Mark Galli of Christianity Today wrote a solid commentary about Christian witness in light of today’s special election in Alabama. Albert Mohler also addresses the crisis of conscience. The biggest loser in the Alabama election is not Democrats or Republicans; it’s the Christian witness. Our Christian witness can be revived if we learn to suffer patiently in the public square. We would rather fight than suffer.
We all like a good story. A good story simulates our souls and evokes our emotions. The problem of our consumption of stories is that stories shape us and disciple us. They give us a worldview, a way of seeing the world around us. In our context, there are predominant false narratives which we consume that conflict with the narrative to which we as Christians submit. The Alabama Election brings one to the forefront.
The fight for the culture’s heart through political means has undermined the integrity of the explicit Christian witness. We choose to do what is right in our own eyes, “which results in moral, psychological, and social suffering unheard of in our history.” We fight for moral purity without the basic expectation of moral purity in our candidates.
One of the false narratives which pervade our culture is nationalism. If you do a quick Google search the initial results come back as 1) patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts, and 2) an extreme form of this, especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.
I would also add that nationalism is further oriented towards developing and maintaining a national identity based on shared characteristics such as culture, language, race, religion, political goals or a belief in a common ancestry. Who are we as a country? The answer isn’t quite so clear-cut as one would hope.
On the surface level, loving one’s country is not a bad thing. God has ordained nations. However, whenever a good thing becomes a God thing the result is idolatry. While some would disagree that nationalism is a false narrative, and would even directly challenge my ensuing conclusion, the fight for the heart of American culture resides in one’s own view of morality. Moreover, if the only way to display the gospel is through political means, then one has bought into the lie of the false narrative. Further, if one’s perspective of the nation is elevated above the implications of the gospel, then lie is present there as well. Because of the United States history, trying to separate politics from faith is like trying to unravel Christmas lights. It’s time consuming, meticulous, and if only it had been done right initially. Knowing what should have been done does not alleviate the current situation of knotted Christmas lights–or better messy politics.
Like many of us choose to do, we would rather buy a new set of lights than deal with the mess. We attempt to do the same with politics. We would rather purchase a new nation through political aims than take the time to unravel and use what we have. It is an indictment against us all because we believe a lie shapes us all.
Whether you are on the right or left, chances are the purity of nation will make the world a better place. Here is the lie. One’s definition of pure usually involves thinking and acting exactly as you would. Self is at the center of pure. If only people would do this, we say, then the problem would be solved. In the end, the clamor is for uniformity in action and perspective.
The political right views purity of nation through one lens, while the political left views purity of nation through another. Regardless, the expectation is the same: a uniform identity. The identity proposed is usually divorced from any real conversation about real differences. The very plea for purity undermines the shared national identity of our history.
As Galli notes in his article, “The problem with many Christian conservatives is this: They believe they can help the country become godly again by electing people whose godliness is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.”
I would not limit the problem to Christian conservatives. The problem with many Christian liberals is this: They believe they can help the country improve by electing people whose moral superiority is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.
Because the United States has always been a melting pot of culture, language, race, religion, political goals, and common ancestry, one of our greatest values is love for the story others bring to the table. In order to do this, our conversation and our politics must be steeped in humility and moral accountability. As a Christian, fear cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. As a Christian, cultural congruency cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. The Christian faith has never been about fighting for something but serving and suffering the Savior the who modeled it for us. The Christian witness will be revived when love neighbor testifies to the love of God.
The church has been growing for almost 2000 years and contemporary Christians would do well to learn from the men and women who have faithfully followed God throughout the centuries. One of the landmark moments in the history of the church is called the Protestant Reformation.
“Once a coin into the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.” – Johann Tetzel
Today is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. For those of you who are not quite sure what the Reformation is and why it is a big deal, I thought I would provide a quick overview. Though you may not be entirely familiar with the Reformation, it has deeply impacted the faith you practice.
Martin Luther was a Catholic monk and priest in the 16th century. A man named Johann Tetzel was selling indulgences in Martin Luther’s hometown of Wittenberg in order to raise capital for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Since AD 1215, pious Christians would build up a “treasury of merit” on which they could draw on, which would expedite their time in purgatory. An indulgence allowed a remission of temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences could also be purchased for those who have been deceased. For baptism, according to the Catholic Church, washed away the guilt, but nothing removed the punishment.
During the Renaissance, with the resurgence of classical antiquity, Rome became adorned in splendor. Pope Julius II permitted the sale of indulgences in 1507 to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was renewed in 1513. Leo X later made a deal with the archbishop of Mainz, which corresponded to the selling of indulgences. If Archbishop Albert would agree to allow the sale of indulgences, Leo agreed to split the profits with him.
