Our Broken Civil Dialog (#541)
Has the civic discourse in America reached an all-time low, and if so is there any hope it's about to get better? As Wayne and Brad begin in the mailbag they are invited into a discussion about the current state of political affairs in the U.S., including the rise in violence and fear as people talk at each other rather than with each other. What has brought about the cultural angst that rips at the fabric of our society, and is it possible to turn it around? In the course of this discussion they consider America's gun laws, the racial inequities in our culture, and the problem of illegal immigration. Part 2 continues next week.
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At the risk for ruffling a few feathers, I find myself becoming more and more uncomfortable with the way evangelical institutions in the US intertwine patriotism and so-called moral / conservative issues with Christianity. I’ve come to believe that the Church should exist without nationalistic borders and operate above political agendas but sadly, what most people hear from churches (little “c”) is a message of God-fearing morality, guns and gay rights resistance that drowns out a more important conversation about inclusion, love or forgiveness. How can we exemplify harmony and create an atmosphere where racial healing can begin if our houses of worship are still largely segregated. How can we find common ground when having the audacity to express a “liberal” thought about poverty, drug addiction, or judicial bias is a guaranteed trip to fundamentalist intervention town?
I mentioned to a pastor friend once that I didn’t like having an America flag posted prominently in the sanctuary and he went through some pretty impressive theological gymnastics to defend the practice. I served in the US Army and was prepared to uphold the oath I made even if it meant dying, but singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on Veterans Day Sunday in an attempt to tie military intervention with God’s righteousness seems a bit of a stretch, and even saying this will probably get me branded as both a heretic and a traitor. One other thing – I am well trained in the use of firearms. Besides the military training I also captained a university competitive marksmanship team, but I would not have a gun in my home under any circumstances no matter how well locked up they were. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and there have been far too many situations where incidents have escalated to deadly levels or someone has been accidentally shot (far more likely) because a gun was readily available. I guess I’ve become a peacenik in my old age.
I grew up Southern Baptist, in an all-white church that literally escorted African American guests out of the building, so I’m sure that effects my perspective, and I have perhaps painted with an unfairly broad brush, but dang it this stuff riles me up.
Your mileage may vary.
I think growing up in the context you described is definitely going to leave a measure of righteous indignation and I imagine the getting you riled up is in keeping with God’s heart as it relates to that issue. As someone who grew up with my best friends rarely being my own race, I’m of a different younger generation who doesn’t carry those same kind of experiences–which I’m sure colors the lens I see through. I’m not as in touch with the pain of those who do or have had to suffer that kind of mistreatment.
When it comes to the church and nationalistic patriotism–I’m sure it can be carried to weirdness, but that’s where I (personally) might encourage you not to paint with a broad brush. My greater citizenship is as a child of God, a member of His church, functioning part of the global body — but I still have an earthly citizenship and my engagement in this realm is part of what I understand is being salt and light. If the church in the name of being spiritual just disengages from the civic realm, is it any wonder that the civic realm goes rotten, or just becomes a secular domain, void of any redemptive influence? I believe God has different destinies on different nations and has invested an incredible revelation of Himself in all of them, each being uniquely able to reveal something a little different than perhaps the other–that we can learn from and thereby fill in an even greater tapestry of understanding. That’s some of the kind of ministry that I have done and seen some beautiful fruit come from that… so I have a different taste in my mouth from seeing a pride of nationalism through that lens. (It can be funky and inappropriate, but it can also be beautiful… ) I don’t think there is a broad brush that fits for any of this.
In terms of the instructions that God gives, I think the Bible reveals different realms of jurisdiction as to whom God is speaking: the individual, the family, the church community, and then civil government. The commands and directives are not the same, nor universal to all, sometimes they are meant for some, and not to others. Civil government is called to do things that the other 3 are not given the same directive (as in being a minister of justice, wielding a sword, being a cause for fear in those who intend to do wrong). The church is not called to act that way, but civil government has a different command and responsibility. Civil governments are not asked to turn the cheek, but we as individuals are. When we confuse those — I think we do really draw wrong interpretations.
