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.

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