Category Archives: Leadership

What About Social Justice?

(This is a follow-up to a discussion I had with some friends two days ago)  

It is very hard for me to imagine that one could be a devout believer and follower of Jesus Christ and not think things around us are amiss.  Much is broken, and while I believe there is some room within the body for differences of opinion about what is righteous and what is just, those views, ultimately, have to align with Scripture, in principle and application.  Otherwise, our views and preferences are just that, our views and preferences.

It is not my intent here to list the things I view as social ills.  That list is way too long. Instead, I want to share some thoughts on two different models of engagement for the purpose of social justice.  More than anything, this is me working through what I think and feel theologically and viscerally. Articulation of these models originated with others, in some cases, spiritual and theological giants much smarter than me.  I choose not to name any of them because I don’t want who they are to overly influence how you may react.  

It is very hard for me to imagine that one could be a devout believer and follower of Jesus Christ and not think things around us are amiss.  Much is broken, and while I believe there is some room within the body for differences of opinion about what is righteous and what is just, those views, ultimately, have to align with Scripture, in principle and application.  Otherwise, our views and preferences are just that, our views and preferences.

It is not my intent here to list the things I view as social ills.  That list is way too long. Instead, I want to share some thoughts on two different models of engagement for the purpose of social justice.  More than anything, this is me working through what I think and feel theologically and viscerally. Articulation of these models originated with others, in some cases, spiritual and theological giants much smarter than me.  I choose not to name any of them because I don’t want who they are to overly influence how you may react.

One response to social justice needs is to confront them (or at least to attempt confrontation) in order to affect change.  Perhaps the metaphor of being salt and light that Jesus references in Matthew 5 is an apt passage underlying this activist view.  Intensity of involvement is the essential spiritual litmus test for being full of spirit (though not necessarily full of the Holy Spirit, as one critic reminds us).  Activism for the sake of justice that is separated from interior righteousness is human rather than Christ-centered. A second criticism of this model is the potential for arrogance born out of pride in the acts of confrontation.  Martin Luther, John Brown (the abolitionist), Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, and the many Christians who, over the last few decades have confronted civil rights issues and the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, and who have protested against abortion are examples of those who  expressed this model. The key questions from them are how can you be salt unless you are poured on that which needs to be cured or preserved? How can you be light if you don’t shine in ways that are evident? I have witnessed this enough to know that it can be effective in the long-run, and have personally engaged in it enough to know that it can be costly in the short-run, or even longer.          

A second model is that which promotes separation of Christians from the systems of the world rather than their diffusion in it.  Being in the world but not being of the world is a summation of a fairly long lists of biblical texts which directly and indirectly point to a spiritual separation that is anti-direct confrontation. Some of its weapons are the witness of grace and compassion, coupled with prayer and patience.  This view suggests that the best way to impact the world (and by extension, its social justice needs) is to be so different in deeply held attitudes, beliefs and actions compared to those of the world that the very distinctiveness of Christianity offers an alternative to what is clearly not working well.  The interaction between Jesus and Pontius Pilate when Pilate was concerned that Jesus was a possible threat to Roman order, is an example: “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were…” (John 18:36).  One criticism of this approach is that, short of intentional awareness of justice needs and a witness within and beyond the boundaries of the church, it easily leads to believers being desensitized to the negative and often harsh realities of the injustices that surround them, but which may not touch them personally.  Another is found in the reality that some have interpreted separation as being physical as well as spiritual.  In either scenario, claims to distinctiveness are moot as the availability of an alternative is invisible to those needing to see an alternative.  A dististinctive that is not distinct in the eyes of those who most need to observe and experience it is of little or no value. The key question for those in this camp is how can you follow the patterns of the world, using the weapons of the world, and still be separate from the world?                                                                                                                

After ending the discussion with my friends, I continued to work through this stuff because I don’t believe it’s possible to be a committed Christian and not care about justice.  It is a theme woven throughout the Bible. What is the best approach then? Where I land is that it depends on the context and the leading of the Holy Spirit. The in-your-face strategy Moses used against Pharaoh was much different than the measured approach Esther used against Haman.  Elijah’s confrontations with Ahaz and Jezebel led to an outright spiritual battle royale. While Jesus had one type of response for Pilate, and no response for Herod, He was overtly aggressive in publicly chastising the religious community for allowing illegitimate use of the Temple. Paul used the conversion of Onesimus to quietly undermine slavery in the household of Philemon (and potentially elsewhere in the city of Colassae) rather than take on this well-entrenched Roman system head-on, a fight he would not have won at that time in history.                       

