to other people, to hear their personal stories, to listen intently without simply waiting our turn to say something, and to respect others' opinions, receiving all and any good that is found there. In fact, isn't perspective all about having a little more consideration for others and a lot less about taking sides?
In a recent pastors' meeting, as we were discussing the subject of perspective, our district superintendent, Stephen Borger, warned us that taking the middle road may be the right way to go, but we risk the danger of being shot at by both sides! It is not easy to be willing to listen to everyone. In fact, another danger encountered is being labeled as "compromising" our basic values.
We forget that Christ always listens to us. He never turns us away or scorns us for having opinions that may be inconsistent with His will.
Christ continually invites us to come to Him.
Our differences of opinions should not be what drive us apart. Instead, they should be an opportunity for us to submit ourselves to a "wider truth," one that encompasses all of God's truth.
David Fraley, a former missionary to France, is pastor of Caldwell, Idaho, Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, Mar/Apr 2011
Please note: This article was originally published in 2011. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.