Archives For Political Theology

Family_Fathers_War

Royal Navy & A.I.F, 6th Lighthorse WW1, 6th A.B.G.R.O Coy WW1, 12th Reinforcements 4th Batt WW1. Papua New Guinea WW2, Royal Australian Airforce 1950’s & Army Reseve 1980’s. (Frederick Petrie not pictured).

I have a difficult relationship with Anzac day.

Firstly, I am fond of the practice of remembrance. It reminds the Australian people of their unique narrative, and place in the world. One that we can too easily take for granted, or pound into dust via political correctness.

For those of us with forefathers who were broken by war, it can be difficult to find a pathway beyond bitterness towards grateful ownership of our own narrative.

We find ourselves busy trying to repatriate ourselves into a family, in the shadow of those who found it difficult to be repatriated.

For example: ‘when the war ended, thousands of ex-servicemen, many disabled with physical or emotional wounds, had to be re-integrated into a society keen to consign the war to the past and resume normal life’. (AWM)

A personal example of this is my Great-Great grandfather, Frederick William Petrie. He was a locomotive fireman (stoker) and a volunteer, who enlisted in December 1916, at the age of 36.

From Australia he went to France, where he became a corporal in the ‘6th Australian broad gauge railroad company’ (6th A.B.G.R.O Coy). His war record shows that he served until July, 1918. Four months before the war was officially declared over.

Frederick’s reason for discharge was because he had ‘neurasthenia’. Neurasthenia is a general condition related to ‘shell shock’. That is, he suffered from ‘severe fatigue and emotional distress’. This was more than likely brought on by the trauma of spending eighteen months  shovelling coal into the belly of a steam train moving back and forth with supplies to ‘barren and bloodied battlefields’ (King).

Although Frederick was a non-combatant, as an engineer, his support role was crucial to the allied advance and it put him in harms way where he would surely have come under fire. Usually from artillery barrages, an enemy he could not see or even anticipate.

Lt. R.J Burchell in an interview for the ‘West Australian’ in 1919 illuminates the circumstances:

‘we were not fighting troops, but I may say that the whole of our sphere of operations was within range of the enemy’s artillery, and he paid particular attention to the railways, both with his heavy guns and aeroplane bombs. Even…the furthest back station of the 4th company was under fire from the 15in guns…With both planes and guns the enemy paid systematic attention to our main lines of rail, so you can realise that life in a railway unit was not altogether a picnic. The 5th Coy…had the worst of it…their section of line was continually exposed to bomb raids and gunfire, night and day, and their casualties were heavy…the amount of work behind a great army is tremendous. Despite the network of lines, I have seen 280 trains per day pass over a single section of line, and trains carry 1000-ton loads…the difficulties and odds against which they had to contend are seldom realised.’
(Lt. R.J Burchell 5th coy, The West Australian, June 1919)

F.W.P returned to Australia in 1918. Petrie had difficulty readjusting to a peacetime existence.

He helped raise my Grandfather, ‘Ted’, who had joined the Australian Airforce as an aircraft fitter in the 1950’s. ‘Ted’s testimony at a court-martial indicates the difficulty imposed on families by the ongoing effects of war:

Testimony_EdwardJHO

Adding to this the representative for his defence argued that:

assessmentbythedefendinglawyer_EdwardJHO

Although I have my reservations, I refuse to ‘howl with the wolves’ (Barth) and ridicule Anzac Day, deconstructing it, in an overexcited academic orgy that decries war, the evils of Patriarchy or the evils of Western civilisation.

I simply want to state that for me and my family, along with a large portion of Australians, Anzac day forces us to confront a ‘stubborn fact – the brutally elementary data’ (Arendt cited by Elshtain, 2000, p.135), that proves: causalities of war are not only the servicemen who were thrown into it’s abyss.

There is a ripple effect and it’s causalities also include the wives, children and the generations that followed these men.

Anzac day is not about a nations ideology. Anzac day is about a nations remembrance; its humanity and its theology. This is exhibited every April when a nation makes room for healing, gratitude and the acknowledgement that, those generations directly impacted by war are not forgotten.

Anzac day allows us the room to reflect and explain to others that we bear the burden of their scars, not just the benefit of their medals.

