Archive for the ‘Civil religion’ Category

Civil Religion Undone

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Although we seldom see success stories in the uncivilizing of Christian faith in the U.S., here’s heartening news from one of my students, who also happens to be a reader of this blog:

After numerous conversations with my pastor and occasions when I shared your words and those of others, as well as my reflections on other churches, this July 4 Sunday [2011] was different at my church. My pastor did not lead a pledge to the flag and made no reference to the flag. He wished the congregation a pleasant holiday, and included in the prayers those who are ill at home and abroad in various capacities, and did use as a recessional hymn one verse of Eternal Father. That was it, and I was so proud of him for his willingness to change after 11 years of pledging and hauling out the flag [emphasis added]. The pastor was concerned that some in the congregation would take him to task for not doing the flag thing, but it seems that no one said a word, at least not yet.

My response was, not surprisingly, “Hallelujah!” Both this student, for such a witness, and this pastor, for such courage, deserve our admiration and gratitude.

Thoughts?

The Death of Christ and the Death of Nationalism (Revelation 5, 7)

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Or, The Death of Christ, Christology, Ecclesiology, Doxology, Martyrology, and the Death of Nationalism, Tribalism, and the Like (Revelation 5, 7)

Revelation 5
6Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; 10you have made them to be a [single!] kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.” 11Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,12singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 7
9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

On Misreading “Greater love…” (John 15:13)

Monday, May 30th, 2011

In my previous post, I counseled preachers not to apply John 15:13 to war-deaths. Of course I know it is done all the time. By coincidence, an old (very old!) set of friendships is being renewed on Facebook over this issue. Below is what has transpired in the last 24 hours among me (MJG), old friend #1 (FB1), and old friend #2 (FB2).

FB1: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13


This Memorial Day weekend, take time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, thank those who served and serve today to preserve that freedom, and pray “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

MJG: With all due respect, FB1, wasn’t our Lord in John 15 talking about his disciples abiding in him and imitating his radical love, rather than patriots??

FB1: ?”By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35. I choose not to dwell on the distinction between discipleship and patriotism at this time, but rather on the intersection of the same.

MJG: Once again, with all due respect, I would suggest that that is one of the most serious–and potentially dangerous choices–one can make. It’s worth thinking through again, IMHO.

FB2: Actually, Mike, Jesus was equating what he was about to do (willingly get crucified) as setting an example of the ultimate sacrifice one can exhibit. Whether for your country or your beliefs, willing offering your life still fits the example.

MJG: FB2, I would agree that Jesus is setting an example, but he is speaking to his disciples about their willingness to die for one another and for him, as disciples, in their mission in the midst of a hostile world. (See the rest of John 13-17.) He is not enunciating a general principle but articulating a potential consequence of being his friend in the world that killed him. Applying this to other kinds of deaths robs it of its meaning for mission and discipleship. Jesus is not creating a proverb (“dying for friends is a loving thing to do”) but borrowing and radically redirecting one.

FB1: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

To expand upon my admittedly oblique point, I believe it is easier (the broad road) to compartmentalize our faith. In so doing, many have isolated themselves to some extent from the world and the issues of the world. But I make the more dangerous (narrow road) choice of integrating my faith with my life to the extent that God grants me courage, so that all of my words and actions may be brought under the Lordship of Christ. Thus, I focus on the intersection of my faith and my patriotism.

MJG: FB1, I certainly agree that our lives should not be bifurcated, and that all of life is to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. But as a good friend of mine says, “If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.” Or, to put it differently, the reign of God and the Lordship of Christ challenge all our other allegiances. More to the contextual point about the quote from John, I think Jesus is telling his disciples (and therefore us) that his kingdom is indeed worth dying for. But other kingdoms do not have the right to demand our bodies and ultimate allegiances, at least in part because their claim on our dying includes a corollary, inextricable, and ultimately unChristian claim on our killing. In other words, the church is called to make and honor martyrs, not soldiers.

Memorial Day Preaching Suggestions

Friday, May 27th, 2011

This weekend, in the U.S., churches will be filled with civil religion as the civil part of the liturgical year (Memorial Day to Thanksgiving), as practiced here, kicks off.

Suggestions for what not to do this weekend if you are among those who will be preaching and choose to make some reference to the U.S. holiday/ holy-day:

1. Do not glorify war. Consider using a quote from a war-seasoned expert about war. Eisenhower, for instance, said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

2. Do not sacralize war. War is not a holy enterprise, a crusade led by God and God’s representatives on earth, but a human project caused by failures and full of evils, no matter what its rationale or outcome.

3. Do not make war salvific or Christian  by misapplying Jesus’ statement in John 15:3 about his own loving death and about radical discipleship (“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”) to war-deaths.

4. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking that any nation is the kingdom of God, or that any nation deserves the unqualified allegiance and praise due to God alone.

5. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking that there is anything more important than worshiping God and following Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

6. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking, “Man, that was a great sermon about this great country and our great wars!”

And one thing to do:

Make sure everyone leaves the church knowing it is Easter season and Pentecost is around the corner! It is the season of life and peace and promise.

