Can you imagine Jesus saying “we must take this nation back for God?”

Imagine growing up in ancient Israel, hearing story after story of the great battles of Joshua, king David, and Judas Maccabeus. How there would be a messiah that would come and wage a battle to rescue Israel as these great leaders once did, only this time, he would be victorious. He would finally overthrow the powers of evil and restore Israel to its rightful power.

Then, imagine you believe you found this messiah. A teacher from Nazareth. You immediately dropped everything to follow him. Yet, instead of building a brigade, armed to the teeth, he calls fishermen, tax collectors, and women. That was kind of odd to you, but you pushed forward because you may have been a zealot with Simon or you wondered if you would take the seat of power on Christ’s right or his left after Rome was defeated, like James and John thought, the sons of thunder. But then imagine the disillusionment of hearing this would be rebellion leader say, “I’m going to die on a cross.” Imagine hearing that he would die at the hands of the very people you’re trying to overthrow. What whiplash that would be.

As you were trying to process this prediction of crucifixion, you heard Peter rebuke Jesus for ever saying such things. For what good is a dead messiah for the cause of a rebellion? “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter scolded Jesus. Yet, in front of all who were following him, Jesus responded to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matt 16:22-23). Later in the gospel, Peter would take up his sword against the Roman guards who came to take Jesus, and Jesus told him to put it away, that “those who live by the sword, die by it.” Peter did just that. He put down his sword and later took up his own cross.

Jesus was serious.

Jesus would become king, but not by the way of the sword, but by the way of the cross. Jesus would be king, but not by imposing impersonal commands from a nation’s throne, but on his knees washing people’s feet. Jesus would be king, but not by advocating for the rich and powerful, but by advocating for the poor and powerless. Jesus would be king, but not by riding a war horse into Jerusalem to lead an insurrection against Rome, but by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, the symbol of peace, determined to lead a non-violent resistance by teaching his disciples to be peace makers as well, in Rome and beyond. Jesus would be king, but not by taking a nation back for God, but by teaching his followers how to take God to their neighbors, and then to all the nations of the earth. Jesus would be king, but not by destroying evil nations, but by destroying the power of evil itself.

This is how Jesus still rules as our king today. He is still calling us to follow his way of the cross rather than our way of the sword. He is still calling us to have God’s concerns in mind, rather than just the concerns of men. He is still calling us to seek first the kingdom of God, even before our own nation. He is still calling us to center the marginalized and oppressed, rather than the influential and powerful. He is still seeking to establish his kingdom in and through us and its advancement is measured by the love we show to every human being we encounter. His kingdom grows one person at a time. May we answer that call, take up our crosses, and follow our king.

The Myth of Tyranny

Photo by Tarik Haiga / unsplash.com

There’s a deeply disturbing trend circulating in many Christian circles and news outlets of referring to pandemic health guidelines and mandates as “tyranny,” or “a slippery slope.” All insinuating that these health mandates are the beginning of some diabolical governmental plan for a hostile takeover. There has even been shameful claims made by numerous politicians and media pundits that compare these guidelines with the Nazi regime’s preparations for a Holocaust.

The obvious over dramatic comparisons to the immense suffering of the holocaust to public health mandates needs to be called out for what they are: shameful pandering. But along with that though, there also needs to be a deeper understanding of why these overly dramatic claims are being made. It is too easy to simply want to write these off as nothing more than partisan bravado, but I would argue that would be missing a more substantive belief system motivating these sentiments. I want to focus on just one factor that I believe informs these kinds of reactions that seems so pervasive in current mainstream evangelical Christianity.

I want to focus on what I am calling the myth of tyranny.

Now hear me, tyranny itself is not a myth. There have been and are many examples of actual tyranny in our world. However, there are a myriad of myths that circulate as to why, how, and when tyranny will occur and who will be the target of that tyranny. As they tend to do, myths make it very difficult to distinguish between rumor and reality. This is very apparent with the particular myth of tyranny I want to highlight here, which is one that is rather unique to evangelical Christianity. I actually grew up believing deeply in this myth. In fact, at this point in my life, I believed this myth for a longer period of time than I haven’t. It was only in my graduate studies of history and religion that this myth began to unravel for me. So, it is one with which I’m deeply familiar. So let’s take a little closer look.

This basics of this particular myth of tyranny convinces adherents that the government is inherently evil and hostile, especially when it is led by Democrats. It imagines a government, mainly ruled by an elite cabal, intent only on cruel oppression, especially of American Christian Patriots. This government will not stop until it strips the rights of Christian Patriots everywhere and ensures a secular (and socialist) American nation. This myth often envisions this being carried out by segregation, putting Christian patriots into camps, and ultimately eliminating them. Thus the need to be well armed and ready for the inevitable conflict. Hence the formation of militia movements.

If this myth were a reality, it would be an utterly frightening situation and should be opposed! However, as American history has shown, Christian Patriots, especially Anglo Christian Patriots, have never been targeted or rounded up and put in camps by the American government. It has however done this exact thing to other groups. I will briefly mention two here.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order authorizing the removal of all persons deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to “relocation centers” further inland. This resulted in tens of thousands of Japanese Americans being placed in camps, their livelihoods and civil liberties removed and denied. Those who were in the camps were mistreated and those outside the camps experienced hate crimes within their communities. One of the biggest camps is right here in my home state of Idaho.

Similarly, after the attacks on 9/11, President George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law, which led to surveillance programs like the registry of people from Muslim-majority countries and the detention of thousands, some still awaiting trial to prove their innocence to this very day. Many Muslim Americans were also tortured in the name of national security during the course of the war. These laws were handed down while the nation saw a 500% escalation in hate crimes against Arab and Muslim Americans between 2000-2009, with numerous people losing their lives by the hands of their fellow Americans. To this day, the programs devised by the Patriot Act has never received a single terrorism-related conviction despite tens of thousands of people forced to register and the many who were detained.

These two examples do not even begin to scratch the surface of other examples of tyranny. Such as the treatment of Indigenous Americans, over the course of our nation’s history, as in the trail of tears. As well as all that was done against people of color, women, and a host of other minorities. All of which shape the history of how America has engaged in tyrannical governance and give us perspective of the kind of mistreatment towards women and our BIPOC brothers and sisters that continue to this day. This history needs to be treated with the same attention that we so often give to the individuals and events surrounding the founding of our country.