Anzac day should affect us. If the gravity of it doesn’t force us to reflect, we will end up in an ignorance which leads us to being only one misstep away from repeating history.

This also has theological relevance. For instance, we are reminded of  James’ call to look out for the widow and the orphan (Jm.1:27), and David’s reminder that ‘God is the father of the fatherless and protector of widows’ (Ps.68:5).

The benefit of Anzac day is that it allows a nation the room to grieve collectively.

According to my family history, we are the children of soldiers. We do not carry their wounds, but we do carry their scars.

Although we share different contexts, we still feel the effects of the price they paid.

Today, there are  serious interpersonal conflicts. These are largely caused by the hidden effects of a trauma still echoing through the generations. Because this goes unacknowledged, it is like watching ripples spread out from a point of impact in my family’s history. Anzac day helps me to frame that drama in a very real context. War, although now distant, is in large part the cause of that dysfunction.

Anzac day disturbs my complacency by confronting me with the story I am handed. It reminds us that we are given the gift of choice, and the chance to not make the same mistakes.

The Anzac pilgrimage each April is a paradox of thanksgiving grounded in the dialectic outcomes of war. War disinherits. Through the sacrifice of freedom it sets up an inheritance of freedom.

War costs families. It diminishes the potential for healthy and holistic relationships. Yet it opens the door for grace, forgiveness and gratitude.

Anzac day also brings us to find some deep sense of solidarity with Jesus Christ and the cross He was crucified on. It reminds us of His resurrection (Jn.15:13), and brings, by this fact, families to a place of hope, saying that through Him they can rise from the ashes of war.

Anzac day allows each generation to move forward in courage. It allows room for people to own their stories, leaving at the foot of the cross, the psychological, spiritual, emotional and financial dysfunction that war causes.

The hope of Anzac Day is Jesus Christ. It compels us to align ourselves with the table turning Messiah (Mt.21:12),  who, through His Spirit, is constantly at work in ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, even when we don’t see it.

It is here that we can catch our breath and find hope among the ashes.

#LestWeForget.


References (not otherwise linked):

Elshtain, J.B 2000 ‘Who are we?: Critical reflections and hopeful possibilities Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing company, Grand Rapids, Michigan

 


 ‘The reason why was hazy in their minds[i]

After being summoned by General George C Marshall to meet with him on February the 11th, 1942, Frank Capra,  of ‘It’s a wonderful life’, and ‘You can’t take it with you’ fame, walked into the Pentagon .

Before Capra had received the invitation, he had been in the process of reviewing an offer of a partnership which, in his own words ‘would have made him part owner of “United Artists”. Easily placing him in the multi-millionaire class’[ii] and potentially exempting him from War time service.

In wrestling with the decision Capra wrote:

‘Why trade fame, glamour, and wealth for a number stamped on a dog tag?…I was bored with the applause. Furthermore, I had a guilty conscience. In my films I championed the cause of the gentle, the poor, the downtrodden, yet I began to live like the Aga Khan.[iii]

Responding to the invitation, Capra went from red carpet to khaki green.
Expecting to be assigned to the Signal Corps, he was surprised, and a little annoyed to find he had been reassigned to the newly created Morale Branch (Special Services)[iv].

Despite being uneasy, tense, and apprehensive[v]. His appointed meeting with Marshall on the 11th  of February went ahead better than he’d expected it to. Capra’s straight up honesty and his clear separation from being a typical “Hollywood type” – someone who ‘wouldn’t step on a carpet unless it was red’ [vi] – appeared to have justified Marshall’s choice.

Under his authority and at his request, Capra would produce a series of documentary movies that would serve as training videos for Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and Britain, to help counter Axis propaganda.

Marshall explains why:

‘The assumption of the Axis powers is that our boys will be too soft, too undisciplined to stand up against their highly trained, highly indoctrinated, highly motivated professional armies. They are sure the spirit and the morale of their individual soldier is superior to ours. He has something to fight and die for – victory for the superman; establishing the new age of the superstate. The spoils of such a victory are a heady incentive.
How can we counter their superman incentive? … Will young, freewheeling American boys take the iron discipline of wartime training; endure the killing cold of the Arctic, the hallucinating heat of the desert, or the smelly muck of the jungle? Can they shake off the psychological diseases indigenous to all armies – boredom and homesickness?
In my judgement the answer is ‘Yes’! Young Americans, and young men of all free countries, are used to doing and thinking for themselves. They will prove not only equal, but superior to totalitarian soldiers, if – and this is a large if, indeed – they are given answers as to why they are in uniform, and if the answers they get are worth fighting and dying for’
‘That Capra is our job – and your job. To win this war we must win the battle for men’s minds. I want you to nail down a plan to make a series of documented, factual-information films that will explain why we are fighting and the principle for which we are fighting’’[vi]

