Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Election Day, November 6, 2012: A Victory for The Church

Facebook is a wonderful resource for gathering informal, social research, and on November 7, 2012, the day we found out Barack Obama was reelected to four more years in the White House, I think what I saw in my newsfeed was the birth pangs of something wonderful, an emerging disillusioned community.

While many people are bitter now, I think many faithful people will find themselves being strengthened by all of this. After seeing the reactions of many older conservative Christians in the days after the election, I have begun to think that perhaps many of this older church generation are coming to feel something that many younger Christians have been feeling for some time now.

Perhaps we did not arrive at these feelings by the same means, and perhaps the means are in conflict in some significant ways. The outcome, nonetheless, might bring solidarity between the younger and the older generations in an interesting way.

There exists a lot of talk from the older conservative Christian community (CCC) suggesting that this election has revealed something about this nation and the population that makes it up. But, more than revealing something to the CCC about the nation (that it is decidedly not a Christian nation) I am hoping that the election will reveal to the CCC something about the CCC’s purposes, and I think it has.

That the nation has not agreed with the values of the CCC has led many of this community to see this election as a sign that the people have failed us and that this is the end of Christian values and basic morality being considered and executed by the government. In other words, many of the CCC are making noise that they might be giving up on taking back our country for God and the whole failing (or is it failed) Christendom project.

Let me say this. I do not, as of yet, wish to fully discredit the fact that the United States was largely a Christian nation in which many of its leaders considered many Christian principles in developing the nation, but, at its best, it has always been a mixing of two institutions, church and state, some decisions perhaps being made for the best interest of the church, but some decisions certainly being made for the best interest of the state, not that the two are always mutually exclusive. The two were never synonymous, but the overarching Christendom project in America led many a Christian to assume the two were synonymous, whether this was warranted or not.

In the end, whether it could have gone another way or not, this Christendom project has led to a domestication of the faith in which the church takes a back seat to social issues (because supposedly the Christian government will handle all issues rightly) and evangelism is largely something done within the church walls (because suppsedly there is really no one to evangelize to other than perhaps the wayward Christian, since everyone in the nation is Christian).

These realities have led to unneeded difficulties for my Church generation. In a world where Christendom is falling apart and postmodern pluralism is producing people who are not just indifferent to Christianity, but are creating a push back, my generation has to make up lost ground.

Engaging with the world in social issues and in evangelism to the lost outside the walls of the church are realities that were never modeled for us. We are having to create anew a body that will engage in seeing justice done when the government fails us and a body that will stand up to real opposition to those in the world who hate us and are not ashamed to say so. We are having to rediscover what it means to love and fight for our enemies.

Because of the issues we have faced in the wake of the faith’s domestication because of the Christendom project, many of my generation have never really cared for the older generations focus on Christendom. Instead, we have placed all our cards, not in a blended effort of church and state, but in the church, in the community of believers. (For more on this sort of thought, see my previous two blog posts).

This is not to say that the church does not engage in politics, but it is to say that we do not place our faith in that project. We do not see our victories in elections. We call governments to task, but we also hold the faith community accountable to see justice and mercy displayed to the poor and marginalized.

Unfortunately, many of us feel as if we have been banging our heads against the wall with the older branch of the CCC.   Many of us feel misunderstood. While liberalism in the church has often tried to engage in social projects without so much as a nod to Christ, this is not how all of us who are concerned with social issues wish to practice our hopes, social or otherwise, through the church. Unfortunately, many of an older conservative branch have reacted to liberalism by disassociating with social projects altogether and have instead wished to see social morality dealt with in the political sphere. Hopefully, this is about to change. The Facebook posts sure do seem to suggest so.

In the wake of the CCC’s disillusionment, perhaps the last vestiges of Christendom will fall.  I hope that the CCC really does realize now that the project of seeing the government execute their dreams and to uphold their morals is a failed project and that our only true hope in a human community lies in the church, with Christ as its head.

This is not to discredit the past, but it is a call to move forward. Many are now admitting that they are not going to see their world impacted by a benevolent and moral government. So, they are left with one hope. If state fails us, we are left with the much more lasting church. I hope that all the efforts to see good done in the world will shift from primarily being about a vote to being about acting as the church.

For many of the younger generation of the Church, the Christendom project in the United States has been an unfortunate, residual reality that has slowed us down in our Kingdom pursuits. Now that the CCC sees the nation as too far gone, perhaps they will leave the project to die and will join us in seeing our values and ethics being executed, not by a worldly nation white washing our own tombs, but by a living and vital church.

