It seems that now there is a kind of lull in the momentum of the church at large in America. For decades she has poured her efforts into achieving political power. It culminated in being raised to the mountaintop during the last four years, after electing a leader who promised power to the church, if only she would support him.
And support him she did, in spite of his obvious greed, unrepentant immorality, dragon-like words, and his demonization of others (particularly his mocking of the weak and the ‘least of these’ such as the poor, foreigners, and oppressed minorities). At first many may have had a pang of conscience, but rationalized it as necessary to bow down in order to achieve the goals they sought through political power.
They may have rationalized that he could be influenced and changed. That she could hold him accountable. But instead he remained the same, and the church had to bow down repeatedly as he demanded more and more support (and praise). Having sold her soul once was not enough. She had to sell it again and again. And having done that so many times, she found that she had put all of her hope in him. She made herself afraid with conspiracies and countless fears of what would happen if her immoral champion were not re-elected.
She taught support for him from her pulpits. She prayed for his will to be done. Her prophets prophesied his victory. She sanctified his place and his causes, such as the imprisonment and breaking apart of refugee families. She allied with enemies of Christ’s ways such as white supremacists.
When he stirred up undeniable violence, and her prophecies failed (even as she tried so hard to have faith in them and make them come true), she had to pause.
What we witnessed and are witnessing in the US on Capitol Hill…
…captured in these images of the confederacy flag in the house and the fascist aryan fist raised in the chairperson’s, Vice President Mike Pence, seat of government (the equivalent of displaying the old Apartheid flag and raising the Hitler salute of Eugene Terblanche in our South African parliament)…
…is the full fruit of Trumpism, the full fruit of the root of bad character, mixed in with the ideology of ‘Christian’ nationalism, white supremacy.
Trump himself called for this “stop the steal” “wild protest” on Capitol Hill, publicly in-spirit-ing his followers on The Hill (with words of fraudulent lies of massive election rigging) to do what they did: invade the house and stop the ratification process of the election result.
As electors have cast their vote, we can breathe a sigh of relief: Donald J Trump is no longer president of the United States. Let that sink in! I honestly believe that even those who supported the president will not miss his conduct in the office, his tantrums, and undignified tweets. They may miss his policies but most will gladly dispense with his destructive personality.
The last four years have been a long whirlwind of chaos that I hope our nation never returns to. Just not having to deal with his tweets and the consequent media outrage surrounding it has been refreshing. Moreover, we can celebrate that civility is returning to the White House.
My main hope is that a Biden presidency can make politics boring again unlike the intrusive disruption it was in our lives for the last four years. With that said, this cannot be an invitation for disengagement as the work is far from complete. Let us not repeat the mistakes of 2009-2010 when an Obama presidency was quickly undermined by losses in the mid-term elections. While the electorate sat back, radical factions of the right woke up and mobilized. Their efforts would eventually bear fruit in the election of 45. A vacuum of a common cause that unites that country will invite a resurgence of irrational populism.
Bethlehem, considered the cradle of Christianity, is perhaps one of Earth’s most special places to embrace the Christmas spirit. Located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, it’s the “little town” where Jesus was born, and it attracts thousands of pilgrims at Christmas.
Bethlehem is the site of the Church of the Nativity, an underground cave where Christians believe Mary gave birth to Jesus. A 14-pointed silver star beneath an altar that the emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helena had built around the year 338 marks the spot, and the stone church is a key pilgrimage site for Christians and Muslims alike.
Fear and anxiety abound in these days of global pandemic, a US presidential election, natural disasters related to climate change, and economic insecurity. People are searching for explanations, advice as to how to best prepare, spiritual direction, and prophetic counsel. There’s a vulnerability to deception, and false prophecy abounds, visible in declarations endorsing candidates, conspiracy theories like QAnon, and political promises and prognoses.
Jesus offers strong warnings to his disciples:
“See to it that no one misleads you. “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Mat 24:4-5)
These “many” who come in Jesus’ name who “mislead many” can include those who claim to be Christian prophets themselves—even a majority of them.