Are those 2 domains never to be mixed? I don’t think that is the answer — but using wisdom and discretion is. We are called to operate as citizens in both the earthly and heavenly realm — and the heavenly one is my greater allegiance. When those distinctions are not clear (and I have found few realms that are really cognizant of that), it does get a little funky.
I am one who does believe that God does sanction just wars at times– I can make a Biblical case for that; but I don’t think that is His first desire. I just don’t think we can truly presume that those who do not know God and are hell bent on harming and destroying others are necessarily just going to stop –so at times, I can see how the God of justice, would direct the civil authorities in the use of force. But again– that’s civil authorities; not church ones. That is not going to answer all the issues that surround these kind of discussions — but I do think it speaks to how and when, that can be a righteous thing directed by God. I don’t think we are wholesale to stand by idle and let evil just run amuck– I do think there are times when God moves by His spirit, and moves us to intervene. The bible also talks about how in the lives of certain folks– He “trains their hands for war” Ps.144:1, Ps.18:34, 2 Sam 22:35– and that is just as much a spiritual gift in that moment, as anything mentioned in 1 Cor. 12. That may make me a pariah in some eyes, but it is something I can see evidenced in Scripture.
I respect those who take a pacifist position as an issue of conscience, but I think that has to be left as something in a realm of conscience. Not a dictate we demand of or put on each other — because I can stack up verses on both sides. Same would be true with the right to self-defense, and thus a 2nd amendment right which comes from Scripture — not just nut jobs bent on violence. I totally respect the desire of someone else, as an issue of conscience to conclude difference — but that’s where we have to free one another to live those things out as led by the Holy Spirit. I don’t see a right in the bible where I am free to remove that right from someone. We can torture the data to confess to anything, but I did find this something worth considering in the debate on the subject: “The 28th Annual Survey by the National Association of Chiefs of Police– while liberals call for more gun control to stop violence, three-fourths (76%) of the nation’s police chiefs and sheriffs say armed citizens actually ‘reduce violent criminal activity. ” I’m not a policeman and I’m glad I don’t have to do their job. I don’t belong to the NRA, and I don’t have a conceal-carry license… i don’t really “like” guns — but they were given to us from a grandparent, and I have taken our family through gun safety, hunter training. And they pretty much stay locked up in a safe, except when we are up in the mtns and go target shooting. My first line of defense beyond the general hedge of protection from the Lord and our prayer, is a big slobery Saint Bernard that isn’t fond of strangers. I’m not a big gun proponent, but I would honor the right for people to bear arms. I respect your different view — and I would freely admit, we have a problem in our culture on a lot of fronts– I just don’t think it is some simple direct cause and effect of just 1 thing, but rather a much deeper spiritual one and confluence of many others.
I think we are called to a genuine challenge — how do we live out lives in such a way that LOVE truly does penetrate a resistant culture and reaches past all the awful caricatures and helps become something the Holy Spirit can use to transform the lives we intersect. Love is what matters most and is the greatest unused weapon we have.
Bless you for sharing your heart and points of view… I’m speaking for just myself, not for Wayne, nor am I lobbying for a position — just a balanced domain where we each have to respond to the Lord and our conscience.
The simplicity of love is around all of us…if we chose to see it. One good agenda seems to need to serve another these days doesn’t it? Thanks for your peaceful thoughts!
The short of it – death from that one tree, you know the one… A trillion various views are needlessly shuffled into two sides, each points fingers of judgment at the other. Each calls themselves good and the other evil, death results. There is a much better way, and yet another Tree which yields life:security, peace, love, forgiveness and understanding, etc.
The world won’t ever get that; unfortunately, that’s it’s way and it cannot see another. Guess this is why Papa’s gonna finish this once and for all someday. It can’t go on forever can it?
When anything takes a seat in front of love it becomes an agenda; that seat is framed upon insecurity and imaginary control, hence, fear. One either believes in Love or fear, the exact amount of faith can be placed firmly into one or the other.