I think it is important to honestly come to grips that much is broken in our immediate world, conditions which GOD cares about deeply.  People are suffering in many ways, not because of chance but because of choices made by others (individuals and institutions). We in the church come up short when our focus lies exclusively on our personal piety without regard to that which impacts our fellows.  The Church must act like it’s interested in order to be the Church of Jesus. Neither model matters if we don’t care.

Ⓒ Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to original text content.  

   

 

The Teaching Power of the NBA

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Have you paid any attention to the disaster that is the NBA’s (National Basketball Association) recent efforts to overcome the Chinese government’s anger at Twitter comments made by the general manager of the Houston Rockets, currently one of the NBA’s premier teams?  If not let me set it up for you.

For several years, the NBA has been trying to establish a foothold in mainland China, like many US based organizations have over the last decade or more.  The reasons are rather obvious. China, with its billion plus population and its stature as a world power, economically and politically, offers highly attractive and potentially lucrative commercial markets for those with the resources and will to capitalize.  Add the fact that the popularity of basketball has grown substantially in China, second only to soccer, the chance for the NBA’s wealth and worldwide influence to grow exponentially is easy motivation.  The benefits for China includes the opportunity to expose its current professional players to the best competition in the world, the likelihood that in time more Chinese players will be deemed good enough to get NBA contracts, and the possibility of one or more Chinese cities becoming a non-USA based NBA franchise sites.  Additionally, the relationship will provide the additional benefit of pushing up the skill level of players not yet ready for the NBA, but still competing on the international level.  All this would be increased international prestige for Chinese sports capability.

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Just before a set of scheduled exhibition games between NBA teams and Chinese teams, as well as games in China between NBA teams, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, one of the teams at the forefront of this growing relationship, tweeted his support for the protests and protesters in Hong Kong.

Yikes!  Hold the presses!  The Chinese government had a cow, and demanded that the NBA publicly renounce the statement and the person who made it, and called a halt to all of the exhibitions that were anywhere from 24 to 48 hours away.

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The commissioner of the NBA tried hard to negotiate a middle way by saying the league regretted that the comments were made, but he refused to denounce the person who made them, emphasizing the commenter’s constitutional right to freedom of speech.  The Chinese didn’t buy it because free speech is not their cultural norm, and at least one game was cancelled, along with some non-game but related contracts.

Ultimately the issue wasn’t whether one game or two or more would be cancelled last week, it was how this issue could compromise billions of dollars in commercial prospects for the NBA, and the Chinese government’s effort to use the withholding of these prospects to leverage the NBA into making the denouncement the Chinese wanted.  Although the game is basketball, the Chinese were playing serious hardball.

The issue, for the moment, has left the public eye, but I suspect a lot of back-channel negotiations are still going on.  At least one game was played, but the issue isn’t over I’m sure.                                    

For the last month or so, I have been teaching a class for ministerial students entitled “Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally,” and this real live case is as good an example as there is of how important it is to understand the culture of individuals and groups when trying to convince them of something that may be foreign to them, whether it is the gospel of Jesus Christ or the basis of for the Bill of Rights in our constitution.

If we want to get someone from another culture to see things the way you see them, we better have the discipline it takes to understand, and even try to appreciate their values, norms, commonly-held assumptions, and the other things that constitutes their cultural make-up.  We  may assume freedom of speech is right for everyone.  Our system of ethics would generally support that.  But what if Confucian philosophy had been firmly rooted in your culture for thousands of years like it has been in China, and was hardwired into your thinking? It is highly likely that freedom of speech could feel very foreign, even wrong to you.  Why?  Because, among other things, Confucianism stresses the need to respect hierarchy and to honor those in positions of authority, whether they be parents, grandparents, other elders, or government officials.  From this perspective, what we may view as a repressive response would be viewed as common sense to someone from a Chinese culture.

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We would do well to study or restudy the biblical examples of how Jesus overcame the cultural preferences and biases of those He encountered, how Paul did the same thing several times, even how the writer of Hebrews sought to convince his audience that Jesus was superior to Moses.  These and other biblical examples are all occasions of effective cross-cultural communications.

Maybe the leaders of the NBA should study the New Testament.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to original text.

