Friday, December 15, 2017

God on Our Side

"Christian witness" is a fungible concept.  Is it soteriology, preaching about the damnation of all humankind and salvation only made possible by a certain faith in a certain Jesus Christ?  Is it service, where the first of all is last of all and servant of all?  Is it caring for the poor, the sick, those in jail?  "Lord, when did we see you?"  Both, and a little bit of neither?  And if you don't serve the gospel but say you are a Christian, do you fail because of your hypocrisy?  Or because of what you choose to treat as paramount?

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.
But integrity, and my integrity?  Whose integrity are we talking about?  Indeed, what integrity are we talking about?

Yes, there are all sorts of qualifications and nuances to make, and our culture, in fact, champions many biblical values (the recent #MeToo campaign and the fight against racism are but two examples). But there is no question that from a biblical perspective, our nation has lost its moorings. Nearly everyone does what is right in his own eyes, which results in moral, psychological, and social suffering unheard of in our history. The gap between rich and poor, the number of abortions and fatherless children, the steady rise of drug addiction, the increasing sympathy with euthanasia—these are but a few indicators that something is deeply wrong.

There's more than a little hyperbole there.  "Moral, psychological, and social suffering unheard of in our history"?  Slavery doesn't come in there?  The numerous economic busts of the 19th century?  The Gilded Age itself?  Reconstruction in the South?  The struggles of labor unions in the early 20th century, for civil rights in the mid and late 20th century?  This is a country that, despite the preponderance of the words of Jesus about the poor and being our brother's keeper (what does John the Baptist say to those who come hear him, according to Luke?  He doesn't preach salvation through the cross, but economic and social justice toward the poor as the harbinger of the Messiah.), has never really given the poor any more consideration than that poverty is a choice at best and a moral failing at worst.  There is also an argument to be made from Scriptures about our stewardship responsibilities for the earth and all that inhabits it, a responsibility we belatedly took up in the '70's, and have decisively renounced through the current Cabinet.  Yes, we do generally do what is right in our own eyes, but whose eyes truly see what God says is right?  And who does God place in judgment over the rest of us?  Is the servant who is last of all also master of all?

But this is looking for disagreements; the point is to see where we are unified, and that should be on the issue of power:

Some have argued along these lines: We have the best chance in decades of reversing Roe v. Wade, protecting the religious liberty of the church, and reversing unjust and immoral laws! Let’s say for the sake of argument that such a political agenda could be enacted in the next few years by the means chosen—electing and supporting officials whose behavior is widely viewed as immoral. Will our political enemies be convinced of the righteousness of our moral agenda? Or will they think we are hypocrites who are using political power to force our wills on others? Will they more deeply respect us, or will they more deeply resent us and disbelieve our faith?

When combative conservative Christians refuse to suffer patiently in the public square, retaliate when insults are hurled at them, and do not refrain from the appearance of evil, they sabotage not only their political cause but the cause they care about the most: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I'm not keen on the idea of "patient suffering" especially because today everyone thinks of their own suffering as a badge of identity or purity or humanity, and it is a luxury of those who don't truly suffer privations (except brief) to claim a trauma that can make them important enough to be a "victim."  "Patient suffering" also carries either the demeaning connotation of being deserved (and that can lead to idolatry) or being redeemed (when God will reward you for your patience and constant attention to your misery).  The heart of the gospel is not that suffering will somehow make you free, but that humility will release you from being concerned that you have suffered at all.  "Man is born to suffering as surely as birds fly," says one of Job's friends, and surely that is as much as we need to say on the matter.  "Suffering" too easily turns the focus on me; "humility" forces me to turn my focus on others.

I had written all that, and was pondering it's usefulness, when I caught wind of this Twitter thread:

 The crux of the issue is there.  It is what the Hebrew prophets denounced as idolatry; not the worship of bits of wood and metal, but of those things which we can make or control, and which are not God. The problem is not politics:  it is your relationship to the living God.  And the question is:  what is your witness, and how is your kerygma proclaimed?  If your witness is to metaphysics (soteriology), then you think words matter most.  If your witness is to God in the world ("Lord, when did we see you?"), then actions matter.  Do I convince my opponents of the righteousness of my cause through words (argument) or through actions (deeds)?  If my deeds persuade you, then perhaps you will join me, perhaps even come to understand why I do what I do; call it "slow sculpture."  If my words persuade you, you will go along to get along, perhaps even to gain the authority of words yourself, so you can persuade or even control others.  Roy Moore was all about controlling others:  homosexual acts should be illegal, abortions criminalized, certainly people disallowed from holding public office because of their religious beliefs.  He pursues the power of words:  the power to define who is acceptable, and who is not, and why some acts are illegal, and others are not; and then the words become our idols.

Power is what this response noted in Ms. Plott's Twitter thread is about:

That's about setting boundaries, about deciding who is in, and who is out, and keeping the lines drawn and the fences up.  Who is acceptable, who is not, and who is to be despised, and why.  Ironically, exactly the kind of this Jesus was accused of ignoring, according to the gospel stories.

There is undoubtedly an Advent lesson in there somewhere.

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