Friday, August 30, 2013

A Mind Game

Let's pretend that the woman who means the most to you [or just you, if you’re a woman] and I, as the apostle Philip was translated to Azotus, are translated to a deserted island where we’re told we’ll be there for a month. There’s enough on the island to make us comfortable, but only if we work together. So we stay for a month and then return. After we return, the lady is asked, “How was it?” She replies, “I would not have chosen to be there, and I wouldn't have chosen to be there with him, but apart from that, it was OK. Nothing bad happened. It wasn’t fantastic. It wasn’t bad. It was OK.”
In one sentence, describe how I would treat her for that to be her sincere response.
I would suggest that your one-sentence answer to my question would be your definition of basic human decency.
Did you imagine me saying to her, “I am my brother’s keeper. I answer only to God. I’m in charge. You will do as I say”?
Or did you imagine me saying, “What’s yours will be yours. Let’s [as equals] decide what’s yours, then let’s [as equals] work out how we’ll work together [as equals]”?
If the lady were not a Christian, which version of me would she be more likely to listen to present the gospel?
Which version of me would be more likely to “needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” after a month alone with a woman?
If it works for two, why would it not work for twenty, or twenty million?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Obama, and Evangelicals versus Me

One of the hardest things about going to church anymore is realizing that as much as my conservative fellow US evangelicals hate Barack Obama’s presidency, they would rather have him as president than a strict constitutionalist like Ron Paul, and they definitely prefer Mr. Obama’s mayhem to an experiment in liberty that would de-fund the murderous wars overseas and the caging of those whose activities they dislike but which the Bible nowhere authorizes them to punish, like druggies and prostitutes.
In short, they have little problem comparing Mr. Obama to Mssrs. Hitler, Mao, and Stalin, but they prefer him to me. My moral system is “What’s yours is yours.” Why that is so repugnant I can’t fathom, but it’s apparently worse than mass murder, let alone Mr. Obama’s comparatively minor rapacity.
It’s not that we disagree on everything. We agree that the biblical Jesus was the unique eternal Son of God who became a human being, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, and died a sacrificial death to purchase the salvation of those who (in some sense) repent of their sins and obey him. And we agree that Hitler, Mao, Stalin, and Obama are bad, at least until we start getting into the details.
But in everything we disagree on, they are on Mr. Obama’s side.
  • The welfare of the collective outweighs the rights of the individual.
  • The law is to be determined by the government; the government is not bound by the law.
  • Actions considered illegitimate for private individuals are permissible for government employees.
o   Actions that are malum in se (inherently evil, e.g., killing innocent people, extortion) are permitted to government employees.
o   Actions that are malum prohibitum (“evil” because they are prohibited, e.g., selling raw milk) are to be denied private individuals.
  • Private individuals acting in voluntary relationships cannot provide the collective with the necessities of life.
o   The government needs to employ full-time armed agents to deal with foreign and domestic miscreants.
o   Disputes must be decided by tax-funded courts.
o   Government must determine and enforce personal morality.
o   Government must determine what are and are not acceptable ways of making a living.
o   Schools should be funded by taxes so they can pass on the intellectual heritage of the collective.
o   Health care should be funded by taxes and includes restrictions on diet and activities.
o   Retirement should be funded by taxes on current workers.
You get the idea.
A good friend told me a while back that I am a minority of one who has not convinced anyone, and that it’s time to shut up. He’s probably right, but I take inspiration from another minority of one who didn’t convince anyone: Micaiah (mi ka-yahu, “[he] who is like the Lord”).
Like today’s evangelicals, King Jehoshaphat was a godly man: “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the example of his father's early years …. He sought his father's God and obeyed his commands … . So the LORD established Jehoshaphat's control over the kingdom of Judah” (2Ch 17:3–5).
Yet when evil King Ahab of Israel invited him to join in a needless war of aggression against the Syrians, he replied, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (1Ki 17:4). In perhaps the greatest show of stupidity in the Bible, after asking for a word from the Lord he ignored that word and sent many of his men (presumably) to their deaths. If success is measured in converts, Micaiah was a failure and Ahab was a stellar success.
As a result of Jehoshaphat’s stupidity, the Lord rebuked him: “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, the wrath of the Lord is upon you” (2Ch 19:2). The parallel of US evangelicals cheering their children off to fight needless wars overseas (most recently, ironically enough, in Syria) on behalf of a government headed by a man they despise is pretty plain to me: I’m writing this now because I do not want to share in the rebuke that will come to them. (I’m expecting to receive enough dreadworthy rebukes, thank you.)
But God’s word to Jehoshaphat will likely also be his word to my evangelical brothers: “There is, however, some good in you” (2Ch 19:3). I have received grace upon grace from them; how to weigh their kindness against their patent stupidity (however sincerely intended) I really don’t know, other than to call both what they are.
We have been called to tell our neighbors all over the world the good news of salvation in Christ. On what basis do we think they will listen to a church that prefers shedding blood on behalf of an increasingly ungodly society to an ethic that says “what’s  yours is yours” and works peacefully and peaceably to resolve differences?

