Things You Don’t Learn in Sunday School: Conviction at the Expense of Compassion

Has the community of faith, any faith, always been this polarized? While I can’t speak to other faiths, I wonder if this polarization is happening in some other faith traditions besides Christianity as well. If God had a grave to roll in, I’m sure God would be dizzy with rolling! How did things get to be such a mess?

What do you remember of your Sunday School years? If you did go to Sunday School, you probably learned a bunch of stories: Noah and the Ark, Jesus feeding the multitudes, the Good Samaritan, maybe Paul on the road to Damascus. You also probably learned a few concepts like the Ten Commandments, love your neighbor as yourself, or treat others the way you want to be treated. Basically, you learned about being a kind and loving person to others, being compassionate to others less fortunate than yourself.

Maybe your Sunday School class raised money for the Heifer Project, giving farm animals to families so they could raise more animals and share those animals with other families in their village or UNICEF, helping children in developing countries. The point was to think about others less fortunate than yourself and do something to make a difference. Sunday School exposed you to the stories that are important to the faith and encouraged you to develop your own faith path, becoming a light to the world.

Somewhere along the way, some detoured from the compassion path and ended up on the conviction road. And I understand. Compassion is messy. Compassion makes us uncomfortable. Conviction is clear. Conviction erects barriers. Compassion requires something of us. Conviction separates us. Compassion cares. Conviction judges

We didn’t learn about conviction in Sunday School, but we learned a whole lot about compassion. Why do you think that was?

That leads me right to what I believe is the heart of the gospel message that often gets lost in the translation of life: Jesus calls us into a new relationship with God, transforming our relationship with ourselves and each other, including the most vulnerable and even our enemies! 

Yikes! Now that is a convicting message that totally transforms our convictions into compassion. The message from God to the Israelites and the message of Jesus to us remains:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).

No longer can we exert our rights, our ethics, our interests, our beliefs, our country at the expense of everyone else. In other words, our neighbor’s rights, ethics, interests, beliefs, and even country must be considered as much as our own. This isn’t easy to accept, much less do. Yet that is exactly what we were taught in Sunday School. The stories were told to help us see how living out compassion – loving your neighbor as yourself – benefits all of us.

Of course, living a life of compassion doesn’t guarantee a life full of hearts, sparkles, and unicorns. And, we’re not responsible for the outcome. In fact, it’s not our place to convict. We are called to love. Period.

And here’s something else that’s interesting: people are attracted to transformational experiences. When people see compassion lived out, they can’t help but take notice. That’s God’s transformative message in action. It’s attractive and effective. It’s also the only thing that truly works for the benefit of all.

The next time we want to open our mouths to spew conviction or the next time we hear someone else spewing conviction, may we evaluate how those statements of conviction are going to benefit anyone. When the message or solution includes compassion, at some level for the most vulnerable or those on the margins, then we know God is at work in us, through us, and among us. Amen.

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