Visiting the site of the Twin Towers again has revealed how much my perspective of the has changed over the past few decades since the attacks. The World Trade Centers, built in the 1970s, had once dominated the Financial District of Manhattan and represented both the pinnacle of engineering and the economic might of the American empire.
Like the Pentagon struck the same day, they were symbols of American dominance. Pillars of a system that, prior to that sunny September day, had seemed invulnerable. The United States had won the Cold War, demonstrated unrivaled military might in the Gulf War (all but erasing the bitter aftertaste of Vietnam) and the 1990s felt almost as if it was the ‘end of history‘ with the final victory of liberal democracy over the world.
The NYC skyline is impressive even today, yet that September day the delusion of being untouchable had been wiped away and the trust of the system has continued to degrade as more are seeing the truth:
1) Our government can’t keep us safe. Many forget now that 9/11 was not the first attack on the World Center twins. In 1993 a truck bomb had been detonated in the parking garage of the South Tower and could’ve taken down the towers had it been better placed. But despite this, despite the billions we spent on intelligence agencies, the US had missed multiple opportunities to take down Osama Bin Laden. All of our military strength was useless against a small group of dedicated men using box cutters and airliners.
2) They made us bleed. While many around the world were horrified at the images, there were others who danced with glee as shock and awe covered Manhattan in dust. It was a propaganda coup for those who opposed US hegemony as much as anything else, it proved that there could be repercussions for our policing and globalist policies. Sure we would go on to kill Bin Laden. But he more than accomplished his goal. Not only did he bring down the towers, and strike the Pentagon, but he also goaded us into spending trillions on a fruitless war on terror.
But, beyond this, in the past twenty years, I have gone from being an apologist for the second invasion of Iraq to now being very deeply disillusioned. And I’m not alone. The world is no longer what it was in the 1990s where the US leads the way to a new age. Rather many are starting to see through the shiny facade and realize that the system in its current form serves a few at the top. But our banks, our government, and corporations routinely conspire to rob us. There is no free market or true representatives of the people, it is a rigged game and the ‘house’ always wins.
Walking past Wall Street I remarked “This is the heart of the beast” and it is. The money flowing through this place is the lifeblood of a nation, the very center of the current world order, and what enables the endless wars of our political regime. The towers were not random targets. Nor was the attack because they hate freedom and democracy, but rather it was a response to the imposition of US policies on their countries and the never-ending presence of our military in their own backyard to serve US economic interests that they resented.
As wrong as it was to murder 2,977 people, this ‘collateral damage’ has long been a part of war, many Americans have no moral qualms about nuking the cities of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and the US has killed hundreds of thousands of non-combatants. So why is it such an outrage if others in the world employ a similar total war strategy against us?
If America once represented an ideal, that is fading due to relentless attacks by the left and the growing disillusionment of everyone else. There has been a transition, over the last few decades in particular, from the time when athletes would wrap themselves in the flag to this time it has become controversial and even contemptible. Even conservatives no longer trust national institutions and have embraced a myriad of conspiracy theories—including many about the 9/11 attacks.
Personally, I do not believe that the official narrative is entirely a lie. I believe a group of men, funded by Al Qaeda, hijacked four fuel-laden airliners, two of them were flown into the towers, one struck the Pentagon and a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. I do not see a need for a controlled demolition to explain why the buildings collapsed. No this is not to say that our government didn’t know more prior, opportunistically exploit or even facilitate the attacks. There’s simply a better explanation of everything that happened that day and since.
The fragility of our world order…
As a young person everything that was had this feeling of permanence. My parents and other adults were fixtures in my life. It all felt robust and unchangeable. But as time went on, grandparents passed away, trends came and went, seasons changed and I began to learn that nothing is forever. Even concrete will degrade in strength and eventually, it will crumble away into dust. Institutions are no different, they tend to have a lifecycle, at the very least require constant maintenance, and all these systems we rely upon to create order in our world are surprisingly fragile.
The New York City skyline has a robustness of appearance. It is built off of the bedrock, the skyscrapers seemingly carved out of a single piece of polished granite. This is by design. The architects and engineers who built these monolithic-looking structures do want them to feel secure and safe. And, for the most part, or under typical conditions, it is true—they are reliable.
However, they’re not indestructible.
The Word Trade Centers, while massive and certainly marvels of engineering, under that shiny metal and glass veneer, were as flimsy as a stack of cards. What made them great also created unique vulnerabilities. Unlike the Empire State Building, a grid of I-beams and tapers in towards the top, the enormous twins had a center trunk section with long clear spanning trusses that were supported by the outer ‘skin’ of the buildings. This had given them a large and unobstructed office space. This was practical, but in retrospect became a fatal flaw in their design.
The impact of the airliners removed some of the structure. No, this was not enough to cause a collapse, yet this was enough to add strain and reduce the load-carrying capacity of the buildings. The towers, despite getting hit by aircraft larger than the 124-ton Boeing 707, had exceeded expectations and absorbed the impact. It was only after fires raged, out of control, that the heat had reduced the tensile strength of the steel enough that the floor trusses would deflect and could no longer hold the upper floors—at which point the top of the buildings began to fall into the lower—smashing one floor at a time until nothing but a cloud of dust and pile of rubble remained.
