Choose the hill you want to die on

A good portion of my life has been violent. From working as a teenager as a bouncer, to working as a body guard and bounty hunter as I grew older. Many of my attempts to share the gospel have been in areas where Christianity is not welcome and violently opposed both in this country and outside of it as well. The violence of those times has done a great deal to shape my faith and to see things as I do.

When there is potential for physical violence, a natural fight or flight response occurs as an extension of our instinct for self preservation. Most people avoid violence and violent situations at all cost, and if you are reading this, I sincerely hope that you have managed to do so during the course of your life. There are a few people however who do not shy away from conflict and/or are willing to engage in physical confrontation for the defense of others (at best) or due to faulty thinking (at worst)-I have been both in truth. You quickly learn that you can not fight every battle that there is, you, sometimes quite literally, need to choose the hill that you want to die on. When faced with a new idea or concept, I think that the same thing happens.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, in the church today and the UMC in specific there is of course controversy. Going back to the days of Peter and Paul there has been controversy. Such is the way of an imperfect people trying to live out and display a perfect love. Arguments over doctrine and theology are nothing new and will continue until Christ returns and sets he world right. Christians often choose the theological hills that they are willing to die on. As an example, I try to follow the inspiration of William Boothe. He was a man who picked the hill he was willing to die on and he expressed it beautifully like this: “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!” The hill he choose to die on is still spreading the gospel and helping those in need today. That is a hill that I will die on. Interestingly enough, it’s also a hill that looks a lot like Jesus.

For those of you more moved by music or visuals, here is a short video of a song that does an excellent job of recognizing this and also the work and inspiration of William Boothe.

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12 Replies to “Choose the hill you want to die on”

  1. First, let me say that I like TSA. But I liked it better several years ago, when their official position was not inerrancy and infallibility. Make no mistake about it, it is very different than UMC. Very fundamentalist, and I don’t really buy the party line of “doing the most good”. Blood, fire, and military style organization is much more appropriate to fundamentalism. And they have officially changed their doctrine to support inerrancy. As I said, I like the people, but not the doctrine. Facts are…
    TSA Statements of Inerrancy and Infallibility:

    “Salvation Story, Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine”, 1998, pg. 13, Appendix 2, “Infallibility and inerrancy”…”The Salvation Army’s statement of faith does not include any reference to the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture.”

    2010 statement and change in 2012:

    On behalf of the General, I am pleased to announce a change of wording for a paragraph found on page 11 of the Handbook of Doctrine (Chapter 1 – ‘For further exploration’ – 1.A.3. – page 11).
    The old wording in question includes:
    “The inspiration of the Bible provides a foundation for our understanding of the reliability of the divine revelation in Scripture. It is uniquely inspired in a way that is different from other writings or works of art. However, this does not mean that the Bible is infallible or inerrant, so that it is incapable of misleading and contains no human error. Whereas we believe that the overall message of the Bible is inspired and reliable, each individual passage must be read and interpreted carefully, in context, and with careful reference to the whole of biblical truth.”
    Effective immediately, two paragraphs will replace the one above:
    “We believe the message of the Bible is inspired and reliable. However, each individual passage must be read and interpreted carefully, in context and with reference to the whole of biblical truth.
    We affirm that we can rely upon the Scriptures for instruction and guidance in matters of divine truth and the Christian life, because in Scripture we meet the Word of God himself, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit who inspired the writers also illumines those who read its pages and leads them to faith.”
    The War Cry (NZ) 11 August 2012, 17.

    1. I enjoy and appreciate the fact that their official theology does not in any way hinder their desire to help and aid any who qualify. While they have drifted more toward a fundamentalist theology, they have not fallen into the trap of non association that plagued the fundamentalist movement. I am less interested in “official theology” and much more interested in what it looks like lived out. I believe that whether fundamentalist or the farthest left leaning theology out there, any brand of Christianity that you buy into, lived out properly, leads you to love and serve others irregardless of whether or not they conform to your thinking. As to their military structure, i think it has proven effective for them, and has not done undue harm to the people that they serve. It’s just a way of organization and something that gives them a certain amount of distinctiveness in their mission. The motto ‘Blood and Fire’ are nothing more than references to the blood of Christ shed for redemption and the fire of the Holy Spirit. That isn’t really a fundamentalist stance, it is a fairly mainstream Christian understanding I think. All in all, they could easily fall into the Methodist umbrella so to speak and are not so far outside mainstream Christianity as to be on the fringe. Sort of a hybrid of Missouri Synod Lutheranism and Methodist.

      1. Threatening to close soup kitchens in NY to avoid giving employees a “partner marriage benefit”, according to state law, and trying to work a secret deal with the Bush administration to avoid the same, reflects heavy politics, not “doing the most good”. Plus I’ve been in plenty of their services. When their men’s group makes trips to the local creation museum, the people are clearly predominately fundamentalist, at least in my old corps. NOTHING like UMC. Apples and oranges.

