Dear Christians, especially those who name themselves “evangelical,” I have a word for you. I believe it is a word from the Lord. Those of you who know me know that I do not say this lightly. That, in fact, I am leery of anyone who claims to speak a “word from the Lord” because I believe the scripture is clear that if a person claims to speak from God and the word is not from God, that person will be judged. I pray that God will judge me if this word is not truly God’s so that God’s will may be evident.
I am writing this partly in response to a variety of news reports. One, from Sam Sorbo of Fox news gets the problem right, but the solution dead wrong. Or the story by Philip Wegman in the Washington Examiner talking about Jim Ziegler defending Judge Roy Moore by using the bible. In some ways, I am also responding to the comments I have see on Facebook and other places through the years justifying the immoral behavior of Donald Trump because he is “pro-life” (too many sources here to cite) or the immoral behavior of Bill Clinton because he is “our guy.” Justifying immorality because someone is on your side is a whole topic to itself, though not the one I am addressing today. But mostly I am writing this because I think I need to say it.
Here is the word: Please, please stop being concerned for and fighting for your “rights” as Christians. Stop supporting those who are hypocrites and purveyors of evil in the name of putting those into office who will ostensibly support the rights of Christians. Christians in America, you must stop believing that you are oppressed and persecuted. You are not oppressed or persecuted, not in any real sense in this country. There are Christians in the world who are being persecuted or killed for their faith. Do not trivialize their faith and their experience by comparing your “persecution” to theirs.
If you have:
A roof over your head
Food to eat
The ability to see the doctor when you are ill and get the medicine you need
A job that pays enough to support you and your family
The vote and the ability to use that vote
If you can walk down the street in your neighborhood and not be accosted by police because you look different from others in your neighborhood. If you have never been stopped because you are “driving while black.” If you are not afraid of the police. If you have never had to use a public defender in our justice system. If you are not afraid of a knock on the door that might be ICE. Furthermore, if any of these things has, in fact happened to you, but not because you are Christian, THEN - you are not being deprived of your rights as a Christian.
Instead of fighting for our rights, Christians should be the ones who fight for the rights of those who truly are oppressed and persecuted – the “widows, orphans, and aliens” of our time. Our call, going back to Abraham (in Genesis 12:1-3, if you are interested) is to be a blessing to all the families of the world. Not just the Israelite families. Not just the Christian families. Not just the families who attend our churches. ALL the families of the earth. Now we can wrestle with what it means to be a blessing. We might have some disagreements over how to be that blessing. But our call is to be a blessing.
Through the years I have heard a lot about how the government should not guarantee food, shelter, health care, etc. I have heard a number of Christians say that is the job of the church. I’ve said it myself in the past, to my shame. Well then, God is asking us - why aren’t we doing it? Why are there still homeless, hungry people? Why are there still people who are not able to find health care or who have to choose between paying the electric bill or buying the medicine they or their child needs? Why is there a whole island of Americans many of whom do not even have electricity? If you have what you need and someone else does not, why? I am asking these questions of myself as well as of you. Why do I deserve to live in a safe warm house when there are those who are out in the cold and rain today? The cry is not “how long, O Lord?” but “how long, my people?” The only answer that I can come up with is that I am a coward. I am unwilling to be faithful enough to give everything I have so that others may have what they need. I pray that God will help my unbelief.
We in the U.S. want our country to guarantee our “rights” as Christians, because we are unwilling to trust in God for our protection and sustenance. We are like the Israelites of old who wanted a king “like other nations” (1 Samuel 8:5) instead of being satisfied with trusting in God to lead them and provide for them. The prophets continually warned the kings against making political alliances in order to guarantee the safety of the people. But those political alliances, while temporarily useful, led to the destruction of Jerusalem and exile for the people. Be assured that if we trust in our political leaders to be the source of our strength, we too will fall.