The popular meme “Jet fuel can’t melt steel” is clearly ignorant of the reality that you do not need to turn steel into liquid before it will fail. An inferno of jet fuel mixed with office materials is more than enough to weaken a structure to the breaking point. There is no need to explain this as controlled demolition or building 7, where there was damage to the structure, fires burning on ten floors, and the sprinkler systems disabled due to water main breaks.
Still, many Americans have a huge problem accepting that these symbols of our strength could be taken down by a handful of zealots with box cutters. It makes us feel insecure. We want it to be more. And thus it must be some kind of massive concerted effort, with an enormous cover-up, right?
This is, ultimately, a form of denial.
Most Americans know that manufacturing jobs have been continually outsourced. But many do not fully comprehend the economic reasons why the US has gone from the nation that won WW2 with industrial power to the current situation nor how much they have benefitted. It is the status of the US Dollar as the world reserve currency and the Petrodollar arrangement that give US consumers the edge. Basically, in order to buy their oil from Saudi Arabia, other countries around the world needed to get their hands on our money and for this reason would sell us goods they produced at a bargain price.
The “new world order” George HW Bush hypothesized was never to be. Bin Laden had answered and won on multiple fronts. He caused us to question our own American identity, whether our leaders actually represent our good, and if their endless wars truly benefit us—which they don’t. More importantly, he penetrated the illusion of permanence and strength that kept us blindly pulling the weight of empire for our masters. Even 9/11 truthers, in their rejection of the official narrative, are part of this new anxiety undermining the tower of world dominance built in the post-WW2 era.
Even if enough Americans remain under the spell and continue to support the collapsing regime, the rest of the world (at least beyond Western Europe and Australia) is not fooled by our propaganda. After decades of BS and bullying, like those WMDs never found, many are rejecting the monopolar order and ready to work on plan B. China, India, Middle-Eastern and African nations do not want to be perpetually subject to US economic threats and warfare. And, after the Ukrainian sanctions, they’re taking steps to protect their own sovereignty against this imperial aggression. BRICS is here and the supremacy of the Petrodollar, which is what has enabled the half-century US reign, is being challenged.
The pillars upon which the US economic might was built are now shaking and yet nobody seems to be focused on shoring up this foundation. The tower sways, but hubris blinds those who could prevent the collapse.
From confidence to doubt…
Bin Laden knew his 9/11 attacks would lead to massive overreach. He understood that the arrogance of our leaders would lead to a flailing angry response. No, the attacks were not enough to bring it all down but they did put the cracks in the base of this order and the future is no longer as certain as it was prior to that moment of horror and disbelief—when a bustling city and the most powerful country in the world was brought to a standstill.
Those feelings of horror and helplessness and disbelief remain, like those abyss-like holes in the ground where the towers once stood. We have all seen the writing on the wall. The party may have continued, on the surface, but something has fundamentally changed underneath it all, the ground has shifted—as has our perception of our own untouchable position in the world.
History is not an end, the new world order is starting to look as frail as those geriatrics who rule us afraid to die and desperately cling to their power.
The juggernaut of the US-led world order, which had briefly appeared to be an impenetrable fortress, is now unraveling and all it took is a little push.
When a convoy of trucks descended upon Ottawa to protest the imposition of mandates, Justin Trudeau, the ever so prim and polished Canadian Prime Minister took to the screen to disparage the effort as a “small fringe minority” with “unacceptable views.”
If that sounds like a school teacher scolding a class of 8th graders, that is because teaching was Trudeau’s former occupation before being elected to office on the basis of his good looks, smooth speech, and all-around nice guy appearance. There is a certain demographic that swooned after this young charismatic figure, despite his far-left disposition.
Of course, what works in the classroom doesn’t necessarily make the best approach for leading a diverse nation. A teacher is an authoritarian, they rule over the children either buy their superior knowledge or simply by the hierarchical structure needed to keep order in a school. But that’s not how a liberal democracy with elected representatives is supposed to work.
It is not Trudeau’s job to decide what views are and are not acceptable. And that is the very tone that is starting to provoke a response. People are getting tired of politicians, with no moral authority (see: Trudeau in blackface) or real expertise forcing them to comply and lecturing them about what views are or are not acceptable.
It is fitting that a chaotic sea of truck drivers has risen up to challenge this would-be dictator. Ironically, 90% of the drivers are already in compliance according to Newsweek, and yet they are standing up for their rights as Canadians and saying “enough is enough” after two years of being pushed around by those who have long ago overstepped their mandate to govern.
What Makes A Truck Driver Special?
There is some truth to the idea that truckers are on the fringe. The word “fringe” carries a negative connotation when used in a political context, but is defined generally as “the border or outer edges of an area or group.”
Truckers are strong and independent people who face brutal extremes so that those within the borders of their effort are protected.
