Saturday, March 31, 2012

How Can Three Hundred Million People Be One Community?

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Cor 6:14-15)

Christians in the US assume that they are citizens of "one nation under God," applying "red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight" to Uncle Sam as much as to Jesus—provided the people referred to are US citizens. Oh, we have our disagreements, of course. Most of those who voted for president in 2008 voted for Barack Obama, who was, if one was to believe the e-mails evangelicals were forwarding in October of 2008, a precursor of the antichrist, but now that he's shown himself to be as much a part of the establishment as his predecessor and his closest rival . . . hey, there's nothing to worry about.

Of course, the evangelical call now is for "anybody but Obama" to take the oath in 2013, but if Obama wins in November, evangelicals will still sing hymns in teary-eyed joy come May and June when their children go off to join his military.

You've noticed that I don't like Barack Obama. I also don't like John McCain. Or Mitt Romney. Or Hillary Clinton. I don't want them running my life. Not only that, I don't like people who want to run my life by proxy and so vote such monsters into office. I especially don't like people who vote them into office so they will take my money and use it to kill obviously innocent people and jail sinners the Bible calls God's people to persuade (2 Cor 5:11, 20), never to molest. And if that's not enough, if Jesus is the one telling them to do this, then I don't like Jesus either.

If that sounds nasty, think of the anti-Obama (or anti-Bush, or anti-Sarah Palin, or anti-Louis Farrakhan or Rush Limbaugh or whoever) e-mail forwards you've gotten. The names are different, but the attitude is the same, isn't it? Or how about the term "culture war"—does it seem too far fetched? It doesn't to me.

So I ask, How can people who disagree so violently (sometimes in the literal sense) about fundamental moral issues be considered one nation, let alone one community? "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall" (Luke 11:17). By that definition we are at best one nation, but a nation doomed to fall. The liberals hate the conservatives, the free-marketers hate the bleeding hearts, and the crony capitalists hate the tree huggers. And we call ourselves one nation?

What is it that makes you part of a nation? Is it something outside you, like the flag flown and the uniforms worn by the thugs who take your money and use it to spread misery? Or is it what's inside you, what you love, your goals in life?

Maybe I'm fooling myself, but I like to think my citizenship is in heaven, that the world belongs to a God who loves me despite my spectacular failures and who designed his love shown on Calvary to lead me to forsake my sins and live for his glory. My true countrymen are those who love God, which they prove in part by treating their neighbors as they themselves want to be treated. As for those who spurn God's love, and thus his ways, I am to relate to them as much as possible as an ambassador, not an assailant. I see no other nation, nor can I imagine one, worth being part of, and certainly not a nation headed by the likes of Barack Obama that worships such idols as prime-time television and reveres athletes and entertainers, not to mention members of the armed forces, be they "military" or "police."

"But we have to protect ourselves from terrorists [or economic disaster or the flu or pornography or drugs or . . .]!"

Who is this "we"? There's you, who want to take my money and use it in ways I abhor. And there's me. If there's a "we," it's the "we" who will suffer blowback at the hands of survivors of your aggression, or it's the "we" who will be impoverished by your "compassion."

Dear friend, if your compassion depends on weapons, badges, and uniforms to succeed, I don't want to benefit from it, and I certainly don't want to be exploited by it. Go away.

That said, I do know a way three hundred million people can be one community: we stop aspiring to be one great nation and start being faithful in the little things. We clean the Philistines out of our own bean fields—the idols from our hearts and lives and homes (2 Sam 23:11-12). We erect our own private temples, no matter how unimpressive, by discipling our families and keeping our churches focused on the Bible, justice, compassion, and mercy (Zech 4:10). And we trust that the God who sees us faithful in the small things will reward us with greater things (Luke 19:16-19).

I join with people who don't allow abortion, but maybe the next guy's friends do, or my health care plan covers chiropractors but the next guy's doesn't. What they do over there isn't my concern, and more than the carnage in China during the 1960s was my concern (when I was in my early teens). Instead of "Everything you do is my business," we take the tack, "What's yours is yours, what's mine is mine, I'll do it my way, you do it yours." In case of foreign attack, it would be to both sides' advantage to preserve the status quo rather than falling under a more centralized system that chips away at both systems, but beyond that we try to let each polity experiment, and may the best system convince the others to imitate it and be allied with it.

But of course, that's a pipe dream. Politicians and their minions are not interested in the advantage of their subjects; having power over others is the final goal as well as the means of achieving it. And no polity, no matter how small, would be free of those who would enslave their neighbors "for the common good," or in the name of "justice" (which is always in reality "just us"). The best we can pray for is that the large units will collapse before they can do too much damage and that we can find small units of like-minded people to hang with and ward off the looters.

God commands us to be examples of personal integrity and neighborliness (Matt 5:14; 1 Cor 10:31). Whatever effect that has on convincing people to abandon politics and embrace voluntary servanthood, I know of no other way to get them to leave the kingdom of darkness and follow the Light of the World. We may not get three hundred million people to join us, but perhaps God will grant us a polity large enough that we spend most of our days serving people who expect to benefit from serving us. That wouldn't be the world, or even "from sea to shining sea," but do we really need anything more?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's In a Name?

My editing business has some interesting prospective clients, two writers with Arabic names reviewing books by Palestinian authors about the situation in Palestine (or the Palestinian territories, or whatever you want to call the area). So far they have both treated me as I would like to be treated, so to the degree that it is possible to make one’s customers one’s friends, I have two new friends.

Now the Great Commission tells me that these are two potential disciples, that I am to preach the Gospel to them. How simple it would be to tell them, after an exchange in which they praise my work (and earning that praise is, of course, another matter), that I am an evangelical Christian. How wonderful it would be if they would take that to mean that I make it my goal to love God more than anything and with all I am and have, that the first indicator of that love is my love for all my neighbors as proven by my efforts to do for them what I would have others do for me, that I acknowledge my failures in that regard, and that I know of only one way to escape God’s righteous wrath for my sins, the blood Jesus Christ shed on the cross!

Instead, I would expect them to see “evangelical Christian” and think that I consider Muslims (especially Palestinians) Untermensch and Israelis entitled to impunity.

If God indeed rules the State of Israel, then we should petition Tel Aviv to make us citizens. (After all, God certainly doesn’t rule the US, at least not so’s you’d notice it.) But if he doesn’t–and he doesn’t—then we must conclude that the State of Israel is in rebellion against God the same as any other political entity, including (or perhaps especially) the US, and judge its deeds by the same objective standard we use to judge those of any other individual or group.

More importantly, we need to consider what’s at stake in the words “God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom 2:24). If the choice is either to “stand by our ally Israel” or to preach the gospel to the Palestinians, which way do we go? Can we assume that we will never be confronted with that choice?

“Joel of Jerusalem” used to write in the magazine Israel My Glory of the trouble the Israeli government gave him for preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem. That is enough evidence for me that we are more likely to preserve God’s good name by saying, “Let me die with the Philistines” than by confusing God’s glory with the State of Israel.