In Gainesville, Georgia, where I reside, firefighters were called recently to a familiar site: their own firehouse.
Hall County Station No. 5 had a Sunday morning fire in late January that required a response other than a call to breakfast. Apparently, somebody left something on the stove too long.
The fire was extinguished quickly, and no one was harmed.
It reminded me of the call I received while in Washington, D.C., in 1997. It was my older brother telling me that our parents’ home had been struck by lightning and consumed by fire.
They were OK, he said. My mother was home at the time but my father and youngest brother, who lived with them, were out.
The beeper my youngest brother wore as a volunteer fire fighter flashed his own address as a call to arms.
Hearing or recalling such stories ring with warnings beyond literal application.
There is a growing need to pay close attention to the destructive fires that reside within much of Americanized Christianity. They harm both vulnerable people and the integrity (and witness) of those who seem to live so merrily among the flames.
Gasoline rather than water gets added to blazes by embracing rigid doctrinal and political positions in stark contrast to the professed faith.
An organization or movement that self-brands as Christian carries the responsibility not to be perfect, but to align its priorities, values and actions according to the life and teachings of Jesus. And to take note — and action — whenever something is amiss or aflame.
The same applies to individuals. Jesus jumped on that idea with a bit of hyperbole if not humor.
He pointed to the ridiculous spectacle of someone with a whole log in their eye seeking to remove a bit of sawdust from the eye of another.
Jesus’ clear point could be reframed in terms of running around the neighborhood looking for something to do with a full bucket of water while one’s own house is billowing smoke.
One of the hardest but most important disciplines is to pull ourselves from the myopic perspective of our own subculture (and echo chambers) — filled with targeted efforts to reinforce fear, anger and hostility — in order to see ourselves, examine our values and hear our own messages with the eyes and ears of others.
By daringly doing so, we might get a hint of why so many people avoid what is supposedly being offered as good news. And why some within are choosing to leave. There are fires to put out.
Christian nationalism, for example, is more than just the topic of the moment. It is the heretical blending of religious doctrine with false patriotism that can burn both to the ground.
And who is fanning the flames?
“White evangelical Protestants are more supportive of Christian nationalism than any other group surveyed.” That was the conclusion of a recent study by Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution.
White Americanized Christianity, as well, is a match-striking source for advancing discriminatory policies toward LGBTQ persons, racial grievances and the ungracious treatment of immigrants.
Platitudes suggesting moral superiority don’t fall on deaf ears; they are rejected.
Putting out one’s own fires before warning others about playing with matches should not be complicated. For example, there should be a moratorium on speaking publicly about sexual ethics and abuse of power from groups that demonstrably have been consumed by fires of their own making.
Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists and some other religious groups should take a break from making strict proclamations about proper sexuality amid a long and unresolved history of sexual abuse and coverup.
Put out your own fires first. And then check the ashes to see how authoritarianism, male dominance, sexism, secrecy and power have contributed and can spark up again.
Learn enough, confess enough and change enough so that the practice of lighting trash cans on fire before leaving the building stops.
Maybe the fires provide enough warmth that there is little concern about what they consume. But the cost to rebuild is very high.
I’m less concerned today about the fires of hell these persons ascribed as the consequences for others than I am with the immediate ways they set their own houses ablaze with fearful misinformation and other attributes so unlike what Jesus revealed.
Stop the false alarms of a fear-driven defense of one’s own dominance. Anytime one’s own privileges (masked as “rights”) burn more brightly than concern for the common good, snuff it out.
Often the most urgent need — rather than moralizing and condemning those “out in the highways and byways of life” — is to spray a steady stream inward.
And fire safety practices call for extinguishing any attitude or action that does not reflect the fruity ones of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.