The crux in all this is that the US government has gathered Americans and put them in camps. The US government has ignored and violated the civil liberties of whole groups of Americans. However, it has never done this towards the group the myth of tyranny suggests: Christian patriots. Rather, it has always been perpetrated against minorities and people of color who are perceived as a threat to national security. Yet, even in light of this history, the myth holds strong that at any moment, true Christian patriots will be the victims of such a humanitarian violation.

Some may argue that these humanitarian violations listed above are proof that it can happen again and Christian patriots could be the next target of the federal government. However, that would be to again miss another historical reality: American Christians have always constituted the majority of power in the federal government since the country’s founding. In other words, we are the federal government. So, perhaps this fear of becoming targets ourselves is rooted in the reality that we who have been the religious political majority have been the ones who have instigated or supported such violations like the ones stated above. Perhaps we fear the tables being turned on us. Perhaps the only thing we have to fear when it comes to the governing authorities is ourselves.

With this historical context in mind, it’s interesting to note that one of the central arguments of this myth of tyranny is that persecution towards Christian patriots happens gradually and incrementally. This is often called the “slippery slope” argument, which envisions that a law here and a mandate there, all create a slippery slope, heading towards inevitable tyranny, where Christian patriot citizens are subdued and completely stripped of their rights. While cruel and oppressive legislation has and does occur incrementally in American society, one would be hard pressed to find a historical precedent that it would happen against Anglo Christian patriots, who largely out number other demographics in seats of power, and to the scale the myth of tyranny advocates, like concentration camps. American history seems to say otherwise. As with the examples stated above, if the American government wants to round up people and put them in camps, they don’t waste their time with gradual steps. Instead, like FDR or Bush, the governing authorities simply sign an executive order or create a federal law towards the target group and they just do it. Thus, if the government wanted to round up Christian patriots, put them in camps, and strip them of their rights, they would simply do it with the full force of the American military as they have done before. Yet, even with there being no historical precedent for this ever happening to American Christian patriots, this myth of tyranny persists. It would seem we fear the same kind of tyrannical treatment and tactics being used towards us that has been used against our country’s minorities in the past.

A theological factor also fuels this myth as well in the beliefs produced by dispensationalism, which has convinced many that we are inching ever closer to a fiery apocalyptic war (Armageddon) and the government is our primary enemy in that battle. Because of this theology, many simply do not believe that the governing authorities are capable of asking us to make personal sacrifices for any other reason than tyranny and the soon coming apocalypse. In many ways, this belief system advocates the belief that all governmental structures are totally depraved and incapable of anything good, and in some theories, run by Satanic cabals, which is an extremely frightening notion. This dynamic prevents us from making clear distinctions between the long history of legal health guidelines in our country that are for the common good and those that are actually overreaching and tyrannical. This is why many find it reasonable to suggest that current health guidelines is akin to Nazi regimes.

This myth of tyranny and its corresponding theologies are not unique to current debates around covid. It has long fueled conspiracy theories since the war in Vietnam, like the Zionist Occupation Government conspiracy, which morphed into the New World Order (NWO) conspiracy, which morphed into Q-anon. These kind of myths, and corresponding theologies, can have real world consequences too. The NWO conspiracy is what Timothy McVeigh believed and motivated him to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, believing it was a front for an internment camp for white Christian patriots. The Q-anon conspiracy is what many motivated many to participate in a violent insurrection against the United States capital on January 6th believing election fraud was taking place. This myth of tyranny has a long history and is responsible for many, many other violent events and division. It reveals a consistent and tragic element among those who hold this myth to be true, which is they so often oppose what they believe to be tyranny by being tyrannical or supporting tyrannical behavior themselves. While it rarely rises to the level of violence, this element has played a major role in the ongoing division surrounding the pandemic. We’ve seen this autocratic response in numerous state legislators in how they continue to oppose federal public health guidelines and the flood of disinformation used to justify such flagrant opposition. Spreading propaganda that a safe and effective vaccine is dangerous and that a dangerous virus isn’t that bad all while enforcing bans based on that belief, putting the most vulnerable of our population at risk and overwhelming our healthcare systems, what could be more tyrannical? It’s as if they refuse to see the irony of opposing what they believe to be government control with more of their brand of government control.

So how do we respond to this myth of tyranny? How do we address the very real fear this myth produces for friends and family?

I think our response to this myth is helped by a clear approach to our history as a nation, but it is also helped by an honest look at what is going on in our own hearts as American Christians.

Due to our nation’s heritage, American Christians, myself included, are tempted to idolize personal freedoms to such an extent that any mandate, even for the sake of the common good, feels like infringement or persecution or tyranny. When this happens, we can begin to confuse personal liberties with civil liberties and therefore arrive at the false conclusion that being asked to alter our personal liberties for the sake of the common good is somehow the same thing as having our civil liberties violated. This leaves the door open for the myth of tyranny to take root and convince us that we are on the slippery slope towards total governmental control.

Again, American history really helps us here. In the 1918 influenza pandemic, which claimed the lives of an estimated 675,000 Americans by some estimates, the same guidelines and mandates were put in place. Businesses and schools shut down and places of worship all suspended gatherings for a long period of time. There were anti-mask riots and conspiracies about the flu vaccine. There were even mandates that made it illegal to spit on the sidewalk in some cities. If these things were a slippery slope into tyranny over Christian patriots, there wouldn’t be thriving churches today. We would have still been wearing masks before the COVID19 pandemic, or worse, had to raise our families in concentration camps. None of this happened, however. Christianity still thrived after 1918. Churches didn’t close down forever, and individual liberties were not stripped from the public. The government was simply asking American citizens to follow guidelines and mandates for the common good of the nation in the midst of crisis. After which, our country went back to normal and another vaccine (flu shot) was added to the host of other common vaccines.

So rather than American history setting a precedent for tyranny against Christian patriots, perhaps it tells us more about our unwillingness to be told what to do, even when it regards public health, and what motivates that unwillingness within us. Moreover, perhaps it gives us a dire warning of the damage it causes when our unwillingness to be told what to do is unfounded. How many of those 675,000 Americans would have survived the 1918 pandemic if everyone followed the public health guidelines? If everyone was following the current public health guidelines, how many of the 670,000 Americans who have died from covid thus far would have survived?

