Is America a Christian Nation?

ReThinking Thinking

“It’s not the task of the church to ‘make America great again.’ The contemporary task of the church is to make Christianity countercultural again. Once we untether Jesus from the interests of empire, we begin to see just how radical and countercultural Jesus’ ideas actually are. Enemies? Love them. Violence? Renounce it. Money? Share it. Foreigners? Welcome them. Sinners? Forgive them. These are the kind of radical ideas that will always be opposed by the principalities and powers, but which the followers of Jesus are called to embrace, announce, and enact.”

-Brian Zahnd

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Jon McNaughton

I have heard it said many times that America should support a certain principle (most likely conservative) because America was founded as a Christian nation. When I hear this, I immediately wonder where this notion came from. Because we know that America is clearly not a “Christian” nation, considering the fact that the Constitution never…

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Is America a Christian Nation?

“It’s not the task of the church to ‘make America great again.’ The contemporary task of the church is to make Christianity countercultural again. Once we untether Jesus from the interests of empire, we begin to see just how radical and countercultural Jesus’ ideas actually are. Enemies? Love them. Violence? Renounce it. Money? Share it. Foreigners? Welcome them. Sinners? Forgive them. These are the kind of radical ideas that will always be opposed by the principalities and powers, but which the followers of Jesus are called to embrace, announce, and enact.”

-Brian Zahnd

0725-Morgan-McNaughton-one-nation-550x358

Jon McNaughton

I have heard it said many times that America should support a certain principle (most likely conservative) because America was founded as a Christian nation. When I hear this, I immediately wonder where this notion came from. Because we know that America is clearly not a “Christian” nation, considering the fact that the Constitution never mentions Christianity or Jesus, and the only mention of religion in the text is in the First Amendment where it seeks to respect the free exercise of any particular religion, I find it interesting where this thought came from.

The answer actually resides in the way America was set up. Contrary to what many Christians today believe, the goal of the Constitution was not to proclaim Christianity as the official religion of America, but actually to disorient any notion of that particular thought. The goal of our founding fathers was to establish a country in which a particular religious system was not collectively in cahoots with the established state. This was one of the main problems in Europe at the time. The Church and the State were linked, causing a whole array of problems to exist. While there were several founding fathers that were in fact Christian, the reality is that their goal was to keep Christianity, or any other religion from becoming a functioning part of the state.

Ever since the reign of Roman emperor Constantine the Great in the early 4th Century, Christianity has become an institutionalized religion. Let me rephrase that. Christianity has become (in the western world) the institutionalized religion. Before Constantine, Christianity was far different than we see it now. In fact, it would be difficult to associate it with the title of Christianity considering the differences between it, and the established, institutionalized religion. Think of the church of Acts. It was a message of beauty. It was a desire to proclaim the beauty of the gospel to all. Many were persecuted, and it consisted of a small following. The terror of the Roman Empire created little willingness to follow an outlawed religion. But when Constantine converted to Christianity, and it became a part of the state, it was reformulated. It became the dominant religion, and with this, it became the ordering sheriff of its world. Christianity was no longer about the beautiful gospel message. It became about getting people to behave. It became about attacking those who didn’t agree. It became about war. It became about nationalism and patriotism. It became law and order. It became about God’s chosen people. It became about how to do all the right things to get to heaven and what everyone else should be doing so they won’t go to hell. It was no longer about bringing heaven to earth. No longer was it about the beauty of the gospel.

To see the attempts of Christians to force their religion into the religion of America, is really not a shock. This is what Christianity has been doing for 17 centuries. And sadly, it is largely what Christianity has become. This has been a sad truth for me to accept. I’ve struggled to deal with this reality. But while I could sit here and continue to list off all the bad that has become of Christianity, I also realize that there is a great deal of hope. The Reformation took steps in trying to rid Christianity from nationalism. And since the American revolution, the foolish notion of religion being a part of the state has influenced many other countries around the world. Today there are movements of Christians devoted to helping the sick, housing the homeless, welcoming the immigrants and refugees, fighting racism, sexism, and inequality. There are movements of Christians choosing to drop the notion of conservative or liberal, and running to Christ. Because of this, I remain hopeful.

While I have hope, I recognize that there is a great deal of work that is needed to be done. Still 81% of evangelicals voted for a man that consistently resists the gospel of Christ. A man that has no intent to help the poor or the sick, or to welcome the immigrant and the refugee. The reality that many Christians chose to vote this way shows us just how real the implications of institutionalized Christianity are still with us. It shows us that many are more concerned with law and order, right and wrong, in and out, and less concerned with beauty, love, and grace.

