What About Physical Anthropology?

So I have started teaching Cultural Anthropology again. In my intro to the class, I like to start with Anthropology as a general term to describe “The Study of Man.” And then I like to add my little note that in Old English, “Wer” meant adult male, “Wif” meant adult female and “Man” or “Mann” meant human or homo sapien, so Anthropology is not a sexist term. In fact the Greek term “Anthropos,” although male in ‘gender’ (a linguistic term) can be referring to men, or to women, or to people in general. However, we don’t really speak Old English today, and the feeling today is that Man is a term for adult males… so Anthropology is the study of human beings.

Wow… Did I go off on a tangent or what?

Anthropology is used theologically and scientifically. Theologically, the sub-field of the study of humans within Systematic Theology is called Anthropology. This is a very worthwhile thing for Christians to have studied. A lot of silly things floating around churches today, in part, because of pop theology and pop (sub-) culture influences.

Scientifically, the term “Anthropology” is broadly used. <Being more careful, I just deleted a new tangent where I point out that a lot of what is called “Science” does not actually use the scientific method, but rather a more logico-historical method (which is not that far from Theology, strangely). It doesn’t really matter… or does it?> Classically, Anthropology on the Scientific side of things is broken up into four main sub-fields. They are:

  • Physical Anthropology. The study of the progress or evolution of mankind.
  • Archaeology. The study of ancient mankind, especially through the artifacts left behind.
  • Linguistics. The study of how mankind has, and does, communicate.
  • Cultural Anthropology. The study of living (usually) cultures.

I like to tell my classes that Archaeology is useful for Christian ministers— especially, but not strictly limited to, Biblical Archaeology. I tell my students that Linguistics is valuable for Christian ministers, and especially missionaries, for reasons that I HOPE don’t need to be repeated here. And then Cultural Anthropology is important for all Christian ministers, and I spend the whole semester trying to drive that point home.

However, I commonly note that Physical Anthropology is an area of study that has little bearing on Christian ministers. This is especially true of Evangelical ministers, since I teach at an Evangelical school. Part of this is because Physical Anthropology tends to be structured through the framework of Neo-Darwinism. Most Evangelicals do not believe in Neo-Darwinism, although many may accept a more flexible Intelligent Design understanding such as Theological Evolution.

But I got thinking more about this. I have read a couple of books on popularized physical anthropology (one by Stephen Jay Gould, and another by Jared Diamond) and found them very interesting. Regardless of whether I accept all of their opinions, to say nothing of their underlying framework, I feel that there are some things that that are good for Christians to know.

<Note: If the following stuff makes you think that I have only an undereducated, surface-level knowledge of Physical Anthropology, you are correct. I am noting this more to remind myself that studies outside of one’s area of expertise is important.>

  1. We are made of this world and for this world. We are made of the stuff of this world and fit into the categories that exist for the things in this world. We fit into it genetically and structurally, and fit into the ecological systems of this world. We are not aliens. This world is actually our home. We were created here to be here.
  2. We are like other animals and yet distinct from other animals. Physically, we are animals. We are not only part of this world, but we fit into certain categories of things in this world. We are genetically programmed and reproduce as animals, and made of the same stuff as animals. Some like to point out that we share a high percentange of DNA with chimpanzees (in the high 90s), and yet there are key genetic differences. Those differences are shared by humans at an even higher percent. As humans we share commonality of DNA over 99%. There is no genetic overlap of Gaussian curves— we are physically animals, and yet unique.
  3. We are all one people. There have been theories of pre-Adamic races, or cursed races in Christian circles. There have been attempts at so-called “Race Science.” However, genetic testing, as well as physical comparisons point us toward a common ancestor. Also unlike comparison with other animals, racial or ethnic categories around the world vary only slightly from others around the world. The distribution of traits and alleles most definitely overlap, to the point that it is difficult to be certain of one’s racial or ethnic heritage simply by looking at one’s physical looks or genes. These differences are mostly, quite literally, “skin deep.”
  4. There are no superior or inferior groups. While early on in Physical Anthropology and Race Science, there were attempts to discover what group was the “most evolved.” No shock, the anthropologists came in with a firm bias that their own race was at the top. We seem to be all different, but far more in common than different. Some groups may be ahead technologically (in a specific point of time) but one cannot really line this up clearly with intelligence, moral superiority, or anything else. Stubbornly, we can’t seem to break ourselves away from the fact that we are diverse and yet united. We are equal but different.

I suppose this is enough. One could argue that this doesn’t help since these are pretty consistent with good Theological Anthropology. My answer would be Yes. However, human nature always seems to push us towards creating Us versus Them groupings, and this leads towards deciding that the “We” are superior or more worthy (of something or other) than the “They.” It just seems as if Christians tend pick an choose what the Bible says (often embracing metaphors like “chosen race” or “holy priesthood”) to undermine or common humanity. Others sometimes embrace a semi-Platonic viewpoint that takes humanity out of its place in the physical world, while others relatedly, preach a rather anti-ecological message of “This world is not my home, I’m a just a passin’ through.” There may be ways in which these views have truth, but they don’t express the full Biblical or Theological Truth.

Maybe we need a bit of a reminder from Physical Anthropologists, even if we don’t buy into the total story they may give. We should not stop there. We need to go back to our Theology to understand what it means that we have “Openness to the World,” that we exist in terms of the “Image Dei,” and that we live in tension between our good creation, our state of fallenness, and our potential for restoration.

Potential Authoritarian

As most of you have probably noticed, in the last few years there has been an increase of popularity of demagogues. Demagogues are individuals who tend to “speak the language” of the masses with a level of charisma, and do so expressing themes that often emphasize empowerment and national identity, all the while commonly stoking the fires of ethnic, or religious hate. People who appreciate the message of these demagogues often see them as heroes… creating or restoring greatness to their own in-group. Those that do not respond to this message often see these demagogues as “neo-Fascist.”

Perhaps this uptick in demagoguery is the reason that so many Christians have recently expressed interest in Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His stance against the Fascist regime of his country is commonly seen as as inspirational today. Many have, often incorrectly, seen Bonhoeffer as a spiritual father of religio-political groups today.

But more interesting was that the predominant church in his country supported the Fascists, and even the “Confessing Church” of Bonhoeffer was far from a group actively opposing the government. It got me thinking to myself if there are themes in our institutional church that makes Authoritarianism (even if not full-out Fascism) especially appealing.