 

Why Am I Here?

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

Years ago, in my pre-pastoral days, I worked for a man who always began his staff meetings with this question, “Why are we here?”  He recognized that we all entered the meeting with a range of issues occupying our thoughts.  Some of those concerned the meeting agenda, but often they involved a variety of unrelated concerns: the need to complete and submit a report, an unresolved operational problem, an employee who was underperforming and needed an intervention, the customer complaint that required a response, a disagreement with a family member, etc.  Our boss, instinctively knowing this, used the question as a way of helping us put those things aside for a brief time so we could focus on the meeting, and get the most out of that time together.

Recently, I posed a related question to myself: “Should I not live as if the spiritual well-being of everyone I touch depended on my faithfulness in and obedience to GOD?” Isn’t that why I’m here?  Let me see if I can work through this.

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The word “Christian” is a designation that means a follower of Christ or modeled after Christ.  This begs the question, what is there to follow, of what did the original model consist?  In general, these questions are answered throughout the New Testament, and in the gospel accounts  (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  Jesus, the Christ, spoke to this Himself when He said, Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…” (John 14:12). 

So it seems, from this, there are two essentials to being a Christian.  The first essential is belief in Him as the Christ, the Son of GOD chosen to be the Savior of the world by way of His sacrificial death, His resurrection and victory over death, and His ascension to sit at right hand of the Father.  As His half-brother James later commented, this belief is not mere intellectual agreement; it is confidence in Him as a result of being persuaded.

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The second essential of being a Christian is doing the kind of work that He did (and doing more of it; i.e. doing it continually).  Well what work did He do?  I believe the work of Jesus can be classified in four buckets:

Bucket 1: Jesus revealed the nature and personality of GOD to all people.  Some of those people wanted to know what GOD was like.  Others thought they knew and were wrong.  Still others did not know they had a desire to know GOD until it was awakened in them by the presence of Jesus.  And then there were some, I’m sure, who didn’t care.  Regardless, if anyone crossed paths with Jesus, the nature and personality of GOD was revealed to them.

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Bucket 2: Jesus was compassionate toward those in need; and His compassion moved Him to action.  We see this with those He healed physically or delivered from spiritual bondage.  There was, within Him, a deep tenderness felt for those who suffered.  When people were in anguish through no fault of their own, He sought to extinguish it.  His tender heart is captured in Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Bucket 3: Jesus instructed those who would listen about the nature of the Kingdom of GOD through His teaching and proclaiming of truth.  He did this with large groups, small groups, and with individuals.  He did it in synagogues, on mountainsides, in fields and on seashores.  He clarified GOD’s system of morality, rescuing it from the distortions to which it had been subjected.  He expressed GOD’s desire for both righteous living and for merciful actions toward others.  He emphasized the importance of forgiveness.  He made the will of GOD clear and uncomplicated for people as it applied to the most important areas of their lives.

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Bucket 4:  Jesus developed people to continue His work.  These were people who lived as if the spiritual well-being of everyone they touched depended on their faithfulness and obedience to GOD.  And because of them and those in whom they poured their lives, we have churches and seminaries, Bible colleges and Sunday School classes, small groups and books, journals, blogs, vlogs and podcasts, evangelists, pastors, teachers and committed church men and women, all ostensibly dedicated to carrying-on His work.  Theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer is quoted as saying, “Nothing of real value in the world is ever accomplished without enthusiasm and self-sacrifice.”* Without the enthusiasm of belief and the sacrifices of countless people over the millennia, none of this would be.

So…what responsibility do I have in seeing that the work of Jesus continues beyond me?  Do I think it’s important?  And if so, how do I respond to that challenge?  If I put aside all of the peripheral thoughts and concerns of my life and really listen to Jesus, I think the answer becomes pretty clear.  Regardless of any other consideration, I should live as if the spiritual well-being of everyone I touch depended on my faithfulness in and obedience to GOD.  It’s a worthy burden that requires a lot more of GOD in me, and a lot less of me in me.  Maybe that’s why I’m here.

What about you?  For what purpose are you here?

* Referenced in Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman, (Beacon Press, Boston), p.80.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved for original text content.