In response to Marshall, Capra said:

“I have never before made a single documentary film. In fact, I’ve never even been near anybody that’s made one”

Marshall countered back:

“Capra, I have never been a chief of staff before. Thousands of young Americans have never had their legs shot off before. Boys are commanding ships today, who a year ago had never seen the ocean before’’

To which Capra replied:

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll make you the best damned documentary films ever made’’

He then turned to resolving the question of how? :

‘‘Shortly after General Marshall ordered me to make the ’Why we Fight’’ films for our servicemen, I saw Leni Riefenstahl’s terrifying motion picture, Triumph of the Will…it fired no guns, dropped no bombs. But as a psychological weapon aimed at destroying the will to resist, it was just as lethal…
I sat alone and pondered. How could I mount a counterattack against Triumph of the Will; keep alive our will to resist the master race?’ [viii]
Capra is by far one of my favorite filmmakers from that era. In his own words he tells us that he wrestled hard with the issues, and in the end chose to fight propaganda with facts. Throughout this initial struggle he credits prayer and the Bible for having inspired his creative direction and determination to see the job done.
.
‘I needed a basic, powerful idea, an idea that would spread like a prairie fire; an idea from which all ideas flowed. I thought of the Bible.There was one sentence in it that always gave me goose  pimples: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Did this also mean that the truth would make you strong? Strong enough to stop the Axis powers? What was the truth about this World War?
Well, Fascists and Warlords were trying to stamp out human freedom and establish their own world dictatorships…But how could I know that statement was true? Who proved it to me? Why the enemy himself proved it to me, in his acts, his books, his speeches, his films. That was the key idea I was searching for – on my feet in Pentagon halls, on my back in bed, and on my knees in pews.
Let the enemy proveto our soldiersthe enormity of his causeand the justness of ours!’ [ix]

Why We Fight became the end product of this prayer filled decision. Seven documentaries – or information cinema – were produced. They were Frank Capra’s answer to Leni Rienfenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film, ‘Triumph of the Will‘; something Capra himself called, ‘a blood-chilling super-spectacle; the ominous prelude to Hitler’s holocaust of hate.’ (p.328).

Given the current state of the world and the increasing examples of threats to religious freedom, free speech, freedom of association & freedom of conscience.

Threats posed by excessive political correctness, militant LGBT activism, the twisting and quest to “own” science, the placement of feelings over facts, Islamism and its sympathizers in the West; all pushing for the triumph of the will, the will-to-dominate; to satisfy the libido dominandi and it’s lust for power. All tell us that Capra’s work here is not something that should be easily mocked or dismissed.

We can hear the tone his work resound in our ears today reminding us that:

“[In the slave world] men insist that progress lay in killing freedom.” (Why We Fight, 1942)

Like Capra, we are confronted with Jesus’ historical and eternal reminder,

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

And we stand on this, determined to not let the reasons for why we must take a stand, become hazy in our minds or the mind of society. We do this with the same skill, grace and determination because it is:

‘for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery’
(Paul to the Galatians 5:1, ESV)

 

References:

[i] General George C Marshall, 1942 cited by Frank Capra, 1971

[ii] Capra, F. 1971 The Name Above the Title Da Capo Press p.314

[iii] Ibid, p.314

[iv] Ibid, p.318

[v] Ibid, p.326

[vi] Ibid, p.325

[vii] Ibid, p.327

[viii] Ibid, p.330

[ix] Ibid, p.330

Pic credit: 

Poster for IAWL (Wikipedia)

Photo of Frank Capra receiving the Distinguished Service Medal from U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall (Wikipedia)

(©RL2017)

In a 2006 article written for the Stanford Journal of International Relations, called ‘Responding To Genocide In Sudan[i], Stephan M. Doane lays out reasoning for a much needed, tougher international stand on the issues plaguing Sudan.