Like feminine traits (like compassion and nurturing) are ideal for careers like nursing or teaching, it takes a rugged masculine individual to go out and brave all weather and conditions. Truckers occupy that space between order and disorder. They deal with mud, freezing cold and ice, long hours. They can be out weeks at a time, sleeping in a box behind the cab, living in a solitary space so that everyone else can have their comfortable lives.
It doesn’t matter how you feel when there is work to be done. A trucker’s life is pass or fail. Either you clear the snow off the dump trailer tarp and get loaded or you don’t get home. There is no one to hold your hand, nobody out on the edge in this wilderness cares that you’re offended. You’re on your own, buddy, and better be able to deal with loneliness, make your own decisions, overcome the disorder, and find a way to get moving again.
At the same time, a trucker, a real trucker, is not just a dumb brute holding a steering wheel. They need to understand the machinery that they operate, how to properly secure and balance their loads, how to predict their trip and make their appointment times, many are small business owners and need to keep up with the onerous compliance regime imposed upon them.
Professional truckers are some of the most meticulous and detailed people when it comes to their work and their vehicles. Many spend their free time shining the rims, their weekends doing maintenance work, and are extremely skilled.
One skill truckers have is the ability to think for themselves. They form their own opinions and aren’t going to be pushed around by the popular narratives and certainly not by some coward who will not face them while still collecting a check at taxpayers’ expense.
Meanwhile, truckers go out on the road every week to keep the economy going and support their families, facing adversity on the open road and now in front of the parlament, it is costing them a great amount of money to stand up for freedom.
Which is the true form of a truck driver: They are self-sacrificial.
The Contrast Of Fringe Minorities
Political elites and truck drivers occupy opposite sides of society and only one of them is essential. Truckers could survive, on their own, without Trudeau to lead them and may actually do better without the expense of bloated governments bearing down on their shoulders. The elites, on the other hand, would not be able to live their lifestyle without the workers.
For years, especially the past two, the privileged elites, with their access to political power and ability to broadcast their opinions, have encroached more and more on the freedoms of their fellow citizens. Even before the outbreak of disease they always had a ready excuse why their influence and control should be expanded. They will have us believe that they “follow the science” and represent the expert opinions, that they are more qualified.
And yet, these people at the topmost fringe of the social hierarchy often are far removed from the practical implications of their policies. They may say things like “we’re in this together” and pretend to be one of the people when that is convenient to their ends, yet they never do suffer to the extent that those at the bottom do. In fact, there are many pictures of politicians, who issued strict restrictions, not following their own rules.
It would be one thing if they had faithfully led by example, refused to travel and go out themselves, or at least did not hypocritically attack leaders who allowed freedom while they indulged themselves, but it was always “rules for thee and not for me.” They scared and coerced everyone else into compliance, economically ruinous policies for small businesses while being totally exempted from the pain they inflicted.
The truckers, by contrast, simply did their job, rain or shine, deadly virus or not, delivering the goods that are necessary for civilization to exist. And for this, they are mocked, falsely (and bizarrely) characterized as being racist or sexist for standing up to the rich powerful corporate and state actors. I mean, maybe the media thinks that we don’t see the Sikhs or Native people cheering on and joining their fellow Canadians?
How anyone continues to see these fusspot fakes as being credible is beyond me. But then many are divorced from the harsh realities beyond the safe spaces that others provide for them. Unlike truckers, they are controlled by fear, suffer from a kind of Stockholm syndrome where they believe that those exploiting them (for political or other gains) are their protectors.
The elites are the fringe in Canada. The majority of their countrymen want the restrictions to end and thus, spiritually, are on the side of the truckers rather than Trudeau. Sure, many have been misled by corporate media and mischaracterizations of the trucker convoy by those trying to cast this protest in a negative light. But more are starting to see through the blinders of partisanship and propaganda, they should go meet the friendly truckers.
Do Not Muzzle The Ox
St. Paul, on several occasions, makes reference to Deuteronomy 25:4, the law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” He uses it in the context of being allowed to work for pay and applies it as a general principle. So much for strict literalism and lawyerly application, right?
The ox treading out the grain is used as an analogy of a worker. It is wrong to deny the ox some of the fruit of their labor and it is also wrong to deny a person their fair wages. It makes sense, we should treat those working for our benefit with appreciation and respect.
Sure, a draft animal might not be the smartest creature. But it does deserve what it is due.
And, speaking of muzzles being removed and speaking out against unjust beating, remember the comical story of Balaam’s donkey, where self-important Balaam has a conflict with his transportation. The donkey, seeing an angel with a sword in hand unseen to Balaam, refused to continue down the path and for this suffers abuse. This happens three times before God finally allows the ‘dumb’ animal to speak:
Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?
”Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” he said.
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.
(Numbers 22:28-31 NIV)
The hilarious part is that the donkey starts to talk back against the abuse and yet that’s not enough for arrogant Balaam to stop and reconsider.
The donkey, like our trucker friends, reminds his rider that he has been completely reliable up until that point, never complained or caused problems, and was refusing to continue for reasons that his master could not see.
