You’re supposed to be in church. Even if I’m home at my desk and on my computer Sunday morning, you’re supposed to be in church.
But being in church isn’t enough.
You must also be in the correct ‘church.’ That means no church at all, but an independent, fundamentalist Baptist sectarian ‘church.’ Here we meet a problem. Sects take to themselves the name ‘church.’ So how can we tell the churches we’re supposed to abandon from the sectarian gathering that IFBs tell us to attend? It comes down to this:
You may not be with Fundamentalists If…
You never heard sermons on “authority” except that of God and Scripture.
You never heard a sermon on one-way submission.
You never heard a sermon outlining what women cannot do.
You never heard women shamed for their clothes or appearance.
You never heard a sermon saying that girls who have sex are soiled.
You never saw pastors as Christian celebrities.
You never heard that you were a lesser Christian if you didn’t believe some secondary doctrine.
You never saw leaders fleece the flock or general church weirdness.
You always felt a profound respect and love for pastor’s service.
You were encouraged to study the Bible, church fathers, systematics, etc.
Like any cult, a state religion of selective, political piety needs liturgies. They need Holy Days. Memorial Day is a biggie, as is July 4. Patriotic songs are sung, and national doctrines and narratives [Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism] are recited. Heroes are celebrated [adoration of the saints]. Political litanies tell what we got wrong [confession]. There are predictions of glories [beatific vision] if we get it right, and prophecies of doom [civic hell] if we don’t. There are exhortations to vote [ballot as political sacrament], calls for more [working class] sacrifice [offerings], and appeals to re-consecrate to national purpose [more chauvinism].
To help set the spirit for the event, Sharefaith makes available a variety of suitably martial Memorial Day images. Pastors and worship committees use such things to remind us of stuff we won’t forget if we know what’s good for us. For a price, of course.
‘Suitably’ matters. A lot.
Lest we doubt that images seek very specific responses, imagine the uproar if a Memorial Day church service used this as a power point image.
Actually, ‘uproar’ is an understatement. We can reasonably expect that many would up and leave.
Others would offer diatribes. Conceivably, there would be some fist-fights. Certainly some would resign from church councils and boards. Other churches would sever pastoral relations. In some localities, a few bricks [or a Molotov Cocktail] might pass through a parsonage window, driving home the message that pastor needs to leave sooner, not later.
Yet for many in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other lands where the US military routinely conducts clandestine operations, the ‘Statue of Liberty’ image may be more indicative of their experience. This raises an issue that Christians in the US ought to consider.
Say an Iraqi man wanders into this service. Twelve years ago as a young teen, he lost his parents, siblings, four uncles and nineteen cousins. His admittedly lively birthday party was mistaken for a resistance cell. A US tank shelled his home. It collapsed. He alone survived and came to the US as a refugee.
What is our guest to make of this pageantry? What of the nationalistic hymns, prayers, narratives and other symbols? Attached to the Christian story, might not the riot of all things patriotic obscure the cross and glory of Christ for this guest? Might not this hinder gospel proclamation?
If as Mt 28:18-20 and Re 14:6 imply, the redeemed are from every nation, is not God’s purpose undermined by our unbridled nationalistic fervor? At some point, we must not say that this simply isn’t appropriate?
Ordinarily, the ‘Statue of liberty’ imagery would be equally inappropriate. This is not to say that the church might never have occasion to use it; but in her worship, the church has numerous, ever–appropriate Biblical images — the bread and cup, the basin and towel. A rich history of Christian art — ancient, classical and modern — illustrate every Biblical theme imaginable. Use those in worship.
While Christians should join to sing these songs at parades and picnics, should they be doing so in a church worship service? Do displays of patriotism have a place in Christian worship or should they be reserved for the local minor league baseball stadium?
That’s the rub.
It is just too easy for the church to be co-opted by secular, civic premises and systems of thought. All too easily, we become the ecclesial reflection of the politics of earthly power and glory. That it is an ecclesial reflection of the powers of this age might explain why the church is where it is.