The article is dated, but raises, on an academic level, awareness about the plight of many South Sudanese people, who are stuck in a cycle of constant violence. Many of whom are Christians.

Doane’s piece is well researched. He argues that the humanitarian crisis in Sudan is less acknowledged by international stakeholders. For example, the U.N and the international community appear ‘indifferent’ towards the aggression and socio-political maneuvering of the Islamist North.

Evidence for this is found in the fact that up until at least 2006, when foreign aid was delivered to Sudan for distribution in the South, the North controlled when, where and who received it. As a result, International aid became one more way in which the North could control the South.

‘Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), was restricted by the North from bringing aid to South Sudan. Many died because of UN acquiescence to Khartoum demands that dictate where to allow passage of UN-sponsored flights. To this day (2006) the UN still grants the northern government authority over its relief efforts’ (Doane, p.2)

Demographically, the North of Sudan is ‘primarily Arab and Arab-African’ (p.1). Most of the North are Muslim who desired Sudan to become Muslim. Doane, citing Madut Jot’s ‘War and Slavary in Sudan’, 2001 states that ‘the resolute will to make Sudan an Arab and Islamic nation originates from the belief that

“Arabism has a superior rank than Africanism, based on the way they view the racial hierarchy”[…]‘Southern leaders were treated as second class citizens.’ The intent of the North was to implement Islamic law (Shari’a) and set up and Islamic state; ‘”it’s chosen hegemony” (p.2)’.

According to Doane, Sudan’s troubles can be traced back to its independence. When independence was formed, under a British civil administration in 1947, ‘many of the southern representatives present were not ready to accept the unity of the Sudan – due in large part to prior deception from the North’ (those deceptions aren’t elaborated on).

In 1955, a civil war erupted between North and South that lasted until 1972. This was initiated by the South and was triggered primarily because ‘the Sudanese government [sought] to subjugate southerners to a cultural, ethnic, and religious heritage that is not their own – Islam.(p.2)’

In 1983, civil war broke out again. This time towns were

 ‘ravaged by government troops and government supported milita caused internal displacement of southerners in gigantic  proportions. The hijacking of food deliveries from international relief agencies resulted in more than 250,000 deaths by famine in 1988 alone, in addition to military casualties. Military victories by the Southern forces motivated a peace initiative which included the abolishment of Islamic Law (Shari’a) as the law of the land (p.2).’

Doane continues,

‘Displaced Southerners were often gathered in forced-labor camps as well as re-education camps where children are forced to learn Arabic, memorize the Qu’ran, convert to Islam, and are beaten or tortured if they do not comply. [Among other war crimes] Women are frequently raped; arbitrary arrests and imprisonment are common […] Government armies and government-supported Popular Defence Forces also sell southern women and children as slaves (p.2).’

Yet, even with these examples,

‘many international governments support the aggressor [the North] and its policy goals. In addition, the U.N has been reluctant to rebuke the Sudanese government for its human rights violations […] The international body most sympathetic to the northern government is the League of Arab States. Bulgaria, China, Iran, Iraq, Russia, and former Soviet Republics have all sold weapons to the northern government armies and state-sponsored militias (p.4).’

As Doane is right to point out, ‘what is most ironic,however, is Sudan’s membership on the UN Human Rights Commission.’ Furthermore, ‘the hypocrisy of selecting such an abusive government to judge human rights violaters reveals the extent to which the world has turned a blind eye to the [issue of slavery in Sudan] and the genocidal actions of the North.’

Sudan was a member of the UN Human Rights Commission from 1998-2000 and was assured a seat in the 2012[ii] election round for the Commission’s replacement, the UN Human Rights Council which replaced the Commission in 2006[iii]. The North’s candidacy was, however, vetoed when a ‘group of African nations petitioned against it’[iv], on the grounds of the human rights abuses carried out there by the North.

Doane also highlights how blind-eyed foreign investment in oil, helped the North exploit and torture the people of the South.

