Good News? (A Quasi-Political Post)

I need you to trust me.

If you have followed my writings over the last decade you know that I do not like politics. In fact, I hate politics. I believe the confluence of politics and religion has been one of the greatest dividers and antagonizers within the Church as a whole. And, as a result, I spend my energy working to unite people from all political persuasions into the only thing that can cover a multitude of sins, a multitude of ideologies, a multitude of political persuasions- the love of God.

For it is the love of God, singularly, that can save us from ourselves, as impossible as that may seem sometimes.

But at the same time, you should know that since I do not care for either political party, I try to speak as much unbiased truth as I can, regardless of political affiliation. I don’t have skin in the game.

So with all of that being said, please know that my intention with this post is not to make some political statement, or to take some supposed political side, because I am not. Neither right nor left, blue nor red, liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democrat will save us. I am simply trying to work through some of the great divides I observe within the American Church in light of political influence and power.

This post began writing itself last week when I saw an article about Vice President Mike Pence, who by the way is from my hometown and my alma mater (Columbus, Indiana and Hanover College), addressing a pastors conference (and now the Southern Baptist Convention) in which he was a surprise speaker. It was this specific line that hit me, and then subsequently made me reflect upon it. It was when he told the audience of pastors to, “share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Maybe that line doesn’t really stand out to you. In fact, I would be surprised if it did stand out to you in any appreciable way because it is the very backbone of Christianity and a very common thing for a Christian leader to say. So it’s no real surprise that someone would say something like that at a preachers conference.

But the reason it hit me in such a weird way the other day was because there is a growing number of Christians, like me, who see how un-Christlike our government is, whether it be the current administration or past administrations, and the Vice President’s call to “share the good news of Jesus Christ,” seemed to ring a bit hollow in light of the current un-Christlike administration.

I need to be clear here. I am not at all doubting the Vice President’s sincerity or his allegiance to his faith. That’s not it at all. As you will soon see, the main point of this post really doesn’t have anything to do with the Vice President or the administration. I truly believe that from Pence’s perspective, he believes that the work he is doing, and the work that the Trump administration is doing by proxy, is largely in alignment with the “good news of Jesus Christ.” And his rally cry at the preacher’s conference was his clarion call for them to join him in this good news mission. Again, I do not doubt his sincerity or allegiance to his faith at all.

I just believe it is mistaken and misaligned.

The problem is that there are those of us who see the “good news of Jesus Christ” differently, who see that the character and policies of the Trump administration (and the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations of the past) as un-Christlike, and who believe that any pronouncement of the “good news of Jesus Christ” ought to be accompanied by a people resolved to be like the Christ they profess to follow.

I want to be consistent, though. I am not saying that I believe a country should, or even could, be Christlike because I don’t think that is even possible, nor is it what Jesus ever intended. But, when Christianity is so actively and vociferously bandied about by the current administration, and then used as their basis for policy decisions, it begs for serious accountability and critique by those who take following the way of Jesus seriously.

So here are a few questions I would have.

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it has no real bearing on us becoming more like Christ in our lives?

Ought not the preaching of the “good news of Jesus Christ” be accompanied by lives and initiatives that look Christlike?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if the policies of the United States are rarely Christlike, or not Christlike at all?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it really isn’t good news for people living today?

Does the Good News have any real world influence, or is it just something that guarantees a future in heaven?

Of course these questions are rhetorical, but they really bring to light the deeper problem we have within American Christianity in how we view the “good news of Jesus Christ,” and what it ought to mean for the here and now. And believe me, this problem is at the very center of the issues we have with each other in the larger American Church.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, we have two very different and distinct understandings of what the “good news of Jesus Christ” even is. And it is this difference in understanding that has led to very different ideas about what that means in the world and then how that ought to be expressed.

Some Christians believe the “good news of Jesus Christ” is the saving work of God through Christ accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross in order to defeat sin and death, thereby satisfying the wrath of God and granting forgiveness to all who repent and are baptized so that they may go to heaven for eternity in a spiritual afterlife.

The limitation of this understanding of the “good news” is that it does not offer a cohesive moral lens through which to see the world. Because this understanding is largely end-oriented, it is significantly limited in how to view (and relate) to the world presently.

That is why many within this version of the “good news” have adopted the most accessible lens in front of them to understand the world- the Judeo-Christian American lens.