Since the beginning of this current pandemic, something Jesus said has always framed my thinking of how we Christians should respond to what is being asked of us. in Matthew 5:41, He said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”

That’s right, he said “forces you.” The word translated as “force” here is derived from a Persian loan word (ἀγγαρεύω) that is a legal term for the Roman practice of requisitioning local goods or labor. Here, it specifically refers to the power of the Romans (a tyrannical government over Israel) to demand that a local Israelite serve as a guide or to carry a Roman’s heavy load. It was not something people were given the choice to do by their own free will. It was compulsory.

Israelite Zealots hated this practice and their refusal to participate in such tasks was a central part of their philosophy and actually one of the causes of the First Jewish–Roman War, which according to Josephus took over 1 million lives.

Jesus asking his disciples to not only follow this unjust law, but to go the extra mile, is a call to be creative in how they could outdo themselves in honor, kindness, and compassion. Jesus is not justifying the government imposing unjust laws or its citizens. Rather, Jesus is highlighting how Christians should respond to such compulsory laws. He calls his disciples to not respond to what they saw as evil with more evil, but with good. To not respond to coercion with more coercion, but with compassion. The profound brilliance of this wisdom from Jesus is, what control does someone really have over someone else who is already committed to going above and beyond what is being asked of them? Imagine how many relationships were built after Romans asked, “why are you so joyful carrying my load?” and the disciple got to tell them about the One who set them truly free. Isn’t friendship the most disarming and freeing tool humanity has been given? This is the foundation of all the other commands Jesus gives his disciples in Matthew 5, like turning the other cheek when slapped or giving one’s coat when they are already being sued in court for their shirt. A disciple can’t be “forced” to do anything when they have already decided to go above and beyond for the good of others. That is truly freeing.

This is a fundamental part of why Jesus called his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him, rather than their swords. True freedom is found in how much power we share with others, even at deep self sacrifice, rather than by how much power and freedom we acquire for ourselves. This is why if we Christians arrive at the conclusion that laying aside some personal liberties for the safety of others somehow makes us less free as Christians, perhaps we have deeply misunderstood the cross.

During this pandemic, we are simply being asked in some ways and mandated in others to go above and beyond for the common good and health concerns of our society. Will it be messy and imperfect? Yes. We are living in “Rome” after all. However, the choice we have as Christians is, do we want our culture seeing us starting a culture wars over compulsory health mandates for the sake of common good like the Israelite zealots of old did or do we want to be seen creatively going the extra mile for the sake of the sick and most vulnerable like Jesus asked us to? I for one want the church to be seen going the extra mile, creatively, wisely, and with the deepest compassion. Rather than being known by our culture as those who refuse to be restricted by federal health guidelines, I want our culture to know Christians by how far we will go in order to love one another. I still believe that is possible.

As I write this, my home state of Idaho has entered crisis standards of care for the first time in our state’s history. Our hospitals are buckling under the surge of covid patients, most of which are unvaccinated, and they are now having to ration resources to even provide standard care for other patients. Our healthcare professionals are maxed out and burned out. Meanwhile, the Idaho legislator is doing all it can to stifle the state’s ability to respond not only to this current pandemic but all future pandemics. Why? Because they deeply believe they are opposing tyranny. The myth persists.

These are defining moments, not only for who we are as Americans but more importantly, who we are as Christians. How we respond to this pandemic will shape our reputation as the people of God for our culture and further generations. How will we want to be known? What kind of reputation do we want to have after this pandemic has finally concluded?

For the sake of all our community’s welfare, I implore you. Please wear a mask and please get vaccinated if you are able. Avoid large gatherings and socially distance yourself from the myth of tyranny.

Guns & Masculinity

Can we talk about guns and masculinity for a moment?

By the time I reached college age, I knew that it was socially unacceptable in my Christian circle of Nampa Idaho to watch the Simpsons or read Harry Potter, but it was acceptable and even admired to open carry my Glock 45 with my friends.

Let me tell you a bit about some of the factors that created such a social construct.

As an Idaho native, I don’t have a memory without guns. The first time I was trained to hold and fire a gun was when I was 5 years old. Being taught gun safety as a young kids was just a normal part of rural Idaho life. Hunting and self-defense were just common cultural elements.

But what has stood out to me as an adult now wasn’t the reality of being introduced to guns at a young age, it was what guns symbolized in Idaho culture for me and my friends.

The gun was a symbol of pride and independence. The way the 2nd amendment was presented in my social circles, I understood it to be on the same level of sacredness as scripture. It was also clear that faithful Christian patriots would play a pivitol role in defending the cause of Christ during the tribulation period after of the End Times and we needed to be ready. The gun not only symbolized my patriotism but also my faith. Add to these social understandings, the narratives of my favorite block buster movies growing up, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Commando,” Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” and “Patriot,” and many others, created the experience of valor, strength and personal identity whenever I held my gun and fired at the shooting range, which was a regular activity. I understood that is what truly brave men did. It was not only my duty as an American, it was my duty as a Christian man. These notions would be solidified by pastors of mine calling themselves “pistol packing preachers” and events like the “God and Country Rally” I would attend annually with my youth group.

By the time I received my concealed weapons license as a 19 year old, I understood it as a social rite of passage. I had checked one of the central boxes of manhood in my rural Idaho culture. I was also told numerous times by many, including the sherif that taught my concealed weapons course, that police officers would look more favorably on me now that I had done the work to receive my concealed weapon’s license. I conceal carried my Glock everywhere. Work, shopping, church, I carried it everywhere. For years, it was just something I put on as I grabbed my wallet and keys before leaving the house. It made me feel prepared and safe, but also a strong and honorable man in the eyes of those I admired.

I left my gun in Idaho when I moved to Kansas City for seminary. As I studied church history and scripture more closely there, the symbolism around guns began to change for me. I read the nonviolence of early Christian martyrs in shocked awe and was stunned to see how Emperor Constantine introduced violence into the faith when he made Christianity the official religion of Rome. I read Isaiah, Micha, Joel, and other prophets like Zechariah, blown away as they prophesied about weapons being hammered into garden implements and nations not training for war anymore when the Messiah came. I was blown away at the reality of how Jesus, the commander of legions of angel armies, insisted on swords being sheathed and enemies being loved rather than hated. How he road into Jerusalem, not on a war horse and with an armed militia to secure his rightful rule as king, but seated on a donkey, non-violently resisting the violent ways of Rome with his disciples, and preaching a radical message of forgiveness. When he spoke of all power and authority being his, he immediately turned and expressed that power by washing his disciple’s feet. When he talked about the glory of God being revealed through him, he talked about being lifted up on the cross. Revelation 19 even shows him riding on a white horse with the legions of angel armies behind him, armed to the teeth, and the battle of armageddon I had always believed I’d play a major role in per my dispensational theology turned out to not be a battle at all. The angel armies never engage. Jesus never draws a weapon, but puts an end to evil and death with a single word, which is sharper than a double edged sword, more powerful than any weapon. Even now I can’t even write these words without weeping at the reality of that kind of radical love.

