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Vantage Point (Part 2)

[Note: This was originally intended to be a single post, but due to length I separated it into two parts. Please read part 1 here before part 2. Context is important.]

Hot Button Issues

With the ideas I have shared about cultural awareness and the danger of a single story in mind, I want to address three specific issues that I feel very passionately troubled about. I am passionate about the intersection of the gospel with life. The gospel interprets how we live. I am trouble by how I have seen Christians, primarily on social media platforms, address the following issues. I am sharing the following ideas for two purposes: 1.) adding dimension to the background and theology of my current views on such topics, and 2.) to challenge believers to at least think about issues from a different vantage point. If we claim to follow Christ, then our entire way of seeing the world is reinterpreted through the lens of the Kingdom.

Nationalism

I love America. I love living in America. I believe there are a lot of great things about this nation. I value and appreciate the blood that has been shed in order to protect the people and the freedoms of this nation. However, my patriotic identity and my patriotic allegiance does not even come close to my allegiance to Jesus. It just doesn’t. For many of us, it seems that our allegiance is divided equally between God and country. Personally, I have been convicted of the nationalism in my own life. Nationalism is characterized by a mentality of superiority. A mindset that views other countries and other people groups as inferior. I have heard people literally say that our country is better than other countries. The implication was that America is superior.

What is the problem with this? The problem is that God loves the world. The problem is that this superiority complex can cultivate in us a naivety. We can naively begin to believe that God favors our nation over others, we can think that we are always the “good guys” in a international conflict, and we can naively think that America is somehow more Christian than any other nation. Viewing history through this lens of patriotic Christianity we neglect to acknowledge the evils of imperialism and racism from our past. This lens can hinder our love for the world. If the primary way we view the world is through a lens of superiority then we cannot possibly see the world through the lens of sacrificial love—the lens through which God sees the world through. This was most clearly evidenced for me by how passionate people were, specifically Christian people, over the NFL National Anthem debacle. Regardless of where you stand… or kneel… the intensity of emotions and the things that were said surrounding the issue were at times out of line for Christ-followers.

The problem with nationalism is that it is unbiblical. The entire book of Jonah is about God’s love for Israel’s enemy—Assyria. Jonah was so angry with God’s forgiveness because he was a racist. In the New Testament Jesus addresses Jewish nationalism frequently. The Jewish religious leaders are often offended that the people he interacts with are not only sinners, but Gentiles. Tax collectors were hated because they were unpatriotic. They collaborated with Rome and essentially exploited their own flesh and blood. Jesus interacted with a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-46) and told a parable on which a Samaritan was the hero (Luke 10:25–37). A large part of Acts deals with the inclusion of Gentiles into this new movement based on faith in the Jewish Messiah. “The original believers were largely Jews, and The Way was considered a sect under the umbrella of Judaism. As such, many of their expectations were colored by their Jewish nationalism…[The Jewish believer’s] assumptions had to be radically reconsidered.”[1]

Further, much of Paul’s letters deal with the ethnic and racial issues of the time. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians: “Here there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11). In Christ, our national, racial, economic, ethnic, and even denominational boundaries really do not mean anything. Patriotism is not necessarily a bad thing, but when our Patriotic identity is so syncretized with our Christian faith that it is somehow a Christian virtue to be patriotic, something has gone awry. When our patriotic identity fuels us with a sense of superiority, there might be some idolatry and sinful pride present.

The Least of These

Sometimes the way Christians talk about the least of these is heartbreaking. The evangelical community is really good at speaking up about the injustice of abortion, but sometimes we oversimplify the issues such as racial injustice, the refugee crisis, and poverty. Sometimes I have heard Christians make judgmental assumptions about people who are poor or who are on government assistance. I have seen Christians minimize the issues surrounding racial injustice. Some patriotic Christians accused me of advocating for open boarders when I proclaimed we should have compassion for the Syrian refugees. I know we are not going to agree on every point of tension, however, my heart is grieved that we are sometimes very quick to defend our perspective and very slow to listen to the story of someone else.

The Bible is abundantly clear that God cares a lot about the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. “The prophets in turn deal out warnings aplenty about Israel’s breaking of the covenant and the law. The people’s sins of idolatry and lack of mercy toward the poor and needy are the focus of the prophet’s concern.”[2] Here is just a sampling from the Scriptures:

  1. If in any of the towns in the land that the Lord your God is giving you there is a fellow-Israelite in need, then do not be selfish and refuse to help him. Instead, be generous and lend him as much as he needs. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)

  2. Learn to do right. See that justice is done — help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows. (Isaiah 1:17)

  3. I, the Lord, command you to do what is just and right. Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him. Do not ill-treat or oppress foreigners, orphans, or widows; and do not kill innocent people in this holy place. (Jeremiah 22:3)

  4. No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. (Micah 6:8)

  5. Rich people who see a brother or sister in need, yet close their hearts against them, cannot claim that they love God. (1 John 3:17)

  6. Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life? (James 2:15-16)

  7. Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. (Romans 12:13)

We get extremely passionate about calling out the sexual sins of our culture. To be clear, I have a conservative view on sexuality, but sometimes I wonder if we should be more concerned with how God is going to deal with our overindulgence of material luxuries and negligence in regards to global poverty than how God feels about society’s acceptance of same-sex marriage. Ezekiel 16:49 states, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds somewhat applicable to Americans. People from other countries often view Americans as arrogant, we are one of the most obese nations in the world, and we sometimes seem unconcerned with the poor and needy.