In a number of places in the Old Testament hundreds of “court” prophets stand with Israel’s King, over-and-against a lone prophet who speaks for God. Each king of Israel was anointed by a prophet and called Messiah/Christ (meaning “anointed”). God’s prophets brought words of challenge, direction and rebuke—unless they were co-opted, which has largely happened now in the USA.
Some people insist that the only reason that neither Jesus nor anyone else in the first several centuries of the church tried to dominate the political system of their day was because they were a small minority of people living in a nondemocratic and hostile environment. By contrast, the argument goes, American Christians are a sizable group living in a rather friendly, democratic land, and we are able to at least improve, if not someday dominate, our government and culture.
And since to whom much is given much is required (Lk 12:48), do we not have a spiritual and moral obligation to use this opportunity to the full advantage of the kingdom of God?
In this light, the argument concludes, to shirk the opportunity to rule because we are afraid of compromising our kingdom calling is irresponsible, pharisaical, and cowardly. The argument seems to make so much sense.
I was born into Christ’s family through a Charismatic church as a preacher’s kid and was deeply involved in churches of that type until my early 30s. Today, while grateful for the home the introduced me to the God of the universe, I can barely recognize her.
The people that brought me to Jesus betrayed me.
They exchanged the genuine gospel of love for the allure of success. At times, I am even ashamed of my heritage. What brought me joy and comfort became memories of disappointment, manipulation, and hypocrisy.
While not solely because of it, this predicament came full circle when I witnessed leaders I respected enthusiastically vote and support a candidate that was the antithesis of the Christ they taught me. Have I been deceived all along?
While there are no statistics on P&C (Pentecostal and Charismatic) support for Donald Trump, I would not be surprised if that number was north to the often quoted 81% of white evangelicals who voted for him in 2016. And as a diverse group as few in the US, the vote is not limited to whites only but probably cuts through a majority of Hispanics if not even African American P&C.
Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote:
“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. 1 Kings 21:7-10, 15-16
While many consider the stories of the Old Testament, often framed by punishment and retribution, to be an example of God’s justice, the reality is that a comprehensive picture of justice is much more complicated. The Bible shows justice as not only an appropriate consequence for sin but also as an expression of appropriate concern for others. Righteousness before God means being in right relationship not only with God but others as well. Continue reading Biblical Justice: Making Things Right→
Some years ago I learned about “Kimigayo”, the Japanese national anthem. It’s about the emperor, and due to its use in the war, many people from Asian nations object to it, as well as some from various religions (including many conservative Christians) who feel that it comes too close to worshiping the emperor.
Sometimes people show their objection to the anthem by sitting while it is playing. Some teachers have refused to stand or play piano for it at schools, and as a result have gotten in trouble with officials.
Knowing about things the Japanese army did during the war, as well as the nationalist propaganda that led up to it, I’ve always felt people should have the right to not stand up for Kimigayo. Especially if they want to protest in view of the atrocities committed by the army across Asia.
One of my recent posts showed the local protest march in which my wife and I participated, and which our teenage daughter helped organize. One honest question has come up so often in response that I want to address it here.
Would Jesus have attended such a march, some have asked? Marching in parades aside, some feel that marching for racial justice, for the unborn or for other specific causes that suggest protest are inconsistent with proper Christian meekness. (I am assuming that those asking the question are also pacifists, since violence, and especially lethal violence, seems much less meek than nonviolent protests.) So, in consultation with my daughter Keren, I offer the following considerations.
First, it may be helpful to note the purpose of marching. Marching commands public attention in the way that individual voices often cannot. It also provides solidarity for the hurting and fearful. It lets them know that they are not alone; for the sake of the unity of the church that has too long been divided by race, now is an opportunity for non-black Christians to stand with our African-American brothers and sisters. Continue reading Why Christians Should Support the Marches Against Racism→