Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thank the Lord and Pass the Patriotism? (by Obery Hendricks)
reposted from the God's Politics Blog

In many pulpits during this Thanksgiving season, love of our country and pride in our citizenship will be pronounced in the same breath - and often with the same intensity - as declarations of love for our God. But we must be careful, for patriotism can be destructive as well as constructive. Worse, it can become idolatrous.

Constructive patriotism, or what James Forbes, pastor emeritus of the Riverside Church in New York City calls "prophetic patriotism," is the willingness to strive in word and deed to ensure that this nation is healthy, whole, secure, and conducting its affairs at home and abroad according to the political doctrines we claim to hold dear.

Destructive patriotism, however, is primarily focused on discrediting or destroying those it perceives as opponents of America. The purview of destructive patriotism is "us" against "them" - "them" being not only foreigners, but also any American who openly disagrees with the official actions of the leaders of the United States, no matter if their policies contradict our Constitution, harm the public good, or violate the most basic ethics of the biblical faith they claim to hold dear.

If we who call ourselves patriots are to be true to our faith, our patriotism must ever be constructive, because constructive criticism of governmental policies and practices is squarely in the tradition of the biblical prophets and the gospel of Jesus. It is not only concerned with political affairs - it is also concerned with the spiritual and moral health of America. Constructive prophetic oversight is the highest and healthiest form of patriotism because it seeks to help the nation become its best and most righteous self,.

That is why true patriots will welcome prophetic critiques of our government - because they can help America become its most righteous and most just self. Conversely, the true patriot will reject uncritical abdications of our prophetic responsibility to make our nation its best self that are expressed in such slogans as "America - love it or leave it" and "Criticism of our government equals support for our enemies." To the degree that patriotism causes division and enmity between God's children, it is in opposition to the gospel, pure and simple. But when patriotism seeks to silence prophetic criticism, it is more than oppositional; it is idolatrous, because by following its own beliefs, judgments, and interests rather than the prophetic mandate, it makes an idol of them. This blind, idolatrous brand of patriotism is blasphemous because it values the welfare and even the humanity of some of God's children - that is, Americans, and not all of those, either - over the welfare and humanity of all others, particularly those who look, speak, and worship differently. In contrast, a God-centered patriotism will confess, like the apostle Peter, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God" (Acts 10:34-35).

Therefore, if we are to be true patriots and true followers of the biblical imperative of justice on earth as in heaven, then each day before we pledge allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands, we must first recommit our allegiance to the gospel of Jesus, the justice of God, and the love of our neighbors it commands. We must never forget that the flag does not supercede the cross.

Thus, if it is the gospel that is truly the object of our faith and our allegiance, this Thanksgiving let us give thanks to God for the faithful voices that, despite the derision and even the personal physical harm they risk and sometimes suffer, nonetheless continue to speak out against every action, policy, and pronouncement of our leaders and our government that distances us from the liberating gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God.


Obery Hendricks is the author of The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Teachings of Jesus' Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." -- Matthew 26:52

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Found this article in my inbox from Christianity Today a few days ago, and I've been mulling it over.

"Faith is relevant for many people, but church is not," says Bryan Wilkerson, senior pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts. "People want to attend to the spiritual side of their lives, they are interested in God, but their experience of church has not been relevant.

Spiritual growth, then, may be occurring for many of today's Christians in non-traditional ways. Instead of attending church on Sunday mornings, many opt for personal, individual ways to stretch themselves spiritually.

"Emerging generations may not see themselves as churched, but neither do they see themselves as any less committed," says Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida. "The traditional programming that churches do is becoming less essential to work out faith for many people."

I think the bulk of the people I know tend to fall into this trend. As a believer myself, I still feel the need for getting together and building and strengthening the relationships I have within my church, but I understand that as the many churches that seem to distance rather than draw people and judge rather than love and extend grace to people continue to become a deterrent to faith in their communities, I don't expect people to stop seeking God elsewhere, such as in nature, etc.

"The old paradigm of evangelism was a transactional sharing of the gospel," says Ken Fong, senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles. "I would try to get people to intellectually agree with me. But the new paradigm is different, an approach in which I invite you to walk alongside me, examine my life, and see evidence of the truth, and hopefully there will be something compelling that you see. It's a no-strings-attached invitation to enter my life as I follow Jesus.

This one is a big deal for me. I can't stand the mindset that Fong addresses here, that "target and convert" mindset that so permeated the place I used to work. I remember constantly trying to promote the idea of relationships vs. evangelism, and no-pressure vs. sales technique, and the relationship being contingent on shared belief vs. the relation being a safe place to either agree or disagree. I'm still surprised how many people within the church just don't get this concept, as if God were sometime limited by the church's ability or inability to "sell" him to the biggest "market" possible.

Another necessary shift is recognizing that the old metrics of success may no longer apply. Wilkerson says, "We need to spend the next ten years investing in the life of our surrounding community and finding ways to regain a hearing for the gospel. Instead of going to the nursing home and holding a church service, we're just going to go and love and serve people for years and years, until the staff and residents ask, 'Why do they care so much?'

Perhaps the biggest "duh" moment of all. If this is the kind of life Christ modeled, why do we still try to treat our religious faith like a humanistic, romantic, rationalist (the worldviews) exercise of intellect and purpose rather than an organic, always ebbing and flowing, always changing and growing part of our being? And as such, we become living "testaments" simply by being Christian (ie, exercising grace, love, patience, concern, care, charity, etc.) and showing people we actually do all this crap we talk about.

Of course these are just my thoughts. Your mileage may vary.