Within the vacuum created by only using Jesus as a means of salvation, but not the lens through which they view all things, they needed some sort of lens to make moral sense of our country and world. And the Judeo-Christian American lens was the most accessible, because it was the one handed down from generation to generation in America.

The problem is that the Judeo-Christian American ethic is a mishmash of selective and inconsistent ethics from the Old and New Testaments. And those who see the world through that Judeo-Christian lens seek to impose those values on the governmental system as their ultimate goal, because they believe it is what God has always wanted. The Judeo-Christian American ethic is believed to be fundamentally and unequivocally Christian by those Christians who use it as their lens, even though its ethics are thoroughly un-Christlike.

A Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic. There is no such hybrid entity within Christ. To be a Christian means to follow the ethic of Christ. It does not mean ascribing to a mishmash of selective values that can be molded to your liking, or to your political leaning.

I am not pointing a finger of judgment here, because this is the quasi-Christian mumbo-jumbo that we have all been sold for generations. The problem is that a Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic and we are mistaken if we believe they are synonymous.

However, there are those, including me, who believe that the “good news of Jesus Christ,” which Jesus and Paul referred to as the “good news of the Kingdom of God,” is an entirely different nation and citizenship without boundaries or divisions or hierarchies, and whose values look exactly, and consistently, like the king in this kingdom… Jesus.

Yes, we still believe that the forgiveness of God was given to all as a peace-offering through Christ crucified, that sin and death were triumphed over in the resurrection of the Christ, and that God longs for all to repent (for all to change their minds about God and be transformed in the process of reconciling their relationship) and to be immersed heart, mind, body, and soul into this new reality of living, this Kingdom of God.

But it goes much further than that. Jesus isn’t simply a means to an end. Jesus is the means and the end. Jesus isn’t just good for getting to heaven. Jesus is the template and the lens by which we pattern our lives and through whom we see all things.

The good news of the Kingdom of God stands in sharp contrast to the selective and inconsistent morality of the Judeo-Christian American lens.

For example, when we say “pro-life,” we believe that God loves all life from womb to tomb, not just in the womb, because that is what Jesus taught and what Jesus embodied. The good news of the Kingdom of God is that all people are loved and worthy. And in this Kingdom, like Jesus, one does not see enemy-combatants or people worthy of death row or illegal aliens or garbage human beings or humans referred to as animals. We simply see people who are made in the image of God and loved by God. We see, like Jesus, people that we are to love with our heart, mind, body, and soul. And that may make us stupid and worthy of ridicule for loving so recklessly, but it is consistently with who Jesus called his followers to be.

And that is just one difference, among so many, between the selective and inconsistent Judeo-Christian American ethic and the universal and consistent good news of the Kingdom of God. It is easy to know how to see the world and other people when Jesus alone is the lens through which we see all things.

Let me give another example to illustrate the profound difference between the two lenses.

A Pew Research article posted on May 24, 2018 looked at whether or not the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees.

Of every single demographic analyzed in the study, from age to gender to class to ethnicity to education level, the groups MOST AGAINST the United States accepting refugees were the white, Protestant Evangelicals at nearly 70% and white, Protestants at 50%.

The people of Jesus. The people of compassion. The people who have become the very “body of Christ” in the world. The people of the “Good News.” The people who are to see others as Jesus sees them, is the single demographic MOST AGAINST accepting and helping a refugee.

When a Christian religion adopts a lens through which to view the world that is in stark contrast to the lens of Jesus, this is exactly what we end up with. Whether or not one breaks an American law, whether or not a person deserves the help, whether or not the person comes from another country or not, the good news of the Kingdom of God welcomes in and cares for the foreigner, the outcast, and those pushed to the edges of society. The good news of the Kingdom of God has deep, deep compassion for the poor seeking a better life, for those being hunted and killed by their own domestic oppressors, and for those seeking religious asylum from violent regimes. A people who understands the good news of the Kingdom of God is not singularly concerned preaching about the self-sacrificing Christ. We are resolved to pattern our lives after, and see the world through, the self-sacrificing Christ.

That’s the difference.

And I believe that is why there are so many Christians who think that the current administration is “doing the Lord’s work,” while there are just as many of us Christians who believe the current administration is an affront to Christ. Because without making Jesus the lens through which all things are seen, one can pick and choose which ethical concerns are “more important” or more “politically satisfying” or “more in line with American interests,” than with the Jesus they profess to follow.