William Barber said:
‘If your Gospel isn’t good news for those who are poor…then it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus.’
This can be extended to include all people. If your Gospel doesn’t visit orphans and widows in distress … if your Gospel isn’t peace to those who are weary of strife … if your Gospel isn’t healing for the sick … if your Gospel isn’t restoration for the broken … if your Gospel isn’t protection for women, strangers and aliens, etc., … then it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus.
Whenever these or any voices are smothered or otherwise silenced, we know that we’re getting it wrong. Whenever our issues come to the fore, we must remember who we are and what we’re doing. Our central confession of faith in Jesus Christ is this:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ is coming again.
That confession can never mesh with the ideologies of this world, and we would be wise to question attempts to do so.
It is never an easy task for church to rid herself of the cultural signature that is everywhere about it. It is easy for us to be blind to what this says and does. To us, it is all so normal. But we can address the more blatant displays of our culture — especially where it can cause others to stumble.
My Google search for Christians and Gun Violence got some 1,130,000 ‘hits’ [no pun intended] in .38 seconds [still no pun intended].
Relevant Magazine writer Dargan Thompson said that Christians need to bite the bullet and discuss guns. She could have said, ‘THEIR guns.’ Each Advent, we proclaim Jesus as Prince of Peace. Yet rhetoric and behavior belie another truth about Christians and gun culture. In the US, guns are themselves a religion, and evangelical Christians are their prophets.
Guns Я Us
Like guns, perspectives on them and their control are plentiful.
While mass shootings gain attention and motivate activists, far more gun related deaths happen in other circumstances. Fox News assembled these gun related deaths for a single day. Eugene Sutton and Ian Douglas put this in perspective across time.
Every 7-8 years, one million Americans are killed or injured by firearms in a country that has nearly more guns than people.
Thompson is correct. Discussion is needed. It is also happening. It will continue to happen because it must. One venue for this conversation is the Armor of Light documentary on the subject featuring Rev. Rob Schenck.
‘Many pastors share with me privately that they are very concerned with the number of people who are not just procuring firearms for defensive purposes, some are bringing them to church.’
He says that:
‘Most pastors have said to me, “I just don’t touch it. It’s too volatile. It ends up dividing the church.”’
I had a growing concern as I watched folks in my own evangelical community demonstrating a kind of escalating fear about a lot of things—government, terrorism, fear of home invasions, of being robbed or murdered.
Noel Murray also interacted with Rev. Schenck and writes:
‘Schenck finds his fellow evangelicals parroting the idea that firearms “protect the innocent.” Even harder for Schenck, the goalposts keep moving for gun enthusiasts, from mere “self-defense” to active vigilantism.’
Thompson also interviews Abigail Disney for her role in this production. Disney believes that it is among white, evangelical, conservative Christians where:
‘…the disconnect is … largest between language about the sanctity of human life and the embrace of this culture. It’s not just the gun, it’s a language and a set of values around the gun. I call it yippie-ki-yay culture—this sort of looking forward to the conflict, not exhausting all the other possibilities first, and a blitheness and a disregard for the taking of human life.’
I can’t say whether this passes the formal definition, but perhaps yippie-ki-yay culture, looks a little like this:
Facing our Steel Dragons
If there’s one thing we grip as firmly as our guns, it’s the narratives that rationalize them. Of course for many, guns are their own rationalization. And as safety and justice arguments easily replace trust in God with a sidearm, today’s video is on target to regard the hold guns have over us as idolatrous. It isn’t that we keep guns as much as our guns that ‘keep’ us.
Chad Hall is Director of Coaching with Western Seminary faculty. As a much needed corrective to Mr. Whitney’s Institute on the Constitution [IOTC], Hall says that American values such as patriotism, nationalism and war [etc.] are not necessarily Christian values, and that the assertion to the contrary quickly devalues religion. Hall sees that often, there is nothing uniquely Christian about the way gun debates are framed.
We have to ask, What does God think of all this? And how should a Christian approach this issue in a faithful and thoughtful way?
