Question: I fight for justice in the world, especially in HIV/AIDS torn Africa. I believe God is just, and his righteousness means justice! Who am I (meaning what do you think of me)?
Question: I think killing unborn babies is wrong and such practices should not be supported by federal funds. I think the delilberate avoidance of this in the new healthcare bill is a shame. Who am I?
Question: India and the US signed a nuclear deal recently. My Facebook update states my take on this: There cannot be an absolute liability for an Indian and lesser liability for Americans! If India wants another Bhopal Tragedy... go ahead and pass the Nuclear Liability Law in the current form. Who am I?
I hope you did not conclude on anything.
But if I were asking these questions separately to three different people who are complete strangers, I think each question will have established a core identification for me that these people will use in their conversation with me. But the fact remains that these are my virtues. So what makes us decide in favour of one when we are pressed to choose, as in an election. There are terms floating about like 'voting one's conscience', but that is rather unhelpful because if it is an honest conscience it would need to agree that there are plenty of Life Issues out there. How do we choose?
I remember Mark Young, current president at Denver Seminary, talking about voting on the basis of what will allow the Gospel the greatest possiblity of access into the hearts and minds of the people. This too is a value and a virtue, one I did not fully understand before, but is now becoming clearer and clearer. As time is of the essence and we are living with little time to spare for fighting any side battles, we have to remain focused on ushering in the Kingdom- by spreading the truth, fighting sin in our lives, churches and the evil that abounds in the world- economic slavery, hunger and other ills.
Here is a conversation I had with a former intern at our church who is now at a church plant in England. I reconnected with a couple of days ago and we had a good exchange of mails. I've hidden the names, but here is the exchange- it gets to the matter quickly:
Sent: Tue, March 23, 2010 10:14:17 AM
Subject: Re: Reconnecting
Sadly we are not in James Herriott country, but we are only 2 hours drive from it. So it would not be impossible to come and visit us, and see the Yorkshire dales!
How wonderful that you have thrived at __________ Church. What are some of the epiphanies you and Alma have undergone?
And I am very interested in the Justice movements you mention. Can you tell me more?
in his grip
Sent: Tue, March 23, 2010 8:47:46 PM
Subject: Re: Reconnecting
I have to stop and think where to begin. There are many angles to this, and it may not be the best way to begin at the chronological beginning. Let me try to sum up my hazy thoughts as briefly and crisply as I can without losing your interest. This is not in chronological order.
After the Haiti incident I read an article by Richard Dawkins in the Guardian- as one could expect it wasn't about any scientific rebuttal against the existence of God, but more about (a) Christian inability to explain the existence of evil, (b) Christian hypocrisy in saying that people like Pat Robertson did not represent them, and (c) the tyranny of Christianity in holding people and the world itself accountable for sin.
It struck me that nearly every conversation I have had with skeptics have turned in this direction. After all there are several scientists out there who do believe in God and many are Christians. Without going into other empirical observations I made, it struck me with pretty blinding clarity that the only real objection in a person's mind/heart to God or Jesus was evil- in 3 different forms: (1) evil in the form of one's own personal sin and the guilt that follows it, exacerbated by the difficulty in getting rid of it; (2) evil in the form of someone else's sin, especially those of faith, especially Christians who are perceived as hypocritical; and (3) evil that cannot be attributed to direct or overt human action- like death, severance of relationships, economic hardship, earthquakes, disease, natural disasters, et al. I'm fairly convinced that other objections are only a smokescreen, or perhaps "the icing on the cake" from the point of view of a skeptic. I suppose one could extend the argument to the believer as well, that scientific, geologic, archaeologic, logical, historical and all other proofs are an afterthought to faith.
Be that as it may, it struck me that if evil is the single stumbling block to an unbeliever, then Christians as the image of Christ, created to revere and reveal Him, must demonstrate holiness.
It then struck me that we tend to explain away our lack of holiness in certain situations when one virtue seems to us to take precedence over others- as in politics, when for instance abortion takes precedence over world hunger. But the fact remains that whatever our politics, these issues- abortion, hunger, poverty, social justice, healthcare, environment, racial healing, charitable giving, sancitity of marriage- are all "Life Issues". Our political grandstanding tends to constrain us from demonstrating, preaching or allowing free access to the Gospel. When I vote, do I consider the stance that will make the Gospel as accessible as possible to people? I think that is also a value, as much as voting one's conscience is.