That being said, I truly believe a movement is starting. I hope for a day when Christians are no longer seen as the condemners. When Christians ask, “how can I help?” rather than, “did you act like you’re supposed to?” Though recent election results show a lot of work is needed to be done, I truly believe people’s eyes are being opened.

If you are confused by Christianity because the Lord they worship exemplifies care for the sick, the poor, the outcast, the unlawful, the immigrant, but many of the people choose the opposite, I would like to tell you that this is a deeply embedded problem that is the result of Christianity intermingling with nationalism. It is not the Gospel of Christ. In fact, it is very much what Christ resisted. Until they killed him.

Now more than ever, we must resist the notion that America is or should be related in anyway to Christianity. America is a great country to live in. And it isn’t because it is a “Christian” country. It is because we are free to worship how we choose. It is because we can love those who don’t associate with us. It is because we can love those who the government chooses not to.

Even if it sounds dorky, pull the Jesus card every time you can, because he is in fact the one bright light that we have. And that is a profoundly wonderful thing. Don’t allow your following of Christ to be embodied by patriotism, or law and order, or the Bible, or Heaven and Hell. Embody Christ. And everything else will fall into place.

-Lukas Steenhoek

 

What’s the Deal with the Ism’s?

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”

  • John F. Kennedy

10312013_Puck_Gridlock_Partisan

Puck/Library of Congress

Conservatism. Liberalism. Socialism. Capitalism. Wherever we go, we carry a badge. An “ism” badge. This becomes the way in which we see the world. For example, for a liberal, when a conservative president is elected, it doesn’t matter what the president does, it was a horrible idea. Even if that idea proves beneficial for America. This is because we build our identity on an “ism,” and nothing outside of that can have any truth or value. We saw conservatives do this when Obama was in office. Now we see liberals doing the same thing with Trump in office.

What is frightening is that our identities have become more wrapped up in “isms” than anything else. This is not a problem when our “isms” prove right. But when they don’t seem to make sense in a particular case, it results in us either ignoring the fact and becoming ignorant, or coming up with a ridiculous response in order to prove our identity correct. Thus, making us sound foolish. Or worse yet, causing more harm.

This is where the problem of these “isms” that form our identity and worldview, has completely lost its flavor with me. I come from a very conservative town. I go to school in a very conservative town. My family is very conservative. I love my family. I love the town that I came from, and I love the town that I live in now. But the dedication to conservatism over seemingly anything else does not make any sense to me. Yes, there are aspects of conservatism that make complete sense and I firmly agree with. But does that mean that I have to agree with every conservative principal? Something I could never wrap my head around during the election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, was the many people telling me to vote for Donald Trump, not because he is a good guy to vote for, but because he will give America a conservative Supreme Court judge. If Trump doesn’t get in, liberal policies will be passed, and this country will be in a state of turmoil. As if our only hope lies in anyone with the title “conservative.” We don’t seek which candidate wants to help the poor, the sick, the outcast, the refugee. We simply want anyone who identifies with our “title.” If we have to go through a selfish, arrogant, loony to do it, that’s fine.

Okay, so fast forward to the present day. We currently have a president who is trash-talking the psychotic leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, calling NFL players who are exercising their constitutional right of freedom of speech “sons-of-bitches” and trying to get them fired, hoping to create a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and many other things that I could mention but I’m not going to write for all of the rest of 2017. I didn’t even mention his daily 2-3 outrageous tweets… My point in mentioning these things is that these are totally and completely crazy. No matter what you call yourself, you should find it outrageous and in some cases, very scary. It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat, we are at a sad state if you are still trying to say that Donald Trump is our best option when we are essentially in a cold war with a nation that has a lot of nuclear weapons and a really crazy dude with his finger on the buttons that control them. (Not to mention the crazy dude that we have opposing him…)

This was my response to the many people that told me to vote for Trump: Not every conservative principle is perfect! Some are good. Some are also very harmful to lots of people. So am I going to vote for a guy who has zero political experience, has consistently been racist, sexist, only cares about people who agree with him and endlessly trashes those who don’t, doesn’t believe in forgiveness, and have him run the country just so a guy who has the title conservative can get into the Supreme Court? That argument never really made sense to me.