I am not asking “Are Christians Fascist.” There are a couple of reasons. For one, the term Fascist is way too broad. Umberto Eco, who grew up in Fascist Italy, noted that it is such a broad and varied ideology (or family of ideologies) that it is hard to pin down. Some of the common threads he noted were: Nationalism, Traditionalism (“cult of Tradition”), Life as Permanent Warfare, and Ethnocentrism (racism/bigotry). Theodor Adorno did research decades ago in his book, “The Authoritarian Personality.” His “F-Scale” (F for a tendency to open to be open to authoritarian or fascist thinking) listed a few things, some or which overlapped with Eco.

  • Conventialism/Conformism. Strong tendency to embrace cultural or societal norms.

  • Authoritarian Submission. The importance of submitting to one’s in-group leaders.

  • Authoritarian Aggression. Failure to conform to societal norms or submit to one’s leaders should be dealt with aggressively.

  • Anti-intraception.  Dislike of “wimpy,” feelings-oriented, subjective thinking. Prefer literal black-white thinking.

  • Stereotypy. Applying black and white categories to people. People are defined by their group rather than by their individuality or their humanity.

  • Power and Toughness. Equality in power is pure fiction… Inbalance of power is innate in society, so it is best if WE have the power and THEY do not.

  • Destructiveness and cynicism.  Generalized hostility to and vilification of humanity. Focus on the Fallenness of Man rather than Man created in God’s image.

  • Projectivity.  “The projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses.”  Others are narrow-minded racist selfish bastards, so I need to be the same (to protect what is mine and that of our group).

  • Obsession with sex lives of others

Adorno’s work is interesting, but let’s use Eco’s shorter list to ask the question why MIGHT Christians (and perhaps other religious people) be likely to embrace authoritarianism.  I will deal with them in a different order.

  1.  Traditionalism (Cult of Tradition). Christianity often likes to look backwards for answers. Part of this is natural to religious thinking, where there is an understanding that one’s religion expresses a greater truth, a greater reality, that was revealed at some point in the past. Beyond that, so many denominations of Christianity like to make the argument that THEY express the “real” first century church. This makes no sense— we need to embrace our role as the 21st century church, not 1st century. But this is common even among Christian groups that tend to eschew (at least in theory) traditionalism.
  2. Life as Permanent Warfare. The Bible uses a lot of metaphors. One of the classes of metaphors are war-related. There does seem to be a bit of fascination with war metaphors among many Christian groups. Evangelical groups especially like to throw out the war motifs for the Christian experience. As a missionary, I see this even more where “spiritual warfare” is not simply expressed as a metaphor, but is often expressed as the (only) reality of our work— often ignoring many other metaphors of Christian living in the Bible. Stephen Larsen (author of “The Shaman’s Doorway”) has posited that monotheistic religions are more prone to ethical dualism (good versus evil) than polytheistic religions. I suppose that could be true, but I am not sure that leads necessarily to a war picture of life.
  3. Ethnocentrism (racism and bigotry). It seems pretty reasonable to think that Christians would be LESS prone to ethnocentrism than other groups. Genesis 1-3 (and much of the rest of the Bible) puts us all as equal before God. Yet we certainly find many Christians quite prone to the strangest of bigotries. (I still try to rap my head around American Christians who are the children of immigrants who are bigoted against immigrants.) Adorno may have a suggestion in this area. He noted that people who are “conservative” in their beliefs (whether politically, religiously, or ideologically) tended to be, on average more prone to bigotry than those more on the liberal end of the spectrum. HOWEVER, among the more conservative, there was a strong divide between those who “converted” to their conservative views, and those who had their views essentially inherited from their parents. Those who were converts tended to be much less bigoted than those who were brought up culturally in their beliefs. This may suggest that culturally embedded Christianity is more prone to bigotry than found in “young church” settings.
  4. Nationalism. I don’t see nationalism is an inherently Christian problem. It is, however, a problem through out the world of “state religion.” When a religion becomes a pawn of the state, and justifies the activities of the state, the religion tends to lose its prophetic role. Religion becomes the court prophet supporting the state by echoing back the will of the state.

So are Christians more prone to being pro-Authoritarian or “Potential Facist.” Not necessarily. Of course some groups, like the Shepherding Movement, openly promote authoritarian structures, as do many denominations— young and ancient alike. If, however, one looks at Eco’s list, I think Christians are prone to be attracted to Traditionalism and a Warfare view of life. I also think that places where Christianity has become deeply embedded into the culture where it has a lot of civil power and a lot of members who “inherited their faith” there is a higher tendency to nationalism and ethnocentrism. 

We saw those situations in Germany, Italy, and Spain in the early 20th century. It is possible we will see more of this again.

By the way, Tom Nicholas has an interesting little Youtube on “Potential Fascism.” You can watch it, Clicking Here

Counterproposal Regarding Truth

I saw this picture on LinkedIn. I get the logic. I even think one could put together a few Biblical verses to support the saying.

Nevertheless, I think I can come up with a statement that is better.

Truth Sounds Like Hate to Those Who Have Never Heard Truth From One Who Knows How to Express Truth in a Manner That is Both Respectful and Culturally Resonant.

I realize this is not as… Snappy… as the one in the picture, but this version is More True, and that is a good thing.

Speculating on the “Mark of the Beast”

Okay, so when I was young, like in the 1970s and 1980s, I was told in books (Hal Lindsey’s books come to mind, but there were others) and occasionally in some church groups that the “Mark of the Beast” on the forehead and hand (Rev. 13:16-17;

close up photo of hand with tattoo
Photo by Mehndi Training Center on Pexels.com

14:9-10; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4) was some sort of tattoo. I believe that the spin on it was that it would be a bar code. (Today, they might have pushed for more like a QR code.) Such a code would essentially be like government regulated credit card I suppose.

But there were problems. Human nature is likely to balk at having a barcode on one’s forehead, and probably even the hand. It is too reminiscent of slavery. (We will get back to that idea later.) So later, there was a bit of a shift among some Christians to suggest the mark would be an ultraviolet (“black light”) tattoo. These utilize dyes that are nearly invisible when exposed to visible light, but glow quite visibly under UV lighting. They would act like the visible light tattoo as described before but is less likely to be rejected societally due to human vanity. Negatively, we are starting to play more fast and loose with the idea of a mark. Is a mark that is only visible under special lighting still a mark? Maybe, but then, would a tooth filling be described as a mark then since it is visible with an fluoroscope or x-ray photography?

