Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Is It Christian?

This week I was privileged to be a part of an interfaith panel at Charter House in Rochester.
Charter House is an adult senior living facility that caters to well off seniors. According to Chaplain Rachel Hanson, many of the residents are involved in the community and hold leadership positions. 

The panel had representatives from Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish traditions. It was truly a great experience to be able to speak clearly about our own traditions and interact where our traditions intersected.

As the white, middle class, Christian I was able to be more 'up-front' about my position on the topic. Which created some controversy and some resonance with the audience members.

The statement we all spoke to

Faith commitment is an intensely personal matter.  It is something we each choose for ourselves, which then becomes a foundation for decision-making, living and action.  However, faith is usually formed and shaped in the setting of a faith community or faith tradition.  And that takes place in the context of a nation or state or cultural milieu with national or tribal interests and concerns.  Sometimes, this results in conflicts of interest between faith claims upon conscience and national claims upon allegiance.  How do we balance freedom of religion with the “national interest” of the tribe nation?  How do the claims of individual conscience relate to the claims of the nation for full allegiance?  How do we balance personal faith claims upon us as believers (in whatever we choose to believe in), and the expectation that as citizens we are required to support our national security in the midst of a much larger world community of peoples and nations?

What I said:

I was born and grew up in small towns in Iowa. But unlike the small towns I experience in southern and central MN, patriotism did not play a central role in my life.

I am still astounded by the
·      prevalence of flags and
·      other patriot symbols displayed and
·      the ceremonies and parades dominated by patriotism
that are central to the life of a small town in central and southern MN.

It is something that I must grapple with as an ordained clergy in a denomination that is global in its polity and membership.
Unlike the other protestant denominations in the United States, the United Methodist Church is global. Which means our mindset should not be focused only on the United States. Our worship and way of being should have a global focus. We should at least see ourselves as citizens of the world but even more as United Methodists we should see ourselves as primarily people of the Kin-dom of God. Outside of the confines and doctrines of nationalism of any sort.
Our question should not be “what can we do for our country.” It should always be “how can I serve and honor God first and foremost.”
Nor should we ever pretend that following the mandates and doctrines of the United States is the same as honoring and serving God because the USA is a ‘Christian’ nation.
The USA cannot be called a ‘christian’ nation until the example of Jesus is lived out in all the laws and practices of the governments of our nation. Which would mean that all of our scales would be completely fair, all of our laws would be applied equally no matter one’s race, gender, economic status, orientation, or family connections, and priority would be given to alleviating poverty rather than amassing wealth.   

So I always cringe when I see an American flag in a sanctuary of a UMC. I do not say the pledge to the flag and have not since I was in primary school. My allegiance is only to God's kin-dom and the teaching of Jesus who was killed because he challenged the authority of the state. Therefore, I do not think it is appropriate to have a flag in the sanctuary of a Christian church.

But I have only been able to get the flag removed from one church that I have served and that was in the Twin Cities.
When I have tried in my other two parishes I have been crucified. Even after I explained the significance of a flag in a place of worship and its position of honor over and against the position of the cross. Which is, of course, one of the most powerful of symbols of our faith.

Which tells me that national pride of some sort runs very deep in the psyche of the people of my churches.

And what this says to me even more deeply is that the people I serve will have a very difficult time separating the promise of the nationalistic American Dream from the call of the Sacred texts of Christianity to love and service of God, self and neighbor.

Which means much of my work needs to be around converting Christians to discipleship as followers of the Christ who taught that our allegiance and passions should only be directed toward God, self and neighbor.

And this is very hard in a place where nationalistic pride and military service and the American Dream and pseudo-christianity are so interwoven that it is hard to tease out truth from fiction. Because men and women from my town have fought in wars, have been taught to hate the enemy, have been enticed with the promise that if they obeyed their government’s orders they would come home to glory and prosperity. They have been taught to kill in the name of a so-called ‘christian nation’ They have been taught to hate in the name of a so called christian nation. They have been taught to strive for their own welfare in the name of a so called christian nation.

And it has irreparably damaged the true meaning of being a Christian and harmed souls.
 
There is a hymn in our tradition by Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness set to Finlandia: It is the song I go to when I feel national pride is overtaking our thinking and we need balance and a corrective

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shire;
But other hearts in other lands are beating

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

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