Regarding (American, White) Christian Persecution

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The Atlantic recently ran an article on the idea of Christian persecution in America. Citing a recent report, Emma Green notes that nearly 8 out of 10 white evangelical Protestants “believe they are subject to religious discrimination in the United States.”

While this isn’t surprising or new (the persecution narrative is an old line in evangelicalism) it still warrants some discussion. The fact that we (white Christians) believe ourselves to be suffering from persecution points to the great deceit that has befallen the white church. The tenants of our Christian faith are plastered all over our monuments, laws, and politicians— a large majority of which are (literally and figuratively) white. This says nothing of the fact that claiming persecution spits in the face of those who face true religious persecution across the globe. And it should be pointed out that, ironically, those who are fleeing actual religious persecution are some of the refugees to whom we, as a country, have historically closed our borders.

I am not the first one to suggest that to those for whom the privilege is the norm, equality feels like oppression. Nor do I absolve myself from this critique. As long as I value my welfare and my freedom over the rights and well-being of the other, I will never truly be free. Instead, I enslave myself to the fallacy that my values, my security, and my beliefs are what matter. Encountering contradicting conversation (let alone legislation) feels threatening when I hold my comfort as absolute and sacred. It’s a shame that I often do this while also claiming to be an advocate of Christ’s love, all the while Christ is to be found well beyond the gates of my privilege.

I’m a white American Christian; this article is about my demographic, my posture and my tendencies. And it makes me sad. It’s a testimony to why so many in my generation would rather be spiritual than Christian. The hypocrisy is too much to bear. My hypocrisy is too much to bear. It’s so much easier for me to yell “persecution!” than to see the shifting tides of culture as an opportunity to reflect and reexamine. I am not saying I shouldn’t take a stand for what I believe in. But our dogma is cheap if its chief concern and expression is our personal well-being.

We must fix this. If we are going to claim any allegiance to Christ’s love, then we need to make the banner under which we fly not one of “hear us!” but “hear THEM!” When we use our voice to advocate only for ourselves, we lose the voice of Christ, whose voice was always for the other.

If we’re going to bemoan the loss of something, let’s bemoan the loss of our ability to speak with Christ’s voice, not the so-called loss of our freedom.

 

 

Why I’m A Pacifist But I Still Celebrate Memorial Day

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I’m a Christian pacifist. In light of Christ’s death and resurrection, I do not believe that Christians should execute criminals, wage wars or even posses weapons for the purpose of self-defense. While I hold these views loosely- meaning I try to be humble in my assertions and in my own ability to ‘walk the talk’- I also hold them with great conviction.

That said, today I am celebrating a holiday of remembrance for all those men and women who have sacrificed their lives in service to the American nation. Today, I am celebrating Memorial Day.

There are a couple things about me that make my adherence to pacifism somewhat unique-the first being how many people I truly love and respect who have served in the military. My grandfather was a pilot in World War II. He flew 35 combat missions over Germany, carrying a Bible in his pocket on each flight. Likewise my father- probably the person I admire the most in life- was an Air Force fighter pilot. And I have many close friends who’ve been deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and some theaters the average American isn’t even aware we’re in.

Secondly- and this is the real kicker- I myself am a member of the military. I currently serve as an officer in the Army Reserves Medical Corps. I joined the military because I wanted to be an Army Ranger. But a change of heart toward pacifist convictions led me to serve my commitment in a non-combative role.

All of this goes to say that Memorial Day raises some interesting questions for me: should I celebrate those who not only gave their lives but also took the lives of others in service to this country? Can I- in good conscience- partake in the celebration of military veterans and members? Is such honoring also honoring to Christ?

The answer to these questions came from an unexpected source: a fairy tale. The Last Battle is the final book in CS Lewis’ famed Chronicles of Narnia series. It’s about the final feud between forces of good and evil and presents one of Lewis’ more vivid depictions of heaven.

It’s near the end of the book that the good servants of Aslan arrive in paradise where they encounter an unexpected character. His name is Emeth and he was a warrior and a foe in the previous life, a loyal servant of the god Tash, a god erected in opposition by enemies of Aslan.

