A group of pastors in Houston, Texas recently had their sermons subpoenaed by the city. I think I saw approximately 7,000 links posted about it on Facebook. You may have seen the same on your feed. There have been tons of stories and not a little bit of misinformation out there about a complicated issue.
But there have been a ton of upset Christians crying foul.
Like we talked about yesterday, Christians have been living through an interesting cultural shift in the last few decades. Where once Christians seemed like the majority and long reveled in the idea of America as a Christian nation, that reality now seems to be fading. And we’re not too happy about it.
In that light, I get the anger and resentment that flows when stories like the ones in Houston or Idaho come to light. Christians are used to having our way. Greg Boyd, his book The Myth of a Christian Nation talks about this reality and how the American Church has chosen to engage our culture. It’s a great read. If you’d like to hear more about it from Greg, you can start here.
Regardless, the influence of the “religious right” in our culture has been slipping. And while this seems like a recent phenomenon in our country, it is nothing new. This is actually the way it has been for Christians most of the time throughout history. Sean Palmer wrote about this yesterday (and laid it out much better than I could) and I encourage you to go read his post. A good point he brings up is this: As people of light, we should not expect the darkness to understand us.
So much like the Jews that Jesus lived amongst in Matthew 22, we are essentially an occupied people. We cannot expect to have the government reflect our values all the time. We will face different opinions, laws we disagree with and yes, oppression.
How do we live in that environment? Jesus said to give to Caesar what is his and give to God what is God’s. So what does that mean? Here’s a few suggestions that can help us live and move in this new (old) environment:
1. Stop being shocked and surprised.
This is my main concern with the response I see from Christians. The primary reaction seems to be “Can you believe this?” Shock does little more than put us in a defensive frame of mind. It makes us want to argue and fight and take up sides. Our 24-hour news cycle and the proliferation of information and opinion all around us keeps us in an outrage cycle. Before we have a chance to think through an issue, the next distressing item comes along and we move on to that one.
Instead of shock, we need thoughtful consideration of the role we play in our culture and how we can engage those around us. We need prayer and conversation. The more we can move past our surprise when stories like this hit, the more effective we can be at living as light among the darkness.
2. If you’re in bed with Caesar, expect to play by his rules.
If you choose to run a business for profit, then there are rules you are going to have to play by. That’s the simple reality of the situation. And the fact is that at times, like the gentlemen in Idaho, there may be a point when you have to make a choice. If that means that you are forced to violate your ethics, then be prepared to do something else.
I would say this, however. These situations are not as simple as they seem. Think through them. Pray about them. Trevor is constantly reminding me that the ethic for us in every situation is “What does love require?” And the more I consider that ethic, the more I find freedom to love people where they are and treat them with honor and respect.
3. Go about the business of showing that another kingdom is available.
As Christians we should expect that the way that we live will often be at odds with the prevailing culture. We will often be the fly in the soup. The Apostle Peter called us aliens and strangers in the world. American Christians have gotten way too comfortable as the moral majority, used to getting our way. And it has distracted us from our calling.
Instead of railing against the kingdoms of the world, we should be showing people that another kingdom is available. Our world is full of kingdoms that oppress and kill and rise and fall. These kingdoms fade. But what Jesus brought about in the world is something entirely different. It is a kingdom that isn’t built on power. It is one where love reigns and everyone is valued. One where we are called to love each other well and treat one another as fellow children of God. This kingdom will meet resistance. But let’s not let shock or lament distract us from our real calling — living as people of light in a dark world.