My friend Matt Murphy is a prolific blogger over on Myspace; I wish I had the work ethic to be as disciplined on mine (blogging helps me sort out my scattered thoughts). Matt about a half a month or so ago posted a blog I found interesting. I’ll attach both his thoughts and mine, but before doing that, I’ve got a bit of a preface that’s been rolling through my head recently (most directly related to Matt’s approach).
Matt is not your typical evangelical American Christian. How do I define typical evangelical American Christian? Most often, I find them to be hypocritical in belief and lifestyle and logically incoherent. Keep in mind I’m saying this as a Christian too (and that I, from time to time, am both hypocritical and logically incoherent, but work with me). I continually find myself intrigued that Christians can in one breath talk about love, forgiveness, and God’s grace and in the next talk of folks next-door or across the globe as if their lives are nothing more than dirt. It seems to me the prevailing message we get in our churches is typically something that leads to a split in us; as if you or I could “love” someone in our hearts but beat to a different drum in our actions. As a simple example, somehow we’ve been taught that we can “love” God and others and “forgive” others while simultaneously serving in the military and killing those who disagree with us (using the most obvious case) in the name of “justice.” This logic goes further for those who don’t serve directly in the military but engage in the cult worship of military “heroes” or our American governmental leaders that usually takes place the Sunday closest to every Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, or Independence Day where we celebrate their sacrifice to maintain our “freedom.” Acknowledging that reality could spawn some more writing here on that subject, but I think it’s important to focus here on the false presumption that we can “believe” certain things while our lives and primary motivations completely contradict what we say we believe in. It’s wickedly humorous to me how supposedly mature Christians in times of relative peace and comfort say all the right things, yet when things happen that destabilize the norm, they line up with all the other good American citizens and toe the line of uncritically accepting the decisions of G.W. because he’s a “praying man” or the nation at large as if we’re the pure, perfect light of freedom and justice in the world or some other such nonsense. This applies to any modern nation-state (especially in the West) where fealty to the state usurps faithfulness to Christ as Lord.
What has “love” become in our society? What about “justice” and “peacemaking” and “discipleship”? It’s manifestly obvious to me we value Jeremy Bentham, George W. Bush, or H. Richard Niebuhr’s opinions on these subjects more than Jesus or Paul. Is that a problem? (tongue planted firmly in cheek) I say all this because Matt (as a relatively “new” Christian) has a deeper awareness of the aforementioned concepts of love, discipleship, justice, etc than 99.9% of my friends or acquaintances that call themselves Christian. How has this hit Matt between the eyes and not them? My deeper question is: how can we recover a reading of the teachings of Jesus with a plain understanding that they are intended to be the center of what it means for you and I to be disciples? Call me crazy, but love doesn’t make sense if we don’t define it by Jesus’ example, teachings, and further (second-level) New Testament musings. The proper pursuit of justice doesn’t make sense if we don’t define it by Jesus’ example, teachings, and further (second-level) New Testament musings, etc etc. Matt seems to have this awareness (along with a willingness to be dynamic in dialogue about the secondary issues that stem from his pursuit of discipleship in the way of Christ). I think that should be applauded.
Anyways, here’s what he said on his blog (keep in mind my perception of Matt’s approach comes not from this post alone, but from reading multiple posts that seem to reflect a consistent motivation):
I have opinions that my friends don’t like.
Soldiers go door to door killing. For what? Are the citizens of Iraq suddenly going to come to my house and try to kill me or my family? Probably not. Its a good thing we have a constitution here that generally prevents the killing of malcontents. Have any weapons of mass distruction definitively been found? No. Did Iraq threaten us prior to our invasion of their country? Depends on who you talk to. Have we rooted out any Al Qaeda members in Iraq? Not definitively. When we did invade, for the purpose of human rights, did we assist refugees? Not really. Is the US Government moving to make more strict laws against torture of prisoners? Negative. Wait, isn’t torture of Americans one of the things we are upset about? How many innocent have died? A lot. How many American soldiers have died just from being over there (vehicular accidents, friendly fire, etc.)? A lot. In the first Iraq war, more Americans died from just being over there than in the war. Is Matt ever going to vote Republican? My sources say no.”
And my response:
“Some further questions I think are important:
How does a secular sense of justice match up with a Biblical sense of justice 1)in general and 2)specifically in the case of Iraq?
How do we as the church maintain a distance from the actions of the state and take action in our own unique way that provides an alternative witness in times where the actions of the state are clearly unjust?
In recognizing the ultimate futility of staking our complete interest in the actions of the state (empires rise and fall, right?), how do we move beyond secular political pigeonholing (liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican/Green/Libertarian) to recognize that the Politics of Jesus will make some label us as conservative in some areas and liberal in others?
In connection with another of your blogs, it seems to me we always have the temptation to make the easiest move towards the most comfort in our lives. I think that relates to:
1) our politics…its easier to toe the line of whatever party we agree most with and we end up defending their entire platform because we think they’re “right” and the other “wrong”, and
2) how we relate to the society as the church…we’ve passed off much of the responsibility of the church to impact the society for good (who started widespread education and the helping profession of medicine?) on the state; that way we don’t have to do much other than go to church on Sunday and sit on our hands the rest of the time.
That makes it a heck of a lot easier to sit in our armchairs and talk about why the poor just need to quit being lazy and do something about their lives when we don’t have any direct connection to those who are poverty stricken; or talk about why single mothers shouldn’t get abortions without actually working directly in their lives so they know not only their lives are important, but the lives of their unborn children, etc etc. I’m continually frustrated by how selfish I am in this respect (in a vacuum, I’d choose the armchair), and how much potential we have for grassroots change as the church that’s being wasted in front of televisions between the four walls of our residences.”
Penny for your thoughts (and willingness to read this longish post)