I came to realize how fragile gods are who need weapons to fight their battles for them. The God of scripture, the God of angel armies, creates and ends paradigms with a single Word. The Word made flesh. Jesus Christ, God incarnate. The one who sounds like a lion, but when you turn, like John did, you see the Lion of Judah exercise His power as the slaughtered lamb. I would eventually let my concealed weapon’s license expire and parted ways with my Glock.

I write this not out of being for or against the 2nd Amendment. I write this to encourage more thoughtful dialogue around dismantling and reforming the narratives around guns in cultures like mine.

According to The Violence Project, a nonpartisan research group that tracks U.S. mass shooting data dating back to 1966 has found that 98% of mass shootings have been committed by white men (https://rb.gy/fiv2jq). I cannot help but think of my experience growing up with guns every time the suspect is a white male. How the gun was a symbol of patriotism, masculinity, and faith. How it was presented as a tool of independence and strength. How easy it would be for someone to use these narratives to then ultimately justify using a weapon to forcefully express their patriotism and faith just like the heroes of masculinity we learn about growing up. Add to these narratives the reality of mental illness and the easy accessibility of guns, and as we have seen recently, the results can quickly become deeply tragic.

I had the picture of manhood I was given by my rural Idaho culture radically transformed the more I got to know the person of Jesus. It is my deep prayer that we Christians take seriously the narrative around guns that is presented in our churches and our homes, dismantling and reforming these narratives wherever necessary with the life and teachings of Jesus. So that when boys like me grow up, find ourselves discontented and angry with the world, even when we are suffering from anxiety and depression, that instead of picking up a weapon as an expression of patriotism, faith, and bring tragedy by trying to reclaim our strength, we will instead pick up the towel, washbasin, and cross of our King and bring transformation by the power of His self-sacrificial love.

Rebuking the Crown: the leadership of prophets.

Photo by William Krause / unsplash.com

King David has often been pointed to as a model for leadership, especially in the church.

Reading 2 Samuel 12 though, scripture points to a better example of leadership in David’s kingdom: the prophet Nathan. His example is especially needed for us today.

After King David sexually abused Bathsheba and had her husband murdered in order to conceal it all, the Lord sent Nathan to rebuke King David. I think we often forget that David could have had Nathan killed by the snap of his fingers, just as he had done with Uriah.

Nathan risked his life in obedience to God.

Nathan told David about an innocent lamb (Bathsheba) being taken from a poor man (Uriah) for the selfish pleasure for a rich and powerful man (David).

The lamb didn’t tempt or seduce the rich man by its allure, just like Bathsheba hadn’t tempted David. The rich man simply took it out of senseless indulgence. He just wanted it.

The rich man took the lamb, even though he had everything he could ever need, and slaughtered the lamb for a meal. He committing something he could never repair or repay, just like the sin he committed against Bathsheba. She was forced and abused against her will by a king who’s command she had no choice but to obey. This abuser then killed her husband and the love they shared together.

David, not knowing who the rich man was who Nathan was describing “burned with anger” against the rich man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” (V5-6).

Nathan responded with a phrase that put his very life at risk: “YOU ARE THE MAN!”

Nathan proceeded to rebuke King David and proclaimed the consequences that were going to come as a result of his sin. What he had done in secret was going to be revealed.

David repented, and his sin was taken away, but the consequences of his abuse of power had long term consequences, as the same abuses of power do today.

Imagine if we Christians followed the leading of scripture and elevated the prophets as the true model of leadership rather than someone like King David.

If we did, I think there wouldn’t be any blaming the Bathshebas and Uriahs of the world, as if they somehow played a role in causing their abuse from those in power.

I think we wouldn’t silence the Nathan’s of the world by saying things like “stop being political and stick to the gospel,” when they speak clear and wise truth to power.

I think we as God’s people would stop warning powerless people of their fate if they do not support and defend the cause of the right people in power and instead warn those in power of their fate if they do not support and defend the cause of powerless people.

Our scriptures elevate the prophets because the prophets were preoccupied with the rule of God. We, like Israel before us, are so often preoccupied with elevating the power of our king-David-like leaders, which not only silences the Nathan-like leaders and the Bathsheba-like victims, but perpetuates an environment where power can be easily abused.

May we as the church allow scripture to bring a reformation to what we define as true leadership.

Fundamentalism is not only dividing us, it’s making us incapable of compassion.

Photo by Matt Collamer / unsplash.com

While we may come from different Christian traditions, we must understand the reality that there isn’t a Christian tradition in America where fundamentalism cannot be found in one form or another. It’s not only making constructive conversations virtually impossible but it’s making us incapable of compassion.

Fundamentalism fashions a one dimensional world, propelled by extreme either/or categories. With such a filter, a desire to understand the nuances of our world is always met with suspicion and addressing complexities is seen as compromising.This is primarily from a dualistic belief that God is just as good as the devil is evil. They are both equally powerful, but in opposite directions. There is no middle ground in the midst of such a battle (or culture war). You’re either for God or for the Devil, and who in their right mind would want to be for the devil? This mindset impacts a whole host of topics.

One either believes the Bible is infallible or full of errors.

One either believes in a literal 6-day creation or evolution.

One is either for God or against God.One is either saved or lost.

One either believes in saving souls or social justice.

One is either conservative or liberal.

One is either a traditionalist or a progressive.

One is either a marxist or a capitalist.

One is either a patriot or an anarchist.

One either needs to love America or leave America.

One is either against abortion or for abortion.

These categories, along with many others, are advanced with such cut and dry metrics, devoid of nuance, that it renders any constructive conversion virtually impossible. Furthermore, it justifies a lack of compassion for anyone who holds a view differently from our own. For when you believe we’re at war, every conversation becomes a battle and anyone who disagrees becomes an enemy to be conquered. This obviously becomes deeply problematic for a people who proclaims the “prince of peace” as Lord, who called us to love our enemies.

