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It’s really hard to concentrate on anything except these impeachment hearings, but I’ll offer this bit of good news: apparently following Scripture is not a crime in the United States.

Twelve jurors acquitted Scott Warren this week, a humanitarian aid volunteer who had given shelter to two men who had illegally crossed the southern border, and was charged with harboring illegal immigrants. He could have faced up to 10 years in prison. 

Warren was also charged with “littering with abandoned property,” because he left water in the desert for people who were crossing. 3,000 people are known to have died in that desert. But the judge acquitted him of that misdemeanor count on the grounds that Warren was exercising his religious beliefs. 

I found this out while scrolling through Twitter, and I also found out that right now there’s some drama happening in the Southern Baptist community because a woman has been hired to teach at the seminary, so rumors are spreading about her — she doesn’t believe what the baptists believe about LGBTQ, she doesn’t believe the right things about abortion, she doesn’t believe the right things about the Great Commission. 

It just struck me as so odd, these starkly different ways of making sense of what it means to be a Christian.  Is being a Christian about believing? Or about living?

And it made me wonder how this shapes the community that I’m part of. I’m not a Southern Baptist, but I do come from a community that cares a great deal what other folks believe about certain theological and certain social issues, and strikingly less how folks live. I’ve lived through a lot of examinations of would-be pastors, where we ensure that pastors not only understand but deeply believe the tenets of Reformed Theology. The only time I have ever witnessed a candidate for ministry being asked questions about how they live? When that candidate was gay. (And he wasn’t asked how he exercises care for creation.)

When I read the gospels, I don’t see Jesus overly focused on an orthodoxy of belief — professing certain correct answers. I see far more of Jesus’s interest — and more life, more joy, more hope, more grace, more beloved community — focusing on the way that we live. 

Thanks be to God for the acquittal of Scott Warren, whose faith taught him to welcome the stranger, extend hospitality to the sojourner, protect the vulnerable, give water to the thirsty. Following Jesus is a way that Scott lives. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

10 Comments

  • Thomas Goodhart says:

    Amen.

  • Helen P says:

    We hear so much today about “Godly living,” but I see very little behavioral change showing we actually heed ( or even know) what Christ calls us to do…in fact the opposite seems to be happening.
    We have become a religion of Sadducees and Pharisees. Who obeys the rules and who does not? Who is worthy and who is not; and those who are in charge at the moment make up the rules as they proof-text their way through scripture.
    Gone are the days when we would simply “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Kate, for a challenging article. It did make me think as to where the assurance of one’s salvation comes from in Christian thought. Does it come from what we believe or how we act? If it comes from one’s actions, there would seem to be many who claim right belief but have little to show for it in actions. While, at the same time, there are those who hold to no particular religion while living a life of service to others. How much belief is necessary to having assurance of salvation and how much action is the evidence of one’s saving faith? I would think there are a lot of people (including so called Christians) walking around with a false sense of assurance.

  • Ann says:

    My daughter has been learning Latin since Kindergarten and I’ve learned so much from her understanding of the root of so many of our English words. Like believe, for example. It comes from the Latin “cred” (think creed). It really means “what I give my heart to”. It’s so much more than just what you think rationally in your head… to give your heart to something is to strive to live it to the best of my ability. Seems to be more about loving than knowing.

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Rev. Kooyman,

    Upon what does your salvation depend – actions or beliefs?

    It seems to me that belief, according to Jesus, is of first importance (John 11:25).

    That sin, salvation, service concept of the Heidelberg Catechism seems to order everything quite well. Veering away from this concept seems to lead to confused and second-rate thinking.

    As for the Impeachment Tribunal, it reminds me of the trial of Alice in Wonderland, with Rep. Schiff playing the Queen of Hearts. It is almost as ridiculously surreal as the Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh Inquisition. Both are examples of ill-conceived beliefs driving unethical actions.

  • Grace says:

    Thanks, Kate. Remind me of an old song, They’ll Know we are Christians by our Love.
    Hope all is well with you and yours.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    I am sometimes taken aback a bit at just how much of an echo chamber this forum is (save for a few regular flies in the ointment). It is striking to me that just a few days after author Steve rallied the troops against binaries (received with much praise), along comes Kate to present the group with a false dilemma, as if to test whether forced and false binaries really are bad or just selectively so. Since Kate wielded the binary to shame the wrong kind of sinners and praise the right kind of righteous, the binary is accepted at face value. Scripture and reason wielded selectively in service to political allegiance makes for an ugly scene. The fact that so many authors and commenters here have a veneer of intellectual sophistication while falling into that trap with regularity does not reflect well. But at least y’all are not like those unsophisticated (re)publicans – that would be deplorable.

  • Mark Zietse says:

    Rev Kooyman
    Thank you for continuing to post your insights and thoughts. Please do not stop.
    Maybe it sounds like an echo chamber because there are so many Christians now looking for a new kind of Christianity – and maybe they go to sites like this to look for that – one that is about living like Jesus – not just believing, more loving, more graceful, more compassionate, more inclusive, more open to what is salvation, more open to seeing Jesus in everybody, more seeking the good of all and not just a few. Seems like scripture is pretty clear about that – seems like Jesus is pretty intentional about that.

  • Ria Faber says:

    This is exactly what I have been thinking about lately, Believing or living. I am sure it is a combination of both, but based on what I see, I would rather fall on the side of living for Christ. As the scriptures say, faith, hope, love – and the greatest of these is love.

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