Citing Mindy Belz,

‘China’s petroleum firm (CNPC) reportedly purchased a high-tech radar system for the government last year. It was installed in summer, and since then the government bombing raids against southern targets (mostly churches and humanitarian relief organisations) have increased.’[v]

He then writes,

‘The windfall  of revenue allowed the North to purchase sufficient military firepower to permanently eradicate the South Sudanese opposition. This impending possibility correlates with the stated vision and previous action of the despotic Khartoum regime, and this threat must not be taken lightly’ (p.5)

In concluding, Doane links up the War on Terror with continued oppression in the South. While the North supported the West in its War on Terror, the North had leverage over any committed effort by the international community to push for peace and justice for the South Sudanese:

 ‘It would be sadly, ironic if the deaths of thousands of civilians on September 11 provide a pretext that the North Sudanese Government could use to kill many more thousands of civilians with international impunity’ (p.8)

In other words, Christians and people of South Sudan were fighting a war against terror in their own right, only to be overlooked by the West, because they lacked the resources, voice, support, and recognition that its Northern neighbour had and has.

Doane’s essay is eleven years old and shows its age. It doesn’t mention the 2013 ethnically motivated civil war in the South, nor does it mention diplomatic efforts in the way of sanctions, pushed for by the recent Obama administration, efforts designed to censure the North. Also missing is the important historical note that in 2011, South Sudan found its own independence[vi].

Although independence was won, and civil war continues to linger, turmoil created by the North also continues. In 2012, the UN Security Council issued a resolution calling for a cessation of ‘repeated incidents of cross-border violence between [North] Sudan and South Sudan, including seizure of territory, support to proxy forces and aerial bombing.’[vii]

The South is a nation trying to find its way towards reconciliation. It’s a new nation, that fought a great struggle against much of what the world seems to ignore: militant Islamist expansionism, non-white racism, modern slavery, and religious genocide. Given their fight against terror and oppression; the calamity, division and devastation brought onto the South by the North, it’s no surprise, that two years after independence, the South was thrown into a civil war.

The strength and benefit of ‘Responding To Genocide In Sudan’ is found in its clear ability to raise awareness of the situation in Sudan. With over 45 references, it issues us with a reliable resource that gives invaluable insight into the whole of Sudan. Both what it is, what it was and what it may perhaps still become. It’s age shouldn’t be a deterrent to reading it.

South Sudan is a war torn land. It’s a land torn apart by wars spreading out over eight decades. There can be no doubt that the South Sudanese are an ostracized, isolated and suffering people, stuck in a perpetual cycle of violence.

Stephan Doane highlights this tragedy and the need for its quick remedy. Through it he also reminds us about what occurs when, once again, the world stands by in its appeasement of real totalitarians, who under the guise of peace, blind the world to the oppression of their people; disguising the insidious nature of an ideology that forges a toxic hegemony, from which the totalitarian can hide his or her crimes behind.


Sources: (underlined and hyperlinked where appropriate)

[i]  Doane, S.M 2006 Responding to Genocide in Sudan: Barriers to Peace, International Indifference,  and The Need for Tough Diplomacy,  Stanford Journal of International Relations sourced 19th April 2017 from web.stanford.edu

[ii] Miller,J.R. 2012  Genocidal Sudanese regime’s appointment to UN human rights council all but certain, watchdog says” sourced 19th April 2017 from http://www.foxnews.com

[iii] BBC, 2013 Concern Over New Human Rights Members sourced 19th April 2017 from http://www.bbc.com

[iv]  Human Rights Watch, 2012 African Union: Don’t Endorse Sudan, Ethiopia for Rights Council, sourced 19th April 2017 from www.hrw.org

[v] Belz, M. 2001 Blood For Oil, World Magazine sourced 19th April 2017 from http://www.world.wng.org

[vi] Gettleman, J. 2011 After Years of Struggle, South Sudan Becomes a New Nation sourced sourced 19th April 2017 from http://www.nytimes.com

[vii] UN Security Council Meeting notes, 2012 Calls for an immediate halt to fighting sourced 19th April 2017 from http://www.un.org.

Photo Credits: Gregg Carlstrom (Creative commons).

 (RL2017)

.

Flail

The wheat and tares

Flail

The winding, twisted arguments and their hypocritical stares

Flail

.  The grinding edge of the apocalypse;

.  Godspeed the Prince of Peace and an end to greedy politics!

Flail

The revolutionary, veiled promises and their violence that haunts darkened thrones

Flail

. The path of injustice as it drives its warlike wedge toward our homes

Flail

.  The tyrants, who’ve enslaved people to their ideas

Flail

. their sycophants and their flood of empty tears.