More recently, special new ideas for the mark have been brought up including nano-devices. RFIDs have gained a certain fascination in eschatological circles. However, we are moving still further afield from “the mark,” as well as its placement, since it is quite unlikely to end up on forehead and hand.

These ideas spring from a rather literalist interpretation of Revelation. Yet, these literalists are tending to become less and less literal in the interpretation. I thought, therefore, that I would continue the trend to be less literal.

The Revelation is an apocalyptic work written to the early church. I won’t get into theories of authorship and exact date of writing. I am not competent to evaluate these. However, it is clearly written to several relatively early and highly persecuted churches in present-day Turkey. The work appears to have two main purposes– to give warning to the churches to remain faithful to God, as well as comfort that God is ultimately in control and will prove faithful to His own.

Although some see elements in the work to suggest a late-date writing, one reason to believe that it is fairly early is that the writing uses an awful lot of imagely that would be familiar and comfortable to Jews. This could suggest that the seven churches who were the primary recipients were still predominantly of Jewish background.

When we read Scripture, we need to remember that it was written FOR US, but not, strictly speaking, TO US. John wrote his revelations for our benefit, but to the seven churches in Asia Minor.  Thus, we should be cautious of an interpretation that makes an awful lot of sense now, but would be completely mystifying then. I am not saying it is impossible that John gave a message that only we 2000 years later could understand (I believe in the possibility of predictive revelation) but we should first look elsewhere. If the primary recipients would interpret it as (A) we should first consider (A) before going to (B).

Assuming a largely Jewish or Jewish-influenced primary recipient, I would have to think that the mark on the forehead and hand would make them think of the Shema. This passage of Jewish identity. Speaking of God’s message through Moses to the people of Israel,

“Bind them as a sign on your hand and as a symbol on your forehead.”   -Deut. 6:8

Perhaps even more clearly, the same message is shared again,

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your hearts.”   -Deut 11:18

Both passages enforce an interpretation that the Word of God is to impact ones thoughts and actions. Therefore one should hear the message of God, meditate on the message of God and act according to the message of God.

These are not the only places where such language is used. The Passover Feast, one of most important religious celebrations in the Jewish calendar was instituted in Exodus 13. In that passage, the importance of the feast is laid out:

Let it serve as a sign for you on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth.  –Ex. 13:9a

Later in the same chapter a similar wording is again used for keeping of the Passover:

“So let it be a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead, for the Lord brought us out of Egypt by the strength of His hand.”  –Ex. 13:16

In these passages, the language of signs or symbols on forehead and had suggest learning, remembering, and obeying.

Another interesting passage is Ezekiel 9:4, in talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, where

“…the Lord said to him, ‘Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”    -Ezek. 9:4b

The suggestion here is that those who are faithful to God will receive a “mark” on their foreheads by God and will be spared in the massacre. John utilizes that same imagery in Revelation 7:3 and 9:4 where the mark is described as a “seal of God” on their foreheads.

Most people I know would not accept the idea that the saved have (or will have) a physical seal placed on their foreheads. I agree and think it is meant to be more… symbolic. The mark suggests an identification for protection. In less comfortable language, it establishes the faithful as the “property of God.”

Bringing these images from Scripture to the “mark of the Beast” it seems likely that the mark is not a physical or visible mark, and the same is true of the mark or seal of God on the faithful.

The mark of the beast would then suggest belief in the message of the beast, and obedience to the beast. It may also suggest enslavement to the beast. Certainly, such marks can be read as branding for the purpose of property, and this is reinforced with the idea that only those with such a mark are able to buy and sell.

But why does this matter? Stuff matters when beliefs turn to action.

Right now we live in a time where people are rejecting vaccinations because they believe they will herald the “new world order” and will be implanted with nano-chips that will mean that they are under the control of the Antichrist. Strangely, this is a highly imaginative and non-literal interpretation from people who are alleged proponents of literal interpretation of prophecy. And, if they are wrong, they are risking the health of themselves, their children, and their neighbors. It seems to me this interpretation is not only HIGHLY dubious, but also highly destructive.

The far more likely interpretation is that one is to trust in God’s word, be faithful to God, and be obedient to God even when we live in a world of power(s) at war with God.

We really need to be cautious of interpretations of Scripture that are based on a shaky foundation. I actually have a very personal reason for this, I have heard so many discussions about what 666 (6 three score and 6) means. Some are so far from good Biblical scholarship that they are nothing more than “sanctified” numerology. That concerns me greatly, in part, because of my name. Count it out if you want. God bless.


PS. I know this is not my typical stuff on missions, but I do like to point out that theology has consequences. Missions has to be grounded in good theology, and is (unsurprisingly) damaged by bad theology.




Caught Being Weak in the Garden

Okay, it happened again. I was reading some commentary on a Biblical passage. This one was from when Jesus said to His disciples in the garden,

“My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.”
Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

The commentary argued that Jesus was not under great stress. After all, expressing a wish to have “this cup” removed might suggest that Jesus wasn’t fully committed the Father’s will and plan. The same commentator suggested that when Jesus on the cross expressed “My God, My God. Why hast Thou forsaken Me” He was simply quoting Scripture to (allegedly) fulfill prophecy.

I have a lot of problems with this, and it makes me have a few questions:

  1. Is it possible that Jesus was fully committed to the will of the Father, while still being absolutely horrified at the path ahead? I mean, do we ever commit to something because we know it is right while overcoming the fear and stress associated with the plan?
  2. Did Jesus need the support of friends in a time of psychological and emotional stress? Is asking for help a sign of weakness…. or a sign of strength?
  3. Could it be that Jesus in time of great pain and distress felt a sense of abandonment from the Father… much as many of us can feel abandoned in times of great trials? And if this is so, does admitting this demonstrate a lack of faith, or show emotional honesty?
  4. Is it possible that the story of Jesus in the Garden was placed there to help us understand that the path of God is not easy, but we have the example of one committed to faithfulness no matter the cost? Would the story be more inspirational if Jesus was immune to sorrow, dread, stress, and pain?

I struggle understanding the motivation of undermining the pathos of the Crucifixion story. What is gained (logically, exegetically, narratively) in suggesting that Jesus did not feel the pain He quite understandably would feel, but was instead quoting lines of Scripture that were disconnected with His situation?

Generally, I think it comes from the discomfort many theologians or expositors have with feelings. Feelings are unreliable, untrustworthy. Weakness is to be denied. Many a Christian Theologian appear to prefer a Gnostic Jesus– one who is disconnected from humanity, human emotions, and physical pain.

