By Rev. Dr. Kimberly Reisman
When it comes to sharing the love of Christ with the world, the connection between what we say we believe and how we live out those beliefs is crucial. Our integrity is directly related to the strength of that connection. If there is a gap between what we say we believe and the way we live our lives, we lose our credibility. That’s why our integrity – the sense of wholeness that comes when our words are in sync with our actions, is such a vital component in sharing our faith.
Our integrity is a critical because as Christians, we base our faith on the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call the Christ. This man, Jesus, is someone whose compassion, whose love and care for those on the margins of society, whose teaching about justice, mercy, and forgiveness, and whose story of suffering and death are well known. And not just inside the church.
That fact that the life and character of Jesus are well known outside the church should give us pause when we think about integrity – connecting our beliefs with how we live them out. It should prompt us to continually check in with ourselves and ask some probing questions.
Do we consistently show love for other people? Even those who may disagree with us? Are we interested in knowing others outside the church? Are we willing to actually learn about their lives or genuinely listen as they relate the challenges and struggles of their past or present? Do we really love people the way we say we do?
These are more than just rhetorical questions. Because when we appear more concerned with what people do or do not do, than with understanding the realities they are experiencing, people take notice. When we seem to be unwilling to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes, the connection between the beliefs we profess and our life in the world is lost, and with it, our integrity.
This is true all the time, but it takes on a particularly painful dimension in polarized times like these when cultures and religions are clashing in so many dramatic ways.
So it’s important to ask again: Do we really love people the way we say we do? Are we willing to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes?
WME’s faith-sharing resource, Embrace: Showing and Sharing the Love of Jesus focuses on understanding the importance of integrity. We believe it’s one of the essential values of sharing our faith. Embrace helps us explore our own faith journey and to deepen our understanding of the value of integrity in faith-sharing.
One of the things we recognize when we explore the meaning of integrity is that it involves reciprocity. Earlier in my ministry I was responsible for a Sunday worship service that met in a local theater. Because it was unconventional, it was attractive to many people who didn’t feel comfortable in a more traditional setting. Many were Christian in name only; many weren’t Christian at all but were interested in exploring faith.
Several years after leaving that position, I ran into a woman who had attended regularly. As we spoke, she recalled that she was in a confused and unhealthy place in her life during those years. She sensed that I knew this about her and in some ways disagreed with or even disapproved of some of the ways she was coping. Thankfully, she said that this was a good thing, because even though we might not have agreed, she felt there was a place for her no matter what. It was the security of that space that had challenged her to seriously reevaluate her life.
She went on to describe the mutuality that she had experienced. She said that even though she sensed that I disagreed, it was important to her that I took her seriously and was always open to the possibility that she might have something to offer me.
A holistic understanding of integrity is a critical part of showing and sharing the love of Jesus. Mutuality and reciprocity are crucial. When others can see that we really are interested in knowing them and learning about their lives, that we really are willing to genuinely listen as they relate the challenges and struggles of their past or present; they will begin to see that we really do love them the way that we say we do. They will begin to see that the belief in our heart really is in sync with our life in the world.
And when these things come together – our words and our deeds – the belief in our heart and our life in the world – that is when the Holy Spirit begins to move and lives are transformed.
Embrace is a wonderful way to explore your own journey of faith in order to be able to share it with others more confidently and authentically. WME provides workshops on Embrace in fully online, hybrid, and in-person formats as well as in a small group study context. For more information go to our website.