Flail

. the superior denier and self-righteous believer,

.      who fails to see no grace for either

Flail

. “parent one” and “parent two” which replace gender specific roles;

.       those who’d kill mother and father,

.       and rob little children,

.       to placate selfish “trolls”.

Flail

. the revanchist;

.           controversialist,

.            who fixes an argument so it’s won;

.            where 4 + 4 equals 5, and its forbidden to correct the sum.

Flail

. vanity metrics and its socio-political funds,

.      where a hashtag can destroy an honest man

.      and any good work that he has done.

Flail

.     the auctioneers and their ideological lunge

.      who play the people’s court,

.      to shoot to kill with a social media gun.

Flail

. the willing beggar who swallows this garbage hole.

. Who then thinks, is, speaks, and blindly does, whatever the bloody-hell they’re told.

.

But, hail to the resistance and its gladdening light

Hail to those who’ve not surrendered to the storm, or to its encroaching night.

Hail to the King of Kings,

. The time tense dialectical, piercing presence of the Christ.


©RL2017

 Artwork credit: John Martin, ‘The Last Man’, 1849

dmitry-ratushny-67024If you’re close enough to me and my interactions on the internet, you’d know that I regard the internet as a place for conversation, not genuine community.

Although I concede that there are select examples where this is not the case, most of social media and the “online community” involve transactional relationships.  Ideas are bought and sold through a currency of likes, shares, comments, followers or “friends”.

Click bait articles con us with various controversial headlines. We are enticed to react and feed into the hype created by its authors. We are consistently bombarded with the next ‘’shock and awe’’ post, that will snatch our attention and rile us all up. Our tears of rage or sympathy are gold in this environment; cash in the bank for those mining for them. Fake news sells.

A large part of the internet is about smart marketing. It can bolster, foster and ignite community, but it cannot be community. From promoting Trump to benefiting from the capitalist system in order to ironically undermine it for Socialism, if it’s effective, every post and every link will involve a polished sales pitch.

Anything deemed ugly, ersatz or imperfect; any article that exceeds three paragraphs and doesn’t pump out catchy ear pleasing half-truths; anything that doesn’t catch our attention, or agree with a political agenda, gets pushed to the bottom of the pile; easily overlooked and dismissed.

Social media, as it currently exists, can be nothing more than an ongoing conversation with conversation partners. It fosters community, it isn’t one.

In Koine Greek, Community or ‘plethos’ is defined as being a large number; a [physical] gathering of people [i]. In ecology, it’s considered to be: a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region, and interacting with each other.

Mirriam-Webster notes that it is a ‘a body of persons or nations; social activity – fellowship’

Where social media fails to accurately represent the physical community because it’s become what many are calling an echo chamber, it no longer facilitates community.

Where a large portion of people fail to be heard because they don’t have the means to compete; or are too scared to speak and make a contribution, social media fails to facilitate community. Social media, instead, becomes toxic to it.

To illustrate this, two weeks ago I made the decision to remove myself from an ongoing conversation. It had become clear to me that my contributions were no longer all that welcome.

Before doing so, I placed this decision before God and prayerfully took the time to consider the right response.

I wanted to make certain that my internal receptors were not just blinking because of something that “triggered” me or because I found disagreement or offense with the politics being exchanged.

To be clear, I in fact agreed with, although was, at the same time, cautious about some conclusions being drawn by those involved in most of the discussions. The overall exchange was as healthy as most communication online can be.

Our interaction was sporadic, but consistent enough to build rapport. When we did engage in conversation, it was mutually beneficial and my well-educated interlocutor reciprocated with respect.

However, over the past few months this seemed to change. It was easy enough to see that my contribution was no longer all that welcome, even if it did bring balance to the conversation.

My own posts and comments appeared to become something of an irritation. While not openly hostile, each exchange had deteriorated. I was starting to get the impression that my position on some issues embarrassed my friend in front of his intended audience.

So, I chose to graciously remove myself from the conversation. A few weeks later I received a message asking me why I had “unfriended” him on Facebook.

In a 200 word scripted response I explained my reasons. Stating that I felt as though our sporadic communications had dissolved to the point where we banging our heads against each other; frustrating one another.

