Happy 4th of July to U.S. Americans! I have struggled with this holiday--and my status as an American in general--since my view of the gospel has transformed into one of peace and preferential treatment of the weak. Below, I have reposted some of my thoughts from 2006, which I still find applicable. The original post was titled Weak and Strong.
The Verse and Voice daily emails from Sojourners have been pretty good, kind of like a replacement for the now defunct Bruderhof Daily Dig! They have been challenging, as well. Today's email featured a quote from Howard Thurman:
"Too often the price exacted by society for security and respectability is that the Christian movement in its formal expression must be on the side of the strong against the weak. This is a matter of tremendous significance, for it reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless people."
Although I'm sure there are many who would dispute that last part about our “ruthless use of power,” but we HAVE dropped 2 atomic bombs on civilians, and some reports of the civilian death toll in Iraq have been as high as 600,000. Warfare in itself is ruthless, anyway, no matter how noble the cause.
In any case, I think the quote is getting at something that bothers me: reconciling the fact that I am an American and a Christian. I live in a country that is built on a strong, powerful military, with presence in most parts of the world. The Christian faith, on the other hand, subverts what we think is logical (or is supposed to subvert), since we're following the upside-down logic of the kingdom. Jesus could have evoked his power when he was on the cross, but he didn't.
How, then, do we live as citizens of a country that works a lot like an empire? How do we live in a world where we belong to the above-and-beyond most powerful group, while others, including our fellow Christians, do not have the strength and power that we enjoy?
On the God's Politics blog, Brian McLaren wrote a piece on Monday that is along these lines. He shared a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer from one of his sermons.
"Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong."
McLaren talks about the way that we are viewed by Christians who are from Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Australia, since he has recently toured those areas and has talked with Christian leaders: “They know we are against terrorism, but they don't know if we are against American empire and domination.” McLaren remarks that they hear us defending those who are powerful and strong, rather than the poor and those who are weak. The leaders from these countries are disturbed by our defense of the strong, and McLaren reminds us that we should be too. He wishes that we in the US could see that we can’t serve two masters at once.
A part of my struggle came to light in a conversation the other day. Someone told me that I was ungrateful to the US military veterans who have served in wars in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I went to Girl’s State, where the American Legion taught me flag worship (although since then, I feel as if such reverence is semi-idolatrous and putting things in a place where God should be instead). I’ve also read things like The Greatest Generation, so I’m aware of the sacrifices of prior generations, not to count relatives and friends who have served. However, I still do not think it is justifiable for a Christian to support military efforts, and to promote the interests of a nation instead of the purpose of the church. Like what Thurman, Bonhoeffer, and McLaren said: I don’t think we were meant to favor the strong and not the weak. The American church has lost sight of turning the other cheek and enemy-love because of our love affair with our country and "homeland security."
So the problem is this: it’s not that I’m ungrateful, it’s just that I strive to be a Christian first, andthen an American. I guess I’m just trying to express my disagreement with an issue (or with some people, it’s a way of life), while at the same time be tactful and respectful about it. Does anyone else struggle with this, too?
I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses... he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12