The servants of Aslan are befuddled, and understandably so. All their lives they’d known servants of Tash to be the wicked counterparts to their service to Aslan; how could he have been accepted into paradise? Emeth understands their confusion, and tells them he himself was confused and terrified upon arriving to find that Aslan was the true God, and his life of loyalty had been horribly misplaced. He fell before Aslan, sure of his fate. But instead of smiting him, Aslan kissed him on the forehead and said:

“Son, thou art welcome… all of the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites…For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

 The Last Battle (pg. 204-205)

I am a pacifist. But I do not believe soldiers who fight and die for America are evil. I believe that- on the whole- they are sincere, brave, dedicated and remarkably loyal individuals. I can only aspire to be so true.

I don’t believe that service to Christ can entail violence under the banner of the American flag, killing for the sake of a nation-state. All that said: the loyalty of soldiers to this country, misplaced though I may believe it to be, is still much greater than any cost I’ve had to pay for my allegiance to Christ.

There will always be discrepancies in the ways we show our dedication to Christ. No one lives a life in perfect service to Jesus and I am certainly not the exception. Shall I then judge those whose service to their country they sincerely believed to also be service to Christ?

Because ultimately it is not historians, politicians or even the clergy and religious leaders who decide which side of the spectrum a person falls; Nazi soldiers were not all evil and American soldiers are not all pure in heart. It is not the stories as we tell that decide the value of one’s service; such deeds are God’s to judge. And no one else’s.

Today, I remember and honor those who gave everything they had: their futures, hopes, homes with picket fences, the sound of their children’s laughter on Christmas morning, the touch of their spouse’s hand upon their skin; today, I remember the men and women who gave their lives in service to this country. I may not believe in the country they served but I do believe in a God who’s grace covers all our best and worst intentions. And I believe that- through the blood of the lamb- God turns all dedicated service into beautiful and willing sacrifice unto Christ himself.

And such a God is one worth celebrating.

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Are ‘Liberals’ Really Destroying the Church?

Are Liberals Really Destorying the church

David French, an attorney and staff writer for the National Review, recently wrote an article titled “If You Want to Destroy Your Church, Follow Liberals’ Advice.” It goes downhill from there.

The article was a rebuttal to an editorial by Rachel Held Evans in the Washington Post. French finds apparent frustration in Evan’s critique of contemporary Evangelicalism. Evan’s main point, French proposes, isn’t an attempt to reform the style or face of the church but rather its “substance”;  Evan’s pushes reforms that are not theological but really just “a progressive writer’s wish list.” He further categorizes Evans (and presumably all ‘liberal’ progressives) as desiring to unlock the “Millennial spiritual energy found in the old ways- not its actual beliefs, mind you, but the trappings of the faith. To (Rachel Held) Evans, the answer is combining high-church traditions with no-church theology.”

French goes on to make the claim- based on statistical data- that mainline churches that have adopted progressive beliefs are “committing slow-motion suicide.” His conclusion is that Evans’ approach to church is not only theologically fallible but that “theological liberalization and cultural conformity” are paths to certain extinction.

“Yes, there are liberals who ‘long’ for the church to change,” French states. “But that’s because they long for it to disappear.”

It’s hard not to discard David French’s article as a straw-man tirade against progressive Christians and/or any Christian who’s ever registered as a Democrat. He uses the word “inclusive” like profanity, conveniently notes that President Obama’s denomination has seen serious decline in recent years, and attributes the demise of mainline denominations to their adoption of gay marriage (while overlooking the recent decline of the Southern Baptist Convention as mere happenstance). French doesn’t exactly invite open discussion on the topic at hand. Which- from a mere glance at Evans’ new book- was kind of her point.

But there is- at the heart of French’s fear-mongering- a pertinent question: is “liberal” theology destroying the American church?

In the aforementioned book Searching for Sunday, Evans joked that “you don’t have to believe much to be an Episcopalian.” (That’s the beauty of self-deprecation; Evans beat French to the punch.) This seems to give further validity to French’s point: Millennial Christians are looking for wide paths on ground that can only support narrow gates. 

Or are they?