I am reminded of the quote by B.B. Warfield

Our Lord’s emotions fulfilled themselves, as ours do, in physical reactions. He who hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:20), was weary (John 4:6), who knew both physical pain and pleasure, expressed also in bodily affections the emotions that stirred his soul… Not only do we read that he wept (John 11:35) and wailed (Luke 19:41), sighed (Mark 7:34), and groaned (Mark 8:12), but we read also of his angry glare (Mark 3:5), his annoyed speech (Mark 10:14), his chiding words (e.g. Mark 3:12), the outbreaking ebullition of rage (e.g. John 11:33 and 38), of the agitation of his bearing when under strong feelings (John 11:35), the open exaltation of his joy (Luke 10:21), the unrest of his movements in the face of anticipated evils (Matt. 27:37), the loud cry which was wrung from him in his moment desolation (Matt. 27:46).”
-BB. Warfield

Paul said in II Corinthians 12 that God allows us to remain weak so that we can experience God’s grace. Strength is found in overcoming the weakness, not denying the weakness.

I have likewise heard similar words on Elijah where a commentator expressed shock that God would call such a “weak” man as Elijah… one who WHEN THREATENED WITH DEATH… runs away. I wonder whether that is the point. God works with lots of weak people. I don’t think God created any strong people, and if He did, I doubt He ever would work with them.

God only works with weak people.

Social Media and Toxic (Non-)Dialogue

A few weeks ago I decided to leave Facebook… mostly. I still have a few activities that require me to pop in there for at least brief moments. However, I am pretty sure that my time there will continue to decline and not return to its past.

It started in a minor way. A friend of mine on FB had shared a rather silly little cut-and-paste that humorously sought a “divorce” of “real” Americans from various people in news and entertainment (mostly) who tended to trigger political conservatives. It was mildly humorous, but overall I found it a bit annoying. I have become increasingly concerned with tribalism in US religion and politics where there is a tendency to demonize people who hold other views rather than see value in diverse perspectives.

I would have let it go but most of the comments were unabashedly positive not merely to the questionable entertainment value of the post, but the actual idea espoused underlying the humor.

There were a few comments that were less positive, and so I decided to respond in a way that was not at all supportive of the post. I stated that I disagreed with pretty much every sentence in the post (probably an exaggeration), and felt that diverse views were a healthy part of society.

One guy (I will call him “Jay”) seemed really bothered by this response and suggested that I should not talk. I gave some vague response to this. I don’t even remember what I wrote now. He responded, that I should keep my opinions to my self, and then instead of addressing it to me, “Bob,” he addressed it to “Philippines.”

Okay, I felt like I got it. Jay felt that because I lived in the Philippines I really should not share my opinions on US politics. Strangely, I actually get that. I have Filipino friends over here that will, occasionally, express opinions about American politics that in my mind are so out of touch with what is actually going on— often reading or hearing the worst of US op-eds. Several times, I had felt tempted to tell my Filipino friends to stay out of what they don’t really understand. Thankfully, I refrained from it because I really do believe that we learn from each other. But I get the temptation to ignore people who don’t have a direct investment in a situation.

I responded to Jay that I am a US citizen and Virginia resident and serve as a missionary in the Philippines. Jay responded something about me being some liberal socialist something or other who would cause “Virginia Regulars to be rolling over in their graves.” Politically, I am rather eclectic (somewhere in the Conservative-Moderate-Libertarian range of things_. I don’t think my views would fit into the liberal or socialist side of things, but it is true that I have never tried to limit my views to any oneside of any political spectrum.

I got especially annoyed about the Virginia Regulars and their cemetery tumblings. Virginia Regulars were Confederate military. I am not an expert on the political beliefs of CSA military, but I generally thought that would be considered a good thing today to hold views that would decidedly out of synch with the Confederacy.

I wrote some smartass response somewhat clarifying my political stance and insulting Jay for jumping to yet another assumption. (It seems to be his thing.) But after about five minutes I went back on and deleted that post.

That is when I figured out a few things. These things I already knew but I got reminded.

  1. It was a bit foolish of me to make a vague sweeping response to the initial post. I was raised in a church that was part of the Fundamentalist and Separatist movements in the US. That church had (and has) many good qualities. Many people get bothered by the term “Fundamentalist” and picture all sorts of horrible things. However, for me, the FAR bigger concern is actually “Separatism.” It is a tribalizing philosophy and squelches dialogue. It is missiologically suspect and Biblically weak. I would even suggest that Separatism as a secular movement within American society is destructive to democracy. However, given a vague blanket statement actually triggers a separatist response. And of course it would. I someone responds to this post with the statement— “I disagree with pretty much every statement in this post” —- I would not take the writer seriously. It doesn’t feed dialogue, it squelches it.
  2. FB doesn’t really support healthy dialogue. It is not much better than Twitter to discuss important issues. Important issues can’t be handled with one or two or three sentences— or with a GIF or a like or a frowny face. It promotes a stereotyping of views. Also, short bursts of text done in the moment often get misunderstood and feelings get hurt and eventually people move into little echo chambers of mutual admiration societies each trying to one-up each other in greater extremes of view and attacks on others who don’t share those views.
  3. It sucks to not be understood. I remember taking our young child to the emergency room because of a bout of asthma. The nurse essentially accuses us of smoking around our child. It got us mad, especially my wife who was a nurse, because we don’t smoke, had not smoked, have no people in our house who smoke, and have never even had visitors come into our home and smoke. It is annoying to have someone come to a conclusion based on very limited information and act like they figured you out. But it is tempting to do that. Consider Jay for a minute. It is quite tempting for me to make guesses about him. He seemed to be annoyed that I was an Asian sharing opinions about America. When he found out that I am actually a (white) US citizen, he suggested that my Confederate ancestors (of whom I have none) would be horrified by my politics. It is pretty easy for me to GUESS that he is a raging racist MAWA (“make America white again”). But that would only be a guess. If I don’t like having Jay guess (extremely poorly) about my views, I should avoid doing that with him and others.

So I have decided to step away from FB. Not merely because of this rather mundane little conversation but because of years of these silly little problems.

But I do have to recognize the irony. I want healthy dialogue between different groups. I think Separatism is flawed. Yet I am separating myself off by stepping away from Facebook. I am still trying to work this out. I do believe that dialogue is valuable, but some formats don’t promote healthy dialogue. I don’t see FB as a place that promotes healthy dialogue… generally at least.