It may be time for us to have deeper discussions with each other about what the good news is and what it really means for the world today.

Peace…

Brandon

Jesus Got A Gun

This post is a response to an article written by Reverend John Armstrong that rebutted my original post entitled Should We Arm Our Churches? 


Over the last couple of months, I have been told by Christians that I had “better watch out” with what I am saying, that I need to “be careful” or that I “need to be more sensitive.” Even more, I have had Christians tell me that I am “dangerous,” and that my positions on nonviolence, in general, and guns in churches, specifically are “dangerous” and “divisive.”

Let me first say that just because I hold a different view on Christian nonviolence and guns in the church, and have initiated a conversation about the issue, does not make me insensitive, dangerous, or divisive. Conversations such as these are absolutely necessary, lest the Church become a self-reinforcing, homogeneous, echo-chamber, which I am afraid is largely becoming the case.

I do find it curious though, that the one who is taking the words and life of Jesus, Paul, the Apostles, the Early Church Fathers, and the pre-Constantinian Early Church seriously and at face-value around the issue of nonviolence, is the one regarded as out-of-line and divisive. One might think that those who stray from, or explain away, the words of Jesus, the New Testament writings, and the Early Church ought to be regarded as the unorthodox position. For the weight of evidence in support of Christian nonviolence far outweighs the opposing, unorthodox position of Christian violence.

When the actual words of Jesus implores his followers to “love [their] enemies,” that ought to be sufficient. For there is no greater enemy than oneattempting to kill or inflict harm. And it is exactly that enemy the follower of Jesus is instructed to love.

The Dictionary of New Testament Theology says the word enemy, which is the Greek word exthrós, is “a person resolved to inflict harm.”  In other words, as followers of Jesus, we are instructed to be of such heart that we will love a person who is resolved to inflict harm upon us.

When one chooses to find gray areas in this, I wonder how one then determines who is one’s enemy and who is not. Even more, what words of Jesus, the author and perfecter of this faith, specify who is to be regarded as an enemy and who isn’t? There are not any distinctions to be made. An enemy is an enemy. And Jesus told his followers to love them. That certainly does not mean one ought not try to escape or think of other creative ways to preempt or diffuse the situation, but a follower of Jesus ought to love the enemy.

Even more, when Jesus tells his followers to not resist an evil-doer, which in Greek is mé anthistémi hé ponéros, it literally means “do not take a stand against, oppose, resist an evil man who injures you.” Jesus understands quite clearly what he is asking of his followers. And the Early Church understood quite clearly what Jesus meant. When violence comes upon a gathering of those who follow Jesus, it quite literally means for us to not stand up against it or oppose it or resist it.

So when one says that a Christian should “speak where Scripture speaks,” there then is no other choice than to say boldly that a follower of Jesus must love his enemy. Hard stop. And by virtue of this single declaration of Christ, one need not labor to recite all the other words of Jesus that support this one single verse.

Additionally, the argument that a Christian ought only “speak where Scripture speaks” misses the entire heart of the Gospel. For if that is the basis by which a follower of Jesus must move forth in the world, then one must be pro-slavery, pro-human cloning, pro-pornography, pro-illegal drugs and so forth.

But of course this is ludicrous.

The Spirit of God births within us a love that allows us to speak to contemporary issues and work toward peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a restorative (not retributive) means of justice. So while guns did not exist in the first century, one need only ask, “Since we share the same Spirit as Jesus Christ, would Jesus carry a gun to kill an enemy, even if it is done in self-defense or on behalf of another?” From the words and life of Jesus, I only find that we ought not kill an enemy. But you, as a follower of Jesus, can read his words in the Gospels and answer that for yourself.

Many Christians take the peaceable non-violence and enemy-love of Jesus to be only his divine calling and something divorced from his followers in the present. However, we never read Jesus saying, “This is my calling alone. It is not for you.”

Every single word of Jesus indicates that we, as his followers, have the exact same calling as Christ. So where would one find evidence of Jesus making peaceable non-violence and enemy-love his unique calling and something separate from the calling of his followers? There is absolutely no evidence for it. In fact, the evidence points significantly to the opposite. To follow Jesus is to follow the narrow way. To follow Jesus is to pick up one’s own cross daily. To follow Jesus means to turn away from all supposed worldly wisdom. To follow Jesus means one will be reviled and hated for their radical love and grace. To follow Jesus will mean one’s life because we no longer live in enmity with others, we no longer repay evil for evil. As followers of Jesus, our only disposition is love. And that may make me naive, stupid, crazy, radical, and divisive, but I take the enemy-loving words of Jesus at face value, just like his disciples and the Early Church.

