Friday, February 03, 2006

Response to ajmac

The following is a response to a comment by ajmac to my previous post, "Real Freedom." Ajmac said:

Your sarcasm is neither persuasive nor funny. What do Christians in other countries have to do with it?

I'm curious: Do you disagree that American Christians experience freedom in the temporal sense to a far greater degree than any Christians throughout history?

Thank you for visiting, ajmac. My post was not meant to be funny. I think I assume correctly when I say that the regular readers of my blog knew exactly what I was talking about.

As for your questions, Christians in other countries have everything to do with it. It seems that many American Christians equate the flag and the U.S. with Christian values. While I certainly don't disagree with being patriotic, I believe it is rather arrogant to assert that the values represented by the flag are equal to the values represented by the cross, which is what the window sticker I referenced seems to do.

In the church where I attend bible study, there was a display of the flag and the bible side by side with the words "I pledge allegiance" written above the display. How must that look to Christians from other countries who may happen to attend that church? That display and the sticker seem to send a distorted message about American Christians--that we place equal value on Christian values and the flag. Brotherhood with Christians from other nations takes a backseat to allegiance to the flag, it seems.

As for your second question, of course I don’t disagree that American Christians experience more temporal freedoms than other Christians. We American Christians are free to speak out against the church or the government when we believe them to be in the wrong. We are free to come and go as we please, and we enjoy tremendous economic freedom, much more so than people in other nations. Is this, however, the true freedom that Jesus spoke of? Jesus said that those who obey his teachings are the ones who are truly free.

It is obvious from Jesus’ teachings that he did not endorse the accumulation of material wealth, but this is a “freedom” that many Americans enjoy. However, how free are we really if we have lots of stuff but our credit cards are maxed out and we have to work overtime to pay for it? How are we truly free if what we are working so hard for can be destroyed in the next hurricane or fire or tornado? When we lose these things, we begin work all over again to get more of them. How is that true freedom? And for those whose economic situation will not allow them to accumulate things but everything in our society says that we don’t fit in if we don’t have all the latest gadgets, how is that true freedom?

Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light and that those who trust completely in God and make his kingdom their primary concern will not have to worry about having their temporal needs met, yet American Christians’ yoking of the flag with the cross indicates that we do not really trust in God and that many of us treasure the temporal more than the eternal.


ajmac said...

Is it not true that a nation might be "Christian" in two senses? It might be Christian because the plurality of its people are Christian and its laws and policies are therefore derived from natural-law principles. (See, e.g. MLK's Letter From a Birmingham Jail.) Or, it may be Christian because Christianity is the established religion.

The USA is certainly Christian in the first sense, though not in the second. So, is the connection between cross and flag not merely a true factual statement?

As for the association of the flag with "real freedom," I tend to agree that the statement is over the top. Certainly, as citizens of an eternal kingdom, we find ultimate (eschatos) freedom in our identifying with Christ. But there's a difference between hyperbole and heresy.

ajmac said...

I think, perhaps, you also misunderstand the sentiment of the bumper-sticker. You assume that the driver does "not really trust in God" and "treasure[s] the temporal more than the eternal." But how does identifying with earthly attempts to bring others freedom a failure constitute a lack of trust or undue attachment to the temporal?

I assume you work for a living. Do you buy food and clothes? Pay taxes? On your reasoning, do these activities not demonstrate your lack of trust in God and your undue attachment to the temporal?

I would say that's pish-posh. Of course you can (and must) appropriately look after God's work through earthly institutions even as you trust the result to Him.

JMG said...

I'll agree that we are in a sense a Christian nation in that the dominant religion is Christianity and many laws seem to have a basis in biblical law. However, the majority of American citizens don't seem to value what Jesus valued.

Yes our nation is engaged in an earthly attempt to bring others freedom. But is that the same freedom that Jesus endorsed?

Of course I work for a living. Jesus didn't say a person couldn't or shouldn't work for a living. Yes, I buy food. (Ideally, I'd grow all my own food, but I have a brown thumb so I do well to grow a few tomatoes. Thank God I have family who can garden well so that I don't have to depend totally on Kroger.)

Yes, I pay taxes. Jesus paid his taxes too. We live in a country that has made it difficult to keep our own money and use it to help the needy. Instead, we send our money to the government and trust them to do a good job helping the needy. Instead of obeying God directly by sacrificing our own time and money to help others, we trust in the "earthly intitution" of the government to do it.

Yes, God has placed the governments in power, and ultimately God's will will prevail because of or in spite of the efforts of governments, but we as American Christians do place too much trust in establishment to do good for people, and we don't practice the radical way of life that Jesus endorsed.

I don't obey Jesus perfectly, nowhere near it. I wish I did. I'm stepping on my own toes here, and it hurts.

Paula said...

Thought provoking post. Thanks.

I think that part of what the Lord has done with me in the last 5 years included separating my "patriotic" American dream mentality from my expectations of Christianity. Somehow, I think I thought it was God's job to make the American Dream come true in my life and when financial hardship came I was pretty miffed. I believe we Americans have a bunch of idols that we don't see because being secure and well-fed is the norm, not the exception in our lives. I know God dealt pretty directly with me about some of these issues. I still ask Him for financial relief, but I no longer believe the American Dream is my Christian right. In fact, Scripture would say the opposite, I believe.

Tony Arnold said...

Paula, Amen. Very insightful comment. The Lord has done similiar things in my life over the last few years. It is like a veil that has been lifted from my eyes. The wonderful thing is, I realize I can serve God and be Christ to the world better now than I could have before.


JMG said...

Thanks for the comment, Paula. You're right. The American Dream is not necessarily the Christian, or Discipleship, Reality. We've gotten so used to having so much that we believe that we have a right to those things, and as you said, we make idols of those things. Jesus said we'd have an abundant life, not an abundance of material things.