It seems to me that some of areas of deep need for Christians to pour themselves into are right in front of us- human beings are slaves in every way. Some are slaves of men, others slaves of sin, others slaves who don't realize that they are slaves at all- in fact they believe sincerely that they are free. As Christians we read and teach that being slaves to Christ, slaves to righteousness is true freedom. From reading a book by Michael Card, A Better Freedom, which deals with the same topic, I was surprised to see something I hadn't noticed before- that Christianity is a "slave religion"- out of the 54 or so parables that Jesus told, 34 had to do with slavery. The terms, handmaiden, servant, manservant, 'one who serves', etc are all translated 'slave' in many versions. Card says it is important for us to maintain this translation of the word 'doulos' because in the context of Roman slavery in which these books were written, noone would have had any doubt what this term meant- the kind of economic slavery that they saw in their own lives or others' lives. Slaves were owned. Card connects this with African American slavery in which there are many parallels.
This book is really revolutionary- there are examples in this that took my breath away, I hadn't noticed them before. Another book on the Gospel of John by the same author, Parable of Joy, dealt with similar themes.
It seems to me that if Jesus who was free came as a slave and died a slave's death, then rose again as Master, in order to free us from slavery so that we may be free to offer ourselves as slaves to Christ- then as His slaves who continue His amazing mission, our priority is to free slaves of every kind so that they may be able to offer themselves as slaves to Christ.
It seems to me that we must free slaves of all kinds- economic slaves, sexual slaves, indentured labourers, slaves of affluence... The book by M Card has a 'coda' by Sara Groves, the artist, who also works with IJM. She talks about modern day slavery in many parts of the world. Sshe says there are more slaves today than at any point in history, many of them in Asia. Indentured labourers in India who cannot repay a debt and must work for his master to even keep paying the interest or minimum. The slavery extends to his family as well. Many are brutally treated and exploited. Sexual slaves in Thailand and the Philippines. Children trafficked in other parts of the world as slaves.
International Justice Mission and other organizations are modern day abolitionists. This one area seems to be to be the loudest and most painful call that we hear but choose to ignore. Closer to home, it is important for us to consider those in West, in the cities and towns who are in ghettoes, often of their own making, and others who are systemically denied a good fostering community, education and other benefits. Racial divisions and tensions which are artificially created by the divisions in our society- in terms of good suburbs, gated communities, exclusive schools (not bad things in themselves)- only serve to drive us inward to our own safe havens further. As Christians cut off from those who need us most, we deteriorate in our lives in Christ, unable to live Christ before them, fearing for our lives, our 'culture' and our children's culture when it was Christ who gave us these blessings in the first place and without whose grace, there would we go. We know who these people are- perhaps African American kids in Detroit, Pakistanis in Newcastle (and perhaps Indians as well- I don't know)? Card is part of an organization called the Empty Hands Fellowship that has built bridges with some of these communities in his hometown of Nashville, TN. Too long a narrative to go into here.,
I have friends who work with some of these organizations, particularly one if the trenches working with the International Justice Mission in India. Her stories appear regularly on IJM's website, right up front Their lives are full of challenges from seeing the difficult lives before them and from threats and dangers which come with the territory. But they are also truly incarnational as Christ is; and they seem to know the joy that I once knew- that of seeing as Sara Groves puts it 'a slave awaken to the value of her soul'.
But then I think of my work, family, future, etc.and get cold feet. I'm not looking for any mission agency to sponsor me- there are others who are eager to get into mission- one such couple in _______ Church with whom we are accountability partners are young, faithful and about to go into India. I think of what I can possibly do to move in this direction.
I think our biggest inertia is in thinking that all this is somewhere down the line, in the unforeseeable future when we have enough money saved up for retirement, kids' education and other such things. Given that we all need to support our families and have other responsibilities in life, we make a mistake if we live in perpetual angst about a future mission and not think about the here and now. If there are people in our inner cities who are homeless or refugees in Wheaton or Newcastle who are new to the country and looking for some help, I think it is a good place to begin to demonstrate Christ before we take a step in a larger direction. The couple going to India I talked about moved into a low income apartment in Wheaton, and have developed numerous friendships with the Burmese refugee community there. One particular family has been close to them- they are in fact informal foster parents for a boy who lost his dad to war with the Burmese government.
I also realized that a genuinely lived Christian life- complete with confession, "coming clean", getting rid of the Christianese that our sub-culture bestows us with, connects us with the world out there quickly. I had dinner with an Indian family that was disillusioned with some of the community's Christian leaders who look down on anyone with a glass of win in his hand but practice dubious methods in evangelism, handling finances and other issues. This family had recently discovered __________ Church's Naperville Church plant, pastored by Doug ______. They absolutely loved Doug. Meeting a Christian in that sense is a release for those who are looking for the real thing, a joyful conviction that this is indeed something true.