Balaam had spiritual blindness, too caught up in his own dignity, assuming his own superiority to the animal, and was very fortunate to not be killed. The Bible is full of stories about tyrants who refused to listen to the people under their rule and suffered severe consequences.
In a time of mask mandates and slanderous lies against the working class ‘deplorables’ it seems fitting that those of spiritual vision stand up together with the Canadian truck drivers.
There are many desperately trying to push back against the march of progress. I’ve seen the Ted Kaczynski’s (aka “the Unibomber”) Manifesto popping up lately because of how his predictions are coming true. Even those at the cutting edge of the current technological revolution, men like Elon Musk, are terrified of the implications of this rapid change.
Things like transhumanism, cashless society, social credit scores, next level automation and artificial intelligence are upon us. The internet, this once free space, that reduced the friction of communication and allowed the masses to bypass the established gatekeepers of information, is now enabling a new generation of tyrants with power that their predecessors couldn’t have even begun to imagine.
There is a feeling of helplessness against this faceless emerging (and present) threat, we know that they work behind the scenes to control the narrative. The NSA, Big Tech corporations, existing institutions, they’re all competing for their place at the top of this new order, often colluding and conspiring when their goals align. To them we’re ants, pawns to be manipulated and moved.
It is inevitable. Removing a few key players may be a speed bump. However, nothing short of an asteroid hitting the planet and mass extinction will stop this transition. To resist is to be like the Luddites who thought destroying a few industrial looms would preserve their trade. Their movement was destined to be steamrolled by the invisible hand of market realities. It would be easier to stop a freight train by standing in it’s path than to stop this.
That is what the conspiracy theorists and end time prognosticators get most wrong, they see this wind of change as being directed by a particular group of people, a few elites and celebrities, when it is truly a spirit of our time that even they themselves are participating in. I mean, how many posts do you need to read on Facebook decrying what it does to hijack our minds before the universe explodes because of the massive irony? We can’t help ourselves.
Even the Amish, who are way ahead of the curve as far as identifying the social danger of technology, cannot resist that sirens song and love their smart phones as much as anyone else. And they’re the experts at banning technology they’ve decided is bad for their communities and way of life. If they cannot collectively stop this influence, with their strong religious tradition, what chance do we have to hold back this flood of change?
Still some delude themselves, they believe they’re going to run into the hills and escape this onslaught. I’m thinking of the Rod Dreher types who believe that they will somehow be able to remove themselves, this isn’t the Eastern Roman Empire we’re dealing with. There is no place to hide, no place on this planet out of reach, maybe you’ll fall through the cracks or fly beneath the radar and yet I doubt it.
What we are seeing is the merger of something extremely old with some brand new means. There have always been those with an insatiable lust for power and control, those like the men of Sodom who believed that they should have access to Lot’s angelic guests. It will never be enough for them to rule their own domain. They will use the new technology to search out anyone who would resist them. They get off on your resistance and now have new tools.
The thing about the Biblical antichrist is that it is first and foremost a spirit. You can’t keep it out by walls or physical distance, we can see the manifestations, but we do not battle against flesh and blood. No, it is a war with isms, systems that deny Christ and put try to order the world without God. This always comes in such a glowing colorful and exciting form, but under this cover it is the same perversion of beauty and love.
The world isn’t ever going back to that of our childhood or parents and grandparents. For better or worse, the only constant in life is change. Yes, the pace now seems greater than ever, we are certainly finding ourselves with fewer places to hide. The surveillance state has never been stronger, privacy is a thing of the past, the new tools we use too complicated for most of us to understand and only give us an illusion of control.
Alas, all the things we face today are new forms of the same evils that have existed from the beginning of civilization. The only difference is that now it is on a global scale, with more sophisticated means and ability for centralized administration. The fake news, propaganda and misinformation is more subtle and convincing than ever. It all comes at us so fast anymore. It is easy to become disillusioned and demoralized, but we can’t let the giants defeat us.
There has always been an ebb and flow, the rise and fall of empires and epochs. The most cunning have always found ways to consolidate power and exercise control over the masses through various means. The times we live in could easily be compared to the “bread and circuses” of the Roman Empire. Now we have Netflix and the welfare state, enough entertainment and ease to keep us subdued. Maybe this is the time when the types who desire complete supremacy finally win?
We must pick our battles. There is probably not much you are going to do against the weight of the wealthiest most calculated and powerful of our time. What will be will be. Freedom and equal rights have pretty much always been a fantasy to keep us from being trouble to the elites. Most of us are slaves via debt. Step out of line, be the slightest threat to their rule, and they’ll put you in your place.
It is often disheartening to see differences of application within the Church. I’m not only talking about the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations either, no, even those within the Orthodox tradition see things vastly different at times.
A few weeks ago, and adding to my consternation over the past weeks, which included an estrangement from a close friend, another trusted friend caught in his double life, as well as my continuing wait for Charlotte, still indefinite due to Covid restrictions, impending neck surgery, and other painful physical ailments, I had reached out to Fr. Anthony for council.