Earlier I explained how I have always lived in a conservative environment. Another thing that has been true about the places I’ve lived is that they have all been very “Christian.” What is strange, yet not surprising, is the way in which “conservative” is seemingly always linked to “Christian.” I find it interesting that this is the case. Mostly because the Bible that Christians follow is not at all an exclusively conservative document. Further, Jesus Christ, literally the God made flesh, is not in any way exclusively conservative. Brian Zahnd, a pastor I greatly admire makes this claim: “What do you want to believe in? Capitalism? Socialism? Democracy? Monarchy? Conservatism? Liberalism? I can ‘prove’ them all with the Bible. Yet, in the end the Bible gives us Jesus, not a particular ideology.”

Sure, Jesus certainly displays some conservative ideals. But like it or not, he also displays some liberal ideals. This is something we must accept. Whether you are a Christian or not, the “isms” that define our identity have implications. It is time that we override the arrogance of our “isms” with open-mindedness. Sure it is important to have values that we hold true to. But one particular system of belief does not sum up the whole of what is good in this world. We must be willing to accept the fact that people who disagree with us have good ideas too. If you say you are a liberal, not every conservative principal is bad. And vice-versa. This does not mean that we shouldn’t speak up when we disagree with someone. If our president does something stupid, we should never ignore it. But ultimately, what we need to do is to stop allowing our systems of beliefs to make us into machines of that particular agenda. Don’t think that just because you call yourself a conservative or a liberal, that as long as anything has the label of that particular ideology, it is fine. This is not true. It is arrogant and causes a lot of harm in the world. If you are a conservative, be real with yourself. Donald Trump is not a good thing for this country (and if he’s no problem for you, he is for a lot of other people). If you are a Christian, your political ideals should never override your faith. That is a very scary thought. Yet we increasingly see it happening among Christians in America. Have faith that if you look towards Christ, he will show you how to live. He will show you what to believe. And that may not be exclusively conservative. In fact I can pretty much guarantee you that isn’t the case. But that’s okay, because in the end isn’t it Christ that has the final say? Or, if it’s not, shouldn’t it be?

–Lukas Steenhoek

 

 

 

Black Lives Matter and Kneeling NFL Players

There will always be men struggling to change, and there will always be those that are controlled by the past.
-Ernest J. Gaines

 

NFL Kneeling

CNN.com

This has become one of the most commonly talked about and debated issues of our time. What worries me about this is that most of time when people talk about it, there is little reference to history. History is the yesterday that makes sense of today. Any conversation about an inherently historical problem, must begin and end with the past that brought us to where we are today.

So what is this past? For many of us, the past is full of discovery, victory in war, the iconic “American Dream,” justice served, and heroic ancestral ties. For those of us who can identify with that (if you are a white male, that likely means you), it becomes difficult for us to understand how anyone else could have a different look on history. But when we set aside our preconceived notions about America’s “wondrous” past, we come closer to understanding history from an objective base, and just might be able to better understand why we have so many divisive problems in our country today. So let’s dive into a brief outline of American history from a perspective many of us are not familiar with.

When the Atlantic Slave Trade began in the 16th century, it brought to America a slave economy not so foreign to many parts of the world at the time. What it ultimately did was shape the way that America did business. Into the 19th century, America, particularly the south, thrived because of this, and to some extent, only this. But in 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was made which declared slave labor illegal (except under the grounds of criminal punishment), the foundation of the southern economy seemed to go to shambles. Not only this, but now it had to deal with a huge population of newly released slaves who needed to find work to survive (this is more so how the north became affected). Not surprisingly, this was a threatening burden for people living in the United States at this time.

In wake of this threat, whites began to use every available form of terror to ensure that these individuals did not steal their work or threaten their power. They held public lynchings, burned down African American houses and churches, beat, murdered, and raped black individuals. What seems like such an obvious problem to us today was not so obvious back then. The government mostly chose to ignore these issues out of fear of disappointing their followers, and even partook in the action. Police arrested and killed African Americans for minor crimes like loitering or trespassing. They were falsely accused on a variety of different crimes. The Jim Crow Laws were established to enforce racial segregation. When entertainment had started to become popular, movies were made that specifically made African Americans (who were actually whites in blackface) out to look like monsters, murderers, and rapists. One of the earliest and most famous films was Birth of a Nation (1915) by D.W. Griffith. The film makes a continually blatant effort to portray blacks in a negative manner and spends a great deal of time glorifying the Ku Klux Klan. (This can be watched on YouTube). The reality is this was one of the most popular and influential films in American history. Yet this is what was portrayed in the entertainment industry.

Eventually the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s sparked some change. Today, most of us regardless of political affiliation (unless you are a white supremacist) look upon Martin Luther King Jr. with great admiration. But the reality is that he was not well liked during his time, and ultimately stirred about a lot of controversy that many felt uncomfortable with. He was after all assassinated. But that does tend to be what those in power like to do to loving peacemakers (listen to They Killed Him by Bob Dylan).