The more that goes on around me these days, the more He calls me into resting and not fretting about anything at all. John Mellencamp once wrote, ” Nothin’ matters, and what if it did?” It seems shortsighted to some and poignant to others, but I get the point today. Aside from love, none of it really matters once you see you’re okay in Him, right where you are.
Folks will die for a lot of little things, even the occasional big one…
One doesn’t die for love, they die inside of it…safe and secure.
Ed, I have learned a new and better definition of ‘church’ from listening to the God Journey podcast. It is less and less about the building housing people in worship, but God housing worship in people. Jesus is the head of the church, not the pastor. And morality, guns, and gay-rights resistance have nothing to do with Christian values, it is all about power. And the more power you have, the more people follow you. It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian leader or not. Even many politicians and professional athletes profess their Christianity all the time, and it doesn’t seem to affect their popularity.
Brad, what you said in the podcast about people finding other methods of destruction besides guns is to me, spot on. This may sound trite, but I believe that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. I don’t own a gun, feel no need for one, have no use for one, but I am for the right to bear arms. Having rights is the key to liberty.
Wayne, what you said in the podcast about the media focusing on extremes to incite negative, angry discourse, stands in stark contrast to what goes on in the real world, in my dealings with people of different races and cultures, that someone who only listens to talk radio and watches television sees as the face of ISIS, or the provoker/victim of police brutality. They seem to have more in common with me, than have differences with me.
First of all thank you for having this conversation, I am the one who wrote the email seeking to understand the Christain stance on these gun issues, it looks to me from the comments and discussion that there are 2 reasons in favour of the gun laws (please correct me if there is more) it is either due to fear or due to rights (constitutional rights)
The fear of someone coming in to harm yourself or your family and you should be able to defend yourself. I understand this, regardless of our gun laws we too in Australia have right to self-defend, so my question Brad is how long would it take you to run to your safe to get your gun to defend your family. I am not a pacifist,(but I do hate violence) in that I would not stand by and allow someone to hurt my children or loved ones, I would grab the nearest knife, baseball bat, weapon and do what ever I could to protect them and myself. I think if I had a gun in a safe I would forget the code and maybe that is why people have their weapons lying around instead of in the safes so they can have easy access. Personally I would rather invest in security (locks) than in a gun.
The other reason, your rights? Seems pretty pointless because it was a right to defend yourself against government, doesn’t really seem relevant as you live in a democracy. Plus if anyone had rights it was Jesus but he never really seemed to play that card. He seem to always do the opposite.
My question is how many civilians with weapons have stopped massacres? How many children have accidentally killed or been killed due to these weapons?
Murders and crimes still happen in Australia, what our gun laws have achieved is a stopping of mass killings, and children accidentally being killed. I know that some Americans feel they can sleep safely at night because they have a gun, whereas I can sleep safely at night because I don’t have one, its all a matter of perspective. So then can I challenge all Christians to actually have a conversation with Jesus about this.
You went on to talk about slavery, I wonder how many God fearing Christians had slaves, it seems that Christians through out history have a way of justifying injustice, and their stance on issues(this is not an accusation but an observation, I am just as guilty of this). All I know is the saviour Jesus overcame fear with love, I grew up in extreme fear and it was the love of Jesus that destroyed that, I believe fear is the enemy of God.
Growing up I always thought America was the land of justice and truth and freedom, as I listen to your politicians I only hear a voice of fear, now your country is the butt of jokes in ours, this makes me sad.
The challenge to all of us believers is simple this, would we dare have a conversation with Jesus on all these matters? Would we all put aside tradition, preconceived ideas, religious teachings and seek his heart, so that we can have a voice that drowns out all fear, that compels us to act and speak in love and truth and justice.
Once again Wayne thank you for braving all the difficult conversations, daring to go there. You guys are amazing.
Just my two cents worth….
I see where you come from Esther, being an Aussie as well, I look at all the guns in America and shake my head, however, I also see that things which are important to someone comes from the culture they grew up in!