We have seen this dynamic on a grand scale, especially in 2020. Every major issue facing our society right now is boiled down to its most superficial, cut and dry definition. Not just by political and religious leaders, but by media, and social media platforms alike. The issues we care about are then pitted against other issues, which inevitably leads to cementing each other into “us verses them” categories. This sort of approach might win elections and Facebook debates, but it doesn’t help heal the issues themselves.

Combine this with our tragic preoccupation with political power, it often results in our confronting these issues by demanding they be made either illegal or legal, without ever really stopping to ask if that is the only or best way to help rectify the problems we see. By making an issue illegal, for example, it simply criminalizes the issue. It doesn’t heal it. Conversely, so many Christians who have gone before us have sparked movements that have made various major social problems unnecessary through their serving of those whom those issues impacted the most. Those in power either resisted this change or slowly relented over time. God’s people just went and sacrificed their time, gave their resources, and met the needs of those who were directly impacted by the issues they care about. It all started by listening and understanding people’s actual stories firsthand.

In metrics like these, it’s important for the church to proactively pursue understanding the complexities of the issues we claim to care about. Because more often than not, we are not being asked to compromise our beliefs or values. We are simply being asked to care about other issues that impact others with the same passion we care about the issues important to us. For we are seeking dignity of human life in all the ways that currently disregards that dignity. This is as complex a mission as it is important.

Put simply, this is why it’s so important for us Christians to remember that God is God and we are not. Christ is our ultimate authority and we are not. Moreover, while the devil is evil, he’s not anywhere as powerful as God is good. That is the good news of the gospel! We can rest in that truth. In acknowledging who our authority actually is and knowing it is not us, we can listen to those with whom we disagree without feeling like we are validating sin or not, because we don’t have the authority to validate a human’s personhood that way, that’s God’s job. We can serve, help, edify, encourage, ask hard questions, and think genuinely with those whom we disagree or don’t understand because we know God will have the last word over them, not us. So we can surrender this fundamentalist mindset of feeling like we have to decide between either truth or love. Christ calls us to BOTH truth AND love.

The most productive way to actually gain real firsthand understanding of issues we care about is not through our leaders or information machines, but it is to build relationships with those who have been through that issue or are experiencing that issue currently. If we care about immigration for example, we need to hear the experience of immigrants and their families. If we care about racial justice, we need to build relationships with the people and their families who have experienced injustice and hear their stories. This counts for every issue. Those who are deconstructing or reconstructing their faith, abortion, climate change, poverty, the legal system, etc. Our understanding of these issues must be understood through as many of the first hand experiences of those within the actual issue and not our own cut and dry preconceived notions of the issue.

As a pastor, what has motivated my perspective on many of these issues is walking with people and hearing their stories first hand as they are directly impacted by them. I always come away realizing that the issues I care about objectively are always more difficult, nuanced, and complex for those who experience it subjectively.

We Christians have a tremendous opportunity to make real and lasting change, not by enforcing the right beliefs and values, but by listening to and reading works from the people impacted firsthand by the issues we care about deeply, reclaiming nuance, and responding with genuine compassion through all the means available to us.

Qanon was built on dispensationalism.

Photo by Wesley Tingey / unsplash.com

Qanon would not have been possible without the conspiratorial theology of dispensationalism.

There has been a lot of “prophecies” given by people who call themselves prophets in this recent season and still today. One of the most harmful is Qanon.

Prophecies about elections, leaders, the pandemic, and other things. While we in Christian circles hear these words declaring God’s intention about current events, we have to keep something in mind.

Dispensationalism.

Now, that’s a big word, but in general, it centers on the belief that Biblical history is divided by the actions God undertakes (dispenses) towards humanity.

It is built on several variations of the 19th Century figure John Darby and his dispensational theology. Shortly after he resigned his church, he fell from a horse in October 1827, and was seriously injured. He later stated that it was during his time of recovery that he began to believe that the “kingdom” described in the Book of Isaiah and elsewhere in the Old Testament was entirely different from the Christian church. This obviously leads to a preoccupation with “nations” as the chosen people rather than the universal church. His reflections soon gave us what we call the “rapture” today, which was completely new to Christianity. It envisions Christ returning to secretly snatch up true believers before the tribulation of sinners occurs. Then returning a second time to establish his reign on earth (although many dispensationalists believe the world will simply be destroyed when Christ returns and heaven alone will remain).

This dispensational theology didn’t really take root in America though until the early 1900s. Stricken with anxiety over the brewing of WW1, the sinking of the Titanic, the Influenza pandemic, and other tragedies that era, many American Christians took up Darby’s theology to explain the coming “end times.” Unsurprisingly, it was during this time when the Scofield Reference Bible was first published, which encouraged its readers to look for the “signs” of the end, both in the newspaper and society.

This led to books like “The Late Great Planet Earth” and ultimately the “Left Behind” series, leaving many captive to diligent interpretation of the “signs of the end” in a fear of not wanting to be “left behind” by God during the “tribulation period.”

One of the many problems with Dispensational theology, is it assumes God’s previous “dispensations” were not fully effective and this naturally breeds fear.

Adam and Eve’s banishment from the garden, the Flood, the Covenant, the Law, even Christ’s sacrifice on the cross have all failed to induce the proper response from humanity. Therefore, we must need one final “dispensation” to turn humanity back to God.

Obviously, this is deeply problematic because the cross and resurrection is God’s final and total dispensation of judgment and salvation in the world.

With this problematic theology, our modern time is assumed as the final age, an age of total depravity, and only the final act or “dispensation” will turn us back to God, as many messages claiming to be “prophetic” have pointed to. As promised in the Book of Revelation (according to dispensationalism), this last act will consist of tribulation violence involving Christians, unbelievers, and apostates. This will be followed by the war of Armageddon ushering in Christ’s thousand year reign, God’s judgment, and the dispensation of rewards and eternal condemnation.

Based on the assumption, many can begin to see other things as God’s instruments to bring about the end. It might be a pandemic, a president, a political party, a nation, or even themselves. This builds a significant animosity towards anyone who is seen as conspiring against God’s will in the world, making them an enemy to defeat, either now or in Armageddon. Because of this dynamic, proportionality bias takes hold and secret cabals of satanic actors or “antichrists” are imagined to be as powerful in evil ways as God is powerful in good ways, which isn’t biblical. God alone is all powerful.

