Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Washing feet, not waging political war

Posted on April 5, 2013 at 2.56 pm

Q. I am wondering how you think the republican party can fight the mass media on their anti church moves? Although I believe in science the Church is a pedestal from which many derive principles. — worstthatcouldhappen, from tumblr.

A. Here’s the thing: I don’t think it’s the job of the Republican Party to defend the church. And I’m not super interested in somehow fighting the “mass media” (an increasingly difficulty to define term in the internet age) because it says stuff we don’t like about the church.

Let’s start with the first point: Church and politics in many ways should not mix. Should our politics be informed by and congruent with our trust in Christ? Unquestionably.

But the church is not a political movement (remember, his “kingdom is not of this world”), and the very last thing I want to see happen is for the church to be wrapped up in or confused with or championed by any political party. It’s damaging to both sides, but especially to the mission and reputation of the church.

Greg Boyd says it well:

Kingdom people are called to pledge their allegiance to God alone, not to any nation, government, political party or ideology. Because Kingdom people are under the rule of God alone, they are not under any other rule. Kingdom people are thus called to be “anarchists” (meaning without [“an”] human authority [“archy”]). Not only this, but the main task of Kingdom people is to keep the Kingdom “holy” — meaning “set apart,” “separate” and “consecrated.” We are to take great care to live lives that are set apart from the ideals, values and methods of the world’s politics.

Now, on to the question of the mass media and stopping attacks on the church. My best suggestion: Let’s be more Christ-like.

Until the kingdom Jesus started with his death and resurrection is fully realized, there will always be people, both in and out of the media, who disagree with and even actively dislike Christianity. The Great Commission is designed to change this, of course, but realistically in our lifetimes this segment of the population is not going away.

What can we change? Our own behavior. As Christians, we’re supposed to be identifiable by our love, but here in America, frankly, we’re not. In fact, just the opposite is true:

When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images? : “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”)

This question reminds me a lot of the discussion over how to get more women to be libertarians. Many people take the position that there’s something wrong with women; I suggest that we libertarians instead work on improving our own pitch (and manners).

So how can the church go about changing our own behavior? Most simply, we should above all prioritize loving God and loving people. Practically, I think this looks like the church doing a lot less politics and a lot less being afraid of people who aren’t or don’t like us—and a lot more focusing on how to serve any and everyone.

And while this might have the pleasant side effect of making more people in the media like us, more important, it’s the main thing we’re supposed to be doing as Christians:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.[…] God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:8, 16b-18)

I too think the church is invaluable; that’s exactly why I don’t want to see her battling off the media with the support of the GOP. We’re called to wash feet, not wage political war.

And if it doesn’t work? Well, people said worse things about Jesus.

Love, Sacrifice, and Ayn Rand

Posted on September 25, 2012 at 6.05 pm

Q. “To love a person is selfish because it means that you value that particular person, that he or she makes your life better, that he or she is an intense source of joy—to you. A ‘disinterested’ love is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be neutral to that which one values. The time, effort and money you spend on behalf of someone you love are not sacrifices, but actions taken because his or her happiness is crucially important to your own. Such actions would constitute sacrifices only if they were done for a stranger—or for an enemy. Those who argue that love demands self-denial must hold the bizarre belief that it makes no personal difference whether your loved one is healthy or sick, feels pleasure or pain, is alive or dead.”  Could you elaborate your views on this topic in relation to the self-sacrificial love Jesus portrayed? (P.S.: this isn’t political philosophy, but does just plain ol’ philosophy count?) – Moriah, from the internet.

A. Ah, Objectivism. I’ve read and enjoyed Ayn Rand, but on so many issues we must part ways. This quote comes from one Gary Hull, writing for the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. It’s a selection from an essay which I’d suggest, not to put too fine a point on it, misunderstands love in just about every way possible—and particularly the love which you mentioned, namely the love of Christ. The main problem, I think, is Hull’s gross confusion of different types of love (romantic love, for instance, is not the same as friendship, or a parent’s love for a child—though English leaves us with just one word for them all) and really unfortunate misunderstanding of what the Christian concept of selfless love, or “agape,” entails.

The selfless aspect of agape love is that it requires that we put what is best for the beloved over our own desires. This is not unconditional love in the sense that Hull seems to understand it, where we would “condemn death camps but send Hitler a box of Godiva chocolates.” That’s not love; that’s foolish indulgence. It’s not best for Hitler to have a box of chocolates; it’s best for him to be brought to justice for his actions and, if at all possible, be brought to understand why they were wrong and how he might become different and better. To see how absurd Hull’s example is, get rid of Hitler and say that your significant other has gone mad, murdered someone, and doesn’t think their action was wrong. Would anyone think the loving course of action is to give the SO chocolates? No, of course not—it is in fact our love for them which would require us to inform the police and hopefully get the SO psychiatric help.