Opening up the opportunity for my “friend” to correct me, I took a humble approach and apologised if I had misinterpreted the tone of our exchanges.  Instead, his response confirmed that my chosen course of action was the right one.

He largely ignored what I’d written, then proceeded to try to get to me to confirm that my decision was as an attack on his politics. All based on the assumption that I’d “unfriended” him because he was not ‘’conservative’’ enough. Something I denied and continue to do so.

Paul, to the Galatian Church, in his famous pericope on what it means to ‘live in freedom under the grace of Jesus Christ’ [ii], wrote:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” [iii]

Adhering to this will sometimes include removing ourselves from the conversation for the sake of peace, and peace of mind.

It certainly includes redefining abusive relationships through the implementation of boundaries, which also applies to the internet, synthetic community and especially, social media.


Notes:

[i] Goodrick, E & Kohlenberger III J. 1990 NIV Exhaustive Concordance, Zondervan

[ii] Romans 6, English Standard Version

[ii] Galatians 5, English Standard Version

Photo credit, Dmitry Ratushny

christless-christianityChristless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church outlines what its author, Michael Horton, believes to be a fundamental shift in American Christianity.

Pinpointing cause, consequence and remedy, Horton tackles both Pelagian and Gnostic tendencies within American Christianity and culture. For Horton, America is pulling away from Christocentricity in its social activism and its proclamation of The Gospel.

In its place is what American sociologist, Christian Smith identifies as, ‘Moral Therapeutic Deism’. The basic message of which ‘is that God is nice and we are nice, so we should all be nice.’ (p.42).

Christless Christianity is a critique of both liberal Protestant, emerging and Conservative (American Evangelical) Christianity. (Think of the latter as the body corporate and the former two as the body collective.) Even though the body collective still considers itself beyond institutional Christianity, both are institutional and both have a hand in promoting ‘moral therapeutic deism’.

In Horton’s view, both corporate and collective have downgraded the Christian faith and what it means to be Christian. His criticism begins with a lengthy discourse on Joel Osteen, which then takes on the ‘therapeutic narcissism’ (p.72) of “God is a genie” consumerism (p.68), the “seeker sensitive” mega church phenomenon and the “personal Jesus” of American Evangelicalism. His second criticism flows into a less aggressive admonishment of liberal Protestants, Brian McLaren and the emerging church.

‘‘For many Americans reared on the “Christian America’’ hype of the religious right, “emerging church” movements may seem like a major shift, but [it’s just a change in Parties]’ (p.116) For all of the Emergent Church movement’s incisive critiques of the megachurch model, the emphasis still falls on measuring the level of our zeal and activity rather than on immersing people in the greatest story ever told’ (p.119)

According to Horton, the body corporate is guilty of replacing the proclamation of the Good News with just good advice. Positive psychology is king.Consequently, the understanding of what it means to follow Christ is diminished into slogans and ‘works-righteousness’ (p.123). It has taken the place of good exegesis, deed (sacrament) and the correct teaching of The Word (preaching).

Whereas the body collective, in its rejection of both Pentecostal and American Evangelical consumerist institutionalism, progressive “Christian” (liberal protestant) and Emerging churches, aren’t free of guilt. In many ways they’ve replaced Jesus as the Gospel with the social gospel. Theology is surrendered into the service of an ideology.

 ‘In many ways mirroring the Religious Right’s confusion of Christ’s kingdom of grace with his coming kingdom in glory and the latter with a political agenda already defined by a political party, the Religious Left seems just as prone to enlist Jesus as a mascot for programs of national and global redemption.’ (p.114)

As Horton states,

 ‘Loving and serving our neighbour is the law, it’s not the Gospel (p.123) […]‘There exists today a false distinction between law and love, whereas the biblical distinction is between law and grace – the law tells us what God expects of us; the Gospel tells us what God has done for us (p.125).’

In today’s terms, this is equal to the theological statement, “God is love” being replaced with the term “love is love”; Good, grace, holiness and righteousness are interchangeably used with niceness and tolerance. “Love is all you need” and being nice become seen as the prerequisites that an individual can use to buy into God’s good graces. Jesus as free gift and His embodiment as ‘grace in the flesh’[ii] is ejected.