Not all formats support growth through dialogue. I recently read an article in a Jewish publication that questioned having interviews of Anti-Semites published in their Jewish papers. The reason for publishing these was to help Jews understand the perspective of those with very different views. However, I would agree with those who have expressed concern. While dialogue is a good thing, giving a soapbox for Anti-Semitic “hate speech” may not be a very effective way to promote mutual trust and growth.

Still trying to figure this out. Maybe we just have to accept the limitations of social media. In the end, most all of us really want to be understood— understood in our beliefs and values, and understood in our fears and hopes. It may be too much to expect to be understood on an media platform— at least until we learn to TRY to understand others in a similar way. But I think there is hope.

Back in the 1960s, the Evangelicals separated missiologically from the World Council of Churches. Each started meeting as separate entities. Both groups embraced some views that were pretty messed up, in my opinion. The Conciliar missions tended to reject the uniqueness of the message of Christ and moved from a ministry of evangelism to a ministry of presence. The Evangelicals embraced evangelism but did so by rejecting much of Jesus’s social ministry. Both sides were deeply flawed. Thankfully, there were a few (John Stott being perhaps the most well known of these) who maintained involvement and dialogue in both groups. By the 1970s the worst excesses of these groups were eroded. Both groups accepted that evangelism and social ministry are part of Christ’s call to the church. I can’t help but think that those who kept dialogue going had a role in this.

But if FB and Twitter and Reddit and other social media platforms existed back then would dialogue have improved? Not convinced. I am still trying to figure it out.

Father Jonadab

This is, with modest changes, the sermon I preached for our online quarantine church here for Father’s Day.

Good morning.

Happy Father’s Day. Please open your Bibles to Jeremiah 35. We don’t read Jeremiah very often and it is not used in sermons a lot. Yet it is actually the biggest book in the Bible. It has more words in it than even the Psalms. And God has a lot to say in it.

In Jeremiah chapter 35, Jeremiah is talking to a group of people known as the Rechabites. A lot of names are shared and they get confusing. But we can focus on one person and one group. The group is the Rechabites, an extended family or clan. The other is Jonadab. He was one of the ancestors of the Rechabites. The rest of the names are not that important. Let’s read it together:

Read Jeremiah 35:1-11

So here is the story, God tells the Prophet Jeremiah to bring the Rechabites to the temple and offer them wine. Arguably it is a nice thing to do. But in reality, it was a test. So Jeremiah takes some of the leaders of the Rechabites to the temple. When they get there, there is wine and cups all prepared and Jeremiah invites them to drink,.

But the text says they, as if all of them said the same thing, NO, we will not drink. He goes on to explain. Generations before, their ancestor, Jonadab had told his children. None of you are to plant vineyards or drink wine. Rather they are to live in tents. They say that because of this, the entire clan has followed this guidance and they cannot have wine even if Jeremiah the prophet invites them to. This is actually pretty impressive. It is not like Jonadab would hear about them drinking wine and yell at them later. Jonadab lived approximately 250 years before this. Generally, I don’t even know who my ancestors were 250 years ago, and certainly would not take their guidance seriously. How about you.

This seems like an odd story… but God had a purpose to it.

Read Jeremiah 35:12-17

God gives a prophetic message to Jeremiah. God says, see how things are. The Rechabites obey the command of their ancestor Jonadab. Yet, I have been telling the people of Israel generation after generation what they need to do. And they have not listened and have not obeyed. Now God is angry. The Rechabites faithfully honored and obeyed their ancestor… for 250 years… yet the people of Israel could not seem to honor and obey God from one generation to the next.

Jeremiah goes on to say, that God would bless the Rechabites for their faithfulness to Jonadab. But the people of Israel would be punished for their unfaithfulness to God.

What can we take from this story?

First Idea.  The obvious meaning is that we are supposed to be faithful to God. God said something… and He shouldn’t have to keep saying it over and over. As Christians, Jesus said “Love God. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “Love your enemy.” God should not have to keep reminding us. Yet, Christians don’t have a great record in following this. We tend to find reasons to forget to be loving or rationalize why God’s commands don’t apply to us. God really shouldn’t have to threaten to punish us for being disobedient. He is God. God shouldn’t have to try so hard to be taken seriously by those who claim to follow Him. And that is a good message. If God says we should do something, we should do that. If God says not to do something, we should not do that.

But let’s consider two other possible messages in the story. One of these possible messages I believe is not correct. But the other, I think may be quite true.

I have heard some people say that this story tells us that we should always obey our fathers… or our grandfather… or our ancestors. That seems to make sense and it sounds good.

Children obey your parents. The problem is that much of the rest of the book of Jeremiah says the opposite. Much of the rest of the book says, Don’t obey your parents.

In fact in the chapter right before this, Jeremiah 34, we find the opposite. Jeremiah notes that the people of Jerusalem started rejecting the works of their ancestors and God was pleased… but then they changed their mind and started doing again what their ancestors had been doing and God was angry. The thing was that in this case, the ancestors were doing wrong and guiding their children and children’s children to do wrong as well. In several places Jeremiah said, “Your ancestors rejected God’s commands. Don’t be like them. Do not follow their guidance. Follow God instead.”

The Bible does say that we are to honor and obey our parents but that can never be used as an excuse to do what is evil. God is our heavenly Father and therefore is always the higher authority.

Years ago, my family were members of a church. The church seemed to be good, but the pastor started picking up some bad teachings. One Sunday morning he stood before the members of the church and said, “Always obey your pastor. Also do what your pastor says. Even if your pastor tells you to do something that is wrong, obey him, and God will bless you because you were obedient.” That was the day we realized that we had to leave the church. God is not impressed when you obey a pastor or a boss, or a mayor or a president, or a mother or a father who tells you to do what God says is wrong.

In Jeremiah 35, God blessed the Rechabites because they were faithful to a man of Faith. A godly man.

And we happen to know that because Jonadab is mentioned earlier in the Bible— in II Kings chapter 10. Jonadab lived in the time of King Ahab, and his children. King Ahab was an evil ruler and was opposed by the Prophet Elijah. One day, Elijah became very depressed and told God that he wanted to end his life because he was such a failure. He told God that he had been faithfully serving God but no one else has listened and he is the only one left. God lets him know that this is not true. In fact, Elijah is not alone. There are 7000 men who have not bowed down their knee and worshipped false gods. Well, Jonadab was one of those 7000 men who were faithful to God. When the king said Worship Baal, Jonadab said I will worship the God of Israel.

