Being Intentional about Our Starting Point for Informing Christian Behaviour
Christians are often just as uninspiring and predictable as anyone else around them. They look and sound like everyone else, but where there’s nothing different about Christians, this should be a cause for concern and an impetus for re-evaluation. Yet I don’t mean this in terms of mere morality or behaviour that marks a “good citizen” — in fact, this type of behaviour is often more a part of the problem in how it tricks us into thinking that easy behaviour that comes relatively naturally to us is good enough.
The arena where these behaviours and our priorities become most noticeable and defined is in the political realm (including our voting patterns and priorities), and the differentiating variable is our starting point that informs our priorities.
It’s therefore problematic when Christians prioritize—or designate as their starting points—principles such as self-preservation, survival, personal comfort, fairness, and proper authority and order (all very typical if you dig deeper) rather than Jesus’ commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. The former are common, “natural,” easy, taken for granted, and rarely frowned upon in Christian circles. And the divergence in these two starting points is a very common dynamic of any breakdown in dialogue between those who have embraced nonviolence and those who have not. Yet what we consider “good Christian behaviour” as a euphemism for the behaviour of a “good citizen” is often completely at odds with Jesus’ subversive words in the Sermon on the Mount.
Instead, to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, we need to intentionally and mindfully designate the Sermon on the Mount as our starting point and work out from there regardless of how uncomfortable, challenging, and counterintuitive this is to do. We need to acknowledge both our relative fidelity to and divergence from Jesus’ teachings and example and lament, be disappointed about, and repent of the latter behaviour. This is how our “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees” (Mt. 5:20), how we are “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Mt. 5:13–14), and how we avoid the accusation that you only “love those who love you” (Mt. 5:46) but instead "do more" (Mt. 5:47).
This requires a re-focus on the divine virtues of humility, patience, self-control, wisdom, forgiveness, meekness, gratitude, generosity, mercy, compassion, love — everything that underpins Jesus’ difficult and counterintuitive words in the Sermon on the Mount but that are at odds with our own self-serving priorities of survival, fairness, comfort, and order to control the Other. There’s very little that’s “fair” about radical forgiveness or loving enemies, very little that’s orderly about the meek inheriting the earth, very little that cares about personal survival in cross-bearing, very little that’s comfortable about giving away everything we own.
But, if we like it or not, the Sermon on the Mount is the Christian manifesto. Otherwise, we look, act, and are no different than the world and its antichrist priorities and very low and uninspiring standards, and our reasons for declaring ourselves Christians become more suspect.