Because when one considers that eleven of the twelve disciples died at the hands of an enemy, one must wonder why they did not self-defend. Or, when the Apostle Paul was killed at the hands of an enemy, why he did not self-defend. Or, why the Early Church was killed regularly at the hands of their enemies, but did not self-defend. The answer is that they practiced a peaceful non-violence rooted in the radical, enemy-love of Christ. And they believed others would see this radical love of Christ and be drawn to it.

Peace always…

Brandon

Read More

Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 1
Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 2

The Bible Says It. I Believe It. That Settles It (Except for Loving My Enemies)

I have found over the years that it is easy for Christians to disregard the teachings of Jesus that make them especially uneasy or that contradict what they believe to be right. There is no greater example of this than the Christian’s complete disregard for, and opposition to, Christ’s teachings on enemy-love and non-retaliation to evil.

For every time I have had a conversation with a Christian about how we are implored by Christ to be peacemakers, to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to not repay evil with evil, I am met with sharp disagreement and quick rebuttals. This is so much the case that I have found it easier to gain agreement from those who are NOT CHRISTIANS than those who have professed to be disciples of Jesus.

In many ways it seems as if those who have been invited to the banquet have refused to sit at the table and fully feast, while those on the street corners and in the alleyways are more eager for an invitation to taste and see.

It is a very, very bizarre phenomenon.

Despite clear and overwhelming evidence that Jesus wants his followers to be peacemakers, to be those who love our enemies, and to be those who do not repay evil with evil, the vast majority of Christians in the United States are pro-capital punishment and pro-war. Even more, the vast majority of Christians in the United States applaud and celebrate when young men and women in our churches go in to military service.

I realize that last paragraph may be confusing for you and maybe even hard to swallow. I remember my confusion when I was first confronted with the fact that much of what I believed and stood for actually contradicted and opposed the way of Jesus. For over three decades, I had somehow been able to compartmentalize my faith and justify my thinking so that my misaligned core beliefs never had to face the cross of Christ.

In my mind, I could follow Jesus on the things he and I already agreed upon, while keeping hidden those things that opposed him.

With that kind of division in my faith, I did not ever have to face the uncomfortable fact that my support of killing enemies contradicted and opposed the same Christ to whom I had given my life and to whom I had professed to follow. I was able to follow Jesus on my own terms without ever needing to change my heart toward those I opposed, or even hated. Even worse, there was not one single Christian I knew who would question or challenge my thinking on this, because they all believed the same exact thing.

And being that our country is so patriotic and so militarily-minded, very few outside of the Quaker, Mennonite, or Anabaptist traditions are brave enough to stand up and say that American churches have erroneously strayed and abandoned Christ’s teaching and example of loving our enemies. In fact, the position of many American churches more closely mirrors the position of the American government than that of Jesus.  These churches would rather have enemies killed than to love and pray for them.

While I don’t have any expectation of the American government to follow Jesus, it should not be too much to expect the Church to follow Jesus in how we love our enemies.  One has to wonder if Jesus would agree with Christian support for capital punishment and war, when it is so far from what he intended for his followers.

There is no question that there are assumptions we make about this life from the time we are born into it. Our hearts and minds are shaped and formed by the families in which we were born, the cultures in which we are shaped, and the countries in which we live. The ideas and beliefs we accumulate over the years can become so ingrained into our core being that they become our only reality, the only way we see the world. And we are all in the same boat. That is why there should never be an ounce of judgment among us.

But if we, as followers of Jesus, have fundamental beliefs and foundational positions that stand completely opposed, even antagonistic, to Jesus, ought we not wrestle with these apparent contradictions? 

Even if it challenges us to the very core of our being, is it not incumbent upon each of us, as his followers, to ask very simple questions as to why we can so easily ignore the great breadth of clear and unambiguous teachings of Jesus on loving our enemies and not retaliating to evil?

Maybe this outrageous point will demonstrate the degree to which Christians have ignored the enemy-loving, non-retaliatory message of Jesus.

The majority of Christians who are pro-capital punishment, pro-war, and pro-military also believe that homosexuality is a sin.

Please, please, please hang with me here.