The Vietnam Vet

We sat across the picnic table a few evenings ago. I’d heard him mention that he’d been a Marine in Vietnam, so I asked him to tell me his story. The two things that he said most emotionally were, “We couldn’t trust any of them,” and “When we got home, they spat on us in airports and called us baby killers.”
In a rare show of restraint, I didn’t remind him that Vietnamese babies did indeed die as a result of US military action, nor did I suggest that if the Mexicans or Chinese or Afghans were to invade the US, they wouldn’t be able to trust us either. Nor did I get a chance to ask whether he had been drafted or had enlisted. All I knew was that he was a human being who had done what he thought was an honorable thing and had been hated by those on both sides of the ocean whose welfare he thought he was fighting to protect.
And I really want to give him credit for thinking: I can’t imagine anyone going someplace he could get killed without thinking about it first. I’m guessing, but he had probably been told that the welfare of the nation depended on victory in Vietnam, that the American way of life was in jeopardy unless that war were won. And being a man of good will, he went there to do his part.
He had no way of knowing that ten years after he returned from Vietnam, the US army would beat a full-scale retreat and—nothing bad came of it, at least not within our borders, and not done by those my interlocutor went to fight. The war had been forgotten before it ended. I remember reading the newspaper headline about the retreat from Saigon, but it didn’t move me enough to make me buy the paper, and I suspect my reaction was not uncommon.
Countless human beings were killed or maimed in a war that turned out to have been for nothing. Who knew?
The Central Intelligence Agency was at that time arguably the most sophisticated information-gathering agency in the world, rivaled only by the KGB. The US military was arguably the best funded in the world, and gathering information is a big part of their job. I have a hard time believing that between the two of them they didn’t know that the US would be secure even if Vietnam fell. Yet somehow they didn’t tell the man in the street, let alone the soldiers it sent to become casualties.
Daniel Ellsburg and the Berrigan brothers did try to tell the man in the street. And it was the scruffs—the hippies and queers—who believed them and told the government to go to hell—beginning with those whose faith in the government led them to don uniforms. Good Christians remembered Romans 13 and submitted to authority—and got snookered.
What possible good could any government do that would make the damage it did to the man across the table—to say nothing of the sixty thousand dead and countless maimed US soldiers and the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese casualties—worth it? Does building schools or dams, or providing parks or unemployment insurance, make up for it? Or is there reason to believe that the state—the entity that supposedly justifies some people lording it over others—is entirely the wrong tool for the job of protecting people and their property from violence and deceit?
What possible good can such a state do to further the cause of Christ? How can Christians who have supported such an evil entity be credible when they claim that they have living inside them an omniscient God who guides them away from sin and toward righteousness? How is this letting our light so shine before men that they will see our good deeds and glorify our father in heaven?
Christians are called to tell the world about Jesus. Throwing our lot in with the state—in our case, a government that through either incompetence or malice told us untruths in the 1960s and 1970s and continues to do so today—is not the way to fulfill the Great Commission.