What makes that even more amazing was that Jonadab was not even an Israelite. He was not from one of the tribes of Israel. He was a Gentile. Yet he committed to serve the God of Israel even when it was dangerous to do so.

Sometimes we read the New Testament and say, Ah… here is where God now opens up His message of hope to the Gentiles. We may read the Old Testament and say, Ah… here is where God only cares about Israel. But spread throughout the Old Testament are stories of godly Gentiles who served God. Often, they were raised up as pillars of faithfulness when compared to many of the Israelites at that time.

We have the Gentile Jethro giving wisdom to Moses. We have Ruth of the Moabites being an example of godly faith, becoming the ancestor of King David, and of Jesus. We have Naaman the Syrian who shows greater obedience to God than the Prophet Elisha’s own servant. We have Uriah the Hittite, who shows more godly character than his boss, King David. We have Phoenician sailors and the people of Ninevah who are more repentant of their actions and attitudes than the Prophet Jonah. And here was Jonadab, a Gentile who worshiped and obeyed God alone when most Israelites fell away.

That’s comforting to me. I am a Gentile, you are Gentiles. It is nice to know that God did not start being interested in Gentiles starting in the New Testament. He was concerned for Gentiles both in the Old Testament and New.

So I don’t think the message in Jeremiah 35 was that we should always obey our ancestors. Sometimes they are wrong. None of us are perfect. I fail at times. I think we all fail at times. I don’t want my children to do what is wrong because I did wrong, or said what is wrong.

Second Idea.  So the second idea that I want to suggest is this:

There is great power in a godly father. Jonadab was a godly man and a godly father. His faithfulness to God, and faithful to his family, during a time of great sin and persecution, set an example that over 250 years later, his descendants were still following.

And we know that his example even continued on longer.

Read Jeremiah 35:18-19

God blesses the Rechabites for their faithfulness to a faithful and godly man, and God says that their family will endure forever, and there will always be at least one among them who will be a faithful servant of God among them. Jonadab’s example was still felt on his descendants 2 and a half centuries later and serves as an inspiration for us 2 and a half millennia later.

So those are the two messages.

For all of us. We are to be faithful to God… always. We are to obey God and God alone.

But to Fathers, I believe there is a second message… and a message that is appropriate for us today as well, on this Father’s Day. There is great power in being a faithful and godly man. We have great impact on our children… and even on our grandchildren and beyond.

Fathers do not fall into the traps of this world that lead us into what is wrong. Be like Jonadab who was faithful to God and a great example for his family even when temptations were great and there were great dangers. As fathers we all have great power to influence future generations… for good or for evil.

The Poisoned Paradise Theory of Communication

Yesterday, I removed the Facebook App from my cellphone. Life feels good. But it got me to wonder how it got to that place. I have a bit of a theory. I am sure there is a better name for it, but I will call it “The Poisoned Paradise Theory of Communication.”

The name comes from the following idea.

garbage on body of water
Photo by Yogendra Singh on Pexels.com

Suppose the Garden of Eden still existed. Perhaps it was discovered fully intact. I think most of us would know what would happen within 10 or 15 years of it being discovered. It would be flooded with tourists who would trample the vegetation, and litter it with plastic wrappers. The Tree of Life would be covered in spraypaint and the initials of people who wanted to “leave their mark.” Hotels, roads, shopping centers, and parking lots would replace much of the greenery. If paradise is not fully destroyed it would only be because a few people with power and money took it over, walled it off, and limited access to the few privileged (who would ruin it in their own ways).

Our tendency to destroy what we love, applies to communication as well. I won’t deal with all forms of mass communication, but here are a few obvious ones.

  1. Mail. Mail was and is such an amazing blessing. For a relatively small amount of money, I can send a piece of written piece of paper to someone almost anywhere in the world. In many places, it can be sent from one’s home and be delivered directly to one’s home. That is truly amazing. Of course, it got abused at times. Hate mail would get sent sometimes, as well as letter bombs, and chain mail, but they were not that common. However, what DID become common was junk mail. When I was young I was so excited to see the mailman stop at our mail box and I would hurry to the end of our driveway to pick up the daily mail. In more recent years junk mail became so common that getting the mail was a chore– something to go, collect, and quickly throw out 80% of it or more. It even got to the point that we moved a couple of times and I did not give the post office our forwarding address. I just told the few who needed to know where we moved to of the change.
  2. E-mail. E-mail was such a boon. Near instant communication, that was “free”— or at least no additional cost. A few years in, marketers started sending advertisements. At first there was a strong reaction against it. However, soon “SPAM” began dominating emails, to such an extent that special filters were built into the email apps to remove the most obvious junk emails. Since, sending out millions of emails is hardly more expenseive than sending out one email, SPAM became dominant… followed soon by SCAM. My Spam filter is flooded with “Dear Beloved” emails, Business Opportunity emails, and Lonely Heart emails. Most of these emails are so obviously fake that one is sickened by the fact that the scam is based on flooding the Internet in hopes of finding the most gullible and helpless. Things have gotten so bad that I have friends who really don’t use their email now much except for online user ID and verification.
  3. Messenger. This application, tied to Facebook, is like some other forms of instant messaging and groupchat, but this is the one I am most familiar with. At first glance, it seems like it has solved the problem with emails. Strangers can’t send you messages… or at least stranger messages automatically go to an electronic dustbin that one can glance in once in awhile. It seems as if SPAM would be solved since only friends can contact you through Messenger. But wouldn’t you know it… friends start sending SPAM. The least eggregious are the emojis and GIFs. Less tolerable are the chain letters, and junk articles and youtube videos that friends think should be shared with all their “friends.” Now, many of my friends immediately leave group chats after someone puts them in. Groupchats do appear to be the worst places for this. For mail and email I understand the motivation— money. People want money and so they screw up channels of communication in hopes of getting some of that sweet sweet cash. But messing up Messenger and other Instant Messaging services seems weird as most of that is not driven by money. Perhaps we simply like to mess up paradise.
  4. Twitter. I dropped out of Twitter some months ago as it seemed to be a place for a few people to talk almost incessantly, and the rest to get overfed with tweets from these garrulous folk and organizaitons. However, I never did figure out the appeal of Twitter in the first place so I won’t mention it here.
  5. Facebook. Facebook was such a blessing. It was like Myspace and many other of these personal blog sites, but where almost everyone I knew had an account. As such, it was such an easy way to maintain social connections. Living 12 timezones from home, it allowed me to maintain social interaction with so many from childhood, church, school, and more. People started sharing silly articles and videos with sensational clickbait-y titles. A lot were fake. I even knew some people who created these fake articles. Others would share quotes falsely attributed to famous people. Usually the quote was a generally positive one incorrectly connected to someone who has reached John Maxwell’s highest level of influence (adding false credibility to the statement). Later, false “bad” quotes were connected to respected people to try to tear those people down. False articles are shared that don’t stand up to even a quick fact check— usually to an echo chamber of people who love the article because of the sentiment, even if the information is untrue.