Now, I have suspected (but do not know and do not need to know) based on hints, that Fr. Anthony’s politics are a little different from mine. So when I shared about my own struggles with relationships within the parish family he shared a bit of his own. It turns out that his diocese is pushing vaccines (oops) and, evidently, he is in full support. My own bishop, by contrast, and fortunately for me, has issued a don’t ask don’t tell policy and basically forbade it from being an issue.
The thing is, I would never argue with Fr. Anthony over something like this, he is a wise and humble man, I have nothing but respect for him. Still, that doesn’t change my own opinion, my own hesitancy is not without good reason and I’m certainly not comfortable with this kind of medical decision being imposed on anyone. So there is a bit of cognitive dissonance while contemplating this difference in perspective. Can I have it both ways?
This was on the back burner until the other day, when a good friend, asked me to parse this:
I’m assuming you’re aware of the sentiment running around right now that Christians are supposed to be compassionate and care for their community. Therefore they should gladly submit to the vaccinations. Assume the vax is as effective as they think it is. What is the CORE philosophical/theological/moral flaw in that thinking?
I never actually answered the question. I honestly don’t know how to answer. But I suppose caring can cut many different ways and including being compassionate with those concerned about the risks of vaccines. My mind immediately went to that email exchange with Fr. Anthony where I had wanted to reconcile the opposite positions on vaccines, within Orthodoxy, and didn’t have the mental energy at the time.
My own rough position was that the whole debate, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, was a secondary issue and there were others of primary importance.
Early on, last year, aware of the disease, still uncertain about the deadliness, I had stayed home a couple of Sundays because of my feeling sick and wondered about the wisdom of partaking from the Chalice. I’m not ignorant of virology and everyone being served from the same cup seemed to be a potential super spreader event in the making. Despite some saying otherwise, that we can’t get sick, I’m not completely convinced that disease can’t be communicated in this manner.
However, at some point, I decided that life or death, partaking of the body of Christ is more important than my own understanding of the spread of contagious disease. Besides that, my own risk of dying was relatively low, so why give up the practice of my faith on the basis of this risk? To live is Christ, to die is gain, right?
So, here’s the thing, if my parish did require me to vaccinate in order to partake, again, why worry? If faith means not being afraid of disease, then doesn’t it also mean not being fearful of vaccine side effects? New virus or new vaccine, we should not fear death.
But still, how do we reconcile one group using conscience as a reason why we should not even ask others about the vaccine status, while another uses it as a reason why all should vaccinate?
Why can’t Christians agree on this simple matter of application?
Christian Conscience and Meat Offered to Idols
Sometimes it is best to take a step back to gain some perspective. It is very easy to prioritize our own reasoning (and self-righteous indignation) above relationships and should remember what the Christian life is truly about. Is it about winning debates? Having our own way? Can we be technically right, as far as our own position, and wrong in spirit?
Looking back to St Paul, as far as how to handle the vaccine debate or other hot-button issues, I do believe that the answer is clear. In his first letter to the Corinthians he speaks to one of these issues of disagreement, pay attention to how he starts, what he priorities:
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “Lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
(1 Corinthians 8:1-13 NIV)
We have many knowledgeable (and proud) in the church today, they studied theology, they have all the answers and will use “freedom in Christ” to exempt themselves from anything they don’t like. They have their “rights” and don’t you dare tell them otherwise. But they seem to have completely missed on the love part.
St Paul picks up on the meat theme again and drives home the point:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
(1 Corinthians 10:23-10 NIV)
Those who went to the discount rack, who bought the meat offered to idols, had logic and reason on their side. Meat is meat, right? Why not save a little? So it was offered to some false god and the proceeds go to pagans, what difference does it make? He even gives Psalm 24 as a proof text of this position.
However, he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that we should respect the conscience of those who do have a problem with the cheap meat and therefore abstain when the origin of the meat is known. In other words, our own personal freedom is secondary to the good of others, and even when our own position is more rational, or even Scripturally correct, than those of a more sensitive conscience.
He never says to argue our side or condemn their lack of knowledge. It’s not even something considered. His focus is on being respectful to others where we agree with them or not. Live or die, we yield in love, as St Paul writes in Romans:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt?
For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:
“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
(Romans 14:1-23 NIV)
The ‘meat’ of St Paul’s point is that the other person’s conscience must be honored over our own, so that we do not create a “stumbling block” through our exercise of freedom. Even though he believes that there’s nothing unclean, in Christ, he strongly argues that we respect the conscience of others. In fact, he says it is sin for those who have a conscience against eating, and therefore we would be causing others to sin through our inconsiderate exercise of freedom.
To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?
We no longer have controversies over meat offered to idols. But we have had some intense debate over vaccines and there are reasonable points made on both sides of the argument.
Generally speaking, vaccines have saved lives. We have, for the most part, eradicated some debilitating and deadly diseases through traditional vaccines and, therefore, we could offer protection to those most vulnerable by being first in line. It could be an act of Christian service to get vaccinated.
However, for some, the idea of using a vaccine derived from aborted fetal cells is completely reprehensible, a terrible evil. Would it be Christian to force these people to comply with our own understanding of science and violate their own conscience?