The history has gone on. Yes, we have come a long way. But racism still exists. We did not treat these people poorly. We treated them like animals. And the beatings and killings are not something that is hundreds of years old that we have moved on from. These were happening 50 years ago. To say that the implications of this 500-plus year-old history don’t exist anymore is to be completely ignorant of our nation’s past. This is a statistical fact. Not only are blacks five times more likely than whites to be represented in prison (check out http://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/), but the implicit racial bias exists in each of our minds. No, most cops are not trying to be racist. Most white people are not trying to be racist. But we carry with us an implicit bias that stems from America’s long history of unequal treatment of African Americans. As much as we don’t want to accept it, it is a systemic issue. There are countless studies done that highlight how this still exists today. Here is the abstract from a study done on this by Devah Pager, Bruce Western, and Bart Bonikowski (2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2915472).

Decades of racial progress have led some researchers and policymakers to doubt that discrimination remains an important cause of economic inequality. To study contemporary discrimination, we conducted a field experiment in the low-wage labor market of New York City, recruiting white, black, and Latino job applicants who were matched on demographic characteristics and interpersonal skills. These applicants were given equivalent résumés and sent to apply in tandem for hundreds of entry-level jobs. Our results show that black applicants were half as likely as equally qualified whites to receive a callback or job offer. In fact, black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison. Additional qualitative evidence from our applicants’ experiences further illustrates the multiple points at which employment trajectories can be deflected by various forms of racial bias. These results point to the subtle yet systematic forms of discrimination that continue to shape employment opportunities for low-wage workers.

There are other studies that are very similar to this. What this ultimately means is that whether we want to accept it or not, the problem still exists today. Black Lives Matter does not exist because black people just want others to feel sorry for them. They want to be heard. They want to take a stand. They want change. People often respond by saying, “all lives matter.” Yes they do. But that is exactly what Black Lives Matter is trying to say. Our history shows us that we haven’t acted like all lives matter. We probably haven’t ever thought about the fact that maybe it is the white people that need to hear “all lives matter.” We’ve done a really good job at acting like white lives matter. Maybe it’s time to let the rest of them matter, and stop condemning them for trying to take a stand.

The efforts to take a stand (or knee) for racial injustice has been brought to the NFL. Recently, NFL players have been kneeling during the National Anthem. What resulted from this has been an uproar from conservatives claiming how unpatriotic and disrespectful these players are for taking a knee during the National Anthem. Social media feeds became filled with people burning the jerseys of their favorite NFL players in response. Vice President Mike Pence went to a game in Indianapolis and left as soon as the Anthem was played after he saw players kneeling. Immediately after this, he received a big applause from supporters. Trump took to Twitter to claim that it was all his idea.

As I watched this all play out, I became confused as to the anti-military attacks on the players who were kneeling. I have yet to hear any player say that they do not fully support our military. Also, since when did the National Anthem become exclusively about the military? Sure, we have had young women and men willing to sacrifice a great deal for our country in the face of battle. But we also have teachers, doctors, lawyers, pastors, engineers, farmers, and so many other great individuals that are very patriotic and devote a significant amount of their life in service to the country that they live in. The military has played a big part in who we are. And we should be ever-grateful to those who have been willing to sacrifice their lives in service. But our country is not exclusively defined by military. If that was the case, we’d probably be living in a pretty sad country. NFL players exercising their right to have a voice is not an attack on military. It is an effort to improve an aspect of our history that desperately needs improvement. These men have a platform that most Black Americans don’t have. After all we have done to these people, how can we again attack them for trying to be heard? These people have never been heard. Before we dismiss this act of kneeling as merely a divisive move, maybe we should take a look at all the other forms of protest that we would now consider great elements of our past (the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Suffrage, Worker’s Rights), and know how divisive they were in their time.

As a Christian, I find it difficult to figure out how so many other Christians are so quick to condemn these NFL players for taking a stand. These people are hurting. Even if you refuse to believe that because you don’t see it, would you be kicking yourself ten years from now for at least being open to hearing these people out rather than attacking them? I don’t think you would. As Christians, we do a really good job of seeing the bad things that other people are doing. The simple fact that we are so adept at pointing out “bad” things in other people shows us how much we have strayed away from the message of Christ.