Hall notes that God’s kingdom brings the world under Christ’s authority not from a gun barrel, but on a cross. Perhaps in somewhat that spirit, Brian Kammerzelt’s 4 things Christians Need to Remember about Gun Control is no polemical piece but a simple reminder of four things:
Seek first the kingdom
Love your enemy
A Christian Response
Liturgy is a powerful and essential part of Christian worship and witness. And as some see it, narratives of patriotism, nationalism, chauvinism, individualism, etc. are liturgical counter-inventions that contest God’s kingdom. From this perspective, all life is a litany practiced toward God or idols. Surely then, church can incarnate in appropriate ways a kingdom of God perspective in reply to this and other crises of our time.
This interfaith liturgy alone gives fundamentalists their desired rationale to boycott such events and to host anti-gun restriction events in their own political temples. But those who prefer witness minus anal retentiveness might be open to attending events.
Several other starting points for potentially useful resources include:
It’s time to ‘bite the bullet’ on gun culture. As analyses and rebuttals on mass shootings multiply, it behooves Christians to know where lies their faith allegiance lies in these things. It is not only the power of guns but the sway of this culture which indicates that we are discussing one of the ‘powers of this age.’ Nor should we forget the staggering amount of money that changes hands as guns are sold and bought each year.
The sheer number of gun-related deaths, the dominance of cultural fear, the evolving cultural narratives surrounding guns, and their power to silence proclamation in the church — these require that Christians take their stand beneath the sign of the cross, and face our steel dragons.
I find it hard not to like Dr. Benjamin L Corey. He reminds me of all things that I used to be — minus the tattoos, of course. He’s bright, well spoken, loves theology and mission. Moreover, he’s one of those voices calling for the recovery of radical trust in a God of radical grace.
Oh and admit it or not, he’s something of a political junkie. Particularly if one has a heart for justice, I see that as a good thing.
Under the title I borrowed from his recent post over at Patheos, Dr. Corey authored an article which, if amusing, spoke more truth than a humorous article would allow — if humor was meant at all. Raised on that ‘subtle English humour’ thing, I can’t always tell.
…if Jesus ran for president? Well, I can nearly assure you: He’d never win the Evangelical vote. Here’s 10 reasons why:
10. Jesus was famous for giving away free healthcare.
9. Rich Evangelicals would see him as a divisive candidate who waged class warfare.
8. He threatened those who exclude immigrants and do not help the poor.
7. He told people to pay their taxes.
6. Jesus was known for staging public protests at church.
5. He often resorted to name calling when confronting the popular religious leaders of his day.
4. Jesus would be viewed as anti-death penalty and soft on crime.
3. Jesus’s absurd teaching on enemy love would be seen as a threat to national defense.
2. Jesus rebuked those who were into concealed carry.
1. Instead of “American Exceptionalism” Jesus would spend his campaign talking about a place that is WAY better than America.
It’s always easier to see others’ worldliness and compromise. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to judge our IFB friends. Still, it is curious that we so to claim Jesus for ourselves only to vote against him in November.
Jesus is host at the table where he nourishes and sustains his people. But what does it mean if alien ideologies fatten themselves on the sustenance he gives us? The imagery of a host and parasite comes to mind.
If there is an answer, it might run along the lines that the narrative of the bread broken and the grapes crushed should supplant the civic narratives which compete and too often gain the allegiance of our minds and hearts.
We all know this. If James Dobson didn’t tell you, John Hagee told you. If John Hagee didn’t tell you, some other Fundamentalist Baptist told you. If some other preacher didn’t tell you, you learned from the ‘Got Questions‘ guy, or from another book or resource.
The nonsense of Christian socialism is an heretical notion [of course] that we all hoped was long dead and gone. If it’s bad enough being a fool for Christ, why would you want to make things worse by being a Christian Socialist? So imagine the disappointment among the good folk at American Pastors Network when somebody made a post on their website defending Christian Socialism. WHO would DO such a thing!
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PS: Here is the ‘Got Questions’ guy’s take on Capitalism.