Truth and Grace
by Ed Noot, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established,
that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it. ~ Blaise Pascal
Truth is in short supply these days, some would say. As the 17th century mathematician Blaise Pascal reminds us, this sentiment is not a recent expression. As civilization develops, old notions, sometimes viewed as indisputable truths, are replaced by new discoveries or radical thought. Pascal, a devout Catholic, lived during tumultuous times. Only a century earlier, a young priest named Martin Luther, shook the theological foundations of the Church by posting 95 theses on the church door in Wittenburg, prompting the beginning of the protestant reformation. During Pascal’s life, art, education, religion, politics, economics and industry were changing rapidly, and scientific revolution was in full swing.
As with so many historical developments, the scientific revolution encompassed both positive and negative elements. Scientists recognized that the universe was heliocentric not geocentric, a discovery that many Christians of the day viewed as heretical. They made startling discoveries in math and science that had major a impact on industry, building and medicine. But in the midst of these positive developments, many academics also grew more humanistic. Knowledge and reason led people to view God as distant, irrelevant and, for some, non-existent. Scientific discovery became the new hope for civilization. Science came to be viewed as the saviour. No wonder then, that Pascal lamented the obscurity of truth.
Today many Christians also lament the obscurity of truth and feel that Christian values are threatened. Once again the church is called to face tough issues and to determine what stands as truth.
For example, Christian schools are founded on the relevance of biblical truth to all of life. Our mission statements and foundational documents articulate our core beliefs and values. But do we always get it right? At times, do we need to re-examine some long held convictions? In her book Graciously Unapologetic, Deborah Byker-Benson points out that many Christian schools have long ignored, or misinterpreted, God’s commands to be welcoming and hospitable to the sojourner, foreigner and unbeliever. She argues that we have overlooked critical aspects of scripture in framing our school mission as designed for only Christian families, a belief that is enshrined in many school mission statements. Her case is compelling and worthy of consideration. She contends that when the outsider is welcomed as part of the community as scripture requires, the school must take a position of being graciously unapologetic. This posture, Benson argues, is just where God wants His people to be. Living faithfully by embodying grace and sharing truth is meant to happen in the context of outsiders, not just in an exclusive, club-like atmosphere for those who meet the criteria of membership.
“Many Christian schools use admissions policies as an attempt to guard the “purity” of the organization through control rather than with truth and meaningful, gracious relational engagement.” ~ Deborah Byker-Benson 1
Being graciously unapologetic is not an easy balance to achieve. As Jesus vividly demonstrated, the Pharisees were all about truth, but lacked sufficient grace. Think of His encounters with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and with the adulterous woman in the temple courts (John 8). Jesus’ approach is so different from the paternalistic, legalistic response of the religious scholars of the day. He shatters the contemporary norms and understandings, relating to people with grace and uncompromising truth.
How is this posture relevant to us today? What are the contemporary issues where Christians are called to act with truth and grace? The list would include issues like poverty, homelessness, refugees/immigration, developing nations, climate change and pollution.
How about our journey with First Nations people? This topic would certainly make my truth and grace list. Canada has adopted the terms Truth and Reconciliation, and many Christians are embracing the call to truth and reconciliation as a fitting response to our First Nations. While I’m thankful for this response, it grieves me that Christians were not leading the way on this important social issue. Truth and reconciliation are profoundly biblical concepts (2 Corinthians 5:18) and should have been the hallmark of the Christian community’s behaviours towards First Nations people. The Christian community had an opportunity to be out front on this issue and to show the rest of Canada a more excellent way.
In this context, another topic for conversation is sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). An SCSBC working group has been hard at work in this area for over a year and our SOGI guide was released this fall. This publication builds on the work done by SCSBC in 2009 when Same Gender Attraction: A Discussion Among our Christian School Communities was published. These documents are designed to provide guidance for schools as they navigate what can be turbulent waters in the discussion of issues around sexual orientation and gender identity.
The 2017 SOGI guide document recognizes that not all of our schools will be at same place on this topic. It puts student safety first and frames the discussion as one that must be marked by an earnest search for truth and an uncompromising commitment to grace. When our communities walk in the balance between truth and grace, our schools will be found faithful to Jesus’ new commandment of love (John 13: 33, 34).
Byker-Benson, Deborah. Graciously Unapologetic: A Renewed Way to Be in Christian Schools. p. 83. 2016, Credo House Publishers.