Is it ever right to tell another person to take on the risk of a medical intervention against their will?
My own position on the new Covid vaccines is that the risks outweigh the rewards and especially for those who already have antibodies through infection. According to some estimates, at least a third of Americans have natural immunity to the virus, and therefore the new vaccines (with the serious side-effects some suffer) are an unnecessary risk for these people. Why would we ever require these people to put their own health at risk for sake of our own conscience? Let people choose for themselves.
At the same time, are the moral objections we have to the vaccines actually as important as we make them. I mean, so some of the vaccines (not all) were tested on a cell line called PER.C6, would we ask as many questions about donated organs or if we should inject blood from another person? Do we raise the same ruckus when shopping for an iPhone, refusing to buy so much as a T-shirt if it may have been manufactured by sweatshop labor? Do we apply the same level of scrutiny to other products that enter our bodies?
Is it actually conscience or is it selective outrage, finding any excuse to be defiant, to stand on the ‘principle’ of our position because we need to win the debate, that keeps us from cooperating on vaccines?
This can cut both ways. One could say that we should never let a bad substance enter us, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and yet Jesus, in Matthew 15, says very clearly that what enters our bodies cannot defile us. Furthermore, in Mark 16 we read an assurance of what is possible with faith, “when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all.” So should we really be so fixated on accounting for every molecule that enters our body? Are we not going to die eventually regardless? If you weren’t afraid of Covid, why be so terrified of a relatively safe vaccine?
Why do you oppose St. Paul when he says to put the other person’s conscience above your own?
The “You’re Not the Boss of Me” Attitude
If you’re an independent American, who wants to always do things your own way, then you probably won’t like my answer.
Nobody wants to be told what to do and especially not by those whom we do not believe are up to the task of leadership. It is not unusual, amongst siblings, for a child being ordered around by another, for the phrase “you’re not the boss of me” to rise in protest. And, it is true, in most circumstances it is not the role of one child to tell another what to do.
That attitude carries into adulthood, We don’t want to be told what to do. How many times have we heard “this is a free country” and people declaring their rights, as Americans, especially over the past few years?
Now, to be clear, I do not believe that government officials have authority over the law. It seems that many have a misconception about the structure of our government and seem to believe that Presidents or state governors are the equivalents of kings. They are not, this country is supposed to be one where rule of law trumps any official in government. There is nothing ungodly or rebellious about challenging illegal use of power in the courts. St. Paul himself took Roman jailers to task for their abuse of his rights as a citizen.
However, the Church is not a democracy, like it or not, and is ruled by a benevolent dictator with His ordained ministers. It is simply astounding to me that so many people take their understanding of American civics and apply this to the Church. The Church is (and always has been) patriarchal with Christ as the head. And just as a parent may give an elder child the authority to act on their behalf, as a stand-in, the same is true in the Church as well. No, this doesn’t mean that these ministers can rule in a manner different from their Lord. Indeed, they will give a greater account. Still, we are to obey those who are given charge over us:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
(Hebrews 13:17 NIV)
When Peter spoke, and the Jerusalem council decided, that was what the Church did. They overruled those who were trying to apply Jewish law to converts and, unless you want to throw out this part of New Testament canon, the book of Acts, then this was within their authority to do. This is what Jesus was talking about, in the Gospel of Matthew, as far as giving the Apostles “the keys to the kingdom” and authority to bind and loose. It is the role of the Church, the collective body, led by those ordained by Christ, to help guide us. Many individualize the work of the Holy Spirit and I do believe that it does lead individuals, yet Jesus said where two or three are gathered I am in their midst.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
(Ephesians 5:21 NIV)
It is not submission if we only go along with what already agrees with us or goes along with our own conscience.
Church shopping to find one that suits you is not obedience.
Ultimately, I’m okay with contrary positions on vaccines from diocese to diocese. For those concerned only about the kingdom, this should amount to little more than a toilet seat up or down type of preference. It should be spiritual death that is our concern, prioritizing those things on a higher plane and not being so caught up in having our own way that we can never submit to those of a different conscience.
Christian love solves the paradox. It doesn’t actually matter vaccinate or unvaccinated. What matters is that we respect each other, that we submit to the conscience of others even when we do not agree. For some this means we love by not imposing a newly developed pharmaceutical product against their objections, for others it means obeying those who are given the responsibility to decide such things.
Many say that they would do anything God asks of them and yet aren’t willing to give an inch in love for their brothers and sisters, maybe they don’t hate and yet they certainly don’t love:
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
My parents, like my grandparents have remained faithfully devoted to one person their entire lives. This was not always easy, people grow and change, there were failures and financial hardships along the way, and those initial feelings of love faded long away ago. And yet, through these trials of life and tribulations, there has been a stronger bond of love that emerged that is far more profound.
My own life experience has been different from that of my father and grandfather, both whom married in their early twenties and never looked back. They remained fully one woman men. And it doesn’t even seem as if the serious possibility of another woman has ever crossed their minds. That is what I had wanted. Unfortunately, life had different plans for me, I have both imagined myself with many women and have had none. I’m a virgin, having never been married, but have also had my thoughts of liberation from this system that has disadvantaged me.
