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April 23, 2005

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May I push the envelop which you have opened, a little further?

I would like to raise the issue that in exactly the same way that personal rights have become paramount in our cultures, so have they in the church. As we study Scripture, we see in the Hebrew Scriptures a specific emphasis on the nation as God's medium of blessing. Yes, within that context there are individual responsibilities so that the national culture remains true to God.

In contemporary evangelical culture we see that the emphasis has shifted almost exclusively to personal salvation, personal growth, personal evangelism, personal … Has the church been replaced with the individual or have we followed the culture, once again, and reflect it rather than God's will. I believe that it is the functioning of the church which becomes the witness to the unbelieving world.

Perhaps if we returned to this emphsis, we would hear less criticism from the non-believing world about the problems with Christian faith.

DP,

It strikes me that the framers of the constituion realized the personal liberty always requires corporate responsiblility.

However, we have left behind the concept of corporate responsibility in our desire to ensure that we each have that special relationship with God. Evidence is not much further than the delegation of all accountability for congregational behaviour, congregational growth, congregational activity to a set number of "leaders" who have been called to do these for us. All of the other spiritual gifts are focused on our individual activity - usually focusingon what we want to do anyhow.

I think that this idea of corporate responsibility led Isaiah to exclaim "Woe is me! For I am a man with unclean lips, from a people with unclean lips...". For him, it wasn't enough to recognize his own culpabiity. Instead, he included his corporate responsiblity.

Rambling, but there you are...

john

Well Stated. Right is right and wrong is wrong... regardless of how loudly society may scream otherwise, some things are just absolute. No amount of political or moral or religious debating can change that. It merely is.

If God is at work in the Hegelian-dialectic that pits radical individualism over and against fascism, I'll hope (and pray) for a synthesis that produces an ideal thesis far closer to "individualism" than its antithesis. History bares witness to the magnitude of oppression, malevolence, cruelty, and suffering perpetrated by groupthink. Sacrifice and service can be offered under any circumstances by God-loving people, but individual freedoms (religious, political, social, emotional, etc.) offer the promise of genuine opportunity and choice to do so. I cherish the freedom (I believe God desires us to have) above nearly all the gifts potentially available to us. I don't believe Christ wants us to deny individual rights, but to deny our selfish/sinful abuse of our freedom to act. Though many will abuse their individual freedoms, such waste is far less tragic than the waste produced by bondage and subjugation. I believe the new pope has mislabeled the enemy of faith. Faith and freedom are compatible counterparts. Absolutism makes a mockery of faith.

I think the mistake that is made is that while God does grant men rights, He is ultimately the holder of those rights and they reside solely in Him. For this reason, He can rescind them as He alone wills.

If it is by God's will that I live and move and have my being, then it is also by God's will that I not have that. In short, I have no right to my next breath.

The person who demands his rights ultimately fails to understand that not only does he not own the rights he claims, he does not supercede God Himself or God's will. For the Christian, this is even more stark. For the Christian is not his own, He has been bought with a price and should recognize the truth that whatever rights he may have thought he had, he gave those up at the foot of the cross.

I think the problem is not just individualism in rights, but also individualism in proposed solutions.

For example:

I have a friend who has had a very hard go of it. For a while she was homeless, and individuals in our church put their individual efforts together and helped her and her kids mightily. This became a turning point for her in many ways, and the accountability structures and support of the church were crucial.

But she will be the first to tell you that the church (and its individuals) alone can't do it. We would have been hard-pressed, for example, to cover just her child care needs (not to mention those of all the other single moms struggling to hold down jobs while raising their families!), but fortunately a government subsidy paid a good bit of the day care bill until she earned enough to cover it herself. A housing management company run by some members of the church offers below-market rent to her and other residents of her building, but they'll have a hard time keeping rents down as the gentrification so enthusiastically embraced by the city drives property taxes rapidly upward.

And so on.

As citizens of a democracy, how can we love our neighbors in the realm of public policies about which we collectively have a say?

Meg

"As citizens of a democracy, how can we love our neighbors in the realm of public policies about which we collectively have a say?"

Meg -- thanks for posting on this topic, and thanks for asking the question; it's an important one. The answer? Well, one thing that come to mind would be to encourage people to enter the vocations of law and local politics. Let's be salt and light within our social institutions, committed to bringing about a greater sense of kingdom justice, mercy and compassion.

Agree?

Agree.

But these days Christians entering law and politics in larger numbers means firmer support for preemptive war and for policies that aid the rich, harm the poor, and ruin the environment.

"Compassionate conservativism" too often means providing dribs and drabs of money for politically sympatico community-based organizations while decimating other government supports for the residents of those same communities.

Another quick story: I used to be the volunteer coordinator at a major faith-based organization. As I would give the agency tour, someone would always say, "See what the church can do? We don't need government to fix poverty." And then I would tell them that Medicaid and Medicare provided a large part of the agency's doctors' pay, city grants funded much of the emergency food and housing program, and the community college system and state literacy office paid for the staff in the GED and adult literacy program.

Insofar as personal immorality on the part of the poor person contributes to her poverty, the church has a role to play that government generally cannot. If we believe solving poverty is mainly a matter of providing some supports until someone can turn around their morality and gain some skills, then the church might be able to handle that.

But loving our neighbors requires learning something about the many millions of people who are doing all the right things in terms of personal morality, but still are poor--and figuring out why.

Meg

Meg -- really enjoying the conversation. Glad you're here!

"But these days Christians entering law and politics in larger numbers means firmer support for preemptive war and for policies that aid the rich, harm the poor, and ruin the environment."

Although I cannot deny that the above will be A result, it in no way will be the ONLY result. A new day is dawning in our post-enlightenment, post-Protestant world. Followers of Jesus are becoming passionately concerned about the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, and are taking seriously their responsibility for the Earth and the environment. This is not only visible within the so-called 'Emerging Church', but within traditional churches and denominations as well. Case-in-point: my superintendant (over the Free Methodist churches in Southern California) is currently pursuing his doctorate in "environmental spirituality" -- pretty exciting, I'd say -- especially for a spirit-filled evangelical! But then again, like I've said, things are changing.

On a different note, all the hoopla here in the U.S. over the 'separation of Church and State' is definitely a powerful, inhihibiting factor when it comes to the cooperation of faith-based organizations working in concert with government agencies (local as well as national) to care for people and empower them into healthier lives ('healthy' and 'poor' are not necessarily mutually exclusive terms).

Your thoughts?

Chris you were in Washington D.C.? Just a few hours from me and I find out about it after the fact?

Sigh.

Let me know next time you plan to be on the East Coast.

LYB

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