While Jesus never directly mentions homosexuality as sinful, many Christians believe it is an absolute abomination, and as a result, actively and vocally oppose homosexuality.

Yet, when there is a GIANT MOUNTAIN of evidence from the mouth of Jesus instructing his followers to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to not resist an evil-doer, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to give the shirt off our backs, to feed our enemies, to give drink to our enemies, to be peacemakers, to forgive and forgive and forgive, to pray for those who persecute us, to do good to those who hate us, those same Christians do not just ignore his words, they actively oppose them.*

Do you understand what I am saying?

This isn’t a post trying to change anyone’s position or view on homosexuality. I understand how each side has arrived at their position and that is not the intention of this particular post. Hopefully, we can talk about that issue another day.

But for the sake of today, and don’t miss this absolutely essential point- On an issue Jesus never directly mentions (homosexuality) many Christians stand so strongly and so resolutely. Yet, on the issue that is the very foundation of Jesus’ life, teaching, and ministry (loving our enemies), the same Christians completely ignore and oppose it in their support of capital punishment and war.

I hope you can see the problem here.

To me, it is mind-boggling.

I hear so many of my Christian brothers and sisters who are pro-capital punishment, pro-war, and pro-military say, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” But I am going to have to challenge you on that assertion.  The Bible says those who follow Christ should love their enemies, not repay evil with evil, and not resist the evil-doer, yet you actively support their killing. And if you truly believed those words, you would surely not oppose the enemy-loving words and non-violent way of Jesus.

I would like to make a reasonable proposition so that we, as followers of Christ, may begin to move forward differently than we have in the past. I would like to honor and thank each and every service man and woman for their past and present service.  For surely our churches and church leaders in both the past and present did nothing but present military service as your Christian duty and obligation. And to that end, we hold absolutely no ill-will toward anyone who served in the past, or who is serving presently.

But, beginning today, may we draw a line in the sand and move forward into a future where the followers of Christ are those who pursue peace, those who love our enemies, and those who never repay evil-for-evil?

Can we begin instructing our children that the killing of our enemies, or any life, is contradictory and oppositional to the teaching, life, and ministry of Jesus?

Can we not move forward differently in our churches as a movement of peacemakers who offer a continual invitation into the peaceable, loving, forgiving, and merciful kingdom of Christ to both friends and enemies?

We are the physical body of Christ in the world and we have been given the task of looking beyond lines of division, relinquishing all ideologies of hatred, and inviting all image-bearers of God (friends and enemies alike) into the saving, life-transforming kingdom of God.

Peace is the only way…

Brandon

You may want to challenge my position based on some of the arguments below. I have provided links for further consideration. If you are interested in further discussion, let’s have coffee.

*You may want to bring up the violent God imagery of the Old Testament, I already wrote about that in another post, Out of Context.

*You may want to bring up the justification for killing your enemies by Jesus clearing out the temple with whips and by Jesus telling his disciples to bring two knives with them when he was getting ready to be arrested. Those misunderstood arguments hardly overturn the mountains of teachings from the peaceful, enemy-loving, cross bearing Christ. Here is an article about clearing the temple and one about the two swords for further reflection on the issue.

*You may want to support the killing of enemies by using the Just War Theory. The problem is that the Just War Theory is a theory for countries and governments, but not a theory offered by Jesus to his followers. Governments will always act as governments will act, but we are citizens of a different kingdom with a leader whose law is love for friend and enemy alike. And it is this leader and this kingdom to whom we have pledged our allegiance. We will not support or partake in any action that forces us to do anything less than love every human being, even the vilest offender. For even the vilest offender is a son or daughter of God, made in God’s very own image, and worth redeeming to the very end. Here is a great article refuting the Christian justification for killing enemies by using the Just War Theory.

*If we needed to go beyond the words of Jesus to make the case for loving our enemies, we can look at the letters of Paul and the lives of the Early Church. Paul echoes all the words of Jesus throughout his letters to the Early Church. He even says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of evil. That means our battle isn’t against other humans. And the war we wage is one waged differently- not against flesh, but against the powers of evil. Killing people does not extinguish this evil power. Additionally, Paul says that evil is God’s “to avenge,” not ours.

*The Early Christians were so committed to the peaceable, enemy-loving way of Jesus that they were regularly martyred without any attempt at repaying evil for evil. It should also be noted that the biggest explosion of the Jesus movement occurred at a time when Christians were actively laying their lives down in love and in their commitment to non-retaliation to evil.