Call it egalitarian or call it egotistical, but there has also been this alternative of being intimate with multiple women does have some appeal. For me, outside looking in, it could feel a bit unfair that some men could hoard for themselves what some of us could not have at all. So wouldn’t it be better to erase this patriarchal structure entirely and make manifest that heavenly ideal of Matthew 22:30, when we “will neither marry nor be given in marriage” and all are one?
It is no big surprise that sexual liberation is a feature of many ‘Christian’ reformation attempts, including a more radical faction of the early Anabaptist movement in Münster, where they indeed shared more things in common than mere material possessions in their rejection of stuffy tradition. And such things, polygamy and sexual sexual orgies, have been a regular feature of various contemporary cults as well. For whatever reason it does feel right, in theory, but in reality is a self-serving disaster.
From ‘Free Love’ To Hook-up Culture
The 1960s and 70s were supposed to introduce this wonderful new age, free from the bonds of organized religion and stifling tradition. The communal living, the flower children, Woodstock, it all seemed so wonderful in that generation. But, besides music, it has left very little in terms of true positive legacy and ended up an ideal as naïve as the 1950s culture it was supposed to replace. The old hippies are a sort of comical absurdity anymore.
The only actually lasting legacy of that era is the American cultural institution of marriage becoming a mockery of the relationship that my parents and grandparents maintained throughout their decades. Fewer young people are even bothering to say vows as they’ve basically become meaningless in this age governed by immediate feelings and shunning of any type of binding commitment. Many today have never experienced the stability that I have had with two parents who didn’t quit on each other when times got tough.
Worse many in the current generation have gone a step further and pretty much entirely given up on love. They go to Tinder looking for a hook-up, or the whole “Netflix and chill” short-term sexual liaison, which makes very little attempt to treat physical intimacy as something special. It is crass, it is completely centered on the body and cares nothing about the soul. The young and beautiful can trade partners as casually as deciding what fast-food to order in.
Most young people today, even if they do not hook-up per se, think nothing about serial monogamy or living with multiple sex partners over their lifetimes. I’ll hear things like, “how can anyone really know what they want in their early twenties?” It is simply an expectation now that relationships are transitory and not meant to last. Although, for some reason, most do seem to cling to exclusive rights or at least so far as they themselves can’t find anything better.
The Harsh Realities of the Sexual Economy
In the religious subculture that formed me there was always this idea of “meant to be” that accompanied romantic relationship that ended in marriage. Divorce was not an option. The relationship of a man and woman was spiritual. We would barely talk about sexual attraction as a factor in this decision making process. We were told that our being pure and being the right one would bring about success.
This denial of the sexual motivation is what would later lead to my disillusionment when I discovered things truly weren’t as they were being framed. The reason I had been overlooked did not have to do with my character, the impossibly (before I had expressed any interest in her) had told me I would make a “great husband” and wasn’t the first to say so either, but for some reason they weren’t lining up for the opportunity to experience my greatness first-hand.
The reality is that marriage is not only about the completely virtuous pre-destined love of two people as advertised. It is also about climbing the social ladder, gaining access to the resources that another person has, and basically being able to routinely do the nasty with the hottest piece of Mennonite asset available. Yes, it is sexual. Yes, there’s a reason why my Mennonite marriageability rating blog struck a chord with so many in my former religious culture.
Marriage is a type of economic transaction, there is a sexual economy, and some simply bring more to the table in terms of excitement than others. There areas where some of us got the short end of the stick and could not compete. This was not spoken about honestly, for many years it felt like a judgment of my character rather than what it was and would have been much better if it had been acknowledged. At least hook-up culture is honest and doesn’t pretend to be about more than it is.
Why Hook-up Culture Does Not Work
On the surface being able to sleep with anyone seems like freedom. I know it would not take much convincing for me to have sexual relations with multiple women. I mean, there are many different women that I appreciate, with unique personalities, black, white or Asian, all beautiful. Why not take turns, spread the love and share a little, right?
Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. First, there’s this thing of STDs, multiple partners means a wildly increased chance of an incurable and painful disease. Second, hook-up culture is not free love. No, it is actually more exclusive than traditional monogamy in that only the most superficially desirable specimens have a chance of success. Fall under the height requirement, have a few too many extra pounds, and you’re out of luck with no chance at all.
Yeah, sexual promiscuity may have been good to Wilt Chamberlain, who claimed to have had twenty thousand female sexual partners, but it doesn’t work out the same for the average guy who ends up going home with nothing. This is, in fact, the biggest issue with polygamy, some men get more of what they want, even the women may be satisfied with the arrangement, and yet there are also many disgruntled men without a chance. Marriage increases equity by helping with the fairer distribution of a limited resource.
And, considering how many young women get chewed up and spit out by a world full of guys willing to say anything to “get in her pants” only to change their tune later, the traditional arrangement doesn’t seem so bad after all. It is simply mind-blowing how many women, otherwise intelligent, believe that giving a guy what he wants upfront, without anything in writing to prove he is not simply playing around, will help their chances of securing his continued interest in them.
