Serving or Supporting?

Recently a group of friends and I discussed Mark Foreman’s article “A Thoughtful Response” from Catalyst’s recent GroupZine.  Essentially, the article presents a real-life situation where the author was posed with a question from a Christian commercial contractor, as to whether or not he should build an addition on a Sikh temple.  To help the contractor sort through this apparent conflict of interests, Foreman tells how he helped his friend make the decision through three steps:  1) Becoming knowledgeable about Sikhism, 2) moving from judgment to evaluation (using a rather shallow Likert Scale), 3) attain an appreciation for Sikhism.

Following their conversation, and attaining a “we-we” commonality approach to culture, the contractor decided to build the temple.  Foreman states that the contractor’s decision “not only allowed him to remain true to his Christian convictions, but actually established an interpersonal and religious dialogue,” making comparisons to the biblical heroes of the past like Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, and Esther (35).

As I too would have built the temple addition with a clear conscious based on other reasons, it did force me to pose other case studies to the group taking a deeper look into several questions:

  • Where do you draw the line between “supporting” and “serving?”
  • How do you follow Jesus in “loving your enemies” and being “in the world” while also following his command of not being “in the world?”
  • As “aliens” in this world in opposition to evil, how does the church lovingly oppose issues or agendas that counter God’s moral code?
  • How do you balance Jesus’ approach of reaching out to the tax collectors and the “woman at the well,” along with dismay towards institutions that countered His Father?

These questions appear to be easily answered, but what if the situation changed?  Here are some case studies to consider:

  • Could a church that is pro-life, ever lovingly serve Planned Parenthood?  What if you were that contractor asked to build an addition on one of their buildings?  Would you do it?  Why or why not?
  • If a church sets up a water station for their community’s marathon, should they do it as well for the 2014 Gay Games marathon coming into town?
  • We have all heard of XXXChurch setting up their evangelism booths at erotica conventions, but how do you respond to their latest initiatives of cleaning and renovating Nevada brothels?

Would love any input on these thoughts as I continue to stir and sort.


~ by Dave Smith on April 23, 2010.

8 Responses to “Serving or Supporting?”

  1. A couple of thoughts…

    1 – I know one business that sells warehouse distribution software. Because of their moral convictions, they will not sell to certain customers (in this case, the porn industry). They actually nixed a lucrative deal that was all but signed by their salesman when the owners discovered the true nature of the company.

    2 – All institutions have some kind of religious affiliation. The religion may be purely secular and/or capitalistic – but no less non-Christian than Sikhism.

    3 – A question that we wrestle with at our firm is what does it mean to be a “Christian Company”? Would I take Christie’s Cabaret on as a client….hmmmm….I don’t think so….but I don’t know why.

  2. Dave,
    Tough issue for sure. I am conflicted on it as I think most of us are on complex issues. Wondering what your other reasons would have been for building the temple addition…would you care to draw those out for us?

  3. That question above is mine. Forgot to enter my name. I know I am missing some logic on this, but for the three situations presented at the end, I am leaning more against the first and more for the other two. XXX church has a mission and purpose with their actions. Do they blur the line between serving and supporting? Maybe. But the risk to them is worth the reward of forming closer relationships with those affected. The Planned Parenthood example is stickier to me but not sure why. Doing it for profit seems to take some of the mission out of it but maybe I’m wrong. I would be more open to offering food and support to the women going to PP. If building the addition is okay, then should I also donate money to them? Having a hard time differentiating between the two.

  4. Sorry for the one the question two comments above, as I just remembered I never responded.

    My rationale would be pretty simplistic for building the temple: You’re a contractor and you have a project to do, so do it (assuming the price was right). Would a Christian doctor balk in doing surgery on a Pandit (Buddhist priest)? He has a job to do and does it.

    I thought the article over-complicated it with a Likert Scale trying to figure out if the “positives” of the religion outweighed the “negatives.” I really didn’t think you could turn such an evaluation into an equation.

    However, I do think greater evaluation would be needed for small group desiring to “bless” Planned Parenthood with a service project (a project out of goodwill vs. an “obligation” based on their profession). That can definitely be a more complicated issue.

  5. Thanks Dave. Always appreciate your insight on these things. I may have misunderstood the original scenario as I interpreted it as the contractor being able to accept or decline the work (sort of like a bid process) not being assigned the work by their superiors. That changes my view of it a little.

    I am still not completely sold on the “you have a job so do it” mindset as I can think of many situations where something considered ethical or legal in a profession would go against what I believe God would have me do. Your hypothetical doctor would certainly not discriminate on surgery to a patient but what about providing an abortion (a very legal procedure)? Should they just do it because it is their job to provide health care? What about cutting off life support of a patient they feel still has a chance to recover? Those would be tough issues to face and “doing what I’m paid to do” might take a back seat to doing what I feel is right.

    Please note – not making political statements about either of the above hot-button issue. Just pointing out that they are hot-button issues

  6. Yea, I probably oversimplified some. I would agree that greater thought is needed for those situations.

    I think with the scenario of the renovations to the temple, I wasn’t seeing it as that gray, or even a large “ethical dilemma.”…similar to a “standard surgery.”

    ER doctors actually talk about similar issues having to prescribe the “morning after pill.” Some hand it off and other Christian docs actually go ahead and give the pill due to their more personal philosophical and theological stance on when life begins (for them, it is after day 14 due to various reasons that would be a much longer discussion).

    Definitely something I am working through, so appreciate the dialogue to help refine some thought here. (though much more work to be done)

    In regards to just the temple…your thoughts? Build or not build and why? Would love to hear.

  7. I can’t decide as I see both sides. On one hand, we live in a free country where people are allowed to worship as they like. I also would welcome the ability to potentially form a deeper relationship with the people involved to see if anything came of it. On the other hand, I just don’t know how I would feel being an integral part of something that I know God despises (worshiping false idols/gods). It would honestly be a very tough call for me if I had a clear choice in the matter. I know it sounds somewhat cliche because of what society has made it but it is really hard to picture Jesus or the disciples helping someone build a place to worship another god.

    There is so much nuance that I am sure I am missing here, which is why you get paid the big bucks. To help guys like me that don’t have the mental/theological horsepower to keep up with you.

    So appreciate this blog and the insights and perspective you offer. I am sure you hear it all the time but it really is something I look forward to reading every day. Sort of like a daily devotion of sorts…so make sure it’s good. No pressure though.

  8. Daily devotional??? That isn’t pressure, but definitely concerning! 🙂

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