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Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

Pastor and prominent Christian leader John Piper has said, “I love not being an innovator” and that he fears new ideas.  This may sound odd to some people but for those of us who recognize and uphold the fact that truth is timeless rather than ever-evolving it’s a statement that is brilliant in its simplicity and prophetic when contrasted with much of modern society.  While Piper has made the comments in reference to finding supporting evidence for his theological and doctrinal positions in works of antiquity, I recently expressed a similar sentiment after stumbling upon an article written by distinguished sociology professor and National Humanities Medal winner Robert N. Bellah.  It is always refreshing as well as humbling for me when I find that a conviction, theory, or even an inkling, that I’ve held has been shared and articulated by smart, influential people!  Honestly, it has the effect on me of affirming that I’m not crazy, or that I think too much, or that I’ve been connecting dots that aren’t there.  In this particular instance the subject matter is something I’ve observed, thought and prayed about for a long time, and written several posts on: the vaguely-Christian, nationalistic syncretism that many individuals and churches hold up as biblical Christianity.

Unbeknownst to me, Bellah is a pioneering thinker in this area with his 1967 article, Civil Religion in America, being highly influential.  Needless to say I was thrilled when I found it reprinted in its entirety online.  Having read it, I believe it’s an important contribution to the discourse I’ve started on this blog so I am pleased to provide a few snippets below to whet your appetite in addition to providing the link where you can read the original article in full.  I, too, love not being an innovator…

The words and acts of the founding fathers, especially the first few presidents, shaped the form and tone of the civil religion as it has been maintained ever since. Though much is selectively derived from Christianity, this religion is clearly not itself Christianity…

What we have, then, from the earliest years of the republic is a collection of beliefs, symbols, and rituals with respect to sacred things and institutionalized in a collectivity. This religion—there seems no other word for it—while not antithetical to and indeed sharing much in common with Christianity, was neither sectarian nor in any specific sense Christian…

The American civil religion was never anticlerical or militantly secular. On the contrary, it borrowed selectively from the religious tradition in such a way that the average American saw no conflict between the two. In this way, the civil religion was able to build up without any bitter struggle with the church powerful symbols of national solidarity and to mobilize deep levels of personal motivation for the attainment of national goals…

The civil religion has not always been invoked in favor of worthy causes. On the domestic scene, an American-Legion type of ideology that fuses God, country, and flag has been used to attack nonconformist and liberal ideas and groups of all kinds…

The theme of the American Israel was used, almost from the beginning, as a justification for the shameful treatment of the Indians so characteristic of our history. It can be overtly or implicitly linked to the ideal of manifest destiny that has been used to legitimate several adventures in imperialism since the early nineteenth century…

Behind the civil religion at every point lie biblical archetypes: Exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, New Jerusalem, and Sacrificial Death and Rebirth. But it is also genuinely American and genuinely new. It has its own prophets and its own martyrs, its own sacred events and sacred places, its own solemn rituals and symbols. It is concerned that America be a society as perfectly in accord with the will of God as men can make it, and a light to all nations…

(Bellah, Robert N.: 1967)

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Wow.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost one year since I last posted something.  What kind of blogger waits 11 months between posts, right?  Well, for the handful of you out there who actually read this here blog I hope you don’t think that I, or the others, have lost interest in these issues or forgotten the biblical call for justice in our world.  That is certainly not the case.  I can’t speak for the other contributors here but I will say that since my last post my life has become increasingly challenging and spending time recording my thoughts here has taken a back seat to other more tangible priorities–such as trying to be more active in living out the convictions I espouse here.  Have no doubt, however, that while my keyboard has been silent my heart and mind have not paused when it comes to processing how to be faithful to the Kingdom of God.   And it is with that that I continue in the same vein that I left off…

A couple of days ago I sat down on my bed to spend some time to pray and reflect on my life.  After some time I began thinking about a Sunday service I attended on July 4th at church I had never been to before.  If ever you want to get a glimpse of how in love with America a particular church community is just attend a Sunday morning service that is near a holiday like the 4th of July, Memorial Day, or Veteran’s Day!  While I was expecting to see at least a small display of excessive nationalism, I was hoping that this church was as Christ-centered as their website said they were and I wouldn’t have to be confronted with the same patriotic frenzy that I would while grocery shopping later that day.  While the people were friendly and the gist of the teaching was sound and thoughtful, much of what was discussed by those speaking was the all-too-familiar conservative, white, middle-class, quasi-facist, cultural-Christianity that is the faith of so many in this country and that manages to get at least a little air-time at almost every church I’ve ever been to.  I wasn’t entirely surprised to see people with American flag ties and dress-shirts, or to hear about how our country was supposedly “founded on the Bible” by devout Christians, but I didn’t just shrug it off and forget about it either as if it were one of those “non-essentials” of Christianity that I have a differing opinion on.  No, for some reason it has stuck with me and I continue to think and pray about this blending of the Cross with the Flag, which I’ve written about previously.  I continue to pray for that church to be marked more by a love for the Kingdom of God than for America.  I continue to pray for the American Church as a whole to love the Kingdom more than its earthly home.  And I continue to pray that I would also.

As I prayed and journaled about these things God gave me a moment of clarity that started like a pinhole in the ceiling and opened up into a gaping fissure flooding me with sunlight.  It was the realization that I am tempted to offer critiques of this American culture and say nothing of the greatness of the Kingdom of God as an alternative to it, thinking that my critique is sufficient to turn someone’s heart away from loving this sinful world and toward Jesus Christ.  I also recognized that on the other end of the spectrum there must be Christians who, wanting to avoid controversy, will just speak of the greatness of God and say nothing to provoke discontent with this imperfect world in the hearts and minds of unbelievers.  What I realized in that moment is that both are equally inadequate because the first approach, which I am tempted towards, provides no viable alternative to loving the world (i.e. “a reason for the hope within”, 1 Peter 3:15), and the second approach can end up sounding like another relativistic, this-is-what-works-for-me statement because it fails to address the evilness of the world’s culture and value system which has seduced unbelievers.  Therefore, I must try to do both.  On their own neither is adequate.

I depend so heavily on my ability–and the abilities of others–to skewer and dissect culture that I neglect giving praise to the Kingdom.  The alternative to the world which by God’s grace I have found must be clear and obvious to others both for God’s glory and for the sake of the person I want saved.  I have failed too often in this regard.  I can do better.  A good step for people like me to take is: try to end every critique whether written or verbal with an expression of the greatness of God, just as many of the Psalms do.  Let us do it with boldness, confidence, and no fear of man!  God is great, or as Muslims are known to frequently say, “Allahu Akbar.”  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if us Christians were as quick as Muslims are in saying how great our God is…and really believe it?

What kind of impression are we making on unbelievers if our love for God and devotion to the Kingdom is only on our lips and not in our actions?  Let’s “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.  Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked,” as God has asked us (Psalm 82:3-4).  Let’s not be ashamed to say exactly why we’re doing it either.  I know I, for one, can do better at this.  Hold me to it, guys!

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