Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"Missionary" as New Cultural Identity

"The new cultural identity of the church in the Western world is that of missionary. . . . This means that local churches will need to undergo a conversion-like experience that brings a complete change in self-perception–from one that sees the church itself as the primary focus of attention to one that sees the community (or world) as the focus."

Donald Trump and the Evangelical Vote

There are some advantages I suppose to now living outside the U.S., after having been born and raised and having spent the first forty-two years of my life in the good ol' U.S. of A. For those familiar with my public ministry, I spent much of my time in Nebraska from 1998-2013, first at Zion Church and then at Grace Chapel, a church of which I was the lead planter, proclaiming from the pulpit that, despite conservative Christianity being aligned so closely with national politics for most of my years on earth, nonetheless the U.S. national political enterprise on whole was not the primary instrument by which the establishment of the Good News of the Kingdom of God would move forward in the world.

I've sought to communicate  that there is much about the national political enterprise that has been embraced for a very long time by evangelical believers as a form of civic idolatry. I feel a bit vindicated, though I'm not happy about it, by the fact that Donald Trump now seems to have gained so much of the evangelical vote during this 2016 election cycle. Should this development be so much a surprise? or is it a natural consequence of a certain view of the high virtue of the political enterprise for advancing Divine purposes that evangelicals have held for a very long time now, now turning desperate with a hold on political power beginning to slip, perhaps even dramatically so? If Donald Trump isn't anything, he is at least a charismatic leader, evidently a faithful Presbyterian now who can quote from Two Corinthians?! (wink, wink, tongue-in-cheek) well-versed and well-skilled in the exercise of power and persuasive rhetoric. I even listen to the Donald at times and then have to go have a strong drink to shake off the Jedi mind trick that has just been performed on me (doesn't Proverbs 31:6 say to give strong drink to those who are perishing?!) Perhaps rather than the humble prayers of God's people, the rise of Trump can now bring in Jesus on the white horse to deliver us from our sorrows!

My fellow Christians here in Canada tend to be quite puzzled by how it is that an unscrupulous guy with so very little evidence of a Christian ethnic or moral center can be so popular with Christian voters in the U.S. It is an absolute conundrum to them, and in my mind, right it should be. Currently working on my dissertation, I came across this little section in Lee Beach's recent book The Church in Exile on the idea of living faithful lives for Christ in a post-Christian world, one where the church now has to grapple with what it means to be without power and cultural capital in the world, a convenience it had possessed for a very long time. Beach writes that Peter in his first epistle offers this vision of the posture the early Christians took essentially as a powerless people:

... one (a posture) that acknowledged the people's lack of power yet offered them a vision that empowered them to see that even their quiet lives of holy living could make a difference. In the post-Christendom church this kind of vision can provide a unique challenge. For many of us, living as those without power is a new experience to which we have not yet become fully accustomed yet. We are used to having an opinion that represents the majority and a voice that curries influence with those in power. This has changed radically, and learning to function in a way that relinquishes old assumptions about power and influence is difficult. p.130

I suppose there is always the adjustment period of coming to terms with what has been lost for the church in the U.S. and continues to be lost as far as a majority voice on political and social matters. James Davison Hunter in his 2010 book To Change the World makes an evaluation regarding why this is so; Hunter ties the general tide of marginalization of Christians based on the reversal of fortunes for those (evangelical Christians) who had assumed that power was the way to establishing the will of God here on earth in the first place. How did we get so far off track from the basic teachings of the Bible that the first will be last, and the great ones must first become servants? I don't know any more than I know why Trump has the majority of the evangelical vote? So as Hunter says, the general tide of res-sentiment, a Nietzschean term, developed as a sentiment of resentment and hostility against Christians in the broader culture. If you believe in Karma (which ironically enough I don't), then one could argue that the Christians are finally getting their due! Perhaps it is not really Karma, but to reject Karma is not to reject our accountability to the covenantal nature of God's universe with its accompanying blessings and curses. As my doctoral advisor Dr. Steven Garber likes to say, we have one world to live in and it's God's world,... so in the end, given the complex bottomline of the universe, you must listen to what it teaches you if you are going to flourish in all the ways you were meant to flourish. The way of the Kingdom of God comes through far more humble means after all. What if we had simply done a better job loving the world? Well, one missed opportunity I suppose makes way for a new opportunity. Now Christians in North America are able to serve as an increasingly marginalized people- to be more careful and caring and subversive with how we engage the world for Christ.

Retreat I do not advocate, though I suppose 2.5 years before the phenomenal political rise of the Donald, one could argue I already took up the offer of one radio host to move north of the border should Trump ever become elected president! I'm not a prophet or the son of a prophet,... but then again... : ) Actually, I'm here for a more positive reason- in a place where Christian power and the generational memory of the work of the Church was lost long ago, the work of the Kingdom of God has continued to move forward in small but meaningful ways, as God's people pray and as Hunter says, exercise faithful presence in all of life, stewarding whatever vocational influences are their's. As for the church in my beloved home country, if pruning and humbling and the perpetual reminder that Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world is what it takes for God's people to see finally, then with a heavy heart, I rejoice for Jesus' Church there as well.