Mat- I can't claim that I'm anywhere near it. I want to be. There are people at work who are longing for answers. Many are Hindus, several are part of charities like the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. When you were here I think I discussed with you India's neo-Nazi movement. This is actually a quasi-nationalistic organization that serves community interests in the States. It seems remarkable now, but they tied up with Calvary Church, a pentecostal organization, to provide food and shelter for the homeless in the Naperville-Aurora area recently. This organization now regularly contributes to Loaves and Fishes, a Christian organization that serves the poor in this area. One of coworkers who is a leader withi the organization confided in me recently that he was deeply impressed by a CEO of a client company who gave up his position to go into Christian ministry fulltime.
In my lifetime I never thought I'd see this rapprochement taking place, but the God we serve is the great reconciler. His Gospel may be offensive to many, but why should *we* be offensive as well?
Plenty of other stuff about contextualization, the potential of Christ-bearing in the Hindu community, etc to talk about, but it must another time. I've not exhausted the extend of epiphanies yet- but it gives you the idea. 'Nuff said, I'm curious to know about your own interest in this topic.
Sent: Wed, March 24, 2010 6:42:30 AM
Subject: Re: Reconnecting
Thank you for this. I have just read your email -- and am very encouraged that the Lord has so clearly been challenging you.
I want to respond in greater detail, but don't have time to do that now. Very briefly, I would say that we are in middle of an urban area with enormous need. We have the slaves of religious system, alongside the slaves of economic deprivation, and educational destitution. We also have the slaves of pleasure too. So all of what you say is deeply challengining.
I wish that more of __________ Church were thinking along a similar line to you! Have you chatted to Chris __________ about any of this?
When the Gospel is preached, and believed, it also has to be lived out. And it has to be lived out in every area of life. A visiting speaker was telling us about William Wilberforce. He observed that Wilberforce was not primarily concerned about slavery, even though that was his life's work. Rather, he was primarily concerned that the rule of Christ ought to be lived out, so that the Gospel ought to be preached, and men ought to bow the knee and live for Christ. And *this* is what motivated him to fight slavery. This is getting it right I think.
I could write a lot more, but sadly do not have time.
in his grip
Sent: Wed, March 24, 2010 1:22:03 PM
Subject: Re: Reconnecting
I agree. What has kept me from this thinking much earlier was the posture of many well-meaning friends who have tried to talk me into a very narrowly focused liberation theology. It doesn't make sense that simple social or economic liberation is Jesus' mission- that is so uni-dimensional a view!
[This is not part of the email, but I want to add this as a clarification: I also want to add here that the voices that have turned me off have typically been strident, harsh, judgmental of Christians in a way that shut me out from listening to the truth in their words. When artists like Dererk Webb feel the need to rely on profanity to get their message through, people tend to judge them- and this may be hypocritical but it is the way we are wired, to look for faults. When others rant about Christians' political infatuation with the Republican party without connecting other non-Republican values gently and lovingly to the Gospel message, the Christian loses the connection and therefore the interest to continue in this line of thinking. This is what happened to me- I simply did not identify the speaker as being truly Christian except that they mouthed desperate calls for justice, often laced with judgment, profanity and insults. I do not see how this could ever be edifying.]
What finally put it together for me was the consistent message of some of these Christians I trust, that the Gospel necessarily includes embracing the 'poor' of every kind. I haven't talked to Chris- is he thinking along these lines?
Wed, March 24, 2010 9:23:31 AM
It's fascinating that you mention liberation theology. In some ways the situation is analagous to old fashioned liberal theology. What happened there was that conservatives allowed the liberals to "corner the market" on social action. But just because the liberals do it, doesn't mean it is wrong!! And the situation is the same with liberation theology. Just because liberation theology says that the sinful institutions of slavery ought to be torn down doesn't mean that it ain't so!! It just has to take its proper place under the Lordship of Christ, and the bringing of his kingdom, which first means proclamation, but must include the fulsome consequences of this proclamation. Sin must be opposed because it is anathma to God.
Regarding Christ -- you will find him very thoughtful, and open to engaging with you. Make an appointment for a coffee with him (best feed him at least one Espresso -- he's Italian!) and you will enjoy his take, and he may even have some ideas about how to take it further within ________ Church.