I strongly suspect that we want to think of the U.S. as a “Christian nation” so that we do not have to take responsibility for Christian action ourselves. Here are some examples:
Take for instance teachers or workers who complain that they not able to have a bible on their desk or wear a cross in the classroom or workplace. These things mean nothing. If you think your rights are being violated, I ask you this: Are you praying for your students or your co-workers by name each night? Are you treating them with love and grace? If you are not letting the bible form your life then don’t complain that you can’t have it on your desk. It needs to be in your heart, not on your desk. If you are not praying for those around you, then don’t complain about not being able to pray in public. Jesus tells us to go into our room and pray in secret. I am not opposed to praying where people can see – I pray in restaurants. But Jesus was clear that our public prayer was not to convince others of our piety.
Are you against abortion, calling yourself “pro-life?” Have you adopted or at least fostered a child who is unwanted? Have you spent time getting to know and care for teenagers who might be vulnerable to having an early pregnancy? Are you serious about providing for the children who are already in this world? We need a holistic pro-life policy; if we believe that each child is precious to God and want to save the unborn, then we also need to save the born. I say this as someone who identifies as pro-life.
You may be one of those who owns a business and doesn’t want to serve those of other faiths or other lifestyles. As a citizen of the United States of America, I personally think you should have the right to refuse service. But as a Christian, what is the more powerful witness – refusing service because of religious conviction, or humbly serving those with whom we disagree even while being clear that we disagree? And if you decide the former is a better witness in your situation, then you must be prepared to pay the price for your witness. And to your Christian brothers and sisters who agree with you, I say this: for those who are suffering from their witness, be the Christian community. Pay their mortgage. Make sure they have food to eat. Find them work that will not conflict with their consciences. Surround them with care. And, if you wish to change the laws as an American who is guided by Christian principles, then do that using our political system. But do not think that working through the political system is the only way to change things. Do not think that as Americans you have rights that do not apply to those of other faiths or no faith. And do not confuse being American with being Christian.
Are you horrified at the shootings that have occurred in all kinds of public places? Be horrified that we think of more guns as the solution to this problem. We are to be about the ministry of reconciliation, (see 2 Corinthians 5:18-19) not the ministry of open carry. We cannot stop evil by using the same methods as evil. Which brings up another point.
We see the conflict in our society, in our country. And we don’t want that conflict to have an impact on our lives. But we, as Christians, have let ourselves be co-opted by the methods and agenda of the Enemy. We have been fooled into thinking that we need something we call “power” in order to change the world. We don’t. While you were reading in 2 Corinthians 5, did you notice what followed in chapter 6? Paul was willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel, because he knew that the glory of sharing Christ with the world was far more than any suffering he might endure. At some point Paul used his “rights” as a Roman citizen, yes; but not to avoid suffering. He used his standing as a Roman citizen to gain the ability to go to Rome to preach the gospel at the center of the world – or the ends of the earth.
Take a look at Philippians 2, where Paul reminds us to " Let the same mind be in you that was1 in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross." (Phi 2:5-8 NRS). My friends, we follow a crucified Messiah. We are not called to be powerful in the way of the world, but to call upon the power of God to fight our battles. And then to trust that God will do so. We may not always understand what that will look like, but we can be assured that it will happen.
In the meantime, we are to be a blessing. We have been told how. " 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic 6:8 NRS) We are called to work for justice for the immigrants, to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves, to enable each person in our society to live out the image of God that is given to them. Even if you believe you are persecuted because of your faith, seeking your rights is not the biblical way: "39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," (Mat 5:39-44 NRS)
We promise in our baptismal vows (at least in the United Methodist Church) to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves, but we resist those things for the sake of the world, not for our own sake. And we also promise to remember that it is God who gives us the power to resist, not our own power.
My confession and my sorrow is that I am not very good at taking all this to heart. I desperately need both the word of God in the scriptures as a daily part of my diet, and intense pray time. But I also desperately need the Christian community to help me in my faith. We are called and gifted (all of us, not just the pastors) to build up the body of Christ. Without the other Christians in my community of faith using their gifts to build up the body, I am a lesser Christian.
So, the final word is this: be a part of your Christian community. Like it or not, you are a part of the body of Christ if you claim to be Christian. Like it or not, you are needed in your Christian community. To deny that is to deny God. But remember that the Body of Christ exists to bring blessing to the world. We build up the Body of Christ so that we may bless the world.