Enlarging Our Circles

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

(1 Corinthians 9:22)

My great friend, former college roommate, and “brother from another mother” is one of those people who can walk into a room of strangers and have three new “best friends” within an hour.  I have seen him do this time and time again, and it always amazes me.  I saw him do it at school.  I’ve seen him do this in supermarkets, restaurants, and in crowds of people…all kinds of people: every size, shape, background and hue.  He has a way of being forward with people without being offensive to them; and they like him.  He reminds me of Paul in some ways; he never stops being himself, but he quickly finds common ground with others.

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At first glance, Paul’s comment opens him to the criticism of being a spiritual chameleon, someone who changes his colors and stripes in order to fit-in with those in his immediate surroundings.  I think the truth, however, is far from that shallow assessment.  The gospel and the sharing of it was, he believed, far too important for him to be parochial.  That was the fault of the Pharisees, his former identity and association, whose narrow-mindedness prevented them from seeing GOD at work in their midst.

Paul never lost or hid his core identity, but he did modify his evangelistic approach according to the needs of those he was trying to reach.  Quoting Swiss theologian Frederic Godet, Donald Metz wrote, “No observance appeared to [Paul] too irksome, no requirement too stupid, no prejudice too absurd, to prevent his dealing tenderly with it in his view of saving souls.”* The ex-Pharisee Paul, who initially preferred a very small circle, became the Apostle Paul with a greatly enlarged circle (and was always interested in enlarging even that as GOD gave him opportunity).

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Christianity is essentially a relational way of life (see Matthew 22:35-40) modeled perfectly by Jesus.  Being open to enlarging our circles and seizing opportunities to do so is in harmony with having an identity in Christ.  Insistence on maintaining small circles is not in harmony with who Jesus is and who believers are called to be.  Small circle mindedness is more suited to the Pharisees who had a very limited view as to who was or could be worthy before GOD.  Much of what we see and hear these days speaks to me about preferring small, closely contained circles.

For Paul, a Jew steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures and the history of the “chosen” people, there was no shame in relating to someone weak in their understanding of spiritual things.  There was no shame for him in building a connection with the very culturally different Scythians and the proud, and sometimes arrogant Greeks.  He was as comfortable in the presence of slaves as he was with the free.  And despite the controversies over the last two millennia, his trust in and reliance on a number of women adds weight to his doctrinal statement that, in Christ, there is no difference between female and male.

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Paul was making (and continues to make through his GOD-inspired letters) the point that it is the will of GOD that all people become chosen people.  Isn’t that the real purpose and message of the gospel?  Willingly enlarging our circles to include modern versions of the culturally and socially different is an affirmation of our intent to not be parochial and small-minded with this wonderful gift, the path to abundant and eternal life GOD has given us in Christ.  It says, “Everyone I work with or go to school with, everyone I meet, everyone I see but do not know, is my neighbor and I want them to be chosen; and I am open to connecting with them.  Who knows; I just may win some.”

* Metz, Donald.  “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians,” Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1968, p. 402.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

When Will It Ever Stop?

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall.”  
(Psalm 46:4-5a)

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A friend posted a comment and question on Facebook the other day, seemingly out of frustration with the recent violence and terrorism in our nation that has resulted in bloodshed and loss of lives.  Her question was, “When will it ever stop?”  It’s a question I’ve pondered off and on for so many years; and quite frankly, don’t see it happening any time soon.

My question is: What if it doesn’t stop?  What if it never gets really better in a way I think she means e.g. peoples’ lives, property and aspirations are uniformly valued, there is an absence in the broader society of an us vs. them mentality, and concerns and differences are addressed civilly and in an environment of mutual respect.  To what extent has this ever been the case anywhere in the world on a sustained basis?  Aside from Antarctica, I don’t think there’s a continent on the Earth that can make that claim.  I believe even a cursory study of history bears this out.

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We live (and have lived) in a world in which people and nations operate according to a paradigm of scarcity.  In this paradigm, there are not enough resources for everyone, and there isn’t enough freedom for everyone.  A few have to be on top; they have rights that are enforced, and they get the bulk of the privileges.  This means that some have to be on the bottom; they have few rights (that are routinely and systematically enforced), and have even fewer privileges.  Then there are the remainders who are somewhere in the middle, often aspiring to get closer to the top, and so grateful they aren’t on the bottom (as far as they can tell).  There’s a reason someone came up with the phrase, “It sucks to be you!which is how a lot of people in the middle feel and treat those on the bottom.  Those on the top may not give those in the middle or on the bottom much attention at all unless they do things that become irritating, like complaining about justice, economic inequity, and equal protection under the law, to name a few.

