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20 years ago, Al Qaida killed 3,000 civilians through terror and fire. That was a horrifying, indefensible act of violence.
In response, the USA started two wars that have killed 70,000 civilians in Afghanistan and 200,000 (!) in Iraq. Thousands of them were children.
That was also a horrifying, indefensible act of violence.
Shane Claiborne is an activist and theologian who had wise things to say concerning the violent aftermath of 9/11. From his book The Irresistible Revolution (2nd edition, pp. 185-187):
When Kingdoms Collide
Shortly after September 11th, I traveled to speak to a large congregation in the Midwest. (And no, it wasn’t Willow Creek.) Before I got up to preach, a military color guard presented the US flagat the altar. The choir filed in one-by-one, dressed in red white, and blue, with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” playing in the background. I knew I was in big trouble. The congregation pledged allegiance to the flag, and I wished it were all a dream. It wasn’t. I got up to speak, thankful I was standing behind a large podium lest anyone try to pelt me with a pew Bible. I went forward to preach the truth in love with my knees knocking and managed to make it out okay with a bunch of hugs and a few feisty letters.
This is a dramatic (though painfully true) illustration of the messy collision of Christianity and patriotism that has rippled across our land. I thought this was an exceptional and dramatic example, but l’ve had same zingers since this. I spoke at a military academy where they had a full-on procession of military vehicles and weaponry. They fired cannons and saluted the flag, and then I got up to speak. I felt compelled to speak on the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control), the things Scripture says God is like and we should hope to be more like.
I talked about how the fruit of the Spirit take training and discipline and are not always cultivated by the culture around us. Afterward, one young soldier came up to me, nearly in tears, and told me that as he heard the list of the fruit of the Spirit, it became clear to him that these were not the things he was being trained to become. We prayed together, and I think of him often. I know that young man is not alone.
I saw a banner hanging next to city hall in downtown Philadelphia that read, “Kill them all, and let God sort them out.” A bumper sticker read, “God will judge evildoers, We just have to get them to him.” I saw a T-shirt on a sold’ that said, “US Air Force … we don’t die; we just go to hell to regroup.” Others were less dramatic-red, white, and blue billboards saying, “God bless our troops.” “God bless America” became a marketing strategy. One store hung an ad in their window that said, “God bless America–$1 burgers.”
Patriotism was everywhere, including in our altars and church buildings. In the aftermath of September 11th, most Christian bookstores had a section with books on the event, calendars, devotionals, buttons, all decorated in the colors of America, draped in stars and stripes, and sprinkled with golden eagles.
This burst of nationalism reveals the deep longing we all have for community, a natural thirst for intimacy that liberals and progressive Christians would have done much better to acknowledge. September 11th shattered the self-sufficient, autonomous individual, and we saw a country of broken fragile people who longed for community–for people to cry with, be angry with, to suffer with. People did not want to be alone in their sorrow, rage, and fear.
But what happened after September 11th broke my heart. Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets … Many Christians missed the opportunity to validate both the horror of September 11th and outrage at war as a response to September 11th.
In the aftermath of September 11th, many congregations missed the chance to bear witness of God’s concern for the victims of the attack and God’s concern for the victims of the imminent war. Many of us hunkered down into familiar camps rather than finding a more creative way of standing with all who suffer. Many of the antiwar activists would do well to visit the memorial in NYC. And many of the war hawks would do well to visit the Ameriyah shelter in West Baghdad. Every life lost is reason for grief and outrage.
The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound.
A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God.
Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President. His newest book is Executing Grace: Why It is Time to Put the Death Penalty to Death.
Originally posted at PCPJ.
These days, love of God is often mixed up with love of country, patriotism and national pride. This was not the case with most early Pentecostals. In line with their pacifism, many influential Spirit-filled leaders criticized patriotism and nationalism. Here are some examples:
Charles Fox Parham (4 June 1873 – c. 29 January 1929) was an American preacher who was instrumental in the formation of Pentecostalism.
The past order of civilization was upheld by the power of nationalism, which in turn was upheld by the spirit of patriotism, which divided the peoples of the world by geographical boundaries, over which each fought the other until they turned the world into a shamble. The ruling power of this old order has always been the rich, who exploited the masses for profit or drove them en masse to war, to perpetuate their misrule.