I have been distinctly disappointed at the number of Christians who have been doing this. One pastor shared a sensationalistic fear-article with a comment that said, “I don’t know if this is true, but it is too important to ignore.” Well, it took me about 15 seconds to verify that the article was not true. And since it is untrue, while pretending to be true, it is NOT too important to ignore. Another pastor would search out every anti-Muslim article he could find online and share them without balance and without fact-checking. Yet another pastor turned his FB page into a political campaign site for a political candidate over here in the Philippines.

It goes on. One pastor shared a picture of Pope Francis looking like he was angry with the caption to the effect of saying, “Reading the Bible is dangerous, Listen to me instead.” When that pastor was told that the source of that semi-quote pointed to Pope Francis actually saying the opposite– Read the Bible it is powerful and important– the pastor defended sharing this completely deceptive lie. This is similar to still another pastor.who shared COVID-19 statistics in late May to show that we are making a big deal about nothing. The problem was that the data was over 2 months out of date, and so gave a completely false impression of the scope of the problem. He also defended his use of the data, despite the fact that his argument was completely undermined by the use of highly deceptive data.

I can deal with that. I can also deal with people who are a bit more clever. They will share articles from sketchy sources, adding a comment like, “Interesting read.” This seems to be a form of plausible deniability because one can find opinions and made-up news reports “interesting.” However, over time one discovers that that person only finds articles that support a specific agenda as being interesting. I suppose that if one found dubious reports from both sides interesting plausible deniability would be justified. But if one only chooses one side, that is no longer the case. I can handle these wastes of time as well.

My children basically stopped using FB, except for Messenger years ago. Most of their friends have as well. I refused to leave FB because I am a missionary and the value it has in connecting me to supporters and people back home in the US seemed to be too big to let go of. But over time, I have changed my mind. Fewer and fewer of my supporters use FB much. Most of them I can reach in other ways. Some don’t use it at all. And there has been a big increase in fearmongery and hatemongery on FB. The strongest comments I ever got against myself was when I suggested that diverse perpectives are good. I would love to say that it is not my FB friends who are doing this. And MOSTLY I can say that. Most of the really horrible, hateful, false, demeaning, un-Christian stuff are from Friends of Friends. FB in the US in particular has become the home of trolls and flamers. Even those that seem to be a voice of reason tend to be electronically surrounded by hoardes of nasty people ready to hit and hurt as they have opportunity. It is not just on one side. Politically for example, I tend to be a Moderate-Conservative-Libertarian type. Most of my friends in the US tend towards being more Conservative-Authoritarian. A lot of hate speech there. But I have some friends on the Liberal/Progressive side as well– some of whom get pretty vicious at times as well.

And that is fine I suppose. But it concerns me that so many of these people describe themselves as Christians. Much of their conversations are so far outside of the example of Jesus, that it would be nice if they simply did not say or suggest that they are Christian or that their words come from any corner of Christianity.

Anyway, I decided to leave FB. I will still keep my account open. I may have to go on once a week to post for our local church. I won’t leave email— my spam filters are generally keeping up with the torrent of SPAM and SCAM. But I don’t expect you to care about any of this. I don’t expect you to care if I have left Twitter and FB, and I am certainly not asking you to leave them or any other online communication service.

I would, however, like to ask you why we tend to poison paradise. I believe saying that we are sinners is inadequate. I suppose one could take the point further and say that Sin is ultimately a breaking of harmony and relationships. Therefore when we are given a tool that helps us connect to more people more easily, we revolt against that by pushing back with fear (and its secondary emotion, anger).

Additionally, I suppose it could be argued that if 90% of us can be civil with each other, then 10% cannot. And if these 10% have access to the same communication streams with the 90%, they are likely to mess things up pretty bad. Maybe as a species we feel that we must destroy what we love.

As Christians, not only do I think we have the ability to do better, we are called by God to do better. We can express love and hope to our friends, relatives, strangers, and enemies.

Looking For Opportunities to Change My Mind

man wearing black and white stripe shirt looking at white printer papers on the wall
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

Vignette #1.  Today, I was looking at Facebook again. There were a lot of notes talking about how the WHO (World Health Organization) has changed their view yet again about some aspect of COVID-19 response. Tied to this is the implication that WHO is untrustworthy, and because it is untrustworthy… well, it should be defunded perhaps, or treated like an enemy, or some such thing. Hold that thought for a minute.

#2.  Each election cycle a person will run for political office. Many will, and often one such person will express a view on a hot topic. Soon after people will point out that years ago the person held very different views. From this people suggest that the politician is a liar— telling people what he or she thinks the people want to hear just to get elected.  Hold that thought as well.

#3.  I am listening to a podcast (Tripp Fuller with Jeffrey Pugh) on Bonnhoeffer. Pugh noted that Bonhoeffer’s theological and political views changed over the years as a theologian. It was noted, that many try to see a consistent viewpoint or will try to see Bonnhoeffer’s views through the colored glasses of a specific religious or political perspective. The fluidity of his views are frozen in a sort of single-perspective Bonnhoeffer orthodoxy.

#4.  More generally, I was raised up with the culturally supported perspective that women “always keep changing their minds.” I could be wrong, but I felt that the subtext of this cultural perspective is that changing minds speaks poorly to the character of women, especially as it comes to leadership.

If one just takes these four above situations, one sees four different responses to changing of one’s mind.

  • #1 Changing mind is a sign of incompetence.
  • #2.  Changing mind doesn’t really happen. Rather “pretending” to change mind is a sign of lack of integrity— an evidence of moral failure.
  • #3.  Changing mind doesn’t really happen. Understanding, at least to some extent, the views of someone at one point in time reveals someone and guides how the person can be understood at all points in time.
  • #4.  Changing mind does happen and is a sign of lack of character.

