A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle

The political and social atmosphere in America is playing into the hands of the radical fringe.

The events unfolding, the things going on in the world right now, are troubling from many angles. Racial injustice, polarization, the centrifugal force of political fringes, rhetoric over substance, political violence, conspiracy theories, fake news, the increasing control of popular speech by private monopolies of information, the abandonment of all semblance of non-bias by most media, the ability to choose our own tailored news, the hatred people are developing for others who don’t think like them, the unwillingness to show respect, listen and engage in real dialogue – these are things that are deeply troubling in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

The political, cultural, sociological, and philosophical winds are swirling chaotically and mixing at all levels into a tornadic gale that is bordering on dangerous. These forces are not coming from outside us but from within. Even if our present chaos is influenced by outside sources, they are merely putting pressure on elements already within us. “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”

For four years, people have been blaming Donald Trump for every evil under the sun. (Pardon the hyperbole.) People have been lumping all Trump supporters into one group and condemning them (or so the rhetoric often goes). People have had good reason to be critical. (No hyperbole or rhetoric there.) But let’s take a step back (it may need to be a giant step) and attempt a look at the bigger picture.

Trump gained support over more than a dozen career Republican politicians in 2016 and was elected president over a person, in Hillary Clinton, who, perhaps more than anyone else, represented the entrenched political machine in America. Bernie Sanders mounted a credible offense with broad support against that machine but could not prevail.

I believe people gravitated to Trump and Sanders for the same reasons: they are tired of politics as usual. They feel that our political system has broken down. It has become big business designed to perpetuate power and control, rather than serve the people. Congress would rather do nothing and let presidents wield executive orders on issues that need their attention and a compromise solution (like immigration, for instance) because they don’t want to jeopardize offending their bases.

They are seemingly more motivated by a desire to remain in office, maintain control and serve themselves than the people who elect them. There is no give and take (in the good and appropriate sense) anymore. At least, not on anything that hits the hot buttons of political platforms.

We only have two choices. Those two choices are becoming increasingly unpalatable for people on both sides of the aisle, but practical wisdom suggests that voting third party candidates means taking a knee as the real game plays on without you.

Polarization is a serious issue that can’t be ignored. It is exasperated by social media that is designed for quick, shallow and knee-jerk reactions that cater to our worst instincts. Almost 100% of political campaigning involves demonizing opponents and “the other party”. We have become a nation that accepts rhetoric over substance.

The extreme polarization has given rise to the voices of the radical fringes who threaten to pull us apart. In a “normal” world, those voices would seem like largely inconsequential and impotent shrills in the distance. Today, they sound like megaphones on the Capitol lawn, infiltrating into the very House of the People.

The Democratic party has always been more diverse (in my lifetime) and has always had its diverse, radical fringes. The conservative fringes have largely operated outside the fold until recently.

I dare say the conservative fringes are more dangerous, ultimately, than the liberal ones, perhaps because they are more unified by common principles. They also bear arms like political badges.

The fringes are pulling good people from the center because the center has largely been abandoned today. It’s a no-man’s land where no grass grows, and nothing happens. People in the center are labeled “other” by the people on either side and ignored by both.

We need a “radical” change. By radical, I don’t mean extreme or fanatical. I mean a different approach to politics and dialogue with each other. We need common sense and a commitment to a bigger picture than political partisanship. We need someone who can bridge the gaps that divide us. We need a voice that brings people together on the common ground that unites us, rather than forcing all conversations to the battle lines.

Continue reading “A Plea for Healing and Tending to the Garden in the Middle”

How Should Christians Act in Times Like These?

If we aren’t responding to current events in ways that display love and the fruits of the Spirit, we are “doing it wrong”

Tyler Merbler from USA, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The events that are unfolding in the United States are troubling from many angles. Many Christians pinned their immediate and long term hopes on Donald Trump. With Biden as President, the fight against the killing of the unborn has been dealt a significant blow.