Sometimes those who perceive the presence of inequity are really voicing fear of a loss of privilege and favor e.g. “there isn’t enough to go around for all of us; and you’re not getting mine (or ours).”  Belief in this kind of scarcity produces tension that, from time-to-time in history, has erupted into physical violence.  There can also be the psychological violence that is added on by those who are dismissive and who refuse to consider root causes, particularly if it is not in their interest to do so.  This is not new stuff.   It’s been a reality in virtually every human society.

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I don’t consider myself a cynic or a fatalist.  I don’t think everyone’s sole motive in life is self-interest.  I just think most people are nice people whose social engagement has a limited range.  Beyond the social issues that hit their personal radars as being important or where they believe they have influence which they should exercise, they are generally disengaged.  For instance, how many adults in an entire local community might have concerns about their local public school system?  Measure that against the number of people from that same community who regularly attend school board meetings.  I’m neither seeking to discourage others nor to profit or otherwise gain advantage from the circumstances I describe.  That would be cynical!  And I do have hope for the future…but as a follower of Christ rather than as an optimist in a humanistic sense.

It would be nice if we could, finally, meaningfully address these issues…but what if we don’t get there?  What if the answer to Rodney King’s question, “Can’t we all get along?” is too enigmatic for us to be able to respond affirmatively with certainty.  What then?  The history of humanity isn’t all that encouraging, despite those modernists who continue to insist that education, and particularly science and technology, is the key to a brighter future for all.  For all of the strengths with this path (and there are many), there are still too many exceptions in the way that smart has been used that prevent this from being a reliable rule on which to place the weight of one’s faith.

Thinking about these issues brought me back to Psalm 46, something I’ve read and meditated on often.  Aside from its immediate context concerning the ultimate security of Jerusalem, it more broadly reminds us that those who are in GOD’s hands have no reason to fear, regardless of how the externals appear.  The psalmist uses powerful, dramatic imagery to make the point:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging…

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (vv. 1-3; 7)

 When will it ever stop?  I believe it will one day…possibly in this world, but most certainly in the next.  And when it does, it will bring with it a new paradigm, one of abundance for all who abide.  Then no one will denied because of fear or greed or for any other reason.

 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to original text content.

When Identity Clashes With Evidence

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”      (Hebrews 11:1)

Some time ago, I published a piece which made a case for leaving room in the Church for those who valued their tribal, language and/or national identity.  This call for space was, in part, an acknowledgement that these markers reflect our respective cultural comfort levels, and are valid from a Christian perspective to the extent they do not presume superiority of one to another.  Despite differences in tongue, historical culture, or church emphasis, there remains “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).  These identity markers must be subservient to Christ if identity is to be Christian.

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Last night (I am drafting this on a Monday afternoon) I was working my way through a book review I regularly read, and came across a statement in a review of a book which analyzes contemporary identity politics (I’ve paraphrased the comment to make it a little more readable): Identity attachment accepts arguments only from an authority closely tied to that particular identity, because evidence is always subordinate to identity.1

The author means, by “identity attachment” the way some folks assign a psychologically pleasing definition or set of characteristics to themselves and others in whatever particular group they are jointly members of.  The “evidence” the author references are the facts which may contradict the preferred definitions of a group.  An easy example might be a view that says: men don’t have a need to express their emotions.  Men who like  being perceived as stoically unemotional can easily buy-in to this view, despite ample evidence that the emotions of men run just as deeply as those of women, but are often expressed differently.  Different expression is not the same as no expression.  Sadly, gender self-bias may just scratch the surface of the ways “identity attachment” is manifest in the circles in which most of us travel.

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 Buy-in to unsupportable views of self is encouraged by persistent fellowship with those who think similarly.  The result is group-think identity that ignores the facts because the facts inconveniently undermine the preferred way we want to think of ourselves, particularly when someone we regard as an authority figure encourages us to do just that.  Another way to state the author’s point is that some people choose to ignore truth because they prefer the distortions promoted by another person, persons and/or institution.  This, according to the book’s author, is the basis for the kind of reactions in attitudes and behaviors that advance divisions among people.  There certainly appears to be sufficient support for this in the world’s socio-political environment, both in empirical evidence (i.e. sensed and observed) and by data-driven evidence.