        1. Yes, they did say that they would close their services if New York forced them to give benefits to same sex couples against their beliefs. No, they were not closed. I don’t find it right for any one to try to force action or belief on another, business, charity or not. Whether or not that stance is theologically correct or not, it was a moral stance. When they were working with the Bush presidency to be able to provide benefits in accordance with their theological stances, federal law already protected them from doing so for individuals that were not inline with the theology of the Salvation Army, they were seeking language that would prevent state and local law from doing the same. The deal wasn’t secret, they were openly seeking legislation and made it known. Faith based charities and organizations have traditionally been protected from hiring and providing benefits to those who violate their morality clauses. Just as I would not want someone forcing me into a hiring or situation that compromised my faith, I would not want that to be done to someone else. While in the eyes of some the LGBT issues of the day are a political issue, for many religious organizations, the UMC included, they are moral issues. We should not seek to legislate morality. The service of the Salvation Army to the poor has been without any source of quantifiable discrimination save for an inappropriate comment form an Australian officer that was condemned and said person was removed. If the salvation army was refusing service to the poor based on sexual preference (or any other reason), I would be the first to scream and condemn it, but I believe strongly in the rights of a religious organization to hire and provide benefits for people that fit in with the morality of that organization. I would not ask anyone to agree with their morality, simply recognize their service to a segment of the population that is often ignored.

          1. So you said “Faith based charities and organizations have traditionally been protected from hiring and providing benefits to those who violate their morality clauses.”

            Not when they get a BIG chunk of their funding in Government grants both for food give-away, and housing subsidies (like Silvercrest). They have many employees not related to church activities. Those employees are entitled to the same benefits per the local government laws, not the churches moral code. That is simple fact.

  2. William Booth was a rather odd character. In those days, there were two groups of Methodists. I forget their names. But one, was controlled by the clergy. The clergy were well educated, classical, Latin, Greek, seminary trained. To be clergy, you had to fit that mold. The other group was controlled by the congregations. They allowed non-classically trained pastors. Especially itinerant pastors, uneducated, but good preachers. This group, Booth joined. But he couldn’t get along with taking orders from the congregation. So he eventually left, to form his mission. He had no intention of forming a new church. However, the power (general) went to his head. His wife was actually the good fund raiser. If an officer got sick and couldn’t perform, he got kicked out. But he made an exception for his relatives. He sent them to R&R. He started socialistic farms, but that didn’t work out. His one family member heading the US, didn’t get along with him, so he left to form his own group. He wanted to keep the whole SA leadership in his family, to hand down from father to son/daughter. But eventually there was a revolt, and now the general is elected by a commission. So TSA history is not so pure and simple. Simple facts now, TSA wants to appear as the wonderful, benign “doing the most good” organization (so as not to impact their fund raising efforts), but it is making a decidedly right turn. That is ok with you. But not with me. You need to read the history of William Booth. He did some good, but he was also a cranky old man who had to be in control.

  3. Agreed, I would not say otherwise. I did say that the Salvation Army threatened to close their services on moral ground rather than follow the law that was in the process of being passed. That was their moral decision. I was using what you quoted in reference to why they were trying to lobby for legislation to change this, but did not make that particularly clear and am sorry for that. My assertions that I do not believe that an organization should be required to adopt practices in hiring and benefits that are not in accord with their moral principals are my own. Much of this is moot now anyway as I believe that the full faith and credit clause of the constitution will be used to ensure that homosexual marriages are recognized from state to state and protected as such. To bring this full circle, I have not praised the Salvation Army’s theology, (I have defended their right to it however) simply their service to the poor and needy, specifically in reference to their founder whose “hill to die on” has led to help for a great deal of people. Whatever their theology and mistakes as I am positive there have been many just as there are many in all religious organizations, they have helped provide needed service to a great many people and that is what a faith lived out looks like.

  4. To close a soup kitchen rather than compromising one’s traditional Christian beliefs is perfectly biblical. But if one doesn’t believe the Bible obviously it is very hypocritical for them to be attempting to throw biblical principles at the face of those who do. First, it is better to obey God than please men; this is Biblical and Biblical Christianity; second, if a city does not receive the Gospel as preached by the disciples Jesus told them to get the Gehenna out of there and even shake the left over dust from that place from their sandals soles. If a government pushes me to practice charity according to their rules and not God’s, then the charity is no longer charity according to their perceived and believed Godly principles, so they should close, period!
    We don’t have to accept any change just because society wants to change. We can accept the “changed” but not the change itself. We don’t have to be hostile but not accept hostility either!
    The hill I pick to die is the safe one: in the Rock of Ages! Not in some new addition to culture which unproven in terms of any benefit that it can bring to it!

  5. I know that this may be off topic, but why doesn’t the activists open a “soup kitchen” in the inner cities of America and live by their own “theological stances? And if they do, what if the KKK comes in to ask them for acceptance? It is very easy to attack Christian organizations (this is one who things that the TSA may be a sect) for standing for their principles but to put buttocks arm for the huge needle of living up to the standards they demand from others, oh, not that, ’cause it hurts! 😉

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