Nevertheless, when any of us claim the moral high ground; or purport to speak from a superior ethical position, our actions will, and should be, scrutinized more closely. There have been several key moments and issues that, for me, have produced a greater level of consternation than others. These things were either generated from sources or groups that claimed some connection to Christianity or were given silent approval or advocacy by a great many people who called themselves Christians.
The Psalm 109: 8 Phenomenon: There have been bumper stickers, t-shirts and buttons that have been proudly worn by scores of people who oppose our President. This paraphernalia only sported one scripture, but I would like to put it in proper context (English Standard Version):
8 May his days be few;
may another take his office!
9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
10 May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
11 May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Those who forwarded this slogan attempted to be clever by only highlighting verse 8, but this pronouncement has to be placed in its proper context: it is praying for the death and devastation of a ruler and his family. That is the plain, unvarnished truth.
Even so, for many professing Christians, this seemed and still seems like an appropriate prayer; this declaration, for them, was altogether right and propitious. As an American citizen, they have every right to voice their views no matter how unpleasant they may be to me. Yet, Christ gives us no such leeway; He gives us no such excuse. For Him who said, "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," this must seem like a strange Christianity indeed.
There was really no outrage concerning this from the vast majority of American Christians; there was a very small chorus of voices condemning it. This CANNOT be the testimony of those walking in the footsteps of Christ.
Our, seeming, never-ending war-lust: I was an active member of the United States Marine Corps once upon a time, so I understand the always-regretful, but sometime necessary war. I have seen the mindless cosigning of wars that were far from necessary and the glorification of bloodshed by those who have been admonished to "follow peace with all." If a conflict is necessary, it should be approached with tears in our eyes and not war-chants on our lips.
How a large portion of American Christianity has colluded with some of the more bloodthirsty elements of our government and society is painful to watch. Our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for many, have been characterized as "holy wars." Once again, to Him who announced my kingdom is not of this world, these declarations and beliefs must seem warped. We appear to revile peace and sanctify warfare time and time again. Yes, we will acquiesce to the notion of peace; we will pay lip-service to the need for peace, without committing ourselves to the cause of peace.
Christ once reproached his disciples for this cruel outlook on those they perceived to be the enemy (Luke 9: 51-56):
51When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem;
52and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him.
53But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem.
54When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"
55But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of;
56for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them
What spirit do we possess when retribution and reprisal is preferable to a peaceful resolution? His answer to an injustice is one we should all strive to emulate. We, too often, have chosen to be the mechanisms of destruction and retaliation and not the instruments of peace --- a curious thing as we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.
The participation in the worship of excess and the scapegoating of the poor: In American Christian life, it appears that our sympathies, too often, have been with the rich man and not with Lazarus. The overwhelming amount of evidence in New Testament scripture that condemns the influence of affluence goes largely unheeded by a great many in our American Christian congregations.
Uber-capitalism has been wedded to the American gospel message and we are left to believe that the moral position of the goats is superior to that of the sheep; that the disregard (and sometime outright disdain) for the naked, hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned and immigrant, has some sort of basis in righteousness.
A torrential downpour of cries of "socialism" and "socialist," fall upon any of those who would dare suggest that there was some significance in the practices of the early church or that the growing wealth inequality that we see, somehow, run counter to Christ's admonition against greed and extravagance.
We may have given our money with the occasional donation; we may have even given our time by volunteering occasionally, but the giving of our understanding, is a rarity indeed.
Let us remember this: in the Christian scriptures we are not just told to pray for the poor or to give to those in poverty; we are told to defend the fatherless and widows; we are told to take up the cause of the oppressed. Have you, Christian sister and brother, been an advocate for the least of these? Have you been a bridge of understanding or a mountain of condemnation?
Patriot does not equal Christian: It appears that many American Christians believe that their patriotism gives them some sort of spiritual carte blanche. It is a by-product of a latent Manifest Destiny-mindset; a belief that has juxtaposed the kingdom of Christ with the United States of America. This attitude has been played out in our politics; it has been advanced in our attitudes towards immigrants and has been responsible for American Christianity's, predominant, support of war and aggression.
Jerome once lamented: " the blessed book that was condemned to the flames, is now covered with velvet and laden with jewels." There is an air of imperialism in that sort of worship. This is an approach to Christianity that values the religious favor of the emperor more than the blessing of the lowly Christ.
It is my conviction, that many of my American Christian brothers and sisters cannot see Christ clearly because the flag is in their eyes.
Martin Luther King Jr., once said that "there cannot be great disappointment without great love," and that is where I am today. I speak not out of anger or bitterness, but rather a somber discontent in what I have seen take place. The airing of grievances, I believe, does an underestimated amount of good, if taken (and given) in the right spirit.
In closing, I want to say that this writing does not, in any way, detract from my wishes for all to have a blessed, yes that includes Festivus, Holiday season.