To the older generation who has become disillusioned by this election, you have two options. One, you can give up and just wait for the end, or, two, you can shift your hope from the government and towards the church. I hope you will choose the latter. She is the bride of Christ, worth fighting for. She is His hands and feet. She will persevere, and the gates of Hades will not defeat her. This is a time of purging in the church. Many young people are giving up on her and moving towards a postmodern pluralism that fights against the church. I think the church will only grow stronger. With greater challenges and greater persecution, the church grows ever greater in strength. This is an exciting time.

Do not allow your disillusionment to squelch your imagination of hope; instead, shift your hope to the Church.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why We Should All Be Concerned With Social Justice

            More on the politics of the Kingdom of God

To my friends in the Church, both of the left and the right,

We all must concern ourselves with the justice of the Kingdom, the justice that seeks restoration in the midst of brokenness, and we should be concerned for such restoration in the world, not least for the sake of our own hearts.

In the height of the political season, there exists much conversation on the condition of social justice and human rights within our nation. Both sides hurl insults at each other, each assuming that their policies are more considerate than the policies of the opposing side. The right often suggests that too much giving causes an entitlement mentality, and the left often suggests that the government has a blind responsibility for redistributing wealth, no matter the cost. One side (right) runs the risk of villainizing the poor by suggesting that they simply live in squalor because of their own choices, which is often more of a reaction to the left than to real experiences with the poor, while the other side (left) runs the risk of self-righteously redistributing their own moral responsibility by legislating that people who they see as “rich” take on the responsibility of seeing justice done. At their worst, both sides run the risk of blinding themselves to the plight of the poor.

The issue is much bigger than I will be able to address in this post; so, I know that what I am about to say might seem idealistic and naive, but I am not claiming that what I want to suggests is the great answer to social injustice. I simply want to say something very specific and practical. First of all, we should all recognize that there are marginalized people in this world (and even in our United States) that suffer by no fault of their own. We have an obligation to help. Second, once we see the plight for what it is, we cannot simply legislate a solution to a slow and inefficient government that can only provide by taking from others as it sees fit. In other words, we all must act.

There is a learning opportunity that will be available to us when we loosen on our narrow solutions. For the people to the right, avoiding the extreme means dropping the ancient prejudice that all suffer due to their own sins (John 9:2). Such recognition will make people a more active and caring community who uses our great privileges to benefit others. For the people to the left, avoiding the extreme means dropping the modern prejudice that big government is the great hope for human progress (Matt 6:33). Such recognition will make our efforts more affective by being direct answers to the issues of poverty.

As I get to my main point, I must say this. I am not suggesting that the person of the right or the left are inherently guilty of the extremes, but it seems that we are in a season of extremes, of reactionary motives. In the end, this is a call for persons of the right and the left to avoid blinding themselves to the poor, whether by denial or delegation of personal responsibility to the government.

I say all of this to say the thing I have wanted to talk about this whole time. What will happen when we take personal (and communal/Church) responsibility so that we are directly in contact with the poor: We will learn a hard lesson. What is this lesson we will learn? We will learn we have turned a blind eye to the poor for so long because the poor are often very difficult to serve. Just as the affluent has the tendency to move to extremes, so too do the poor.

When you actually reach out to the poor with what you see as a great and restorative hand, a solution that might just get them back on their feet, you will find many do not want it. Many will take your grace and mercy and abuse them. Many will exploit you, just as they exploit the government right now.

So, why help? While there are certainly many levels to this answer, I want to talk of a practically spiritual answer. First, we learn something of what it means to be merciful as God is merciful. Just as He offers a helping and restorative hand to the lost (and therefore, spiritually poor) world and is rejected time and time again, so too will we find that some perversely choose their poverty, as we might have always assumed, but that has not stopped God and shouldn’t stop us. We learn the personal worth of love as we feel the sting of having that love thrown back in our face. Second, the reward is great when finally we are able, by God’s grace, to help a person find restoration. After rejection after rejection, when grace is finally accepted, our hearts will rejoice more than they would if everyone we met simply took what we have to offer.

Therefore, serving the poor becomes an experience of sanctification, becoming more like God through experiencing something of what He experiences as He reaches out to all of us in love. Through loving the often unlovable, we come to better appreciate God’s relentless pursuit of each of us in our own rebellion, and through actually being a part of the restoration of a few, we begin to understand the joy God has in restoring each of us.

To those of the right, I know today is a day of disappointment, but it is not time to give up. Even while the government has taken a different path, people still should move to see their convictions being actualized in the world around them. Your duty does not end when you are out voted. You still have personal strength and means to see great things happen.

To those of the left, I know today is a day of victory, but the battle has not been won. Even while the government has taken your desired path, people still should move to see their convictions being actualized in the world around them. Your duty does not end with your convictions being legislated to the government. You are not off the hook. You still have personal responsibility to restore. You cannot simply make it someone else’s problem.

To us all: Be the Church.

Bright blessings,

Rev. Tab M. Miller