Monday, July 21, 2008

An introduction - My Testimony

I grew up in a typical Southern Baptist church. From the time I started school I was in church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. After years of Sunday school I could pretty much recite every Bible story and eventually came to understand my need for Jesus as my personal Savior shortly before entering my teenage years. Throughout my life I was heavily involved in my church, having attended the same church from Kindergarten through college. A few years ago I started to see what I was learning in Church and what I was hearing fellow church members say and do was not matching up with what I've been learning from the Bible.

Over time, these convictions became so great I simply could no longer be a member of my beloved Church, so I stopped attending regularly over two years ago. I felt very betrayed and untrusting of the evangelical church in the United States. It has become so corrupt and morally bankrupt that it no longer resembles any of the teachings of Christ. The Southern Baptists and conservative Christian fundamentalists of the Religious Right have become a misguided group who traded the Gospel of Jesus for the Gospel of American Empire; who traded Jesus' calls to end poverty and violence for the Empire's call to wage war and to profit from the underprivileged. I became so sickened at the notion that I didn't want to have anything to do with their version of God. I felt like the character John Proctor in the Crucible, in my heart screaming out "GOD IS DEAD!" God is dead, and the Church had killed Him, I thought. I wanted nothing to do with the corrupt Church or their "god." I wanted to give up religion and live and do as much good to help the needy of the world as a secular progressive atheist, even though deep down I couldn't truly deny my believe in God.

In fact, it would be by an atheist website that I would come back to fully embracing my faith in Christ. I found an interesting posting on an atheist blog, that lead to a blog called Revolution in Jesusland, which had a review of a book called Jesus for President. This book, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, is put out by Christian mega-publisher Zondervan. "Uhg," I thought when I saw the title. "Another book about how Christians are supposed to 'take back this Christian Nation with the evangelical church as Head of State and force our twisted view of morality on everybody, and maybe bomb a few heathen countries while we're at it.'" Then I read part of a liturgy from the book:

“With governments that kill…
…we will not comply.
With the theology of empire…
…we will not comply.
With the business of militarism…
…we will not comply.
With the hoarding of riches
…we will not comply.
With the dissemination of fear
…we will not comply.
But today we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God…
…we pledge allegiance.
To the peace that is not like Rome’s…
…we pledge allegiance.
To the Gospel of enemy love
…we pledge allegiance.
To the poor and the broken…
…we pledge allegiance….”

Wait. What? What?! After having reread it a 3rd and 4th time, I knew I had to look into this. I rushed out and bought the book, and read the entire thing almost a once. The message of this book hit me so hard I had to catch my breath and reread it to make sure I wasn't imagining it. The introduction says a lot to frame the message of the book:

"This book is a project in renewing the imagination of the church in the United States and of those who would seek to know Jesus. We are seeing more and more that the church has fallen in love with the state and that this love affair is killing the church's imagination. The powerful benefits and temptations of running the world's largest superpower have bent the church's identity. Having power at its fingertips, the church often finds "guiding the course of history" a more alluring goal than following the crucified Christ. Too often the patriotic values of pride and strength triumph over the spiritual values of humility, gentleness, and sacrificial love."

"We in the Church are schizophrenic: we want to be good Christians, but deep down we trust that only the power of the state and its militaries and markets can really make a difference in the world. And so we're hardly able to distinguish between what's American and what's Christian. As a result, power corrupts the church and its goals and practices. When Jesus said, "You cannot serve two masters," he meant that in serving one, you destroy the relationship to the other. Or as our brother and fellow activist Tony Campolo puts it, "Mixing church and state is like mixing ice cream with cow manure. It may not do much to the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream." As Jesus warned, what good is it to gain the whole world if we lose our soul?"

"So what we need is an exploration of the Bible's political imagination, a renovated Christian politics, a new set of hopes, goals, and practices. We believe the growing number of Christians who are transcending the rhetoric of lifeless presidential debates is a sign of this renovation. Amid all the buzz, we are ready to turn off our TVs, pick up our Bibles, and reimagining the world."

"Over the last several years, the Christian relation to the state has become more dubious. The most prevalent example is the Christian language coming from the State Department of the United States. Professing Christians have been at the helm of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, implicitly or explicitly referencing faith in God as part of their leadership. Patriotic pastors insist that America is a Christian nation without questioning the places in distant and recent history where America has not looked like Christ. Rather than placing our hope in a transnational church that embodies God's kingdom, we assume America is God's hope for the world, even when it doesn't look like Christ. Dozens of soldiers who have contacted us confess a paralyzing identity crisis as they feel the collision of their allegiances. At the same time, many Christians are questioning whether God is blessing these wars and whether it's enough for our money to say "In God We Trust" while the daily reality of the global economy seems out of sync with God's concern for the poor."

I've been incredibly inspired by the message of this book, and I encourage every Christian to read it. I feel the call to take back my faith and to in fact take back the church from the powerful leaders that have corrupted it. We need a new Reformation in the church today; to take back the church for Christ and follow His true and righteous teachings; to love God, and to love our neighbor. For He says in Matthew 25: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

I don't claim to know everything about theology and the Bible. One thing I've learned over the years is that the more I learn, the more I learn that I don't know much. I have more questions than answers. I just want to share my ideas about Christianity and hopefully we can learn together on this journey. If you are reading this, I hope you will ask questions and share your opinions; I enjoy educated debate and discussion of issues. I pray the church's eyes will be open in this next reformation.

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