 “Just love God and people” is not the Gospel; it is precisely that holy demand of the law that we have grievously failed to keep. Our love toward God and neighbour is the essence of the law; God’s love toward us in Jesus Christ is the essence of the Gospel; 1 Jn.4:10’ (p.136)

Horton’s description of the basic message of Moral Therapeutic Deism, shares similarities with late feminist and political scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain who in her book of the same year, ‘War On Terror (Just War Theory)’ warned of the dangers attached to reducing the depth of Christianity to an “ethic of universal niceness” (source). From which we don’t see Christian doctrine, but instead a Machiavellian politick, where appearances become more important than substance.

‘’Seeker friendly” filters tune out that which is deemed non-offensive and tune into whatever wins popular applause. As a result, the Gospel and the mission of the Church are obscured. The uniqueness of Christ is undermined. The Christological centricity, along with the centripetal and centrifugal nature of Christianity-as-mission is then effectively negated.

‘To the extent that churches in America today feel compelled to accommodate their message and methods to these dominant forms of spirituality they lend credence to the thesis that Christianity is not news based on historical events just another form of therapy’ (p.180)

Horton labels this as the takeover of Christian doctrine by self-salvation, Pelagians and special inner revelation; self-deification, Gnostics. Christians are encouraged to ‘feed themselves’; to rest their faith in an inner ‘voice (p.59); to buy into any spiritual’ (p.179) experience where they can attain ‘self-salvation’ (p.42).

The act of grateful obedience, in response to the Divine judgement and mercy that delivers humanity from sin in Jesus Christ is jettisoned.

In sum, ‘Christless Christianity‘ takes a stand against corruption. In doing this, Horton pushes back against Pelagian and Gnostic influenced trends that see Jesus as the Gospel, replaced with the social gospel, and  the ‘preaching the Gospel replaced with preaching just good advice’ (p.202).

Horton makes no apologies for charging straight into the behemoth of Christian compromise for corporate or collective benefit. It is no secret that the left and right divide permeates the church as much as is does the state. In his critique, Horton calls out both, arguing that they are as guilty as each other in preaching an alternative Gospel. The only remedy for which is resistance and reformation.

Horton’s critique is relevant. It’s sharp and appropriate. Christ cannot be divorced from Himself, nor can He be separated from those He represents:

‘…being grafted in Christ, we are delivered from this miserable thraldom; not that we immediately cease entirely to sin, but that we become at last victorious in the contest.’ [iii]

Come the second reformation.


Notes:

[i] Horton, M. 2008 Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Baker Books Baker Book Publishing

[ii] Attributed to John Webster

[iii] Calvin, J. Commentary On Romans (Romans 6)

Disclaimer: I purchased the book and received no payment of any kind for offering this review.

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belshazzer_s-feast-john-martin

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Swinging suggestions at good intentions

.                        Each word, nay, letter and syllable is condemned with graffiti.

The accuser sits with pen in hand, swiping red ink at words,

.                           like a monster thrashing about for air.

 .                        Each word written off, the accuser sniggers,

.                              “This one won’t be getting my “like”, my ‘’comment” or “share”.

Always finger-pointing disagreement, this poor soul’s

.                         words are like the finger painting of an intemperate infant.

Ignorant that the tone of his criticism is villainous,

This man of “higher significance”;

This accuser to whom no one compares,

His selectivity is a nuisance that

.                           descends like a blanket of ash

It covers everything in nothingness

Yet appears to be of substance,

Only to tar and feather the audience

Who’ve unknowingly fallen into his snare

.                                 “Follow friend, we’ll talk well, you’ll see”

But by “talk” he means ‘’the only words you’ll hear are from me”,

There isn’t room for the thoughtful, only the thoughtless;

The latter follow blindly

Comfortable conformers cashing in on hate’s current popularity.

The metaphorical divide,

.                    pushed into existence by political design

The enemy creates an enemy.

This accuser is at war, asserting his self-styled gnosis

He fights off resistance with slander, smear and profanity.

Yet, this arrogance which force feeds stagnating correctness,

can’t keep mouths paralyzed,

or hearts and minds chained to the worship of the idolized.

For with human hand

Opposite lampstand,

The writing’s on the wall.


‘And the King saw the hand as it wrote.’

– (Daniel 5:5, ESV)

(©RL2017)

Artwork: John Martin, 1854 ‘Belshazzer’s Feast’