This can quickly bring about violence in the name of God, for if a pandemic is God’s dispensation on sin, it is a dispensation of punishment. Our nation and preferred political party become the dispensers of God’s will, and God’s anger towards sin becomes ours. God’s wrath becomes ours to display. God’s vengeance becomes ours to enact against an unjust world. Violence becomes the tool of God’s salvation in this theology, rather than the love exemplified by the cross.

This is the sort of theology Qanon advocates. It can and has brought many to do some terrible things to others in the name of Jesus, thinking they are “doing the will of God.” As we saw on the US capitol steps on January 6th, 2021, which was replete with Christian symbols.

Jesus is the final and greatest dispensation of God in the world. We do not need another dispensation. God in Christ is all that is necessary for salvation. If we truly want to see God move in the world, we must stop looking for signs of the end and BE signs of God’s end goals ourselves, which is embodying Christ’s self sacrificial love! We must not seek to ensure our nation or our culture turns to God by enforcing God’s wrath through a pandemic or a legislature, but by imitating Christ’ image in the world, embodying his righteousness united as the church. Christ’s second coming will bring the redemption of all things, not the destruction of all things. We must be about the redemption of Christ here and now.

If we want to hear and speak prophetically in holy ways, we must do all we can to untangle our perspective of the end times from dispensationalism. Good eschatology really matters.

For as we have seen its influence on our Christin perspective of the end times, on prophecies, and Nationalism, it can have very tragic results.

Postscript: If you’re looking for a really good place to start in studying eschatology, I highly recommend the short but powerful work by Michael J. Gorman called, “Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation.”

Doing Away With Confirmation bias.

Photo by Dayne Topkin / unsplash.com

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports our prior beliefs or values. We tend to unconsciously select information that supports our views, but ignore non-supportive or contradicting information. We also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting our already existing position. This effect is strongest regarding our desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

We are all susceptible to this approach.

This is one of the most significant factors that is contributing to our current divisions in our culture. So many of the most complex issues we view through cut and dried, either/or filters, even before we turn on our preferred news source or social media platforms (which have algorithms designed to feed us things with which we have already shown our interest through every click). This only inflames our bias.

We so deeply believe that we are on the right side that anything that sounds even remotely like the other side, is automatically assumed to be not only wrong, but evil. In this mindset, objectivity is lost. Not only are we then unable to sustain truthful and discerning discourse with one another, we as the general public are unable to hold our leaders accountable when they spread falsehood. When those two factors are in play, enemies are made, fear takes hold, and things quickly devolve into chaos. Everything becomes a battle and everyone a potential enemy.

This is not the way, especially for Christians.

We have been so convinced that there is a totally good side, a totally evil side, and there is nothing in between. We conclude that the side we have chosen is the good side and thus conclude that “the other side” is totally evil. The powers that be, numerous media outlets, as well as social media influencers play on this deep seeded bias. It plays to our deepest emotions and fears and we quickly get caught up in what we consider a “noble fight” of “our side” forgetting that the “other side” are also human beings created in the image of God.

Human beings are deeply beautiful, complex, and nuanced, which means our world is as well. Reducing this complex nuanced world to categories of “either/or” is simply the methods of people who desire power and control rather than love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

So what are some small steps we can take to make a more positive impact on this trend?

-Resist getting and spreading information from memes, social media influencers, Facebook groups, and YouTube channel hosts, and all other self proclaimed pundits. While some information from these sources might be helpful, they are often emotionally charged and reactionary, leading us to confirmation bias.

-If you find yourself immediately agreeing with information, ask yourself why you are agreeing so quickly. What factors have led to such quick agreement? Do your best to go and listen to the conversations being had from the opposite perspective. Ask yourself why you might be disagreeing so quickly. What factors have led to such quick disagreement? Are we able in that moment to think beyond emotion and pre-existing beliefs to see things objectively and from another’s point of view?

-Give yourselves time to contemplate. If you’d like to share or post something, think on it for a few days. Fact check the claim several times from several sources and measure the multiple conclusions you find against one another. Read an academic, peer reviewed historical perspective on similar issues. Has an event like this happened before? How did the culture respond to it then? How should they have responded to it? How should that shape the way we respond to the events of our day?

-Look up the biases behind the news media by those who are devoted to assessing such things. I have found the statistical findings of Allsides.com helpful this year in showing the grid of bias from all sides of the political spectrum regarding news media sources. You can find that work here: (https://rb.gy/epthlx).

-Talk with each other, not at each other. Confirmation bias sets up a false narrative that when someone disagrees with our belief they must fervently believe the opposite, which often isn’t true at all. They may simply believe it differently. When we are not proactive in embracing nuance, it causes us to be people who are trying to convert others to our immovable beliefs, seeing them as something to be conquered rather than being compelled by an authentic desire to come together and conquer our problems in solidarity.

-Finally, it’s not our job to change the mind of every person we encounter, but it is our responsibility to love them. Love includes setting healthy boundaries and discerning when to engage and when not to. When you enter conversations with those who refuse to change their minds and insist on being confrontational, it’s vital to chose opportunities of engagement wisely. God really does love everyone deeper than we ever could and God is constantly bringing people into our lives to speak wisdom and truth, but it’s up to each person to choose to listen. We have all been entrenched on things we shouldn’t have been at times. Ask yourself what has brought you out of those entrenched beliefs? Was it through harsh rhetoric or someone you trust, calmly asking you really good questions and walking with you to process the answers? Some won’t let us do that with them and we individuals can’t be that for all people. Being wise on interacting with those who welcome you and with those who don’t, leave the work for someone else they do trust that God has brought in their life will save you both emotional energy and relationships.

It won’t matter how many technological advances we make as a society. If we can’t even think, act, and talk with one another in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we will continue to advance division rather than solidarity.

May this begin with me.
May this begin within the church.

2021: Reclaim Nuance

I want 2021 to be a year of reclaiming nuance, of bravely taking hold of the complexities in our world together, and acknowledging all the gray, all while avoiding either/or generalizations and conclusions.

I want to see division and hostility towards each other cease, not only on our screens, but in our hearts.

In 1864, President Lincoln’s son, Robert Lincoln, was purchasing a ticket on a crowded train platform. The crowd shifted back suddenly and he found himself being pressed off the platform against an oncoming train, leaving him hopelessly at the mercy of the rails. As it happened, a pair of hands reached from the crowed and grabbed him by the back of the shirt and pulled him to safety. Robert turned around and extended his deepest gratitude to his rescuer.

Who was his rescuer? Edwin Booth, whose younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, would assassinate Robert’s father a year later.