If you are a white person in America, especially if you say that you follow Christ, I beg you to be honest with yourself. There are many aspects of American history that are good, but there are also some really dark moments. Race is one of them. And study after study shows that this has not changed. I know most of us don’t try to be racist. But we are dealing with the consequences of a complicated past. And one of those consequences is that we have an implicit bias against African Americans. Because of this, please do not be another shouting voice in the ear of these people. We have done enough to them. Let’s have compassion, let’s listen, and let’s try and understand these people. We don’t have to sacrifice our patriotism in order to do that. And if you are so concerned about that, I would say that there are a lot of examples of Christ listening, loving, and being compassionate, and very few (I think zero) of him telling us to make sure we are patriotic before anything else. The aggressive condemning acts of the Pharisees were, after all, exactly what Christ was resisting. Yet as Christians, we continually find ourselves doing the same thing, though we say we want to embody Christ.

I hope this gives you a different perspective on some issues that are going on. And maybe something to think and pray about.

Should We Be Afraid of Doubt?

Should We Be Afraid of Doubt?

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure, while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
       Bertrand Russell

Doubt

        In Doubt by Chrys Roboras

During a conversation with a friend about faith and the Bible, he explained to me that, “questioning is good, but we should never doubt.” Immediately after hearing this I didn’t know whether to agree or not. Something about that statement made me feel uncomfortable. Is doubt wrong?

        I thought about this for some time. Mostly because I have gone through a great deal of doubt in my own personal life. For a long time I wondered if it made sense to be a Christian. To follow a people who have caused so much pain and persecution in the world. Between crusades, inquisitions, conquering people groups, slavery, wars… The list could go on and on. Wouldn’t it be better to not go down a road that so many others have gone down, and in doing so, caused so much pain? This was one of my biggest doubts for some time, and there have been others. I came to peace with this issue, through what became somewhat of a complete restructuring of my faith. This process however, is not what I wish to address here. What I want to uncover is whether doubt belittles our faith, and takes us down a dark road that as Christians, we do not want to see ourselves, or our sisters and brothers go down.

        This would be my first question in response to this: If our faith is truly real, that is, if we believe that Christ truly died for us and we are forgiven and forever loved, should there be any legitimate threat to this ultimate reality?

        There are some powerful arguments to be made as to why it doesn’t make sense to be a Christian. Some struggle with the idea of believing in something they cannot see. Some struggle with portraits of God that have been exposed to them that they just can’t make sense of. Why believe in a God who sends people to an eternal fire when they die? Why believe in a God who chooses some people to save and sends the rest to be burned forever? For some, their doubts come from the Bible. “The Bible contradicts itself.” “The Bible is so violent.” “Modern science renders aspects of the Bible untrue.” And for some, it might be what I have wrestled with.

The scary aspect of what I have come to realize is that many Christians choose to ignore these questions. Not because they have an obvious answer to them (since they clearly don’t), but because they don’t want their journey of seeking the answers to lead them into doubting their faith. In general, we as Christians have exclusively focused on the aspects of our faith that make sense. What this does is it leaves an entire list of questions for skeptics, atheists, and doubting Christians completely untouched. I’ve heard it said many times that the youth are increasingly leaving the church because the church is not firm enough in its foundations. Well, this may be true, depending on what you mean by foundations. I tend to think the youth are leaving the church because it has become afraid. Sure, we have the strict conservative Christians willing to address some of these questions with answers like, “Genesis 1 and 2 tell us the earth was created in 6 days, about 6,000 years ago,” or “God ordered the Israelites to kill children of the enemy because otherwise they would just grow up and become wicked,” or “the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, so homosexuals will be going to hell.” I will be honest and say I cringed as I wrote some of those answers, not just because of the ludicrous that beholds them, but also that I formally may have said some things very similar. My point in explaining some of these responses is that these are some of the only responses that people hear. For someone doubting their faith, or without any faith at all, this essentially gives that person their answer. That is, to avoid the church at all costs. This is how many conservative Christians address these questions. But the larger, more moderate church, chooses to avoid these questions all together. Ultimately, it is because they are afraid of doubt.

What I have come to realize is that it is not our ability to avoid doubt that makes our faith strong, but our ability to attack doubt head on. If we are afraid to address questions about God, the Bible, Jesus, Heaven and Hell, or whatever else that legitimate questioning people have, then we expose the reality of the shallowness of our faith. It is in knowing this that I say, yes, it is okay to doubt. For certain people going through certain times, it is good to doubt. It was good for me to go through a period of doubt. It made my faith stronger. It made me less afraid to hear the questions of a skeptic. It humbled me. But ultimately what it did was show me that if what I believe is really true, then it should be able to withstand the toughest scrutiny that can be found in this world, and still stand victorious. I believe that Christ does that. I pray that the church has faith in this as well.