Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sitting the Fence

The phrase “sitting on the fence” is a term of derision used to describe someone who can’t make up his or her mind on an issue. It is often used to describe a person who is indecisive and weak. It describes a person who is wishy washy. But in our modern world we frequently find ourselves in the middle between extremes. The attitude of “he who is not for me is against me” is commonly held. If you are not charismatic you must be anti charismatic. If you are not a Republican you must be a Democrat. If you are not a fundamentalist you must be a liberal. If you are not liberal you must be conservative, etc. For example, someone I know once received a call from one of the political parties, asking questions about the party’s platform. She said she agreed with the party’s position, except on one particular issue. The interviewer’s response was “so you will then be voting for the other party in the next election?” I once had a discussion with a person who held a different theological position than I do. When he found out that I disagreed with his viewpoint he said “So you aren’t a Christian then.” Both people held the position that he who is not totally for me must be against me.

We can ask why so many people and groups have a tendency to hold this viewpoint. I believe that many times it comes from the attempt to fill a void. Something has been missing that must be filled. Unfortunately as time passes, filling this void becomes the test of orthodoxy, whether in the religious, political or social realm. Part of the reason there are so many differing political parties, church denominations, philosophical viewpoints, etc. is that not one of them has been able to completely gain a corner on the truth. If one side was completely perfect, there would be no need for an opposing viewpoint. Unfortunately many times each side of an issue grabs hold of one particular aspect and runs with it, neglecting other valid viewpoints.

Therefore the thinking Christian often finds himself in the middle between the extremes. I call this “sitting the fence”. It is a deliberate, intentional position in the middle. It incorporates some of the best from each side and rejects the worst. But it is a lonely position because both sides will often reject you. They will each label you as belonging to the other side. Because you don’t totally go along with their side, you must be for their opponents. But the thoughtful fence sitter finds that it is impossible to completely go along with each group’s agenda. This is deliberately “sitting the fence”. It is far different from “sitting on the fence” because it is intentional. It takes courage and knowing who you are. It requires a great deal of thought. It is not easy because you may find yourself very much alone and misunderstood.

Jesus also intentionally sat the fence. He rejected the viewpoint of the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were bound up in their traditions. He also rejected the viewpoint of the zealots who sought of free Israel from Roman dominance. When the Pharisees tried to trick him by asking if tribute should be given to Caesar, he sat the fence by saying “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” The religious leaders sought to kill him because he was too radical. One of the radicals, Judas, betrayed him because he wasn’t radical enough! In the end, both conspired against him together and killed him. As we live our lives, there are two questions we must ask ourselves. Am I willing to be a fence sitter? What fences is God calling me to sit on?

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