I write this little piece of history only to highlight that while the name “Booth” will forever be tide to President Lincoln’s assassination, John didn’t represent the character of his family. Edwin and his sister both publicly condemned John’s actions after Lincoln’s death and didn’t share in his Confederate sympathies, but we rarely hear about that or of Edwin’s rescue of Robert Lincoln. Rather, assassination is their family’s persisting legacy in our minds, which is not honestly acknowledging nuance.

How often do we do this with one another? Where we associate something deplorable to a group of people, conclude they are all the same way and they remain permanently under that category in our hearts, without nuance or grace.

We catch ourselves thinking things like:

All liberals are: (fill in the blank).

All conservatives are: (fill in the blank).

All religious people are: (fill in the blank).

We’ve all done that and we all know how hard it is to change the categories in those parentheses.

The truth is, unless the group is something like the KKK or other fanatical group declaring a unified commitment to a central evil identity, concluding that an entire group of average people is one certain way is deeply unhelpful. These are our friends and our family after all. Could they ALL have such an evil heart?

Moreover, categories like “conservative,” “liberal,” and “religious,” are actually not even ideologies themselves. They are postures that guide how we communicate our deepest values and ideologies. In fact we are all liberal, conservative, and religious in our own unique way. For example, one may be conservative with their time, liberal with their complements, and religious about going to the gym. It’s the same on more serious issues as well. One may be more conservative economically, liberal regarding healthcare, and religious about the disciplines of their faith.

See how much nuance there can be with one individual? Now, imagine an entire group of individuals under that category. Are they all the same?

Growing up deeply conservative in all areas, I quickly realized that for we conservatives, immutability is a central doctrine. Things like God, country, and institutions were unchanging and exceptional. It is people that need to change to fit into what is already a just and ordained society. Questioning those unchangeable realities or worse, insinuating that there might be something broken about them and the way we are using them was unthinkable.

Those who count themselves as more liberal in my circles of influence, I realized that for we liberals, progress is a central doctrine. If anything, whether it be God, country, or an institution has ever caused any damage to the world, we should have no association with them and even abolish them completely for the sake of progress.

Obviously these are the extremes of both sides, but can you see how depending on our central doctrines, we will only ever talk past one another in hostility? We will talk about things like the entire justice system in the public square of social media, many conservatives may say it needs to remain unchanged, while many liberals may claim it needs to all be abolished completely.

What would happen if we reclaimed the nuance about these issues and each other, especially among Christians? Wouldn’t we be able to see progress in areas through the abolishment of things that are really broken in our world while being able to uphold the good things in our world and make them stronger if we were able to acknowledge the gray and work together?

Either/or extremes will always leave us against each other. Nuance helps us to understand how much we actually do have in common.

That’s my bold prayer for myself, for the church, and for our culture in 2021. That we make a brave New Year’s resolution to reclaim the nuance in all things.

The Mark of the Beast and our Hope Left Behind

Photo by CDC at unsplash.com

Growing up Evangelical, there was so much concern over the “mark of the beast.”

Because of overblown Christian fiction like “Left Behind,” many thought it was a microchip, or a tattooed barcode, or a vaccine. Some even thought it was the little strip in one hundred dollar bills. And this was in the 90s (yeah, I’m that old).

I’ve heard spooky theories about COVID19 origins, quarantines, government shutdowns, and even masks and vaccines being called “the mark of the beast.” I can encourage you that they are not.

What “marks” us is our way of living in this world.

I’m afraid we’ve come to see “the mark” like how the Borg assimilates people in Star Trek, or how a Vampire bite changes a person in the movies. As if the mark is forced on you and then it fundamentally changes you to being someone in opposition to Jesus Christ. This couldn’t be further from the truth. How could a loving God disown or abandon children that were forced to be marked by something against their will? This is simply not how the grace of God works.

It is our way of living that marks us. Much like an athlete’s training or a scholar’s studying that marks or shapes their life, the “mark” is that which receives our fidelity. This is why John in the book of Revelation warns against “Babylon” and “Rome.” These empires and those like them are the “beasts” of this world. It is the formative work of those kinds of systems we freely endorse, support, and give ourselves to that “mark” us (like nationalism). It is that mark that should not receive our fidelity and worship. It’s a lot more intentional than a tattoo.

What concern me as a pastor is we Christians seem to have become so preoccupied by what we fear. It even shapes our theology and Bible reading. So much so that most of us Christians are only familiar with those texts that talk about the “mark of the beast” (Rev 13:16-18) and not about those texts that talk about the “mark of the Lamb” (Rev. 14:1). We then believe the “mark” can happen to us somehow by accident or by coercion rather than it being a willful mark of loyalty and worship (see Deuteronomy 6). Because of this preoccupation with fear we read books like the book of Revelation as if the beast and its destruction is the star of the show, rather than Jesus and His work of redemption. We become preoccupied with looking for the beast’s mark in the world rather than the Lamb’s mark on our lives. Regrettably, this kind of theology motivates us to look for all the ways to be frightened in our world rather than looking for the ways to participate loyally with Christ’s ongoing work of redemption, especially on the front lines of chaos.

In this holiday season, with conversations of Covid, vaccines, and microchips swirling around, remember that Christ’s coming into the world at Christmas was hailed with “tidings of great joy and good will to all humanity!” This is the same Christ we are waiting for to return in the “last days.” His second coming is going to bring redemption, an end to all sorrow and heartache, and peace to all of creation for eternity. It is that hope we wish to be “marked” by here and now. As long as we are faithful to the work of redemption and peace of the Lamb of God who gave everything to be in relationship with us, we have no reason to fear somehow being coerced against our will to be marked by the beast and separated from God’s holy love.

May the peace, hope, love, and joy of Christ be with you!

Should Christians want a “Christian Nation?”

My Christian friends, will you think with me over something? I’d like you to start by reading this quote. As you read, I’d like you to guess who it is that’s speaking. Don’t read ahead or google it, just guess as you read.

Here’s the quote:

“The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in entertainment, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during recent years.”

Who is this? Did you guess?

Before I tell you who it is, I want to ask, how do you feel about this quote? What’s wrong with this statement? What’s right about it?

This statement actually comes from a radio address that Adolf Hitler gave to Germany on July 22, 1933. (From “The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-1939, vol. 1, Norman H. Baynes, ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1942), pp. 871-71

This was after Hitler was elected by majority vote in a democracy, winning the “Christian vote.”