I don’t think Aussies will ever understand patriotism or the right to bear arms, as we just aren’t like that! Aussies ( generalizing heavily) are quite cynical of the government, and don’t have the whole “God bless Australia” thing happening, ( unless it’s in the cricket or football)
I think our world view is heavily biased by our culture. This includes the civil side Brad was talking about, and also the Christian side! It’s a huge culture shift to go from attending church every week, to seeing the church as a living, dynamic blend of relationships! It’s also a huge shift to think that our ‘rights’ aren’t actually that important in Fathers kingdom.
As a few people have already said, if each of us individually asked Father what is best for us, individually, what is important for us, individually to do, say or act in the world. If we ask Father ‘who do you want me to love today, Father, ( as Wayne says) then I think the rest of all these conversations will work themselves out!
It sounds a bit basic, and of course there are always a thousand sides and shades of grey to issues, but I do believe that the lens we view life through makes some issues more important to us, than it might actually be!
So I guess I agree with what you said last, Esther, can we honestly put aside pre conceived ideas and biases?
We may have to start with “what pre conceived lens am I looking at this through, Father”
Yes you are right I do not understand patriotism, but I do understand, manipulation, intimidation and fear.
Patriotism scares me, it sounds like fanaticism. This may be due to my history, and lens I am looking through.
I grew up being taught our culture and traditions and family were more important than anything, it was not to be questioned. (I have Italian Mafia background, but born in Australia). When I choose to follow Jesus, and come away from the Catholic faith my dad wanted to kill me and my brothers had to stop him. For 10 years I had nightmares of guns, being chased and hunted down.
Now 32 years later I have discovered its OK to question, what I thought was right at age 15, 21, 35, 51 has changed over the years, my loyalty to family, friends, churches no longer dictates I am not afraid anymore of the conversations, my patriotism lies only with Jesus.
I remember when dad had to hand in his guns, our Prime Minister at the time John Howard had death threats, and rallies against him. In a small way he is probably one reason I am alive today.
Every time I turn on the TV and see another shooting in America I bless John Howard.
Not much scares me any more, except 3 words PATRIOTISM, DONALD TRUMP AND AMERICA.
I pray for your country, for the families who have experienced tragic loss of life. I pray peace for your country, and wisdom for your leaders and courage for your Christians, and for love to have its way,
I can’t imagine what life must have been like for you, and I can certainly understand how that would shape your perspective on a good number of things. You have my sympathies for what you had to endure, and my celebration for how Jesus has met you in the mix.
I’m not really wanting to get into any kind of back-n-forth on these issues, and I do want to be careful of the bandwidth of the response here which would likely stifle discussion, more than help it. Please remember, my primary advocacy here is for the right of the individual to exercise his or her freedom of conscience on the issue.
If it were possible to feasibly accomplish a systematic nationwide confiscation of ALL weapons in a nation of 330+ million people, with 270 million guns already out there, AND you could ensure that was not just dispossessing the law abiding citizens –I could see the possible benefit of that; but it would not address all the relevant issues that are intertwined on the subject. Australia is 1/10th of the population are largely based in urban centers. There are tons of folks in America who live in places that the police and gov’t will not be able to get to them in any timely manner. What of their security and safety concerns?
Automobiles kill far more people in this nation daily and annually than guns ever will (given the horrible tragedy in Nice, France–how do you stop delivery trucks from being used as a weapon for mass murder). The flu kills more people than guns do, as does household poisons. Gun deaths in the US are the 12th leading cause of death, not even up in the top 10… Every single one of these are terrible, and I do think we have some horrible problems, if not a war of hostility brewing against our police force in America… So, yes, please pray for this nation. — but I don’t think gun ownership vs. gun control is ever going to address the true “heart” of the matter. Guns don’t kill people, people do. That doesn’t settle anything, but it does reveal the inability of just external controls to deal with where the real cause occurs.
I could throw out a whole bunch of statistics that I think would surprise both sides of the debate, both for and against; but I would sooner advocate that everyone interested ought to do their own homework and education on the subject. Actually research the facts, not just the punditry of opinions. Then prayerfully come to your own conclusions.