Some Christians debate about the importance of social justice versus evangelism. The argument is that people’s eternal souls matter more than their present circumstances. While this is true, we cannot separate the call to care about injustice from the message of the gospel. Jesus himself included social justice in his declaration of his mission:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” Luke 4:18-19

Social justice and evangelism go hand in hand. We are called to be lights in the darkness—to be ambassadors for the Kingdom. To proclaim the gospel in word and deed. N. T. Wright suggests,

“The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation to birth even in the midst of the present age…We cannot get off the hook of present responsibility, as many Christians try to do, …by declaring that the world is currently in such a mess and there’s nothing that can be done about it until the Lord returns. That is classic dualism.”[3]

If we are going to be Jesus followers, if we are going to be biblical, then we have to care about others. We have to care about sex trafficking, abortion, poverty, racial injustice, refugee crises, oppression, etc. We are light in the darkness. It is part of our identity as Jesus people.

Violence

I love action movies. I actually like movies that are quite violent. I know some will likely disagree with my movie standards, but that is for another discussion. Gladiator with Russel Crowe is still one of my top ten favorite movies. The Dark Knight trilogy is in the top five. Something in me feels a sense of justice and vindication when Denzel Washington unloads a can of… when Denzel beats the living tar out of the bad guys. I almost enjoy when justice is exacted through violence

I remember when 9/11 happened. I was in seventh grade. I remember there being a resurgence of patriotism. People would make comments about “Blowing the terrorists off the map,” and about enlisting so that they could “kill a bunch of towel heads.” I resonated with these comments because they sounded just and patriotic. The terrorists deserved to die. Even today the way people talk about war, terrorism, and guns edges near the line of blood thirsty. I have met people who seem almost eager to unload their side arm on an evil doer. Somehow their sentiments sound just, patriotic, and almost heroic.

I have a friend who is a member of the Brethren in Christ which is an Anabaptist denomination. The Anabaptists are pacifists who believe that Jesus’ teaching, specifically from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, calls Kingdom people to nonviolence. My friend and I have had a number of conversations in which we debated the logic and “reasonableness” of his nonviolent position.

I do not fully identify with pacifism. I do believe there are times when standing up for the weak may require the use of force. I believe national militaries and public servants also fall into different categories. However, the conversations with my friend forced me to take a serious look at the words of Jesus. When I looked at Scripture I had to admit that my friend’s argument was quite convincing:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” –Matthew 5:9; 38-45

I was also forced to acknowledge that my justification for violence was about the reasonableness of Jesus’ command. Then I realized that nothing about Jesus’ calling to follow him is “reasonable” in a human sense. The way of the cross isn’t about how reasonable grace and love and salvation is to the human mind.

Greg Boyd writes on Isaiah 2:4 and nonviolence:

“And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.”

“This is God’s vision for humanity, and it begins to be realized in the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated. We are to be in the present what the world will become in the future. We are “the eschatological community.” Since there will be no violence when the Kingdom is fully come, there should be no violence practiced by Kingdom people now.”[4]

You may not agree with my convictions, and that is ok. However, I think we should take seriously the calling to be Kingdom people who are working to see the Kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. I believe our Kingdom identity should be considered when we enter conversations about violence. I believe we should never desire for war. We should never hope for someone’s destruction. Jesus died for sinners—which includes all of us.

Conclusion

I hope I have been clear that I am not intending to incite an argument or even a debate. I am simply explaining my theological perspectives that guide my views on other life issues. My hope is that maybe some others would be seriously willing to reevaluate their own perspectives like I have. To reflect on how their own perspectives align with Jesus.

“I do not believe a person can take two issues from Scripture, those being abortion and gay marriage, and adhere to them as sins, then neglect much of the rest and call himself a fundamentalist or even a conservative. The person who believes the sum of his morality involves gay marriage and abortion alone, and neglects health care and world trade and the environment and loving his neighbor and feeding the poor is, by definition, a theological liberal, because he takes what he wants from Scripture and ignores the rest.”  ― Donald MillerSearching for God Knows What

[1] Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch. ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church. (p. 79)

[2] Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung. Glittering Vices. (p. 128)

[3] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope. (p. 209, 213)

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