During this elections season, I think it’s vital that we American Christians, especially we Evangelicals, contemplate the gravity of what we mean when we see the government or nation as needing to be “Christian.” To think about what it means to propel the idea that it is somehow the government’s responsibility to instill and establish Christian values as the laws of the land.

Why is it important to ask this question now? As you have seen our nation’s anxiety is at an all time high as we see experiencing the greatest political divide since President Eisenhower: (https://rb.gy/bwkuka ) People, from many political ideologies, are showing up armed at protests around the country as tensions rise, resulting in injuries and death. Qanon has asked people to take a “soldiers oath” to prepare for an uprising: (https://rb.gy/ndrwta) Most recently, an Evangelical Pastor made national news calling Christians to mobilize for a “civil war”: (https://rb.gy/gfohlh) I don’t anticipate things to deescalate as the election draws closer. Our bipartisan political machine seems to give us a new enemy to fear and to be dismantled every day, both from the far right and the far left.

American Christians are experiencing a deeply traumatic identity crisis, along with everyone else. We must ask who are called to be, a Christian nation or the church?

History has actually shown us time and time again that when a nation becomes convinced that it is the government’s responsibility to carry out the mission of Christianity, it does so not in the ways of the early church but in very governmental ways. Mainly, by legislation, empowering the rich and powerful, marginalizing the poor, and violently dismantling enemies, both real and imagined.

We saw this not only with Germany in the 30s, but also Rwanda during the 90s, and Rome under Emperor Constantine, just to cite three examples. All with horridly tragic and long lasting outcomes (the doctrine of discovery, genocides, inquisitions, crusades, etc.). When a people group is seen as a political AND Christian “enemy,” by the powers that be, the results can be tragic. What is worse though, is with these acts of violence, they can be defined as sanctioned by God.

You see, both the church and earthly governments have conflicting views on how to deal with enemies. Jesus calls Christians to love their enemies, while governments follow the most ancient way of dealing with enemies: elimination. Nations, even if it considers itself to be Christian, dismantles enemies in ways only governments know how. This results in making even the most heinous forms of dismantling “legal,” from segregation all the way to genocide.

Now, this is not to say that America will follow the exact same path of Constantine‘s Rome or Germany in the 30s, but in this time of deep political division and religious fervor, it does mean that we MUST consider how the outcomes of our desire to have America be a “Christian nation” might tragically rhyme with events of the past.

Why did these efforts to make a nation Christian end so tragically? Because earthly governments were never called by Jesus to be the church. The church was called to be the church. Earthly governments only know how to fulfill its goals via arbitrary, impersonal, and often violent ways. Everyone must submit to its laws, whether they have a relationship with those enforcing said laws or not and anyone who is seen as an opposition to its values is seen as an enemy to be dismantled.

God does not operate that way. God fulfills God’s mission via personal, deeply known, and relational ways. This is why the incarnation is vital to our faith. God came down to us as one of us, even though God could have stayed in heaven arbitrarily passing down laws to be obeyed. This incarnational God calls us to love our enemies in unity with each other as peace makers.

We cannot serve two masters:

When we confuse the call of the church as the call of the government, we ironically forfeit embodying all the elements of our faith that would actually help our nation the most: holiness, morality, and love. We trade these ways of actually being the church for the ways of being the government, which is a tragic loss of identity. We forget that the most important things in the world cannot be legislated.

Holiness cannot be legislated.

Morality cannot be legislated.

Love cannot be legislated.

The moment we believe these aspects of our faith can only be enforced by law is the moment we stop embodying them ourselves as the church in God’s relational ways. The moment we believe true change only comes through the legislative body of Cesar is the moment we dismiss God’s call for us to be the self-sacrificial body of Christ as the church ourselves.

Now hear me, of course we should desire good, faithful Christians to be political leaders in our country. Our faith should inform what we value politically. But that is a far different desire than wanting our nation to be a Christian nation. Jesus didn’t come to make Rome or Israel Christian. Christ came to establish an alternative kingdom to the kingdoms of this world. The kingdom we as the church are called to seek first (Matt. 6:33). We can’t embody an alternative kingdom in the world when we are trying to co-opt a kingdom of this world for Jesus. This includes our nation.

One of the most misused passages of scripture during election cycles to propel this notion is Romans 13:1, “Let everyone submit themselves to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

Let’s clear this up a bit. The Greek word Paul uses here is “hupo-tasso,” which has been translated as “submit” or “be subject.” It literally means to arrange stuff respectfully in an “orderly manner underneath”.

Paul believed that governing authorities are necessary for keeping peace. God is a God of order, not a God of chaos.

But where we often go wrong in our English translations is confusing “submit” with “obey.”

“hupo-kouo,” which is translated as “obey,” literally means to conform, to follow a command, or to kowtow to an authority as a subordinate. Paul (and Peter) could have used this word, “obey,” when describing governing authorities, but they did not.

The Greek word used for “obey” is used 21 times in the New Testament. It is always in a hierarchical context, as in the relationship between children and their parents or masters and servants (Eph 6:1;!6:5). To submit and to obey are two separate ways of being. To submit does not always mean to obey.

As we see in scripture then, though followers of Jesus deliberately disobeyed laws that were in conflict with God’s commands, like Paul and Peter, they still “submitted” to the authorities by accepting the legal consequences of their actions.

How then are we to “submit” to the governing authorities? Paul tells us how in Romans 12:9-21

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lordʼs people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for Godʼs wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Then, “submit to the governing authorities over you.”

This is what obedience to Jesus looks like. This is the way of obedience to which the church is called. No matter who the “governing authorities” are, we are called to demand these virtues from them and hold them accountable to this way of Christ. Even if it means we have to “submit” to the consequences of their authority when holding them accountable to Christ contradicts their preferred ways of ruling and dismantling their “enemies.”

2020 desperately needs a prophetic people who will boldly answer the call to be the church and refuse to mix that call in with their lesser political commitments to the nationstate. A prophetic people who resist division by boldly working towards peace, unity, and justice. A people who are not working to impose their religious beliefs into a nation that includes many who do not share such beliefs, but who advocate for the poor, the marginalized, the imprisoned, the widow, the orphan, and the refugee in their political witness, speaking truth to power on their behalf. Our culture needs a people that is working to make society better for the most vulnerable people, rather than create a culture that is better for them alone.

We must choose this day whom we will serve.