The State of the Union and the State of the (American) Church: The Incarnational Witness to Peace

obama_limbaughEverytime I hear a political ad on the radio these days, I am repulsed. “Hi, my opponent is ______. He believes _______. He wants to destroy America. Three times last year I caught him taking out his garbage and three pieces of plastic were left un- recycled. He’s anti environment. I also saw an illicit magazine in his garbage can. Character counts. Vote for me in 2010.” I just turn this garbage off.
During the State of the Union address, everytime I saw the applause divided between the two sides of the house, it made me want to puke. At least no one hurled insults publicly. Then the republican governor that gave the response address afterward trying to replicate the State of the Union applause in his own State Capital building. Stunningly juvenile. Can anyone believe anything good can come from this kind of hostile everyday at-your-throat exchange? I couldn’t bear to watch.

This is “win-at-all-costs,” “I am right you are wrong” politics. It shows how Rush Limbaugh is really all you have left when there is no God at the center of your life together. Sadly, the politics of American church looks little different.

The Way Christians Resolve Conflict

It would be wonderful to imagine an alternative to all this. The church as “body Politic” is the alternative. Here wherever “two or three gather in my name” to resolve a conflict Jesus is present and at work. We assume a submissive posture to each other, one of vulerability, listening, prayer, allowing those who study Scripture well to speak, and we discern, out of a concrete situation which way God is leading forward. Jesus inhabits this activity in what John Howard Yoder called a sacrament. “The Spirit leads to all truth.” This is infleshed politics of Jesus.

Unfortunately we rarely do this.Too often, in churches large or small, at the moment if conflict, the senior pastor ascends to Mt Sinai with a Bible and then comes down to tell us all what to do. Then those who agree stay and those who don’t leave to go find another church where they already agree with him/her (until the next disagreeement). Or, it’s the malaise of democratic tolerance where we all agree to accept each other in our disagreements … never actually discerning the concrete situation and what is at stake for the gospel. There is no political formation for justice in this, it is merely a bunch of individuals who agree to stay individuals until the disagreements become too onerous to tolerate. We never get anywhere and just continue on in our confusion or self delusion or a combination of both.

The Challenge to Christians Everywhere

So there’s a challenge here: Can we Christians be any different? I’m not talking about a new civility here when we enter the public square. I am not talking about some new form of compromise. Here I am saying instead of the church of Jesus Christ exemplifying the same divide and conquer win at all costs approach to conflict resolution in America, can we humbly submit to one another, read Scripture together, discern and allow the presense of Jesus to actually forge a “moral discernment among us” Instead of the never ending string of multiple divisions church splits and hostile disagreements, can we communally submit to one another in humility, piece, non violence, and courage ever listenimng submittng until we come to an Acts 15 “It seems good to us and the Holy Spirt.” I WOULD ARGUE IT IS IN THIS VERY PRACTICE OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION THAT INCARNATIONAL COMMUNITY IS FORMED. AND IF WE CANNNOT WITNESS TO OUR SOCIETY WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE IN PEACE TOGETHER AS GOD INCARNATES HIS WILL AMONG US, we might as well join in with the hostility and juvenile politics that this country has become. The evangelical right is not an option if we want incarnational witness of the gospel in America.

I’m off to Edmonton. Looking foward to it. When I get back I hope to post some more on the nature of this practice of binding and loosing and incarnational discernment. I hope to engage why I think Brian McLaren’s approach here on this video to conflict resolution, though compassionate and thoughtful, will not be sufficient for faithful incarnational witness of the gospel.

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