But there are many other problems. The racial divide, polarization, political fringe groups, rhetoric ratcheting up to the inciting of violence, a willingness to resort to violence, conspiracy theories, fake news, increasing control of popular speech by private monopolies of information, an abandonment of all semblance of non-bias by most media, our ability to choose our own tailored news, hatred for people who don’t think like us, an unwillingness to show respect, listen and engage in real dialogue – these are things that are deeply troubling in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus said we would have tribulation in this world. He didn’t tell us to take up arms and fight it. He said we should follow him, spread the Gospel and make disciples.

His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus didn’t come to empower the Zealots, but to turn them into self-sacrificing servants of God and His kingdom – spreading the Gospel and making disciples.

Islam spreads by the sword. The Gospel spreads by people who wash others’ feet, turn the other cheek and love God, their neighbors and their enemies. The Christian wields not a political flag, but a cross that he carries on his own back.

If we are going to fight for anything with biblical support, it would be “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”. (Luke 4:18-19) This was how Jesus described his own purpose on the day when he stood up in the temple and announced his ministry.

Should we not follow him?

Continue reading “How Should Christians Act in Times Like These?”

Heavenly Citizens In These Modern Times

What deserves our ultimate allegiance?

City Hall at Ephesus by Brooke Miller

Peter and Paul, the pillars of the Church, were clear that the only citizenship that counts is our citizenship in heaven. (Phil. 3:20) W are only “sojourners and exiles” in this world. (1 Peter 2:11)

Paul submitted to earthly authorities as though they had been established by God. (Rom. 13:1) He submitted to lashing by Jewish authorities five times! He appealed to his Roman citizenship, but, he clearly saw himself not a citizen of this world. He was a citizen of the kingdom of heaven that is coming.

He used his Roman citizenship to gain an audience for the gospel among the Romans, to be an ambassador for Christ as he spoke to people in the public squares. He used his credentials as a Hebrew scholar to gain an audience for the Gospel in the synagogues.

Paul submitted to the processes and protocols of Roman and Jewish authorities. He recognized their earthly authority over him. He appealed to that same authority, not for his own advantage, but for the purpose of advancing the kingdom of God.

When we get involved in politics in the 21st century, do we submit to the authorities established by God as Paul did? Paul boasted of his lashings. Paul used his Roman citizenship, not to get out of prison, but to get to Rome to support the followers of Christ there.

Do we count ourselves, first, as citizens of heaven? Paul longed to be with Chris. He used his time on this earth to advance the kingdom of God while he longed for the day when he would put off his perishable body and put on immortality.

Do we use our earthly citizenship not for our own advantage, but to advance the Kingdom of God? When we fight for tougher laws and tighter borders and the right to walk around without masks, are we fighting for the kingdom of God?

Paul said what needed to be said for the sake of the Gospel, but he accepted the earthly consequences of his focus on heavenly things. Paul lived in an earthly world that was hostile to him and everything that he stood for. He submitted to the world’s authority, but he did it in obedience to the authority of God for the advancement of the Gospel, the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God.

Sometimes, I wonder whether we resist authorities that do not advance our earthly objectives and appeal to political power and influence to secure our earthly advantage. I wonder how often we have it all wrong.

What are our priorities? To whom do we owe our ultimate allegiance? What are our ultimate goals? Are we seeking to advance the Kingdom of God at all cost, including the cost to ourselves and our own position in the world?

Paul used his station in life as a Jewish scholar and a Roman citizen not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the kingdom of God, to gain audience in front of people, and to spread the gospel. How do we use our station in life, our political power and religious knowledge? To whose benefit are our actions accumulating?

Are we fighting to protect and preserve our own families, communities and country in this world only to lose sight of our citizenship in heaven? Are we striving to save our lives only to lose our souls?

These are questions, not accusations. God knows the heart. I pose these questions in my own heart as write them.

Christian: Where is Your Focus?

If Christianity is true, individuals are not only more important, but incomparably more important, than nations.

Brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States (and anywhere around the world), I urge you to read this:

Don’t Let Your Politics Ruin Your Witness

If you don’t have the present time or inclination, consider at least this statement:

“[W]hen we blindly follow the agenda of party over the values of the kingdom, we are in danger of making politics our functional god. When our public discourse parrots the talking points of blue or red rather than the radical call of neighbor love, we are in danger of losing the credibility of our witness…..