I don’t relish the thought of being branded as the “gun guy” for defending the freedom for gun ownership, but based upon what I have studied, I believe there is a strong argument to be made for the presence of an actual deterrent for violent crime. With just one exception, every public mass shooting in the USA since 1950 has taken place where citizens are banned from carrying guns. Despite strict gun regulations, Europe has had 3 of the worst 6 school shootings. If you want to research it, there are regular instances where armed citizens have actually stopped what would have otherwise been even more horrible mass shootings. Bad guys don’t want to mess with armed citizens who could retaliate; they are not looking for a fair fight — they look for easy targets that eliminate and minimize the threat to themselves, and the evil they want to do. Most all of the laws simply restrict law abiding citizens, not those bent on evil. So, I don’t think there is a simple solution to any of this.
Reducing the discussion to just “fear” or “rights” is an unfortunate oversimplification and a bit dismissive. My trust is in Jesus, and I gladly don’t live in fear, or spend much time worrying about any of this. Our community is one of the safest in the United States, with more policemen, law enforcement and firemen living in this little suburb than most places — but all of the ones we know would advocate for responsible gun ownership, and concealed-carry licenses. And they are the law enforcement experts who have to deal with this everyday!
As to our own in-home safety and what to do with an intruder — they will be met by our 140-lb huge, “I’ll eat you if I don’t know you”-St. Bernard. Good luck! He’s an amazingly cuddly, warm, affectionate, slobbery dog who is with wonderful with the family, and close family friends who have become part of the “pack” — but otherwise he’s a fantastic guard dog, and I’m fine with that. (if needed, it will give me time to get to the safe… though I hope I would never have to; nor am I excited about my dog mauling someone) — but I think the Bible is replete with Scriptures relating to self-defense. While I believe we have a general hedge of spiritual protection; I do not believe this is a promise in the Bible that guarantees my security and safety in all things. I have dear believing family members who have been gang raped and found themselves in the worst possible human situations–and they loved Jesus, but came away damaged and in need of tremendous healing. None of us is immune from evil. Jesus even said to the disciples in Lk.22:36 — to sell their cloak and buy a sword, because their context was shifting. He knew what was ahead for them. Earlier in Lk.9 — he gave them power and authority over all demons and to perform healing and sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and he expressly told them to take nothing with them; (which he mentions in Lk.22) and then he says But now; take a purse, take your bag and buy a sword… WHY? Was he looking for armed resistance? — No, he was going to be willingly taken, and rebuked Peter for striking the High priest and cutting of his ear (of that of his slave) depending on which of the gospel accts. He also said in John in a parallel passage, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” — so there is much to balance and try to appropriately understand. But I can’t ignore that he told them to buy a sword? [ It’s a cute question to ask if Jesus carried a gun, but they didn’t have “guns” back then — they had swords. And no, Jesus didn’t carry one — in the moment He was being arrested, he answered their question by saying “I AM (that I AM)” — and the Roman cohort of 480 men all fell to the ground. That’s impressive in demonstrating that He did not need a gun, nor to resist them — he said he could call upon a legion of angels if he wished. That’s a military term for angels — why would he call upon them? Well throughout the Bible, they often wipe out the bad guys… So? I don’t think these issue are just so cut and dried — I sometimes scratch my head and wonder exactly how to understand all this stuff…. so yes, have the conversation with Jesus, but I think His answer is sometimes very situational and dependent on context. I know enough to successfully argue both sides of the equation — which is why I think it is best left as a realm of freedom of conscience for the individual.
The bulk of the reasons I would offer are credible deterrents and self-defense, yes– to personal security and safety — but in the aftermath of civil deterioration and major disasters ( if the proverbial lights were to go out and it all hits the fan)– I would want to have a positive means of being able to be a provider for my family, when the whole grocery store realm of life no longer works. Those were all the reasons behind a very God-fearing, grandpa who grew up in a different generation handed down some family guns and suggested we get a safe, go through hunter safety courses, and actually become a proficient shot. It was out his love and concern for us, not some mis-directed patriotic fanaticism.