The principle teachers of patriotism maintaining nationalism were the churches, who have lost their spiritual power and been forsaken of God. Thus, on the side of the old order in the coming struggle, will be arrayed the governments, the rich, and the churches, and whatever forces they can drive or patriotically inspire to fight for them. On the other hand the new order that rises out of the sea of humanity knows no national boundaries, believing in the universal brotherhood of mankind and the establishment of the teachings of Jesus Christ as a foundation for all laws, whether political or social.
Charles F. Parham, Everlasting Gospel, pp. 27-28. (more…)
A lot of great content is being published at PCPJ right now, including this piece by professor Cecil M. Robeck Jr. on the history of women leadership in the Pentecostal movement, and this personal post by Rachel Stella on what a “good Christian woman” is supposed to be. But I want to repost our amazing writer and artist Ramone Romero’s article on American football, patriotism and racism:
Black Lives Don’t Matter As Much As the National Anthem
by Ramone Romero.
It seems sometimes that in the national debate about #TakeAKnee the focus has become about “the flag” and “the anthem”, and it is often being forgotten that #TakeAKnee is a protest about the systemic injustices of law enforcement against people of color.
Yet even if that is forgotten in the news and chatter, this is still intensely about race.
The #TakeAKnee protests in the NFL (and spreading across the sports world) are offensive precisely because they began with black athletes.
The offense people are taking as disrespect to the flag, the anthem and to “America” itself comes because these are black athletes protesting.
How dare they interrupt the anthem?
How dare they not salute the flag in the way we want?
How dare they draw any amount of attention to themselves?
How dare they interrupt our holy moment of nationalistic worship?
I’m not American, but due to the enormous cultural impact US imperialism has brought unto the rest of the world, their national day is one of the few that I actually know the date of other than the national day of my own country. Today’s that day, and according to my WordPress statistics, many of you who are reading this blog live in the United States. I have a challenge for you: before you wave the banner of your empire and enjoy billions of dollars being blown up in fireworks, pray that God will help you love all people, including all those harmed by American consumerism, militarism and racism, and that He will help you pledge allegiance to His Kingdom first and foremost. After all, Scripture says that we are foreigners and strangers on earth (Hebr 11:13) and that we are citizens in Heaven (Phil 3:20). We are called to love all people as ourselves (Lk 10:25-37) and while the early Christians didn’t revolt against the Roman empire, they were known for pledging allegiance to another king than the emperor, namely Christ (Acts 17:7). I think Shane Claiborne nails it in his altar call on Red Letter Christians about celebrating interdependence day rather than independence day: (more…)
In his excellent book The Myth of a Christian Nation, Greg Boyd clearly shows that neither the US nor any other state can be Christian:
As we have noted, many Christians believe that America is, or at least once was, a Christian nation. We have argued that this notion is inaccurate for the simple reason that Christian means “Christlike”, and there never was a time when America as a nation has acted Christlike. Indeed, we have argued that it’s impossible for any version of the kingdom of the world to be Christlike for the simple reason that they participate in a system of dominion that necessarily places its trust in the power of the sword.
I totally agree. The church and the state should be seperate since the Kingdom of God is “not of this world”, the cross cannot partner with the tank. No Christian values can be enforced on people because enforcement is contrary to Christian behaviour. Jesus said that unlike political rulers, Christians should be servants instead of exercising authority. (Mt 20:25-28).
Thus, a Christian president is not necessarily a better president than a non-Christian. Rather, a Christian plumber is a better Christian than a Christian president. This is why I don’t see the victory of the Christian Barack Obama over the Mormon Mitt Romney as a giant triumph for the Kingdom of God or something like that. But I know that many American Christians think that church and state should be married and that God’s will is that the US should be a Christian nation. Thus, it is striking how many of them supported Mitt Romney in this election.
When Obama won the 2008 elections, lots of evangelicals tried to “prove” that he was a Muslim. Unlike the citizenship conspiracy theories, the Muslim accusation didn’t try to disprove the president juridically but morally – the underlying assumption was that a Muslim president is a bad president, who is unable to support Christian values (some even argued that he would implement sharia laws). Needless to say, the arguments for the Muslim Obama are horribly bad since he’s been a practioning Christian all his life, but still 20% of Americans believed it in the end of 2008.