In short, Hull takes the vapid, greeting card love we’re encouraged to engage in at Valentine’s Day, sets it up as Love with a capital L, and then handily tears down his straw man. But a straw man indeed it is, and I’m rather disappointed to see an argument of this caliber written by so well-educated a man—let alone published.

“Why would God cause us to be ruled by murderers?”

Posted on September 30, 2011 at 4.54 pm

Today while scrolling through Facebook, I noticed several friends had commented on the U.S. government’s assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was accused of terrorism and killed without any due process of law.  Now, al-Awlaki was, from what I’ve read, most likely guilty, but that doesn’t change the fact that absent a trial, presentation of evidence, and a conviction by jury, his death was unconstitutional — illegal — a government-sanctioned murder.

That said, I don’t here want to discuss the politics of the situation.  Instead, I’d like to address one of the reactions I read among my Facebook friends’ posts:

“Why would God cause us to be ruled by murderers?”

The question no doubt alludes to a deterministic reading of Romans 13 which, combined with the Calvinist perspective I know the query’s author holds, would ultimately lead to the conclusion that God wants murderers in charge:  It’s God’s plan to have those who have bravely served him executed for their faith; the Holy Spirit perhaps motivated Madeleine Albright’s declaration that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children was “worth it” to advance U.S. foreign policy goals; Jesus installed the government of North Korea, under whose devastating rule 1 million people died of famine in the 1990s.

But wait — that doesn’t sound like God.

That doesn’t sound like Exodus 34:6-7:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

Or Isaiah 63:9:

In all their distress [God] too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old.

Or Amos 5:14-15:

Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.

Or Micah 7:18-19:

Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

Or I John 4:16-17;

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

Or James 1:27:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Does God want us to be ruled by murderers, whether in the U.S. or Iran?  Is it his plan to have children die by the hundred thousand?  Does it glorify him when a million people starve to death?

No.  No.  A hundred trillion times no.

There’s a reason the conviction that God orchestrated the placement of murderers in high office is so uncomfortable.  It should be uncomfortable.  It should hurt more than anything, because it’s wrong more than anything.

You see, if we picture a God who is not interested in justice,  who does not show mercy, who is eternally against the vast majority of the human race, whose glory is best polished by the blood of murdered innocents — and indeed, if we assume he is responsible for the placement of every ruler and then survey history, this is the conclusion we must reach — whose ultimate characteristic is not love, then we are not accurately picturing the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

The God we see perfectly and completely revealed in Jesus is a God of love.  He would rather die for his enemies than kill them.  He would rather be a servant, obedient even unto death, to redeem those who had betrayed him than let them remain in bondage.  He would rather suffer than make any of us suffer.

He is beautiful.

And he did not cause us to be ruled by murderers.

So who did?

Well, that’s a complicated question.  The basic fact that we accept as Christians that Jesus had to redeem sinners answers part of it:  People are sinners.  They choose to do wrong — evil — things.  Sometimes they do it while holding high office.

But part of the explanation lies elsewhere.  At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus went into the wilderness, where he was fasting.  After 40 days without food, the devil appears to tempt him.  He offers three different temptations, and the third one, according to Matthew 4, goes like this:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

What’s interesting is Jesus’ response:

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

There’s no refutation of the devil’s claim to authority over “all the kingdoms of the world.”  Jesus says that worshiping the devil would be wrong, but he never denies that he is in charge of every government.  Similarly, the devil is called the “god of this age” in II Corinthians 4:4 who “controls the whole world,” according to 1 John 5:19.  It is he who would cause us to be ruled by murderers.

I say all that to conclude:  Is God ultimately in control?  Yes, absolutely.  But does that mean he controls, or is responsible for, or is ok with all that happens?  No, absolutely notGod does not always get his way:

History rather frequently reflects the will of creatures who oppose the sovereign will of the Creator. The Bible clearly teaches that God unequivocally does not will sin. But obviously sin still occurs. Similarly, the Bible explicitly states that it is not God’s will that any person would perish (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9). But many nevertheless do perish. Hence, it is clear that God’s will is not always accomplished, and God’s heart is frequently grieved.

Only in this light does Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem make any sense:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matt. 23:37)

The heart of God, clearly, is a heart which grants freedom, and which sometimes suffers profoundly because of it.

So why would God cause us to be ruled by murderers?  Answer:  He wouldn’t.

He is love, and love is antithetical to murder.  If we can see that with the small amount of love we have, how much more must God despise the untimely death of any person?