Thursday, October 28, 2004

Confessing Christ

After the rather discouraging post of yesterday, it seemed appropriate to scout around to see if there were other people outraged about the hijacking of the term "Christian" by the religious right. Indeed there are. And they weren't very hard to find.

From Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners;

High Stakes for Church and State

...The most important thing for the church in this time, or any time, is the confession of Christ. We see the confession of Christ itself under attack from three very dangerous developments. First, we see an emerging "theology of war," emanating from the highest circles of the U.S. government. Second, we hear, with growing frequency, the language "righteous empire" being employed by those same political leaders. Third, we observe a presidential talk of "mission" and even "divine appointment" of the United States and its leaders to lead "the war on terrorism" and "rid the world of evil," in ways that confuse the roles of God, church, and nation.

The issue here is not partisan politics, and there are no easy political solutions. The governing party has increasingly struck a religious tone in an aggressive foreign policy that is much more nationalist than Christian, while the opposition party has offered more confusion than clarity.

The issue here is the danger of political idolatry. The other issue is the use of the politics of fear, which is a dangerous basis for foreign policy. Such political idolatry at the highest levels of American political power, combined with effective campaigns of fear that too easily co-opt anxious people - believers and unbelievers alike - could together lead our nation and our world to decades of pre-emptive, unilateral, and virtually endless war, despite the clear warnings of Christian ethics. A biblical theology is being replaced by a nationalist religion. Presidential speeches are even misusing both scripture and hymnology by changing their meaning for the purposes of American power. Biblical references such as "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it," are changed from referring to the "light of Christ," from the gospel of John, to the "ideal of America" in the war on terrorism.

We need a new confession of Christ. For such a confession, there should be at least these affirmations:

1. Christ knows no national boundaries nor national preferences. The body of Christ in an international one, and the allegiance of Christians to the church must always supercede their national identities. Christianity has always been uneasy with empire, and American empire is no exception.

2. Christ pronounces, at least, a presumption against war. The words of Jesus stand as a virtual roadblock to any nation's pretension to easily rationalize and religiously sanctify the preference for war. Jesus' instruction to be "peacemakers" leads either to nonviolent alternatives to war or, at least, a rigorous application of the church principles of "just war." The threat of terrorism does not overturn Christian ethics.

3. Christ commands us to not only see the splinter in our adversary's eye but also the beams in our own. To name the face of evil in the brutality of terrorist attacks is good theology, but to say "they are evil and we are good" is bad theology which can lead to dangerous foreign policy. Self-reflection should provide no excuses for terrorist violence, but it is crucial to defeating the terrorists' agenda.

4. Christ instructs us to love our enemies, which does not mean a submission to their hostile agendas or domination, but does mean treating them as human beings also created in the image of God and respecting their human rights as adversaries and even as prisoners.

5. Christ calls us to confession and humility, which does not allow us to say that if persons and nations are not in support of all of our policies, they must be "with the evil-doers."

The words of Jesus are either authoritative for us, or they are not. They are not set aside by the very real threats of terrorism. They do not easily lend themselves to the missions of nation states that would usurp the prerogatives of God.

In an election year, Christians must assert their faith in ways that confess Christ as Lord, and confront any and every political idolatry. I believe the theology of war, the mission of righteous empire, and the divine appointment of the American nation in a "war on terrorism" are modern political idolatries that the churches must resist, in the name of both faithful discipleship and responsible citizenship.

In any election we choose between very imperfect choices. Yet it is always important to prayerfully and theologically examine what is at stake. And then, as best we can, we seek to confess Christ - even in our political lives. In this election, there is a great deal at stake and Christians, divided by political loyalties, are all responsible for asking the question, "What does it mean to confess Christ in the election of 2004?"
These 5 points; no national preference, a presumption against war, seeing the beam in our eye, loving our enemies, our need confession and humility, have been developed into a statement, Confessing Christ in a World of Violence. The statement has been signed by numerous Christian leaders and theologians.

American Bodhisattva notes the similarities between this statement and the Barmen Declaration. I don't think the similarities are accidental. I see plenty of parallels between what was happening within the Church in Nazi Germany and what we are witnessing arise within the U.S. today.

Maybe it's not too late. Maybe we can still stand up against the idolatry of nationalism that seems so prevalent within the current American expression of Christianity.

J.

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