patriotism

Rethinking Peter and the State

I recently wrote about Romans 13 and the state. I mentioned that I did not believe that text was even about the Roman government. I believe, based upon the evidence I have seen, that Romans 13 talks about reconciling Jewish and Gentile Christians in relation to the religious, community authorities. Tyler Tully picked up on this and wrote a far more detailed analysis of this here and here, which I strongly recommend reading.

Today, another questionable text in regards to the New Testament and the state has been brought up, this time from Peter instead of Paul:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV)

This passage is a bit different than Romans 13. Unlike Romans 13, this passage is pretty straightforward. Romans talks about vague authorities, the sword, and taxes, and it is surrounded by teachings on religious instruction and ethics. Simply put, Romans requires a lot of unpacking in addition to looking at possible translation errors. On the other hand, this passage from 1 Peter is pretty much independent, and any issues in our reading of the text would primarily originate from possible translation errors. (more…)

the UNkingdom of GOD: Embracing The Subversive Power of Repentance by Mark Van Steenwyk – Book Review

(This post was originally posted at http://drewgihart.com/2013/08/28/unkingdombookreview/)

Mark Van Steenwyk has written a thoughtful reflection on the significance of Jesus and his in-breaking Kingdom as an alternative way of being in our society that is marred by evil forces, social structures, death-dealing oppression, and coercive violence. the UNkingdom of God is a subversive and anti-imperial vision for a repentant life concretely following after Jesus, that doesn’t attempt domestication or try to mince words. The book reflects the radicalism of an Anabaptist vision, as well as a liberative and prophetic witness that takes seriously the abandoning of empire while walking humbly in the footsteps and Way of Jesus.

One of the most important things about the UNkingdom of God is the way that he exposes how America and Christianity have merged so profoundly, being so deeply intertwined, that it has merely become an imperial puppet and tool. This is primarily done through personal stories as he retells his own story of being indoctrinated with American Christianity, awaking from it, and then ultimately repenting from it. It is primarily his own lived experience being told, often humorously, that I believe will resonate with many that consider themselves Christian while also a part of the dominant culture. For example he begins in the introduction explaining his infatuation with America and its ‘Dream’, and how he responded when he heard the song “God Bless the USA” as he watched fireworks in the sky. He explains:

At this point, I could no longer sing along. With tears in my eyes and a sob in my throat, I broke down weeping. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and pride. I wept as the song played out, and I continued to weep as the fireworks began to fill the night sky. It was like a mystical experience.[1]

Clearly, Mark Van Steenwyk understands what it is like to be enthralled with America and American Christianity. However, he didn’t remain there. The goal of the book is to call people to repentance. And this is the particular strength of this book. I am not sure I have read a book that has so clearly and powerfully called people to repentance in a way that resonates with the way that Jesus did so. We are challenged to repent of our Christianity and how we have been unwilling to experience God because we have him figured out already. He names the issue. It is that “We think we are open to learning the way of Jesus, but our cup is already full of our own ideas.”[2] It is something that we are not conscious of, therefore, we go on engaging scripture and sermons as though we are growing in Christ, when in reality our cups are already full, so everything else just spills out. Steenwyk reminds us that “We need to empty our cups. We need to repent of the myths that crowd our imaginations. We need to repent of our Christianity.”[3] Ultimately, Steenwyk describes that we need to even release and let go of our image and understanding of Jesus before we can truly “be the love of Christ in our world.”[4]

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The Kingdom of God and America (Crosspost)

Yesterday being Father’s Day, I naturally got to thinking about my father. I love him dearly, but he is literally the exact opposite of almost everything I stand for. To give you a rough picture of who he is, he listens to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck on his radio daily; he used to be a police officer, then a constable, and now he is a TSA agent. That is only the tip of the iceberg. What often gets me thinking, and the reason I write this post, is the sort of fusion of cultural Christianity and American patriotism that I find with people like my father. In this context, Christianity is not so much a way of life, but more like an ethnic heritage and set of social customs that are merely used to reflect the American way of life.