We see these show up in odd ways. Leaders are often judged poorly for being indecisive and praised for being decisive, regardless of whether the decisive move is correct and whether or not there was adequate information to make an informed decision in the first place. This is a bit of a mix of #1 and #4.  Today, a friend of mine showed (pulling in some American politics for a moment… sorry) that the first 23 blacks (African-Americans) to enter US Congress were Republicans. This was meant to show that Republicans are the more “black-friendly” or at least  the less “black-unfriendly.” Of course that is a case of #3.  If one party was good at one time, it must still be good. If one party is good today, it must have always been good.  It is the belief that continuity of structure suggests continuity of vision and purpose.

However, not only is such logic flawed, but it also hides the truth.  For example, the WHO (and the CDC) really SHOULD be changing their minds regularly. They are facing a problem that is new. As such, there is little rock solid information they can use for guidance. As such, they are somewhat groping in the dark. Despite being in the dark, governments and news media keep coming to them to get definitive answers. So they try to give good answers, but must keep changing as data flows in. This is normal and healthy.

Politicians should change their minds. People grow and times change. Admittedly, it would be good if a politician can explain what led him to changing his mind. This is not because it is wrong to change one’s mind. Rather, changing mind can evidence being a political hack who sways whichever way the breeze blows— or it can evidence a thoughtful person who analyzes, learns and grows. It would be helpful to know which is the case.

Bonnheffer kept changing in his politics and theology. That is good and healthy. A good theologian is a changing theologian. Millard Erickson in his book on Systematic theology descrbes several characteristics of good theology. Three of them (putting them in my own words) are that good theology is (a) Contemporary, addressing the questions and concerns of the present context, (b) Practical, provides wisdom as to how to think and act in ministry, the church, and broader society, and (c) Addresses knowledge from outside of theology. Since knowledge changes, context changes, and circumstances change, theology can and should change, and so theologians should change.

According to one study I saw (sadly, cannot remember the source, so you can research it yourself to be sure I am not wrong, or confused) found that men change their minds as much, or more, than women. It is just that they tend not to vocalize the vacillations of thinking as much. One could then argue that women should not be blamed for changing their minds, but rather men should be blamed for poor communication. OR… why blame at all. Affirm communicating uncertainty AND affirm quiet reflection. But most of all, affirm that we are all learning and growing.

So… Keep learning, keep reflecting, keep questioning. Embrace new ideas as a potential friend rather than a dread enemy.

That Nagging Racism Problem

A friend of mine (who is not American, but who has lived in the US before) asked the following question on FB:

Aside from prayer, what is your specific solution or concrete and actual suggestions to end the racial problem in the US?

It is hard to give specific, concrete and actual “anything” on FB because of the limitations in that format. I guess I would like to give three modest suggestions.  All of them are targeting Christians in the United States. If Christians in the US were able to get past racism (and knowing that a nice majority of Americans at least describe themselves as Christians), the US would be on the right path.

Teach good Theological Anthropology in church. That is, “What is Mankind in terms of relationship to God, ourselves, and Creation?”  Some churches may teach the Falleness of Man, but to do this they must also emphasize the “Falleness from What?” Some churches speak of the Goodness (or potential goodness) of Man, but must also emphasize what fulfilled goodness would look like in society.

This is not to say that this will come easily.  The early chapters of Genesis undermine the foundations of racism, yet much of the Hebrew Bible points to the challenges the Israelites had with racism, nationalism, and exceptionalism. That disconnect between Israelite view of other peoples and God’s view is the theme of the book of Jonah. In the New Testament, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles reemphasize God’s love for all peoples regardless of ethnicity, nationality, language, and tribe, and call on the church to break down these barriers. Revelation shows Paradise where all peoples dwell harmoniously, and in harmony with God and Creation. Yet racism has endured.

Still, I remember when I was young and would hear about how the “three races of man” came from the three sons of Noah, and that one of the three (Ham) became the father of “cursed races.” This and other “cursed race” beliefs may belong in Mormon theology, but certainly not Christian theology. Some of these beliefs I heard in church, although at least not preached in the pulpit. In other churches in the US, some learned of “British/American-Israelism” or “Lost Tribe Theology.” Some of these and other teachings actively support racism or national exceptionalism, while others may simply support the status quo.

Just as bad as bad theological anthropology is,  teaching NO theological anthropology may be worse. Some churches actively do NOT teach theology. For some it is seen as not important while for others it is seen as divisive. Unfortunately, if we don’t teach a theologically (Biblically) sound Doctrine of Man, Christians will be getting their beliefs on gender, race, national identity, and more from sensationalizing journalism and hatemongering politics.

Teach Cultural/Social Anthropology in Church. While some churches attempt to train their people in Theological Anthropology, few teach Cultural Anthropology. When I am speaking of cultural anthropology, I am speaking of this topic as seen through a Christian lens. This topic is taken very seriously as a topic of Missiology. It is, however, rarely brought into the church. It is the praxis side of Anthropology. If we are to love all people and share the message of Christ to all people, how do we do so in a way that is understandable to them. How can Christians honor their own birth culture, while being a good Christian, and challenging what is flawed in their own birth culture? How can churches be relevant to their culture— expressing the best of that culture while guiding people to live out that culture as God desires? How do we love all people when some people act and think very different from us?

Cultural Anthropology is not simply doctrinal— meaning in this case imparted to memory.  It must be taught and modeled.

A final suggestion would be to Separate Theology from National Identity. Churches in the US love traditionally to have patriotic songs in their hymnals, a national flag next to the “Christian flag,” behind the altar and pulpit. They love to have fervently patriotic sermons certain times of the year. Some preachers actively bring nationalistic themes into their sermons. I recall one pastor at a church I was attending at the time preaching on the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution. He said that as a Christian there are some beliefs one should be willing to die for— the inerrancy of the Bible, the Trinity, Deity of Christ, the Blood Atonement, and the Right to Bear Arms. Some churches seem better at honoring those who have died for their country than at honoring those who have died for their faith.

But why would this help? Nationalism is not the same as Racism. Agreed, but I believe that mixing national and religious symbols creates a civil religion, and a civil religion, traditionally, supports the status quo. Christianity should be a faith WITHIN American culture, but it never should be seen as the faith OF American culture. In my mind, we have millennia of evidence in Church history and outside of Church history of problems associated with state-sponsored religion, “court prophets,” and religious movements joined uncritically to political movements. The church must have a clear understanding of what its boundaries are and challenge those both inside and outside of those boundaries. It is hard to be a light in darkness, when we find it politically expedient to call the darkness light.