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The American Sin of Nationalism

usa-1439915_1920One of my theological pet peeves is when people misuse the Bible in order to support their own over other groups. One glaring example is Jeremiah 29:11, which reads:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.

Or there’s 2 Chronicles 7:14, which states:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

These passages are HIGHLY misused because, even though they were written to and intended for ancient Israel, Americans take them and proclaim them as promises for America. The thought is that America is the new land of promise and God’s instrument in this world.

But it’s complete rubbish.

From a theological standpoint, America is no better than any other country in the world. We are not special. We are not unique. There is certainly no American exceptionalism.

Theologically speaking, of course.

Yet Americans, especially American Christians, CONTINUE to cling to national pride as though being an American meant divine favor. While this may not be true of everyone, all of the “Christians” I know who proudly claim to be nationalists are ALSO racist. They won’t say that. They say “pro-white” as though there is a difference. But being pro-white means you’re anti-anything else. And, quite simply, this nationalistic view is completely contrary to the nature and character of God.

God is the God of ALL nations. God is the God of ALL people groups. This is a lesson that we see in one of my favorite Bible stories – the story of Naaman.

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.

Naaman is filled with nationalistic pride. When the prophet tells Naaman to wash in an Israeli river, his immediate response is to question why the rivers in him homeland aren’t better. We see a lot of this attitude in Christians today.

Our way is better. Our way is the good way. God favors our way.

Rubbish. The story of Naaman shows us that God is the God of all. God even cares about this non-Israelite enough to heal him. After  Naaman’s servants talk some sense into him, Naaman does as the prophet instructs and is healed! And he realizes that there is only one true God.

earth-11593_1920Naaman almost missed the biggest blessing in his life because his arrogance and nationalistic pride prevented him from hearing God.

In today’s Western culture, we need to be sure that our nationalistic pride and arrogance has not made us deaf to hear the voice of the Lord. It’s not us vs. them. Our country is not a theologically superior country. God doesn’t love one nation more than any other.

I’m fond of quoting Galatians 3:28 ~

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The human distinctions that separate us are just that – human. There is nothing of God in them. So drop the nationalism and the arrogance. Drop the racism and the sexism. Through our faith we are united. We are one.

We are God’s.

Dear America, You Left the Christian Nation Behind

flag-1192625_1920A few days ago a friend of mine posted a video of British Prime Minister David Cameron. In the video, Minister Cameron was giving his annual Easter message from 2015 and made repeated references to Great Britain being a Christian country.

And American conservatives are going NUTS for it. I’ve seen comments from people telling the PM to “stick it to Obama” and thanking him for “having the guts to say what Obama would never say.”

Watch the video:

Here’s the thing that conservative American Christians needs to understand about this video and, the bigger issue at hand, our own history: AMERICA IS NOT A CHRISTIAN NATION! In fact, we left the Christian nation behind because our founding fathers didn’t want us to be a Christian nation.

There is still an official Church of England. There is no Church of America (not officially, anyway). One of the ideas of settling in America was that there would be nobody to force our form and manner of worship – we can worship how we choose. We were part of a Christian nation and we left it behind to pursue something else.

It is inappropriate to our history and our Constitution to try to force a national faith on America now. Don’t misunderstand me – I believe that the Christian faith IS the only way to God. I do not believe that we can force the country into a mold from which it never came.

America can’t “get back” to anything because it never started out that way. It started out apart from a national faith. This ALSO means we cannot misappropriate the biblical promises to Israel and claim them as applying to the United States of America. They are not ours to claim. We are not God’s chosen people. If we humble ourselves and pray then God will not heal America and restore it to its pre-Cold War greatness.

That is NOT biblical. We can serve the one, true God from any nation on earth. We can serve the one, true God no matter which party is in office. My God is bigger than partisan politics and international borders.

If you can’t get down with that, perhaps your god is to small…

Dear Franklin Graham, Please Leave the Ministry

Seriously, sir – it’s time to go. You seem more interested in political ranting than in doing any real ministry. Let’s take your recent rant calling for America to stop allowing Muslim immigrants into the U.S. You said:

FranklinGrahamWe must reform our immigration policies in the United States. We cannot allow Muslim immigrants to come across our borders unchecked while we are fighting this war on terror. If we continue to allow Muslim immigration, we’ll see much more of what happened in Paris—it’s on our doorstep. France and Europe are being overrun by young Muslim men from the Middle East, and they do not know their backgrounds or their motives and intentions. Islam is not a peaceful religion as George W. Bush told us and as President Barack Obama has said—that is just not true. Our president and our politicians in Washington need to wake up before it’s too late. This is not the time to be politically correct. Our nation’s security is at stake. The future of our children and grandchildren is at stake. We should not allow any political or religious group who want to destroy us and our way of life to immigrate to this country. Right now let us continue to pray for the victims and family members of the ‪#‎parisattacks.