If you could pay then you could avoid spending a long time in purgatory. The fast track through purgatory aroused Luther’s ire. The church had lost the heart of the gospel—God offers salvation as a free gift.
Luther posted 95 Theses to debate on the Castle Church door in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517.
When Luther circulates his 95 Theses, his thoughts were dangerously subversive ideas that posed challenges to the finances of the church as much as to its theology. Purgatory was never called into question in the 95 Theses; Luther’s challenge concerned the means by which one gets out of it as quickly as possible. Luther desired to rid the church of the flawed hierarchy. The cultural, political, and religious authority was flipped upon its head by Luther’s claims. The religious, social, and political turmoil which resulted from Luther’s actions set a precedent for future movements.
Pope Leo X finally addressed Luther on June 15, 1520, the conflict exploded giving birth to the Reformation. Leo issued the bull Exsurge Domine, (“Arise, O Lord”), which condemned Luther as a heretic. Many others such as Calvin, Zwingli, and Arminius followed in Luther’s footsteps and they were reawakened to the Scriptures and the Gospel. While their intentions were to reform the church, eventually core beliefs led to irreconcilable differences.
Here are some claims Luther made:
The Reformation was about moving toward the Gospel–God himself has come to rescue and renew all creation in and through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We learn about God through the Scriptures.
Rescue and renewal are offered as a free gift from God, one that could not be earned either by works or money, but only by grace through faith in Christ.
While these beliefs seem profoundly individualistic, and they are, they also have deep communal implications for how Christians value one another and seek Jesus. For many, Luther’s claims seem obvious. However, Christians tend to slip back into old habits in which salvation is earned, rather than given; and where many Christians rely on pastors for their intake of Bible than reading the Scriptures for themselves. Let us not take these developments for granted.
I stumbled across this show on CBS called Bull. I probably have binged a little too hard on it, but the show has been fascinating. The lead actor plays a psychologist who is an expert in trial science. The premise of the show is how every case has facts and every jury (every day people) hear these facts differently. So, Dr. Bull and his team weave the objective facts of the case with a creative narrative together to win legal cases. In most episodes, Dr. Bull chooses to work for the innocent party. The defendant will likely be found guilty aside from his help because the jury has already subconsciously found the defendant guilty prior to any case being heard. Sometimes this subconscious verdict is based on the media, sometimes on how the defendant is dressed or appears, or even the jury’s own self-projection from their life experiences. Dr. Bull and his team choose to present a case and narrative together which highlights the facts the jurors will actually hear.
Throughout the episodes, the narratives usually get quite creative. However, what has never been argued: 1) the objective and verifiable facts, 2) our experiences color how we see and interpret these facts, and 3) there are always more facts to be discovered.
The natural question in today’s world: Can we ever be objective about the facts?
In my optimism, I believe we can get objective facts, but what to do about those facts and how we interpret them will always be highly subjective.
The initial blog post asked: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?
My answer: Resilient communication.
I define FACT as information without bias. Bull provides a colorful depiction of how difficult it is to present the facts without spin. It is inherent in our nature to filter everything we hear through our own lens.
In our culture where truth is “relevant” or “subjective,” FACT seems like an elusive word. The term Fake News has been tossed around. CNN recently ran an ad campaign about defining facts (to which some of you may find ironic). In most cases, everything has a spin. Most facts are articulated from personal perspective and experience, which come in layers and vary widely. Give the NY Post’s quiz on how Facebook defines hate speech a try to see how subjective statements can be. What is the core truth beneath these layers?
Because people are not all-knowing we must learn to ask good questions about the potential narrative being sold to us. Therefore, when staying in the conversation we should present what we think we know humbly and sincerely. Direct information with no judgment is a must. Statements without sentiment should be shared to find common ground from which a relationship can be built.
I would argue whatever facts we do present should be loosely at our fingertips, ready and willing to hear new information. When new information is discovered, we should show grace. Further, avoid leading or suggestive questions. In a conversation which you are trying to listen and learn, you must be careful not to skew the potential response. Suggesting a prepackaged answer will likely create barriers, rather than take them down. We tend to share our views of the facts or our interpretations of them to win, persuade, or achieve some hidden objective.
If the goal is to stay in the conversation, then we must learn to present information without bias. Here are some examples of FACT:
These three sentences could be stated very differently.
