Thursday, May 13, 2010

Has the Church lost its redemptive creativity?

The ongoing debates about immigration (fueled most recently by the new Arizona law) are filled with confusing rhetoric (like, confusing the terms "immigration" with "illegal immigration") and high emotion. Those who cry for open borders fail to consider the impact on the resources available to these pilgrims (think: hospitals, police protection, services provided by tax dollars, etc.) and also what happens to towns (especially border towns) when criminals from across the borders make their way in so that they can conduct illegal actions. Those who cry for closed borders come off as harsh and inhumane, forgetting that this is a country formed by immigrants, and that our current processes for legal immigration may be faulty. They also seem to think that building a wall will actually work. Any boy over the age of 10 knows that a wall is made for climbing.

During the disaster created by Hurricane Katrina a few years ago, I went to the Gulf Coast and participated with a network of churches from Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama that had come together (like a bunch of Facebook friends) to share resources, deliver goods, feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless. The government could barely fix the roads, railways, and downed power lines--the devastation was that bad. One sheriff said to me, "I don't know what we would have done without the Christians." I could tell by the big pistols he was carrying that he was a man prone to seriousness.

A vast network of churches in the Gulf Coast area--assisted by volunteers coming from as far away as Ohio, California, and Canada--dropped their denominational distinctives, turned their fellowship halls into food warehouses and their sanctuaries into dormitories, and did what the government could not do: Care for the people. That was redemptive creativity.

What if churches in Arizona (and anywhere else, for that matter), banded together and asked God for a better idea? Do we believe in Jesus? Do we believe that he rose from the dead? Do we believe that when he rose from the dead he had a new body? Did that new body have a new brain? Has that new brain had any new ideas in 2,000 years?* I bet we could ask him and he'd come up with something no one else has thought of.

I wish I had a magic solution to this issue, but I don't. But I'll bet Jesus does. If, as my friend Tim Storey says, the best we can do is baptize a preferred political ideology, then we are truly bankrupt. I think if churches came together and quit expecting the government to solve everything for us, we'd get surprised by the results. Could the governments of nations be blessed by something like this? I suspect so. Would there be some pain and suffering in the process? I suspect so. Prophets are not always welcomed in their home towns.

Hospitals, welfare systems, and schools were, at one time, the realm of the church. The governments of the world liked the ideas enough to co-opt them. Perhaps we should now ask God: "What next?"

*Thanks to the late Dr. Ray Anderson for saying something like this in a systematic theology class. It has always cracked me up.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Arizona Law and the Church

The recent Arizona Law (SB1070) that makes it illegal for undocumented aliens to live in or travel through the state has caused significant reaction across the country. Entire cities have boycotted the state while others celebrate the proactive stance. While Christians might have social and political views that line up on one side versus the other, there is a larger question that must be asked:

What is the church's proper response to these kinds of social realities? Is it sufficient to simply pick a side and join in?

A friend of mine who is a Christian leader in Arizona advises the people he influences to use this situation as an opportunity to bring a new kind of leadership to the table. I think this is appropriate counsel. Rather than Christianize the political posturings of one side or another, a different kind of leadership is required--a leadership that is informed by Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced this in Germany at the beginning of World War II. He was horrified that the state church had submitted itself to Hitler's National Socialist agenda and called upon the "confessing" church to take a new stance of leadership. He insisted that, when the state acted unjustly, the church's role was to confront with state with its wrongdoing. If that did not end the oppression, then the church's next step was to shelter and protect the oppressed. If that failed, then the church had to act, albeit tragically, by shoving a spoke in the wheel of the state. In other words, take steps to stop the machinery of injustice. For Bonhoeffer, that resulted in his (as a pacifist!) joining the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

It would be a gigantic and inaccurate leap to equate Arizona's recent move with the Nazi terror of the last century, and that is not my intent. Instead, I would challenge us to think of a way that the church brings the leadership of God's kingdom to bear in an unjust world. Yes, illegal immigration has problematic social, economic, and legal results. But we do not begin with people as immigrants (or as any other imaginable label). We begin with them, as we do with all people, as co-humans made in the image of God. As such, we are called to bring a new kind of leadership in a broken, unjust world.

I would also add that the instigators of these laws are also co-humans made in the image of God. Redemptive leadership should reach into those places as well.

Is such leadership possible?