I have three major problems with your statement.

First, your statement is about American policy and has nothing to do with ministry. You head the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. You are not a voice of a conservative political caucus.

Second, you are conflating politics and faith. You give a very harsh political statement about immigration policy and end it with a call to prayer. Are you NOW trying to switch back into the role of spiritual leader? If you want to play politician, leave the ministry. If you want to be a spiritual leader, stop using a ministry platform to push political ideology.

Third, your attitude is explicitly contrary to the Bible. Yup – I’ll say that part again. Your statement is in direct opposition to the attitude of the Bible. The Bible actually has a lot to say about foreigners. For example:

The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:8)

“I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” (Genesis 23:4)

The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.” (Exodus 12:49)

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 22:21)

“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

 “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)

You see, God’s people have been foreigners before. We’re supposed to understand what it’s like to be displaced – living in a world that is not our own. Because of our understanding we’re supposed to be sympathetic to the foreigner and alien. But instead of looking to treat them well, you look to treat Muslims with fear and disdain.

God COMMANDS that we treat well the foreigners living among us. I Turkey syrian refugees kurdsknow, I know, you’re technically talking about immigration, not the foreigners who are living among us. But let’s follow your line of reasoning to its conclusion. What about the Muslims who are already within our borders? You would seem to advocate removing all of them, because we can’t possibly know all of their backgrounds, motives, or intentions.

You say, “This is not the time to be politically correct.” You should change that to say, “This is not the time to be biblically correct.” I’d love to see your proposed plan to airports receiving flights from other nations:

Are you a Christian? Welcome to America! Are you a Muslim? Go, home, terrorist!

Your rhetoric is cheap and encourages both fear and animosity towards non-Christians. Please stop the charade and stop claiming to represent Jesus to the world. Run for office.

Leave the ministry.

Reflections on 9/11: Can We Find a Way Forward?

we will not fear, though the earth should change
we will not fear, though the earth should change

September 11 is a strange time for Americans. It’s a day where we lump together a bunch of emotions and attitudes into one big kettle: loss, grief, sorrow, anger, self-righteousness, racism, vengeance, patriotism…and that just to name a few.

It was an event that shook America to its core. It’s one of those events where everyone remembers where he was and what he was doing when it happened. It was an event that forever altered reality.

On the anniversary of that day I want to reflect on some issues.

First: This is a time to remember those we lost. Nearly 3000 people died. The ripple effects of those lives is huge. It is appropriate to think of those people, to mourn our loss at their untimely passing. I was once asked if it was selfish to grieve over the loss of a loved one. I wouldn’t call it selfish – I would call it human. We build bonds and attachments with people. It is normal to feel pain at having people taken away. But yes, grief focuses on personal loss and not on the final destination of the other.

Second: This is a time to turn to God. In the midst of that tragedy God provided comfort that no one else could. The psalmist writes:

God is our shelter and our strength. When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help. So why run and hide? No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.

When the earth spins out of control,
     we are sure and fearless.
When mountains crumble and waters run wild,
     we are sure and fearless.
Even in the heavy winds and huge waves, or as the mountains shake,
     we are sure and fearless.

Trouble is on the horizon for the outside nations, not long until kingdoms will fall;
    God’s voice thunders and the earth shakes.
You know the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies, surrounds us and protects us;
    the True God of Jacob is our shelter, close to His heart.

(Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7)

The earth definitely changed on 9/11. And this song, written thousands of years ago, is still as appropriate today as it ever was. We who believe have a reason for peace – even in the middle of chaos. We who believe have a Power greater than any other power on which we can depend. When the world is falling down around us we turn to Him and find hope. We find comfort. We find peace.