“So how do we carry ourselves politically? Fuller spoke with characteristic wisdom on that issue as well: ‘If a wise man wishes to gain over a nation to any great and worthy object, he does not enter into their little differences, nor embroil himself in their party contentions; but, bearing good-will to all, seeks the general good: by these means he is respected by all, and all are ready to hear what he has to offer. Such should be the wisdom of Christians. There is enmity enough for us to encounter without unnecessarily adding to it.'”

“The gospel is offensive enough, so let’s allow people to be offended by it. When we replace the gospel with politics in our affections, we will draw the battle line in the wrong place and drown out the mesmerizing voice of Jesus beneath tired drone of petty partisan squabbles.”

I posted yesterday, Questions for Christians in America, out of frustration. My frustration is that so many Christians seem to be so colored by their politics that the Gospel is obscured in their rhetoric and the things they are focused on, at least on social media. The field is ripe for the harvest, and we seem to be stuck in out political tents, fixated on political platforms, defending actions Scripture condemns and  fighting for our own rights to a comfortable existence in which the world bows to us.

I don’t pretend sit in judgment on individuals in their personal walks with God. I don’t want to come across self-righteously. When I post things like that (and this), I am stirring up and exhorting myself and the tendencies I see within me. I don’t exempt myself from the fray.

But, I can’t stay silent. My soul grieves within me. We are missing opportunity to share the Gospel, to introduce people to love of Christ. Worse: we are turning people away from the Gospel by focusing too much on temporal things. We seem to be spending ourselves to protect institutions and current political positions, when eternity yawns ahead. Think about it:

“If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual.

“But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of the state or civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.”

–C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

Why do we spend so much time trying to reform a temporary nation when individuals with eternal value are getting lost in our rhetoric?

The following statement from Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, served in the last three Republican administrations, sums it up pretty well in an Op Ed in the NY Times (originally written in September 2016):

“Like water that refracts light and changes the shape of things, politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations and lack of charity. There is a good deal of hating and dehumanization going on in the name of Christ.”

We can – we must – do better for the Shepherd who died for us while we were yet sinners and gave us the blueprint for His purpose – to go into all the world spreading the Gospel (the Good news) of Christ.

Ceding Earthly Kingdoms and Seeding the Kingdom

Tower of David in Jerusalem, Israel.

In a discussion with Canadians, Krish Kandiah and Tom Newman, on the unbelievable Podcast with Justin Brierley (Agnostic ‘trying on’ church talks to a Christian – Tom Newman & Krish Kandiah), the conversation turned to the fact that Christians are a minority in Canadian and British society. The agnostic, Tom Newman, who experimented with Christianity in a podcast, commented about the value Christians bring to society, observing that Christians are particularly motivated to do good things. This led to an interesting dialogue.

Krish Kandiah, a pastor, observed that that the temptation of Christians as minorities in society is to go private, turn inward and become cloistered. That, however, he commented, is not the instruction from Jesus.  Jesus says you don’t light a candle to put it under a bushel. So, Krish Kandiah says,

“It becomes the obligation of the Christian minority to serve and bless the majority.”

What a difficult statement for an American Christian to hear! It almost doesn’t register. Did he really just say that?

It’s no coincidence that the interviewees were Canadian, and the host was British. Canada and Great Britain are decidedly post-Christian. The United States is heading that way too, though we don’t like to admit it. (Interestingly, Christianity is growing in other parts of the world like Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Muslim world, and Oceania, while remaining stable or declining in Anglo America and Europe.)

I think about these things in the context of the cultural wars that are raging in the United States. Christians are desperately fighting to hold on to a Christian consensus that was once known as the “moral majority”, but Christians have been losing ground. American society is incrementally moving the other way.

How do we deal with that? In the classic American Christian way, I wonder, “What would Jesus do?” More poignantly, what is God saying to us, American Christians, in this day and age?

Continue reading “Ceding Earthly Kingdoms and Seeding the Kingdom”