The Birthright of the Margins
There are lots of conversations going on in the political realm regarding morality issues. In many instances the charge for morality is led by Evangelical Christians and the “Religious Right”. There is much good to be said about Christians being willing to risk ridicule or estrangement to fight to protect that which we hold dear. I was recently talking to a friend about the present issue of whether or not the school system should teach Intelligent Design alongside the theory of Evolution. The question he asked me is whether or not the Church should be lobbying Congress for this or other issues. Until now I have been fairly silent on this, but I have finally been roused from my slumber…
Many scholars have debated the exegetical issues with Isaiah 40:3. Should the passage read, “A voice cries out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” or instead, “A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord”? Regardless of how this text is rendered, I think that it holds significance for our discussion here.
The command to prepare a way is given so that all people (presumably the nations as well as Israel) can hear it. But the call is not made from/for the political halls or city gates…it is in the wilderness; that place from which God navigates the unclear paths.
I’m not sure that one couldn’t make a case that our political systems today are in fact a wilderness and the prophetic voice of the Lord should be heard from within.
However if we are to prepare a “highway in the desert” we have to at some level leave the discourse of the nations for a time. I often comment that the church has been disengaged for too long now. But we have not gone to the desert to make a highway… we’ve made refugee camps. We’ve gone to the desert to die.
A friend of mine recently raised the call to engage our culture rather than ignore it in the supposed name of faithfulness. I agree that often we can use our allegiance to another Kingdom as a crutch and smokescreen to avoid our responsibility, so I applaud what Matt is calling for (check out the post on Little Holy Heroes). With this in mind, I would urge us all to consider the ways in which the Church can regain its birthright of the margins. How do we once again become the place from which Jesus calls to the poor, the oppressed, the weak?
It is only when we identify ourselves as the poor, the oppressed and the weak! We must rejoice in our sufferings and embrace our rightful place at the margins of a secular society. How can we continue to focus on issues like our kids praying in school when to keep from being offensive we don’t cry out in prayer away from school? How can we fight for intelligent design to be taught alongside evolution when we our own handling of this vital part of our faith is just in passing…a story for elementary students? How can we expect the government to teach people about the creative aspect of Jehovah God? Do we just want a scientific theory of creation? Of a creator? Which creator then? Which theory? Why?
The important part of our belief in God as Creator is not the way in which the world came about. It is our belief, our faith, that Jehovah God along with the Word is the creative force behind all that is, all that was and all that will ever be.
And this is our story to tell, not the government’s.
It was the Church; the disciples of Jesus Christ, who were commissioned go and preach the Good News…not any government. When God’s dealings were with a government (Israel), he focused on seclusion not subversion. They were not to try and convert the Canaanites, Jebusites, Amelakites, etc…they were to destroy them and avoid any interaction whatsoever.
This makes perfect sense to me. God’s call is not a top-down “come-to-me-because-its-law” approach – except within the ranks of his own people. God is not afraid of proselytizing, its just supposed to come from the mouths of the meek and lowly, not the powerful. Walter Brueggemann has been very helpful on this issue. He shows evidence that God often waits to act until there is no other explanation for victory but God’s deliverance. The Christians are not ever going to be the redemptive force in our society…its always been God and God alone. I pray that we will learn to depend more fully on the Lord. I pray that we will become convinced of our world’s brokenness and our inability to fix it.
When this happens we will cry out to the Lord and he will hear us. That’s always been his promise.
Matt you are right, we need to be challenging the way the world goes about its business. But we must acknowledge that there are separate kingdoms at work here. We seek to be active participants in this world, but never at the expense of our distinctive identity as citizens of a wholly different kingdom.
Perhaps we are called to be the voice of one calling…perhaps we are called to be the ones building the highway. Either way we end up in the wilderness away from the comforts of the city council. We can be a voice to our generation; to our culture; to our country without being just another special interest group on Capital Hill. Ours is the more difficult calling, one that requires more than rhetoric, money and knowledge of Constitutional law. Our calling is predicated on lives not legislation. The life of Jesus Christ and the lifestyle of his Disciples.
Matt points out that we need to highlight the positive things that are happening. He is very right; spiritually mature Church’s know how to celebrate. So let’s celebrate the things we see going on and encourage one another so that this becomes the norm of our identity. Let’s just give it a shot. If the Church in the US decides its okay being marginalized; if we decide that following Christ may just be politically incorrect; that we have redemptive function in our workplaces and classrooms, I’ll wager we won’t have to send crowds to fight for our political agenda.
If this happens and it doesn’t have an effect, then by all means let’s retry legislating morality (I say this realizing and acknowledging Matt’s statement that all laws are a form of morality legislation). However, if we enter this experiment and it does not have any effect on our culture, I admit that I will be forced to reevaluate my faith entirely…
…but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.