It’s simply a matter of meeting hostility with love. This is what Christians do; the Way of the Christian is to meet hostility with love.
I believe that many in the US are desperate for a Christian theology of involvement. US citizens who are Christian will always wrestle between two heritages. Our cultural heritage of independence, fighting for our rights, and the defiance of “Don’t tread on me,” will always be at least somewhat juxtaposed against our Christian heritage of dependence, self-denial, and love. I don’t mean to say that all of American culture is opposed to all of Christian culture–simply that the conflict certainly exists.
Something has gone wrong within this conflict when Christians are known more for their politics than their love. Something has gone wrong when Evangelicalism has merged its brand with the GOP and Tea Party. Something is wrong when Evangelicals are known more for citing the Constitution than they are the Bible. Something is wrong when a prominent evangelical leader calls a Mormon losing a political election “a disaster for Evangelicalism.”
This speaks to what we give greater priority: the US Constitution or the Bible.
Jesus, the authors of the NT, and the pre-Constantine early church experienced hostility firsthand. They knew what it was like to live within a society that responded to the gospel with either disregard, ridicule, blatant hostility, or even vengeful persecution. And how did they respond? Peter wrote to those who were being persecuted telling them to submit, urging them that by doing good they would silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Paul instructed Christians to submit, even after he saw Pilate crucify Christ and while he was hearing about what Nero was doing to Christians in Rome.
And Jesus told the heavily oppressed Jews to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. He told them to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.
It’s simply a matter of meeting hostility with love.
I don’t think we met hostility with love after Louie Giglio stepped away from the Inaugural benediction. I don’t think we met hostility with love when Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A took fire. I don’t think we met hostility with love when Obamacare passed, especially when we learned what it meant for companies like Hobby Lobby. I don’t think we met hostility with love in the lead-up to last November’s election, and I don’t think we met hostility with love when gun control was mentioned.
Even worse, I think we met vulnerability with hostility back in the 80’s during the AIDS crisis. And we continue to pay the price for our failure to love the one in front of us.
Let me be clear: the Constitution is a wonderful document. My experience with religious riots in Africa makes me overwhelmingly thankful for my religious freedom. I also believe we need groups like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty or the American Center for Law and Justice to help perserve our constitutional rights. And I understand that Paul submitted to Rome, but also demanded that Rome honor its own rules for its citizens.
But in the matter meeting hostility with love it seems that many of us have placed such an emphasis on our Constitutional rights that we’ve consciously created a chasm down the center of our existence. It seems everything Jesus said about love and turning the other cheek pertains to our private and religious life, while the drive to perserve our rights at all costs pertains to our public and societal life. At home with our family, we choose the Bible. At work and in DC, we choose the Constitution and our inalienable rights.
What makes this particularly sad is that for 99% of us our entire civic duty is comprised only of the time it takes to vote every two to four years. And yet we exhaust our lives debating, name-calling, deriding, and demeaning, as if our vehemence could deliver the Oval Office. We’ve anointed radio and cable TV hosts as our prophets, giving them greater credence than those who teach the Bible.
As way of contrast, the people of the Early Church (pre-Constantine) were known for their charity to the poor, their fidelity to their God, and their belief in the resurrection. They met the considerable hostility around them with a profound love.
And they overcame the mighty Roman Empire.
We are known for our adherence to the Constitution, and are increasingly being forced to the margins of our society.
Unless we choose another priority, we will lose on both counts.