I’m weary of any discussion on the state of the American church that draws lines based on “liberals” and conservatives.” But, if we’re dealing with the categories as French has arranged them, then we must also say that French represents a facet of American Christianity that is unwaveringly stubborn (or at least tone-deaf) to Millennial calls for reform. We have an arrogant belief in our own flexibility: “unity in non-essentials” we like to say. But who decides the “non-essentials”? In French’s world, it’s the conservatives. This, naturally, means that any congregation which supports gay-marriage has crossed a line from whence they can only return with sackcloth and ashes. That’s hardly flexible. And it’s as ineffective in promoting a theological way forward as was the Diet of Worms.

David French’s approach to the next chapter of the American Church is old and cliche. The use of statistics to measure the health of the church may be practical, but its not theologicalAnd it’s ridiculous- but thoroughly conservative- to quantify theological health with statistics; “well, churches who support homosexuality are shutting down, so obviously it’s decrepit theology.” We’re a religion begun by one man who gathered a small group of people and, with them, defied the religious majority of his age and the most dominant empire known to man. Jesus didn’t win the numbers game; but conservatives like French love to think they should and will. 

What is equally cliche is for conservatives to hang the fate of Christ’s church on a single, politically charged issue. Christ’s gospel does not hinge on preservation of traditional family values, pro-life movements, or Reformed Theology any more than it does on hymns and liturgy. The gospel of Jesus Christ hangs on a cross and pours out of an empty grave. French may decry the “inclusivist” mentality that’s seeping into American churches; but its equally valid to decry the moralistic agendas that attempt to roll the stone back over the grave.

And if we’re really trying to move the church forward, then fear-mongering is an unhealthy way to go about it. French operates under the belief that liberal notions, like the “gay-agenda”, will overtake and destroy the church. So Emperor Nero couldn’t wipe out Christ’s followers but the gay couple on my block will see it through? Thinking such as this is why most theological circles can’t take Evangelicals seriously.

Perhaps ‘liberal’ churches are too lenient. And that’s nothing to disregard. But conservative churches, if we’re playing off stereotypes, have a tendency to kick you while your down then slam the door in your face. Don’t get me wrong-if you fix yourself, then they’ll gladly let you back in. The prodigal son sent a wonderful precedent for church potlucks. But some scars don’t fade. As many know all too well.

So which would Jesus abhor? The wide gate or the harsh Pharisee?

It’s not for me to say. But I think we ought to at least be fair in saying- be we “progressives” or “conservatives”- that the other side, though maybe not right for us, isn’t authoritatively wrong. I’m sure this notion makes David French’s skin crawl. But a dose of practical humility would’ve helped things in 1521. And it would really help things now.

I don’t consider myself a progressive. I don’t consider myself a traditionalist either. I consider myself a Christian and an Evangelical one at that. Yet I feel myself being pushed out of my pew. And I don’t want to leave. But it’s increasingly difficult-especially when encountering voices like Mr. French’s- to find reason to stick around.

Unless, of course, I care less about my theological agenda and more about the church

David French might find it absurd that I could allow a gay person to become a member of my church. That’s fine. I find it absurd that he would see this as a threat to Christ. On the other side of the coin, Evans might find it absurd that I support pro-life movements as opposed to advocating for women’s rights and women’s health. That’s fine, too. Let’s all go to Christ’s table together.  

Because it’s within the questions we ask, within the disagreements in humility, that the noise fades and we can hear when Christ calls us to the table. And he calls us to stop quarreling, stop drawing lines, stop slapping labels and making moral diagnosis; he calls us instead to sit and eat and drink and maybe even laugh. He calls us to realize we’re all human and we’re all feasting on his grace together. 

Are liberals really killing the church? I doubt it. And even if they are, even if all the hordes of evil should assemble on red and blue donkeys, I still maintain that Christians shouldn’t be worried. After all, as Rachel Held Evans reminds us:

“Death is something empires worry about, not something resurrection people worry about.”

Which is to say that- worst case scenario- if ‘liberals’ do manage to kill the church, they might prompt the resurrection we’re all are together waiting for, the resurrection we all truly need.

It’s not likely. But it’d be nice.