The “Morally-Wounded” Neighbor
I received an email recently from a sister-in-Christ who had just come home from Sunday morning service. It was in response to something she allegedly heard from the sermon: “We should terminate relationships that are not beneficial to making us better people”. Unknown is whether my friend’s focus on the sentence was out of context or whether it was a pick-up on a theme popular these days about avoiding toxic relationships[i].
Here is a synopsis of her reaction to the sermon:
“That is half-true if you are weak and accept the guidance of a moral delinquent, but Jesus loves the downtrodden who are often suffering under moral delinquency. You can’t blame your own bad character on your friends, or social-climb to better and better catches of people, thinking you will benefit. That’s judgmental, weak, un-Christian and selfish.
“Being a friend is not about collecting selfish credit, and being good is not about who you know.
“It is weak and reflects poor faith in Christ to blame bad behavior on being rudderless enough to follow your so-called friends. I benefit from knowing both mentally-ill and morally-upright successful people, and I don’t want that taken away from me. They don’t feel slighted by me, and I don’t feel corrupted by them. I grow from acceptance of them and they of me.
“Instead of consciously collecting “Quality Friends” – even those like registered sex offenders, whose offenses have been publicly exposed, people can cautiously, with God’s guidance, strengthen their lives out of love and compassion without tumbling into those offenses.
Boundaries have to be set; of course! Otherwise, one is in danger of falling into a pit. The other extreme, however, is boundaries so tight we insulate ourselves and each other from a world very real to a lot of people unlike ourselves – different beliefs, politics, struggles and worldviews. The most piercing question that arises from this is, “Are we, or God, the arbiters of what constitutes “better people”? Is God shaping us into the image of Christ, or are we shaping ourselves?
The antidote is the power of God to instill in us the spiritual gift of discernment – a tall order demanding discipleship training and prayerful support, the very core task of the Church.
In the context of our faith, potentially toxic relationships fall into the category of Jesus at the well in Samaria, at the proposed stoning of a woman caught in adultery, at lunch with the tax collector, Zacchaeus, and forgiveness of a fellow-executed thief. We can infer from Scripture that no-one was too low for Jesus – even the self-righteous moralists of His day and ours.
Have we now so-ghettoed ourselves that we have license to cross the road to avoid the “morally-wounded” neighbor in order to render ourselves “better people”?
[i]Tiffany, K. (2022). That's It. You're Dead to Me.: Suddenly Everyone is "Toxic.". The Atlantic.