This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What the Bells Said.

While taking some time off this week Susan and I were on the balcony of our hotel only to hear the bells of the local Presbyterian church playing "God Bless America," along with "Anchors Aweigh," and "When the Caissons Go Rolling Along," hymns praising the Navy and the Army, respectively. We noticed when we walked by that the church itself was festooned with flags.

Perhaps they haven't received the memo about the Barmen Declaration and the Confession of 1967, in which the identification of the church with a particular nation or State is thoroughly and conclusively broken. This church has a fancy carved sign over the door proclaiming "Jesus Is Lord!" But this confession is placed in question by their selection of carillon music and outdoor decorations. Which do they believe?

We can only have one ultimate loyalty. If our loyalty is to Jesus Christ, then we may have secondary and subsidiary loyalties, but they are placed in a subordinate and subservient position. If our loyalty is to Jesus Christ, then his teachings and life become the only standard by which our other loyalties are measured. If what he did and said have to do with non-violence, justice, healing, forgiveness, and inclusion, by what rationale do we celebrate institutions that perpetrate exactly the opposite values and practices?

1) Jesus nowhere suggests that a particular nation is more blessed than any other. His ministry and that of the church was a radical inclusion of all nations in God's family. Any affirmation to the contrary is a rejection of Jesus' lordship.
2) Jesus nowhere suggests that the best way to solve disagreements is through threats, force, and extreme violence, which is the whole purpose of the military. In fact, he explicitly says just the opposite. He rejects State power when it is offered to him by the Devil in Luke 4:5-8; and he offers non-violence as the only response to violence in Matthew 5:39-41, 44. Any affirmation to the contrary is a rejection of Jesus' lordship.

Maybe this is all a harmless, trivial, and inconsequential instance of affirming people's cultural interests, like celebrating in church the victory of the local sports team, or recognizing something on a favorite TV show. But a) nationalists would never allow that this is trivial at all but a matter of essential allegiance, and b) this is not so trivial when it is a matter of sinking monumental amounts of public resources in administering lethal violence all over the world.
But don't believe me. Don't listen to me. What do I know? What authority or wisdom do I have? None! I am wrong most of the time! Listen instead to Jesus, the One whom we call our Lord and our only comfort, in whom we trust, in life and in death. Read his words. Discuss them in the faith community, listening to the Holy Spirit. TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY AS IF WHAT HE SAYS MATTERS!

Then decide what your bells should be saying.

1 comment:

John Edward Harris said...

I don't even want to know which church this was, although I assume it was PC(USA). If some people did not equate empire with the kingdom of God, such Constantinian practices would never happen.

Even when I recently attended a Korean speaking church I was as equally concerned that there was a South Korean Flag in the sanctuary as I would have been if there were an American Flag.

"God Bless America", which I believe recognizes the Sovereignty of God over the state, might have been alright in itself, but “Anchors” and “Caissons” was too much. On the other hand I would have gladly welcomed “Almighty God, Strong to Save”, generally recognized as the Navy Hymn or National Hymn of Mourning.