Third: This is NOT a time to embrace hatred and racism. Over the last 15 years I’ve seen many Americans speak and behave as though 9/11 gives us freedom to hate, belittle, or discriminate against people of Middle Eastern descent. Let it not be so. It is wrong direct our anger towards Middle Eastern people. Over the years since 9/11 I’ve heard many derogatory comments about Arabs. Racism in any form is NEVER okay. It really doesn’t matter what you feel the other ethnic group has done – no group is so monolithic that you can fault all for the actions of a few. Would you lump Arab Christians into your hatred? It’s just stupid. Let’s fault the bad guys and not lump others in simply because of their ethnic group. It’s poor logic. It’s the logic that looks at the Charles Manson “family” and hypothesize that all white people are cult-following murderers. So let’s drop the racist element from 9/11, huh? No more “Kill ‘em all and let God sort it out” attitudes.

Fourth: As difficult as it might be, for our own sake we need to practice forgiveness. We forgive others because we are people who have been forgiven. Jesus himself taught us to pray:

“And forgive us our debts, as also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

Forgiveness does not seek vengeance. We do need to seek justice for wrongs. One of the roles of government is to hold people accountable for wrong doing. But as individuals we can let go of the idea of vengeance and move forward in forgiveness. Because let’s be honest…a lot of our mentality (not just from politicians and military leaders but from civilians as well) regarding the “war on terror” has been about vengeance, not simply justice. It’s not our place to avenge.

Let’s be people of justice.

Let’s be people of peace.

Let’s be people of forgiveness.

It’s the only real way forward.

Related Posts:
~ Patriotism Vs. Faith
~ Learning How to Forgive
~ Spread the Love: Making 9/11 a Day of Forgiveness

Fighting the War Against Christianity

You can't fight it...
You can’t fight it…

Dear friends,

By now many of you have seen that there is a cultural war going on – a war between Christianity and the rest of the nation. More and more it seems that it is becoming unacceptable to voice religious opinion if it disagrees or interferes with non-Christian life and behavior. Here are three recent news stories about Christians in the military facing trouble for voicing their beliefs: 1, 2, 3.

While three particular stories don’t speak to the entirety of the conflict between Christianity and the world, they are indicative of what’s going on in our culture.

For 1700 years Western Christianity has enjoyed the peace and calm of being an official part of culture (thank you, Constantine). Our view has been the prominent paradigm for so long that we have forgotten what it is like to be the underdog in culture. But it seems that the tide is turning. Culture is shifting away from a Christian paradigm and turning towards a vision that embraces all faiths as equal (if not completely neutral).

In an odd turn of the tables, non-Christian Americans are using Constitution to argue for rights and demanding the ability to say and do whatever they please free of the restraints of Christian morality. At the same time they demand a voice for their platform they seek to silence the voice of the Christian platform. While I’m not a Constitutional scholar, I do believe this to be quite a hypocritical position. Christians should be allowed to voice their opinion without fear of reprimand just as anyone else is allowed to do so. But we seem to be moving towards a world where we are allowed to hold our beliefs…as long as we hold them silently. There are several things we should consider:

1. Christianity IS exclusive. The Bible is clear that salvation comes through Christ alone. There is no other path. All religions are not equal. If we believe the Bible then we believe that God’s desire is for all humanity to be saved through faith in Jesus. There is no compatibility with other faiths, and any synchronizing of faiths does damage to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. Just because Christianity is exclusive doesn’t give us freedom to belittle, degrade, and be rude towards non-believers. Even in a changing paradigm, let us strive to be decent. Moral outrage does us no good. James 1 tells us that human anger doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. So let’s scale back the tone and animosity towards those who don’t agree with us. We can be decent no matter what others believe. We can be decent no matter how others treat us.

3. We cannot stay silent and keep our faith to ourselves. Jesus tells us in Matthew 28 to “go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” If we stay silent we disobey Jesus. If we truly believe then we will give voice and action to our belief.

4. The Western Church might do well to suffer as underdogs in culture. It will actually make us think about what we believe and live to those beliefs. The early Church was no stranger to it. The Bible says in 1 Peter 4:14-16 –

“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

I really don’t see our cultural paradigm shifting back to the old one. We will continually move further and further away from Christian ethics and values as the norm. Secularism will end up being the majority opinion and voice. It’s going to be a painful shift, but only because we haven’t been used to it. Christians around the world face it every day, and the Church does just fine.

No matter what happens, no matter how things shift, and even if our Constitutional rights are removed and trampled upon, Jesus is still ruler of the universe. Let us hold fast to the faith to which we have been called. Let us not be silent in speaking about God’s will and design for humanity. We will not be the darlings of society.

But then – we were never supposed to be….

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