Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hard Words for the Oppressed

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Rom 14:1-7) 

Your land has been invaded. Your spouse and one of your children are dead, various cousins and friends are dead or maimed, your house is rubble, your employer has shuttered his business, and every day the struggle to find food, drinkable water, and shelter from the weather is made more difficult by an astonishing number and variety of rules put in place by the invaders, rules that seem to be put in place not because they improve the lot of anyone, even the invaders, but simply for spite.

As time goes on, you notice that the invaders, who are now occupiers, boast less of their military superiority than of their moral superiority. While as far as you can tell, life is worse now than it was before the invasion—it certainly is for you—the occupiers seem sincerely convinced that you should be grateful for their presence and consider the death and destruction they have wrought and continue to wreak as the price of progress.

About the time you are able to convince yourself that God wants you to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you, you walk into church on Sunday morning and see an occupier, proudly decked out in new battle fatigues, obviously there for the same reason you are—to praise God for forgiveness in Christ.

What do you do? What does Jesus want you to do?

These questions have been faced by our brothers and sisters throughout church history. I expect that the first Jewish Christians to host Cornelius and his family had to overcome gut-level revulsion, not only at his being a Gentile, but also at his association with Roman oppression.1 The same can be said for those who hosted Zacchaeus and the centurion of Matthew 8, assuming both remained in the faith after Pentecost.

More recently, I would guess more than one Christian Turkish soldier wanted to worship with his Armenian brethren during the genocide, and it’s even more likely that German Christians would have wanted to join their voices with their Dutch brethren after the Blitzkrieg. Biafran Christians have had to put aside the memories of the megadeath inflicted on them by their Nigerian brethren and Palestinian Christians have been called on to worship with Israeli Christians for quite some time. Today there are so many Christian US soldiers in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan that some have surely expected to be welcomed by local churches. (There have been Christian churches in Iraq for two thousand years and in Pakistan for almost a century; I understand they are not unknown in Afghanistan.)

And, of course, as one who believes that what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine, I consider myself in territory occupied by people who believe that what’s theirs is theirs and what’s mine is negotiable, so not only that they are perfectly justified in taking my money through taxation to fund activities I find morally repugnant, that they are commanded to do so by Jesus.

How are we to act when the enemies we are called to love are part of the household of faith?

Does Jesus allow me to consider them my enemies? Or am I to accept them as “weaker brothers” and strive for “a spirit of unity” above all? (Or am I the “weaker brother” here?) The parable of the unforgiving servant leaves no doubt that I am to love them and forgive them whether they repent or not—have I truly repented of all my sins?—but am I to be silent in the face of ongoing injustice about which my oppressors feel no pangs of conscience? At what point do I have to shut up in the face of their complaints that I’m trying to do the Holy Spirit’s job? (Were Jeremiah and John the Baptist, neither known for their warm fuzzies, “trying to do the Holy Spirit’s job”?) Is there no point at which I, a non-ordained layman, can say I’ve had enough and it’s time to dissociate myself from what I can see as nothing short of apostasy?

As our society goes into moral and legal freefall, I have spent probably too much time thinking about what the future holds, specifically in the area of personal liberty. I have concluded, as here, that those who take over the reins from the current band of thieves and murderers will be more oppressive, not less. I’m also guessing that it will be harder to love heathen invaders than I can imagine—I’m not doing a stellar job with the conservatives and liberals whose boot I feel, however lightly, on my neck—but I have reason to believe that God will bless me for doing so in ways I cannot understand, just as God blesses me through my enemies today.

If an invading foreign army has a noticeable number of Christians in it, however, my conservative and liberal brethren are going to have to ask the same questions I’m currently asking, so I’m raising the issues here now: if it’s OK for US Christians to inflict collateral damage on Afghans, it’s certainly OK for Chinese Christians to do the same here. And when—not if—they do, we will all be called on to welcome them in our churches, to please them, to build them up, so that with one heart and mouth we can glorify our God and father, and to love them as Jesus has loved us so that all men may know that we are his disciples. Will you do a better job then than I’m doing now?

The perceptive reader will note that the Chinese probably will not get here until after the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, the National Guard, the US Army’s NORTHCOM, and the local militarized police forces have gotten us accustomed to being occupied by Christians. They are already practicing maneuvers in urban areas, and the safe money says that the military will behave here just as it has overseas, which means we can look forward to shock and awe and collateral damage. “Give, and it will be given back to you.”

If you think I’m crazy, think back to the war against the Confederacy. The Union soldiers considered the Southerners their fellow citizens, but they also considered them Untermenschand treated them accordingly, as Sherman’s march through Georgia and Sheridan’s march through the Shenandoah are irrefutable proof. Equip that same attitude with twenty-first century weapons and the misery to be inflicted on anyone who resists the government of Roe v. Wade, OSHA, FEMA, and ObamaCare can scarcely be imagined. And the perpetrators are coming to a church near you.

I’m nowhere near ready for that day. How about you?

1The Roman invasion was in some measure at the invitation of the Jews to settle a civil war, so this last sentence is true inversely to the degree that Jewish Christians welcomed the Romans.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I knew that Andy, a guy in my Boy Scout troop whose basic decency was lost on the “cool” crowd and us wannabes, had one younger brother. But it was the brother I didn’t know he had who, like the eighth son of Jesse of Bethlehem, has been the member of that family I most remember now. He’s the first person I think of when I need to be reminded that God rewards those who “do not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (Ex 23:2).

Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle, used to host a day of bicycle races every summer for every category from kids on trikes to adults on expensive imported racing machines. Perhaps the years have collapsed together as my memory ages, but it seems to me that the adult race was won that year by Bruce Gustafson, whose name is enshrined on the wall of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.

Billy was perhaps a rising third grader that day. If he wasn’t the smallest kid who lined up for the race in his age category, the story is better if he was. At any rate, I heard the guy with the starter’s pistol point up Island Crest Way tell them at least twice, “The race is to the first traffic cone and back,” before firing the gun. I don’t know who rode the fastest that day, but I do know (again, subject to memory modifications) who was slowest: Billy.

You can guess the rest. The hotshots went frantically past the first traffic cone to the second. Meantime, Billy turned around at the first cone and came back, finishing while the pack was making the turn at the second cone. He braked just after crossing the line and looked at the judges as if to say, “Well, here I am. I did what you told me. Now what?”

Now what, indeed. I’m glad I wasn’t one of the judges who had to decide what to do then, especially since Billy’s father was the mayor. What would you do? Would you give Billy the blue ribbon and tell the other kids, “It’s a hard lesson for you, but you should have followed instructions”? Would you rerun the race, or redefine the course as what the faster racers raced and give Billy a special prize?

I don’t remember what they did. But I’ll never forget the expression on Billy’s face when he braked at the finish line: “Here I am. I did what you told me. Now what?”

Billy got it right that day, and I expect he’s made a lifestyle of getting it right, whatever his “it” is. But I’m no Billy, though we share the distinction of going against the crowd. And just as the other boys in that race could ride circles around Billy, the Christians I’m trying to take on in this blog run circles around me when it comes to spiritual disciplines. If I need to see a lost cause apart from God’s grace in Christ, I can always look in the mirror.

But one place I’m willing to take the risk of going it alone is in the area of neighborliness: if God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to do for others what we would have them do for us, then politics—some people extorting others’ wealth and using it for purposes the producers consider repugnant—is wrong, and Christians have no business being part of the process, if for no other reason than that it makes us unwelcome when we go to share the good news of Christ with our political opponents.

So if you want to talk about my sins, that’s fine. I’ve got plenty to keep the discussion going long into the night. But eventually we need to talk about why the church that was so influential and did so much good in the early days of the European settlement of this continent has become irrelevant at best today. I would suggest that the answer is her replacement of biblical neighborliness with Progressive politics.

Bruce Gustafson was a hero to me during my short bicycle racing career. I wish he had pulled a Billy when his contemporaries, to no one’s benefit, followed Uncle Sam to their deaths in Vietnam. I doubly wish today’s evangelicals were not so eager to have their children follow the pack to the second traffic cone in Afghanistan and the war on liberty that is the War on Drugs.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Connecting Some Dots

There’s a rumor on the blogosphere that President Obama has a litmus test for military officers. He’s supposedly asking them if they would be willing to fire on US citizens and dismissing those who would not. Rumor has it that considers this just another tinfoil hat conspiracy theoryI can’t find it on Snopesand they might be right. It could be that the President has not issued such an order and even that the question is not being asked in an official capacity. So, as Romans 13 says, if we’ve done nothing wrong, we have nothing to fear from the government, correct?
Ummm, not so fast.
Was God watching when President Obama took the oath of office last month? Did he care what went on? Specifically, did he notice that the Bible used in the swearing-in had belonged to Abraham Lincoln?
What is Mr. Obama’s relationship to God? Does he believe that he is a sinner who deserves eternal separation from God because of his sins and that the only way for him to escape that condemnation is to surrender his life to Jesus? Or is it more likely that to him (as to his predecessor) “God says: ‘What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips?’” (Ps 50:16)?
If the evangelical church in the US is going to offer its children to the military service of a man who misuses the Bible, can they not expect him to treat them as Abraham Lincoln treated his enemies? Mr. Lincoln was best known, and is indeed celebrated, for sending the military to fire on those he considered his fellow citizens. In the name of the Constitution, he violated the Constitution, suspending habeas corpus and jailing journalists and magistrates in the Union who expressed their putative First Amendment rights by disagreeing with him. Can we, the church of Jesus Christ, expect anything else from a man who openly and proudly follows in his footsteps?
Does Mr. Obama consider the Constitution the law of the land in anything other than name? (For that matter, do evangelicals who support the War on Drugs or Social Security or the extrajudicial killing of US citizens consider the Constitution the law of the land in anything other than name?) If the funds extorted from those who oppose abortion to pay for abortion through the Affordable Health Care Act are a “tax” (according to Bush appointee John Roberts) and taxes are necessary to fund the government that is essential to human life, what right do we have to protest having to pay it? Ah, silly mewe don’t have the right to protest, except in the free speech zones invented by Mr. Bush.
What reason do we have to fear that those free speech zones will be moved to the FEMA camps that are now being used to pasture goats? Can we expect that the guards being recruited and trained to staff those camps would actually get to put their training to use? And can’t those billion and a half hollow-point bullets have been procured for some other purpose than providing those who don’t want to go to camp with an alternative?
You reap what you sow. Mr. Bush declared that the invasion of Iraq was designed to provide Iraqis with the same freedoms Americans have at home. He gave them those freedoms courtesy of “shock and awe” and “collateral damage,” to the cheers of the evangelical church in the US. Though the mission was accomplished, at least according to the fanfare and photo op, I would certainly forgive Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian, Libyan, and Palestinian Christians (to say nothing of Muslims) for praying that US evangelicals have the privilege of living under the conditions they bless the rest of the world with.
So even if Snopes is right, I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon have the opportunity to enjoy the freedom the Iraqis and Afghans had under occupation by the US military.