Though it was my father who got me thinking about this subject, it is something that is found globally. Every empire for the last 1700 years has been turning Christianity, or at least the facade of Christianity, into a religion that can be used to reinforce the imperial way of being. I think a great example of what this kind of Christianity is pretty much any state church in western Europe. Most of these churches have almost lost every single legitimate believer, but a shell of Christianity remains as part of the historical and national heritage. Church is for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and presidential inaugurations, but very little of it is used for everyday Christianity. I also suspect that Mainline Protestantism will be in a similar situation either very soon, or it is already there. (more…)

Beware of the Ministry-Industrial Complex

Occasionally, I end up going to one of those “Christian” stores, or I get some sort of advertisement from them. Where I live, they are called “Family Christian Stores” with an emphasis on the family part. In other parts of the country, such stores also exist, but with different names. We have all been to those kinds of places. When I was an evangelical, that was where you went to get a Bible or some accessory for it, but I still occasionally end up going there for one reason or another. These stores have books by Sarah Palin and Joel Osteen, and entire walls devoted to American flags and New International Versions. We all know the type.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an advertisement catalog from one of those stores, and for some reason I looked through it. First, there was a bunch of customized Bibles. Sort of like some sort of collector’s item, there was a bunch of needless varieties of Bibles for purchasing. I always see this whenever I go to any bookstore – people treating the Bible like some sort of fashion statement. What really annoyed me was when I saw this. They have this line of patriotic clothing, but it is not just patriotic. They mix Christianity into their patriotism in an amazing way. They even have a “Jesus Saves” shirt stylized to read “JesUSAves.” They literally made Jesus an American and linked Christian salvation to Americanism. They are mixing Christianity, capitalism, and the American state into one single chimera. Now, this is not new. I have known that they were doing this for a long time, but this example proved to be the ideal opportunity to bring up the issue. (more…)

Thunderbirds and Airshow Evangelism for Empire

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

This weekend has seen the death of 10 people in two different crashes at air shows. My own experience at the Chicago Air and Water show this summer has had me reflecting on this cultural phenomenon and its importance to U.S. patriots. If you want to skip the philosophical background, you can jump to the Thunderbirds as Evangelists section below.

This summer I read the Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. I’ve found his lens of the five moral foundation theory to be a quite useful framework over the last few years for understanding liberal and conservative morality. In this book he looks at the things that make for happiness, drawing on ancient religious texts as well as the philosophical traditions juxtaposed with modern science and changing views of human psychology.

Haidt, a Jewish atheist, also looks at the emotions and sense experienced in conjunction with our sense of the divine, a sentiment closely linked with that of purity. Divinity and purity are contrasted with those things that are disgusting and unclean. This is a vocabulary that is familiar to Christians from the Levitical purity codes all the way through Revelation.

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Stories from National Anthem Conscientious Objectors

Last year many of you were saddened to learn that the administration at Goshen College decided to begin playing the national anthem before sporting events.  A group of faculty, staff and students at the college is hosting a new website for those opposed to the decision to share life experiences that have shaped their convictions.  See http://anthemCOstories.posterous.com/ .

Several stories are being posted each week, and we encourage more submissions.  Stories currently posted share experiences from the U.S. as well as from conflicts in Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, and Vietnam.  Events of other stories originated in Costa Rica, Uruguay, Trinidad, and Haiti.  Take a look and consider sharing with others the experiences that forged your convictions about civil religion.

James Brenneman, J. Lawrence Burkholder and a new Mennonite theology of “loyal opposition” for Goshen College

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
– Francis Scott Key, Start Spangled Banner, 1814

Happy 4th of July! The American Flag in Fireworks by Beverly & Pack, flicrk user walkadog

Last week my alma mater, Goshen College, announced that it would begin playing the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events. Their press release frames the decision as an exciting new theological and socio-political adventure for the college. Make sure to read the press release especially the quotes from GC president James Breneman and the GC Presidential Council.

I should say up front that this issue is fairly new to me. I wasn’t much of an athlete, so the playing of the national anthem was not an issue for me growing up. For a thoughtful perspective on GC’s decision from someone who has thought about this all their life, read a Open Letter to GC from Britt Kaufmann, longtime Mennonite athlete, coach and GC alum.

I’m mainly interested in this decision because of the way it was rolled out as part of a broader vision emerging from GC President James Brenneman. See his recent sermon Brenneman calls for new ‘school of thought’ at Goshen of positive engagement in the world.

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