|Sources: Opposing Views (Facebook); vox.com via Facebook|
The thing is, God is fixing "this" -- and we are a part of the plan. Yes, we, the body of Christ. We in all our inadequacies and confusion. We are God's answer to poverty, violence, and environmental degradation. We have all the authority we need to challenge entrenched powers, and together we have the discernment to understand the difference between those powers and the human beings (sometimes mistakenly called "enemies") in their captivity.
God's plan doesn't require unanimity. Instead, we have a division of labor. Those of us who are gifted evangelists and teachers can persistently open up the space in our cynical cultures to teach the value of life. However, we won't be heard if we're busy throwing rhetorical grenades at those in our churches whose priorities, rightly or wrongly, are different. The value of life is a wonderful spotlight on hypocrisy, reminding us to beware of cheapening it by appearing to value only life that is unborn, or born with the wrong parents, sex, color, capacities, geography....
Our gifted prophets also have their hands full. Whenever politicians cover the protection of wealth and privilege with fast talk and patriotic slogans, we need to compare words and deeds; we need to follow the money trail; we need to expose the consequences of unjust decisions and backroom deals. Those who are really good at this are probably in constant danger of slipping into unfair and overheated rhetoric, and need to be reminded that all life has value, even jaded politicians!
While our meetings and churches try to keep up with their evangelists and prophets, someone has to mind the store, keeping the doors open for those who need to worship at the agreed hours and bring their children to safe nurseries. We need trustworthy treasurers and stewards, who are happy to let others thunder and coax in public while they exercise their indispensable gifts at home. When those prophets land in jail or (for example) have their property and bank accounts confiscated for not paying war taxes, they'll be grateful for those who kept an eye on the weekly offerings.
I could go on and on about this division of labor, but the idea is simple: the church's cumulative influence on the world doesn't depend on all of us being equally mature or progressive; it doesn't require all of us to be perfectly coordinated in our ministries. But wouldn't it be more effective if we supported and challenged each other more often operationally ... that is, exchanging information on the challenges we see, the danger signs and gathering clouds, and the advances we gain here and there along the way? Here, in one place, we'll hear about Christians testifying with tender authenticity to Muslims about who Jesus is in our experience -- and listening with equal care -- and in another place we'll hear about Christians and Muslims working together for the sake of justice.
And sometimes, conflicts will be inevitable. Sometimes our budgets just won't cover everything we want to do. (Does our property, the cherished heritage of our hardworking grandparents whose very hands built it, sometimes threaten to eat up resources that we could dedicate to the needs of others?) Sometimes our arguments reflect the convictions and prejudices of our local communities, especially when some of us are more ready than others to cause scandal. But when we love each other and want the best for each other, our conflicts are not the end of the world. If we don't actually want the best for each other, that in itself means we have to take some time for healing instead of just going through the motions of church, powered by false piety.
Most of all, I hope we can pray for each other across our divisions of labor and our differing priorities. When conservatives and liberals pray for each other, and both pray (in utter exasperation?) for the flag-burning prophet, we begin to glimpse how we might, in some crazy way, be part of God's plan.
If this concept of the church's cumulative influence seems romantic, consider Robert Woodberry's research on the influence of "conversionist" Protestants on societies all over the world, often despite those missionaries' own narrow worldviews and personal limitations. I mentioned him last year in the link section of this post, but I was glad to see that you can access his important article, "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy," here at academia.edu.
What about visionary leaders? They have a role, too, although I'm grateful for Friends' low-overhead philosophy of governance, which at its best emphasizes the mutual accountability of leaders and community. When the Internet Monk site asks "why isn't Rachel weeping?", I can't help wondering where our Christian celebrities are hiding.
Here's an interesting case study. In today's Tomgram, Andrew Bacevich summarizes Eliot A. Cohen's sobering analysis that we're actually now fighting World War IV. Based on Cohen's prescription of an all-out generational struggle against the Islamic State and "kindred movements," Bacevich sketches a future involving a tripled Pentagon budget, a U.S. military numbering 1.8 million troops or more, and a timescale measured in decades.
Taking into account previous American wars, particularly World War II and the Cold War/Viet Nam, these figures (at least the money and troops) are actually very achievable, if the nation actually believed in the cause and were ready for that kind of mobilization. Bacevich warns, however, that in this process the growth of the national security state and the militarization of our country would be tantamount to national suicide. He goes on to propose that, contrary to Cohen's high-stakes warning, World War IV isn't our only choice. My question for church leadership is: who is helping the ordinary citizen, the conscientious disciple of the Prince of Peace, gain entrance into this conversation?
Bacevich's thought experiment persuades me that, if needed, our country could rise to the occasion with an astounding concentration of resources. Aside from a world war, what might convince us to respond at that scale? Am I foolish to think that the forced migrations of millions of people in the Middle East, for which we as a nation are partly responsible, might be one such enormous emergency? When I think that our government plans to allow just 10,000 Syrian refugees into the USA, and is getting ferocious pushback for that meager response, the near absence of moral leadership from the church is disheartening. (Exceptions.) Germany is prepared to accept that many in a week.
Or take climate change. The island nation of Kiribati expects to be the first country to require complete evacuation as a result of rising ocean levels and tides. Will these sorts of realities become causes worth significant sacrifice and national focus? If our evangelists and teachers have sufficiently taught the value of life, and our prophets have succeeded in making politics more transparent, the potential for mobilization might be there. Whom would we trust to raise the vision?
Two excerpts from Andrew Bacevich's article:
For at least the past 35 years -- that is, since well before 9/11 -- the United States has been “at war” in various quarters of the Islamic world. At no point has it demonstrated the will or the ability to finish the job. Washington’s approach has been akin to treating cancer with a little bit of chemo one year and a one-shot course of radiation the next. Such gross malpractice aptly describes U.S. military policy throughout the Greater Middle East across several decades.
As the United States enters a presidential election year, plain talk about the prospects of our ongoing military engagement in the Islamic world should be the order of the day. The pretense that either dropping a few more bombs or invading one or two more countries will yield a conclusive outcome amounts to more than an evasion. It is an outright lie.
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