One of the most wonderful principles governing life in our democratic society is that people are “presumed innocent until proven guilty.” No practical illustration of that principle in action comes immediately to mind, however.
We’re more inclined toward the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” principle. I’ve even heard Christians say, “people have to earn my respect”—as though that were a virtue! Actually, it’s a confession of sin.
Of course, Christians will have to earn the respect of the world. Given the suspicious, critical, cynical mind-set of society, we will have to demonstrate in practice that our profession is something more than pious prose.
The place to start is by really loving each other. Jesus said, “By this shall men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another. If we are, as some have claimed, “the only army that shoots its own wounded,” the watching world will know that they haven’t a chance!
Then, we must be generous in our judgment of the world. We prove our profession when we cut people slack while others are tying a noose—when we expect and look for the best when others are expecting and looking for the worst. At least, we must display compassion when others are expressing contempt.
Christian respect is more a product of our own faith, hope and love than it is a product of the performance of other people. It doesn’t necessarily require admiration, or even endorsement. It does require the application of Christ’s compassion and generosity in dealing with the failures of others. As Peter said, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
When the way of the world is to expose and ridicule the sinner, we can deserve, if not actually achieve, their respect by the contrasting consideration that we demonstrate toward people who are in trouble. The world needs to see that we are truly “different” in this regard!
From Guest Editorial VI
By R. Dean Catlett
Minister of the Church of Christ in Bend, OR