The Righteous Mind: Loyalty 10-12-14

Last week, we began this new sermon series based on the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. We started last week with Haidt’s analogy about the elephant and the rider. Understanding the human mind as being divided into intuition and reason, we imagine intuition as the elephant that goes where it wants to go, and reason as the rider, which justifies where the elephant is going, where the elephant wants to go. Haidts says that progressive folks have trouble understanding conservative people because progressives rely on two moral foundations – caring and fairness, while conservative rely on five moral foundations – caring, fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity. So I proposed over the next few weeks to highlight these moral foundations that tend to drop out for progressive folks. Today, I concentrate on loyalty and in two weeks on authority.

Philippians 4:1-9 For these reasons, my sisters and brothers—you whom I so love and long for you who are my joy and my crown—continue, my dear ones, to stand firm in Christ Jesus. I implore Euodia and Syntyche to come to an agreement with each other in Christ. And I ask you, Syzygus, to be a true comrade and help these coworkers. These two women struggled at my side in defending the Good News, along with Clement and the others who worked with me. Their names are written in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Savior always! I say it again: Rejoice! Let everyone see your forbearing spirit. Our Savior is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds; instead, present your needs to God through prayer and petition, giving thanks for all circumstances. Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, my sisters and brothers, your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, decent, admirable, virtuous or worthy of praise. Live according to what you have learned and accepted, what you have heard me say and seen me do.  Then will the God of peace be with you.

October 12, 2014        

The Righteous Mind: Loyalty  

Loyalty is definitely a value that most of us grew up with. When my dad took me into downtown Cincinnati for whatever reason, he often talked to me about why he loved the city, how he knew everybody in town. He felt loyal to a whole community that raised him and helped him along the way. He would go out to Cleves, the little town where he grew up, to do pro bono law work every Friday evening.
If I would have stayed there, I would have had to deal with a different set of demands on my life and how to be loyal to the legacy of my father and grandfather in that town. As it was, I moved to Philadelphia, and started a new life here. I notice, however, that I have become loyal to West Philadelphia over the 35 years I have lived there. It is home and I know lots of people. I am part of a community that has accountability to each other.
The church provides a part of that sense of accountability and loyalty as well. We get to know each other and trust each other and count on each other in our church communities and our connected communities. That loyalty is a powerful and important bond in our lives.
When I was in Nigeria I experienced a different level of loyalty and community than I had ever seen in Philadelphia or in the church. It’s a little hard to explain, but I sensed ways in which young people in Nigeria felt themselves literally to be a part of each other in their traditional communities. We in the US value our individuality. In Nigeria families and communities of family cared for each other and connected with each other in ways that we no longer understand.
I know that the older generation in our church and in our community remember having more of that kind of loyalty and community connection than we have today. Former soldiers and those who have faced adversity with a group of people, even members of college sports teams had a taste of the kind of group loyalty we are talking about.
Having enough independence to move anywhere in the country we want, having enough prosperity to not have to depend on each other, having enough peace to not have to band together to contend with each other, many of us have no clue in our day to day lives what we are missing in the way of communal identity and relationships that are stronger than blood.

In the past I have stated, along with a lot of other folks, that message of the Bible from cover to cover is love. I could still say that, but when I think about it in the context of this sermon today, I realize that when I say that, I am usually meaning to emphasize the caring and fairness moral foundations that I hold dear. I often think of love in a universal way, a general way which is not the kind of message of our assigned readings for today.
The passage from Exodus today emphasizes the problem of idol worship. When we think of idols, we think of idols with which anybody might have a problem – worshipping money or possessions more than God. In Moses time, however, this passage was more a problem of worshipping someone else’s gods. The reading is as much about loyalty, love and allegiance for our group, as it is about love of the God of everybody.
That understanding of God as the one God of all people had to evolve over time. It started with this band of people following Moses who said there is only one God, and that God is our God, the God of our group. Paul in his work and writings constantly worked to include Gentiles as well as Jews within the community of the faithful. In the context of their struggle with the Roman Empire, Paul was broadening the boundaries of the community, but there was still a strong sense of God being for us, for our group, over and against those who are loyal to Rome more than to Jesus.
Early Christians felt deep bonds with each other and with their community as had to stand by each other even as they faced oppression and persecution. Their loyalty to Jesus could cost them their lives. That loyalty to Jesus bound them together in an intense form of community which enabled them to care for each other in a profound way.
Intense loyalty tends to involve a more parochial, a more local community. At times people with that kind of loyalty to their own local group are the most trusted people, the ones who can make things happen that other people cannot do.
Thursday evening, I went to hear a man named Ali Abu Awwad speak at a local synagogue. He spoke about his background as a loyal Palestinian activist along with his mother. He talked about being in jail for the cause. He talked about finally getting released from prison only to have his own brother killed by Israeli soldiers. He spoke forcefully against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and at the same time he spoke with total conviction about the possibilities for peace and co-existence.
Because of his convincing loyalty to his own group, his deep loyalty to his own people, and because of his commitment to non-violent solutions to the conflict in Israel, Mr. Awwad could speak in a Jewish synagogue and bring people to tears and to their feet as he gave them hope for a real peace. He now asks people not to be pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, but pro-solution.
Loyalty to our own people can be a powerful moral foundation in our life and in our community. Having an identity, knowing who we are as Christians, as followers of the Living God in Christ, allows us to trust each other and know each other. When we dig deep in our own faith tradition, we know that God is deeply loyal to us as God’s people. We are called to know God’s loyalty to us and to respond with our own profession of faith and faithfulness.
From that deep knowledge of God’s loyalty to us, we become more sure of God’s loyalty to all God’s people. We become better able to reach out to other groups and know the specific ways in which they know God and God’s love in their community.

Responsive Hymn: 396 O Jesus, I Have Promised