These are probably exaggerated and not the best examples. However, when we are in the heat of conversation, we need to be aware of which statements are facts and which sentiments are our feelings toward what has happened.
As a Christian, we need not fear Christianity in the marketplace of worldviews. I believe a Christian worldview is unparalleled to any other worldview. The narrative of God himself coming to rescue and renewal all creation through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is the ultimate narrative. Any other narrative which competes for supremacy will inadequately deal with the brokenness of life.
As you talk with your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and others online, do you espouse a worldview consistent with Christ, or bias and barriers?
Find the facts. Listen and learn. Stay in the conversation.
The national anthem flag controversy, that does not have anything to do with the flag itself, still rages on. The argument on each side continues to rage on with each side digging their heels in a little more. Mike Pence left a game early. NFL owners are requiring players to stand. Still, the whole reason players are kneeling in the first place is being glossed over. In this post, I plan to continue to answer the question: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?
You can view the opening post here. My answer: Resilient communication and more specifically, resilient listening. Step one was saturation. As Christians listen to others, do they send the same message (preferably love) through their verbal responses, non-verbal responses, and even their social media posts? Saturating your life with humility and love is a powerful first step because it communicates a willingness to dialogue about the tough things.
After you have done your best to communicate the same consistent message, there is an opportunity to respond–to give someone a hand up, provide a shoulder to cry on, or someone to stand beside and lock arms with. It is at this point in the communication, many begin to share their exact thoughts, usually framed as a problem or complaint, or simply move on from the conversation. Rather than lean in or re-up, they immediately begin to critique the position of the other. Neither response is helpful.
One of the realities of the world is that we do not often see people who are different than us. We complain about them, but we do not often see them. We often see people like us. When we do come in contact with others who are different we exercise a variety of means to cope, some result to judgment and others indifference. Very few take time to actually engage. We must be honest about our attitudes, prejudices, and our tendency to miss people right around us who are different from us.
When we begin to actually see people, most care takes place in the context of ordinary life–eating together, playing together, working together. How? When we simply ask: how can I help?
It is when they respond to this question care begins. St Francis of Assisi said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” One way we communicate that we understand is by meeting immediate needs. Scripture speaks powerfully about the role of God-community in meeting physical needs. Some care may be emotional by simply expressing solidarity with the other person. God desires His people to be soft-hearted and open-handed towards others.
“There will be no poor among you, however, because the Lord is certain to bless you in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance…If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers within any of your city gates in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him enough for whatever need he has.” – Deut 15:4, 7-8
There are many passages to choose from like Deuteronomy 15:4, 7-8 in the Bible. What is amazing is how there will be marginalized people amongst God’s people, yet the solution for the issue was for the people to act in accordance with God’s generous character.
We see this reproduced in the New Testament church in Acts 2 and 6.
I like the Acts 6 example. I think it aligns well with our contemporary situation. The Hellenistic Jews bring up a tough reality—their widows are being left out in the food distribution. The widows are already marginalized in first-century society. The full inclusion of the Gentiles is a new thing. Their social ostracization is being further complicated by neglect. Peter’s response is to these widows is perfect. He does not say “Would you be quiet?!” By his actions he said, “You know, there is a problem here. Let’s appoint some deacons.” In the role he was in, Peter acted first on behalf of his sisters in Christ. Peter did not dismiss their plight. He did not doubt their claim. He simply cared and made sure they received food.
We are so quick to dismiss the voice of our Christian African-American brothers and sisters about police brutality and injustice—which is why professional athletes are kneeling during the national anthem.
Let us take a step of care as we attempt to resiliently listen in order to stay in tough conversations.
A very real barrier is physical, mental, and emotional needs. We need to address the basic needs (felt and real) of a people or population segment. For an example from the general poor, providing people with safe housing, nutritious food, appropriate clothing, and access to health care and good education are all examples of tangible care. Here’s the kicker: someone has to pay for it. So, who is it going to be?
In the poor’s case, the cost is financial. When it comes to conversations about injustice and mass incarceration the cost may merely be stepping out of our comfort zone and allowing our clean-cut work hard stay out of trouble worldview to be challenged.
There are no silver bullet solutions. There is no magical system or formula to make people feel cared for. In reality, it begins with listening to the person and responding to what they are asking for. The person has to feel cared for or else it is not true care.
Often we are detached from the situation and because we are detached it is easy to dismiss. However, if we stay in the conversation, guided by a biblical precedent, we will realize before anything else is done we will seek to meet the needs of others.
It has been said, people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.
What steps are you taking to demonstrate care when you encounter someone who thinks different than you?