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An important issue for me is the implication(s) for the effective functioning of the body of Christ if the identity attachments of its members are not rooted in and submissive to Christ.  Even now, I hear the voice of Paul in my head warning against divisions and factions in the Church (Romans 16:17; 1 Cor. 1:10; 3:3; 11:18-19), calling it carnal and therefore not worthy of Jesus Christ.  This is not to denounce identity attachment as being fundamentally non-Christian; we need not deny our humanity nor how that humanity is expressed outwardly.  I clearly have my culturally-based preferences, and gravitate to and enjoy them often.  It is, however, a denunciation of identity attachments when they, knowingly, contradict and attempt to subvert the will of GOD.  That is called sin.

There is a little-discussed branch of theology called “Theopolitical” which views theological beliefs through the lens of social and political structures and considers political beliefs that may be implied in Christian teachings.2  A commonly used example of this is the use of Paul’s teaching on submitting to leaders in government because they are placed in authority by GOD (Romans 13:1).  This argument is used by many Christians as an endorsement of their preferred political leader(s) as having GOD’s favor.

What is often missed (or ignored) is that while Paul’s teaching stresses the inherent goodness in a believer’s submission, he offers no explicit statement about inherent goodness (or lack thereof) in the authority to whom submission is to be given.  The focus of Paul’s teaching is on the believer who is to demonstrate faith in Christ by submission; the focus is not on the person in authority.  This is why Jesus was able to say, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:17).  Perhaps it is also why men and women like Nebuchadnezzar, Jezebel, the Herods, Herodias and her daughter, Pontius Pilate, Nero, Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and the various despots and petty dictators currently in positions of political authority today were/are allowed by GOD to be in power.  The Christian response to these may be just one component of faith being tried over the long course of history (see Job 23:10).

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A danger of “theopolitical” thinking that encourages identity politics is that it can facilitate little difference between the attitudes (and sometimes behaviors) of those inside the Church from those outside the Church.  When this happens, those who are called to be the salty, peculiar people of GOD, actually better resemble those around them who are in need of saltiness and the peculiar influence of GOD’s holy presence.  This happens much easier when the goal of faith, and the way it is practiced daily, is about belonging to a group(s) whose socio-political worldview is under-girded by the local church, or in the least, not challenged by the local church.  The goal of Christian faith has always been union with GOD (see Jesus’ prayer in John 17), nothing else.

Settling for belonging to a community of faith with whom we identify without also wholly identifying with the holy Christ and being led by the Spirit of holiness is an immature and shallow faith that is easily dented and is less than the worthiness of His calling.  My first pastor called this “living beneath our privilege.”  Beyond that, it can lead to expressions of heresy.

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It is here that our other-than-in-Christ identity can, if we’re not careful, assume equal status with our proclaimed faith in GOD.  This is a violation of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd commandments…to start with.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is an excellent illustration (Luke 10:30-37).  Both the priest and the Levite saw the seriously injured man, but took no pity on him.  Jesus seems to stress their position and status in the Jewish community, that is, their identity, to make His point.  They were VIPs, and we can assume that they were very well aware of it.  They either ascribed to themselves a superior view compared to this man or so negative a view of him that made his need insufficient to warrant their valuable time and attention.  We can also suppose that this man was a Jew because he was traveling from Jerusalem.  If he was a Jew, his outer clothing may have identified him as such, making the decision by the priest and Levite doubly damning.  The evidence of the teachings of GOD were subordinate to their identity as important people.  It fell to the despised Samaritan to demonstrate the royal law of love.  We can consider this as Jesus’ take on identity politics.

 In ascribing to our other-than-in-Christ identity positive traits aimed at supporting our superiority, we also seek to define those outside of our identity.  Our sense of superiority allows us to assume we can define others, and we do.  We find ways to minimize them in our eyes, and we may even attempt to project those views outwardly.  We assign to them traits that, when revealed, can range from subtle discounting all the way to pernicious hatred.  We seek to legitimize our views and attitudes with arguments that, though sometimes well-crafted and seemingly astute, ultimately reflect human wisdom that is at odds with the logos of GOD.  And we all have done it, and we have all experienced it.  We all have been group stereotyped, sometimes in multiple ways.  I’m thinking of at least four ways in which I’ve been subjected.