Civil Religion Watch Continues: The Huckabee Contribution

Friday, May 13th, 2011

A good old dose of non-denominational civil religion here from Mike Huckabee. (HT Jason Myers) He’s founded a company called “Learn Our History” that produces animated videos for kids interpreting the alleged role of the non-denominational God in U.S. history, specifically “in America’s founding and making our country the greatest place on Earth.”

Theological Reflections on the Death of OBL, part II

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Hopefully Miroslav Volf’s online piece for the Christian Century will appear later today. (On FB he has posted the first and last paragraphs.) In the meantime, lots of good reflections have appeared, including those listed here by Church of Christ minister David Smith, as I commented last night.

Two main, interrelated thoughts have struck me since yesterday. First, the common theme in Congress, in the media, and on the streets seems to be that this event has pulled the diverse and factious body of people called Americans together like nothing else in a very long time.

That should give everyone, Christian or not, at least a little ethical hiccup. How sad is it when the killing of a human being is the chief cause of human unity, even for a day or a week?

But wait–and here is the irony–for us who call ourselves Christians, the killing of a human being actually is the cause of our unity, only for us it is the being killed rather than the killing, the heroic role of victim not victor, that is the source of unity.

Which leads to my second main point. The values that are drawing Americans together at this point are not, as some have tried to argue, the high moral values of justice (in a philosophical or theological sense) and commitment to the good of the world. No, they are the old-fashioned values of nationalism, retaliation, vengeance, kick-a** power (witness the Naval Academy plebes’ video), and “American” justice, complete, in some cases, with a strong dose of civil religion. That these are not gospel values should go without saying, yet many Christian Americans are blinded to this truth by this powerful, seductive nationalism.

I conclude by quoting (as a Methodist) the Vatican’s statement issued yesterday by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman:

Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end. In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.

This is relatively minimalist, but good. Would that American Christians could at least take this statement as their starting point.

Civil Religion Watch Continues: Former President G.W. Bush

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Thanks to Mike Bird for posting this quote and critique from John Piper (he of anti-N.T. Wright fame) over at Euangelion:

“In January President Bush sacrificed the meaning of Matthew 5:14 on the altar of national pride, when he said to the National Religious Broadcasters in defense of the Gulf war, ‘I want to thank you for helping America, as Christ ordained, to be a light unto the world.’ What that amounts to is an outrageous distortion of Jesus’ meaning. That misuse of Scripture is designed for immature babes that are easily swayed by surface words without thought and discernment. The ‘light of the world’ in Matthew 5:14 does not refer to Americans bombing Iraq no matter how justified the war may have been.”

The one thing GWB probably got right is that he was aided and abetted in his distorted, demonic (sorry, I don’t mean to be overly dramatic) propaganda by the religious broadcasters.

Civil Religion Watch Continued

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

One of my blog readers, Christopher, added this as a comment to my January 10 “Civil Religion Watch” post. It’s pretty amazing:

The following is from the newsletter of a Presbyterian church in South Carolina regarding their July 4th , 2010 Sunday worship service.

“That morning’s worship service features: (Our) Color Guard’s flag presentation and the Pledge of Allegiance, patriotic music. patriotic hymn sing, no sermon but a Reading of the Declaration of Independence, and we will join in prayers for our nation. We ask that all our Community First Responders and active and veteran Military please dress in uniform for this service so we can acknowledge all that you have done and do for us. Additionally , everyone is invited to bring a flag to church (mind the size). You will be asked to wave it during singing, the ushers will give out small flags to those present. So invite all your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to” (church’s name) Celebrates the Flag on The 4th of July.”

Not sure if this is an example of civil religion or the worship of an idol?

Comments?

Here’s my comment:

I think this qualifies as over-the-top civil religion and idolatry. Replacing the sermon with a reading of the Declaration of Independence is literally unbelievable. I’m not sure what else to say except that this is no longer a Christian worship service.

Please keep these examples coming. People need to be aware of what’s going on in order to work to stop it.

Civil Religion Watch

Monday, January 10th, 2011

As most readers of this blog (and/or my books) know, I have an almost fanatical concern about civil religion, especially the variety found in the U.S. So I am asking you, my readers and friends, over the next few months to help identify and make public various expressions of civil religion.

To start off the new year: There is a church in the northeastern part of Baltimore called Christ and Country Church. I wish I had known about it before my Revelation book went to press.

More Civil Religion at Christmas

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I had the misfortune of attending church on December 26 at a relative’s church where the pastor of visitation (I believe), a former military chaplain, led the service and preached. He managed to mention the military and war at least 10 times during the service, even apart from the sermon, which was on the birth narrative in Matthew, focusing on cruel Herod and the slaughter of the innocents.

Now he actually made a good point: that the story of the incarnation is not an unrealistic, feel-good fairy tale but one in which the horror of human evil is recognized and is a central part of the narrative. So far so good. I’ve preached and taught this myself.

But the rather startling conclusion to the sermon was that while evil is still real, it will not win in the end, not because the counterintuitive, vulnerable power of God seen in the incarnation and cross will triumph, but because God’s truth is marching on, especially (he clearly implied) in the form of U.S. military power and activity. So the post-sermon hymn–on the day after Christmas!!!–was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”!!!

With Charlie Brown, I feel like saying, “Good grief!” and asking, “Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about?”


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