At the risk of beating a dead horse, faith is not really faith if it’s easy. What the Christian tradition teaches us about faith is that we are called to exercise it, that we are called to try to believe in worthy stories—like the story of America, for one.
I appreciate his call for us to be diligently hopeful and faithful and I don’t think my faith in Christ compels me to pledge allegiance to the United States of America. Faith and patriotism are unrelated. And I’m talking about more than the usual discussion of separation of church and state, which mostly revolves around institutional hot button issues. On a personal level, which – for me – includes our local church communities, the call to discipleship – to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God – means to be unaffiliated, ultimately, because it’s too easy for us to make excuses and allowances for “our” side. If, for example, another country was holding hundreds of Americans in the same manner as we are keeping those at Guantánamo imprisoned would we say, “It’s just how they have to act in a post-9/11 world?” Would we sit as quietly as we have for the last seven years?
The answer to both questions is, “No.”
The kind of strange thing is Greg and I kind of end up in the same place, even traveling different roads. Hear him again:
This year, I want to challenge people of faith, whatever their political affiliations, to ask themselves whether Jesus, a victim of political imprisonment, torture, and execution, would be for or against political imprisonment, torture, and execution. I want to ask people of faith to be a people of hope as well. I want to ask us to love, to serve, to witness to the best that is in us, and not the worst.
I agree and I would add that the best in us will not be found in our government and political structure. Hear me clearly: I plan to vote and I hope Barack Obama is our next president for a number of reasons and how we love and serve and witness as people of faith does not swing on who moves into the White House. God is not on our side. The last best example of Christianity in action, on a national scale, was the Civil Rights Movement. Things changed in this country because people of faith, mostly coming from the poor and marginalized in American society, marched with King and others in God’s name, sitting at lunch counters until they were beaten down, choosing not to answer violence with violence, and bringing an unjust nation to a new realization of itself. The legislation and cultural changes that have come since would never have come about had our government and the rich and powerful who influence it most had been left to their own devices.
It seems to me that the church has been most effective down through history when it has been farthest from the halls of wealth and influence. Sure, the institutional church rose to power once Constantine baptized everyone in his army and made Christianity the state religion, but power and effectiveness, in terms of the Community of God we are called to build, are not the same thing. To follow Jesus’ call to discipleship is, in part, to come to the understanding that “Christian nation” is an oxymoron. We are called to be the church — not the country — of Jesus Christ. If we want to know where the hope for the next generation is gestating, we would do well to turn our gaze from Washington, or from the pristine suburbs that house many of our most beautiful (and expensive) religious buildings, and start looking for faith in the places Martin looked for those who pledged their allegiance to God: among the homeless, the undocumented, the displaced, the marginalized, the wounded. You know – the people Jesus healed and loved.
In Jesus’ parable of the final scene when nations stand before God, some were affirmed for the way they had lived out God’s call:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (The Message)
The second part of the parable reverses the story and chastises those who didn’t take time or resources to care for those in need. Perhaps in a country – our country – where, for example, 47 million people live without health insurance, we would do well to look across oceans and borders to learn from the rest of the world. We are the most powerful nation on earth, and we are not the world’s last best hope. We may be able to win more gold medals than anyone at the Olympics next month, but we are not Number One in many categories, particularly those that have more to do with compassion than competition. We are better tellers than listeners. We prefer to be in charge rather than in community. As Christians who also happen to be Americans, we do well to remember we are called to be God’s people, not act as though we are the Chosen Ones.
Greg closes his post with good questions:
Let’s show the world what it means to be a people of integrity, faith, and hope.
If not now, when?
If not us, who?
The questions are powerful to me because I choose to read them as a pilgrim, not a patriot.