I believe this is the spirit of anti-Christ at work in people who we would otherwise say are good people.  It is that spirit because it subordinates the explicit expression of GOD’s will with views that ignore the commands of Christ in favor of those which support our preferred way of seeing ourselves and others.  This amounts to ignoring the evidence for faith in Christ Jesus, His teachings, His commands, and the redeeming, sanctifying work He accomplished at Calvary.  Anything that does this cannot be considered Christian.

I understand why this other-than-in-Christ approach to identity has so much appeal.  It feels empowering to those who feel disaffected and disenfranchised (somewhat like the Zealots of Jesus’ day).  With that, we must ask the question, ‘What is the origin and source of this powerful feeling?’  If it is not of GOD (and hopefully I’ve made the case that it is not of GOD), then it is to be disregarded and discarded, for Christ’s sake.

Identity politics which pits, whether with great subtlety or brazenly, tongue against tongue, tribe against tribe, nation against nation has no place in the Church of Jesus Christ.  Where it exists, may GOD root it out!  Where we may have been complicit, may the Holy Spirit convict us of it, lead us to godly repentance, and give us a hunger to be united in Christ.                                         

1. In a review of A Thousand Small Sanities by Adam Gopnik. Reviewed by David Frum in the NY Times Book Review, July 7, 2019.

2. Global Wesleyan Dictionary of Theology. “Theopolitical Theology” by Nathan Kerr, p.536.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2013.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved for text content unless otherwise noted.

Appreciating What We Have

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

 “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” (1Timothy 4:4-5)

 

Since starting this blog a year ago, I took on a part-time ministerial assignment: partnering with several pastors and churches whose primary language is other than English.  I’ve been involved in this ministry for close to 10 months, and it’s been very rewarding to say the least.  As I have gotten to better know these pastors and their congregations, my appreciation of their preferred language and cultures has been edifying in unexpected ways.

One of those ways is the ability to fully enter into the worship of GOD even when I know very little of what is being sung or said.  I attribute this ability to the Holy Spirit who is never confused or limited, and is able to lead us across boundaries that are, otherwise, impenetrable because of our human frailty or, perhaps, because of a lack of will.  I count this as new learning for me.

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Reflecting on my attempts to cross cultures has drawn me to another conclusion: sometimes we are more appreciative of the “new” than we are of what has been present and available to us all along.  This, I think, is common to most of us.  We certainly see it in our young children, but the dynamic is not limited to them.  It’s as if the newness of something opens our eyes with joy and appreciation in ways that the equally valuable, but previously present “thing” failed to do.    Here, I refer specifically to women who are 50%+ of the world’s population, and, more often than not, the primary doers of work and sustainers of ministry in the local church (there’s much objective data, both historical and contemporary, to support this last point).  Women have been a major part of the Church, working and often leading, from the beginning, and have been under-appreciated, stymied, and stunted, for my two cents.

Image result for women in the church

Our “appreciation and celebration” of diversity in the Church need not take on over-sized proportions if we allow ourselves to be molded by the Spirit and the Word.  When we fail in this molding, we often try to make-up for it by making “big deals” out of what should be an accepted reality: unity in the Church.  If the Church of Jesus Christ reflected more of a Trinitarian model of inter-relationships between its members rather than a spiritually outmoded and divisive model more reflective of the hierarchical, patriarchal, and dominant culture dynamics common under the Old Covenant, valuing some members over others, the separations of groups so common in the world would not be so common in the Church, as it still is today.  This model, so inconsistent with the New Covenant, is the Church’s version of the doctrine of separate but equal.1  The dynamics of separation create inequality, a fact underscored by Galatians 3:28.

I’m grateful for the teachers, mentors, and colleagues in the faith (of all hues and genders), who have and continue to influence my faith.  Each has blessed me.  I want to highlight one, Rev. Shirley Goodman whose recently published book, Riding In Cars with Men2, was an eye-opener.  I’ve been privileged to call her friend and to work with her for many years, and I highly recommend you consider reading what she has to say.  Who knows how it may impact you.

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  1. The doctrine of separate but equal was codified as the law of the land by the Supreme Court in 1896 through Plessy vs. Ferguson. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racially separate facilities, if equal, were not discriminatory, if they did not otherwise violate the constitution.  It was not overturned until 1954 when the Supreme Court heard and ruled on Brown vs. Board of Education.

  1. Riding In Cars with Men by Shirley Goodman (TheSheRev, LLC, © 2019) is available through Amazon in both paperback and electronic formats.

 

 © Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved to original text content unless otherwise noted.