Thursday, February 18, 2010

In which I apologize to King George and others

Let me start by saying that I'm glad to be an American. I have a feeling that if I were blessed enough to have been able to spend significant amounts of time in a variety of other countries I'd still be glad to be an American. It certainly seems like a lot of people from other countries feel that way given the level of immigration into the USA over the years. But (and you knew there was one) I feel I need to set the record straight on a few things.

Down through the centuries a lot of things have been done in the name of God, Jesus or Christianity. A lot of things have been done in the name of a variety of deities, but since I'm of the Christian persuasion I'll limit my discussion to that arena and let others deal with the rest. Under the banner of the Christian God (in one form or another) countless wars have been fought, and more often than you might think the wars were between groups or nations that both believed they were fighting for, or at least with the blessing of, the very same God. Beyond taking to the field for God and Country, ordinary folks, calling themselves Christians, engaged in the genocide of indigenous populations, slavery and various other questionable activities, apparently without seeing any contradiction.

Now, let me point out again that all of these things are part and parcel of human history, and have taken place under the banner of any number of deities and belief systems. In fact some of the worst have taken place under the banners of no-god-at-all, or even anti-god (think of the Soviet Gulag's, or the Cambodian Killing Fields). But again, my issue is with those who would do such things under the banner of the God I happen to worship and believe in.

I should also point out that all of these things were being done in the name of Christ long before there was ever a United States of America, so not only should we be careful about thinking this is a particularly Christian issue, we should also be careful about thinking this is a particularly American issue. But again, since I'm a Christian and an American, I'll limit my remarks to so called Christian America.

The New Testament of the Christian Bible has a fair amount to say about government, rulers, politics and war. It is by no means a primary theme, but it does pop up from time to time. What many people might find surprising is that right down the line, every time the issue pops up, you'll find that the New Testament seems to be in direct contradiction to the traditional viewpoints of many Americans, especially those on the religious right, regarding this nations founding, its status as a "Christian" nation, and many of its subsequent actions.

If, as many have said, this country was founded by Godly men under God's direction, then you'd think we'd find some evidence in the New Testament that this could be so. In fact, the very opposite is what you'll find. Never, in the entire New Testament, does God endorse or encourage people to rise up against their governing authorities. This country came into being on the basis of a revolution against its own government. The clearest and longest statement in the entire New Testament regarding the attitude a Christian should have towards their government is found in Romans 13:1-7.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
I don't think I need to say much about that passage. A quick comparison of the circumstances surrounding the birth of this nation with that passage has got to make you squirm a little.

There has been a long standing argument in this country between the left and right, the Christian and the non, about whether the founding fathers were, in fact, Christians, or whether they should more properly be considered Deists. Strangely the lines seem to be drawn exactly opposite to what logic would dictate. In light of the passage above, I could quite imagine a Deist penning the Declaration of Independence. I could quite imagine a group of Deists, or even of Atheists, holding up the banner of "Self Evident" truths, or "Inalienable Rights" and rising up against a government they felt was tyrannical. I could even imagine God working out his purposes through that group of revolutionaries. What I can't see is how anyone who has actually read their New Testament and determined to follow Jesus could march under that banner and take the lives of their fellow men, especially when you consider that the "enemy" also considered themselves to be Christian, and also considered themselves to be fighting for God and Country.

Let me quickly point out that I'm not questioning whether the leaders, or the commoners, who fought on either side of the Revolutionary war were devout followers of Jesus. I'm sure many of them were. I'm sure many of them honestly believed that what they were doing was the right thing to do.

Moving on from there things only get worse. It has been said repeatedly, from stump speeches and pulpits, that this is a Christian nation, founded by Christians and meant to be a beacon of Christian evangelical light to the darkened world. I must protest. Very little about the way this country was founded looks even the tiniest bit like Jesus. Very few of the actions surrounding this countries founding look like the actions of people who are following the path and the words of Jesus. Wasn't it Jesus who said the following?
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. --Luke 6:27-36
Can you honestly imagine Jesus advocating that his followers rise up in violent revolt against their rulers? Can you honestly imagine that Jesus would lead his followers to systematically wipe out an indigenous population in order to take the land for His glory (stay with Jesus here, we'll deal with the Old Testament another time)? Can you honestly imagine that Jesus would lead his followers to build much of "his" country on the backs of slaves? No, these are not the actions of those who are truly following Jesus, these are at best the actions of human beings. These are the kinds of things that humans have always done. The founding of this country was no worse and no better than the founding of most other countries down through history, in fact it was, quite simply, very much like the founding of most other countries.

So yes, for my part, as a United States citizen, I am quite willing to apologize to old King George for revolting against him. I am quite willing to apologize to the Native Americans for the genocide and theft enacted against them. I am quite willing to apologize to the slaves, and all of their families and descendants, for the atrocities committed against them. But, on the other hand, as a citizen of the United States the passage from Romans applies directly to me and I will be the best citizen that I can be.

Ultimately, however, my truest citizenship is in the Kingdom of Jesus, and Jesus quite pointedly said that his kingdom was "not of this world" -- John 18:36.

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