I am someone who loves Jesus and my highest allegiance is Him and my heavenly citizenship; but I am also an earthly one who is engaged, and I am proud and spiritually inspired by the foundations of this country. I will respect your concerns and fears — but I don’t personally share them in regard to “Patriotism.” Is there really something inherently evil or dangerous with being thankful, excited and proud of the nation in which you live? Does that have to be wrong or be sullied? Is there something wrong with the prayer or asking God to “Bless America” — I for one am glad it’s said — I just wish every one who said it, meant it at the depth that I think we need it to be prayed. I’m not a kool-aid drinker, but nor am I a rag on America guy — I love this country, pray for it, am deeply concerned, and long to see the nation (and the world) impacted by the heart of Jesus.
Just a few last questions to ponder: When Jesus took out a whip (made “a scourge of cords”) and turned over the money tables, cast them out of the temple area, and generally made quite a ruckus, declaring that His Father’s house was to be a house of prayer and that they had turned it into robber’s den… was he asserting any rights? I would agree He did seem more often than not to lay them down, but He did not always. When he said to it would be better for someone to have a millstone hung around their neck and be thrown into the sea, rather than cause a little one to stumble … was that some mere casual throw-away or was he not saying something that was meant to be a deterrent? I’m not suggesting we arm ourselves with millstones, but I think we too casually just declare principles that bolster our opinion or preference but are not always as clear as we think in speaking to complex issues. That’s not chiding anyone — because I can amply chide myself. I just think there is far more to our learning to live, walk, and model Jesus’ life (with power and Holy spirit demonstration) in an evil world, that is full of hurt and many an agenda, and that is all part of our being light in an otherwise dark world, and being salt in a world that is in desperate need of helping it not go rotten. And we are promised in Scripture, it will get far more challenging than this… Love will win, and it is our most powerful weapon to heal and transform and it is my passion to learn, grow and understand how to express that more effectively everywhere I go and with whomever I am relating… But I personally find it challenging to always know how best to do that — let alone restraining my passionate self that He loves and created and is at work in. I’m only learning how to love my enemies, but I’m excited that I am learning.
I am wanting to be sensitive and respectful to where you and everyone is coming from; I hope in some measure I have been in responding. Forgive me if I haven’t. I didn’t want to “not” respond. I don’t think any of this is simple, and I do think the rights, the perspectives, and opinions of others matter. Coercion here will never bring forth a peaceable outcome. We have to win hearts if we want to see redemptive change. [Sorry for the length].
Thanks Brad for your reply, my motive in all this was to seek understanding your response has been sensitive and informative and certainly has given me more incite into to my original question. There are obviously things I may never agree with but I do respect everyones rights to their own opinions and choices.
And I pray God’s Blessings on America too. As well as our beautiful country.
I have to agree that it is not a gun issue but a heart issue. When I look at the Gospels, peter had a sword (the then equivalent of a gun) ” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear”
when I look at the Terror attack in Nice I was wondering if we should also ban Trucks now. It is always about the heart of people and not the instrument that they use. I also agree that we should have laws that govern guns, vehicles, swords, etc as these can be used by people to harm others.
Most people like to see Jesus as the meek and mild baby at Christmas, but as you, Brad, mentioned, this is the same Jesus that overturned the temple and will come back to judge humanity at the end of the age. Read the ‘red letters’ of the red letter edition Bible and one will see how difficult nigh impossible a life modeled after Jesus is, without supernatural intervention. I heard a sermon one time where a man took the admonition of ‘if your eye offends you, pluck it out’, literally…he gouged out his eye with a ball-point pen. Like you say, Brad, love is the answer…judge not, lest you be judged.
About the rights issue, yes, people take it to the extreme and rights become entitlements. I see it all the time where I work. People constantly trying out things meant to be bought in whole, treating them as ‘free samples’ and then, upon confrontation, flat out denial that they ever even tried them out in the first place. In these instances I pray for a God of justice to defend me, I admit. In my worst moments these people should burn in Hell for what they have done (lol). If anyone is interested, a great book, in my opinion, on the subject of rights becoming entitlements has been written by Brian Tracy called ‘Something for Nothing’. It lays out repeatedly in detail the characteristics of those who are under the yoke of entitlement, and how it affects those who go about their life without the same expectations.