Marriage is About Equity and Protection
Multiple partners and sexual liberation only benefits some. The current paradigm favors attractive men, who are able to select from a large group of willing women, they get what they want and then are on their way again to the next hot body as soon as things become a little difficult. Meanwhile the guys who fall a bit short of female aspirations get nothing at all, permanently friend-zoned, with no chance of sex.
With traditional marriage there’s also some equity there, or at least in theory, in that the hottest players don’t get everything for themselves.
More importantly, saving sex for real commitment means that a woman is not stuck raising a child alone. It also helps to establish consent. Marriage is truly a safeguard against the exploitation of women. Women literally bear a larger burden from sexual relations, emotionally or otherwise, and are often better off with the less flashy faithful men than those more likely to sweep them off their feet.
Lastly, it is also an arrangement that considers the long-term good. And not only of the children who are provided security from a stable established relationship, but also of an aging woman who no longer has that youthfully attractive body and would be left with nothing. Sure, traditional marriage never guarantees success, nevertheless it is better than the alternative of loveless sex and no commitment.
The nail in the coffin of sexual liberation is that sex is more fulfilling in the context of a committed relationship. This is what makes me most sad about the current pursuit of carnal appetite over a selfless and more satisfying (over time) alternative. My parents and grandparents had it right, that’s what I want more than anything else.
A thought occurred to me, while lamenting my persistent unorthodoxness, that eventually the point of any religious practice (with emphasis on practice) is to color outside of the lines a bit. From art, to athletic endeavors, being spontaneous, unpredictable, and original, there is advantage in harnessing some of that creative chaos. So ritual and rigorousness has taken a back seat to emotional expression. Many call themselves ‘spiritual’ for their abandonment of church tradition.
However, an art teacher will tell you and a good writer knows, that there is no natural talent so good that it can’t benefit from studying the masters. Before one can reinvent the wheel, it might be good to at least know what the wheel is and understand the basic function of the thing before improving upon it. No basketball player does well to ignore all of the established fundamentals of their sport nor is it recommended that a weightlifter abandon good technique. Doing things your own way can lead to injury, can limit potential and be a tremendous disadvantage.
Yes, some do “shoot from the hip” and still manage to score some points. My own writing has improved from simply writing and not from having read every style manual written in the past few centuries. And yet I would be remiss, as well as incredibly arrogant, to not give complete credit to the teachers, the many writers, the coiners of terms and all those who have contributed to the descriptive wealth of the English language. And if my desire is to improve, then reading the greats, absorbing their knowledge of the craft, is only going to enhance my own creative efforts.
Only a fool would enter the ring relying only upon their natural and unimproved fighting abilities. Absolutely, Mike Tyson would knock me out without having spent a day training, God gifted him with a heavy weight’s frame and musculature. But, no boxer, no high level competitor, would last a minute against a person who studied form, who learned all they could from the best, practiced hours and came prepared. It is religious devotion that pushes even the elite to the next level.
Jesus is the foundation of the church, that is true, yet this doesn’t mean we should strip it bare to the bedrock each generation. Do we forget that Jesus himself, God in the flesh, was a practicing Jew for three decades before, while reading Isaiah 61, the prescribed text at the synagogue, announced “today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” We know that Jesus would go on to push the boundaries, to correct and build upon the established religion, yet never claiming it was worthless.
What Is Orthodoxy?
This word “orthodox” refers to correctness.
It is the same root used for terms like “orthopedic” or “orthodontist” and basically implies straightening out, correctness.
Orthodox, as the Orthodox Christian uses it, is an adjective and not a noun. Orthodoxy is not a denomination. No, it is an unbending pursuit, a desire to live out the fullness of the faith, it means uncompromised worship and devotion to Christ and the Church.
Unlike Protestantism, that has whittled away at tradition, the Orthodox continue to practice as Christians have for over a millennia. We celebrate the liturgy of St John Chrysostom or St Basil and not because it is required to be a Christian, I’ve never heard those Orthodox proclaim those who profess Christ outside the tradition to be lost, yet we do see established tradition as a useful aid to the Christian.
Orthodoxy is built upon the foundation of Christ. And yet it is not in denial of the history of the Church nor dismissive of the written and unwritten tradition that the Apostle Paul admonished the church of Thessaloniki to keep:
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings (or traditions) we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
(2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 NIV)
The first thing noteworthy is that the church had a tradition and the second is that this tradition was passed down by the Apostles both in letter and spoken word. But, more significantly, in the same context of keeping tradition, St Paul also speaks of things of the Spirit. The idea that spiritual is odds with traditional is the great delusion of our time and trying to sustain one without the other is proving to be an overall failed experiment. Tradition, passed down by the Church both in written and by “word of mouth” is for our spiritual benefit.
Orthodox tradition is about carrying forward the practices sustained, and that sustained, generations of the Church. It pertains most particularly to the traditions of corporate worship. And, like the tradition of Scripture itself, gives a voice (or vote) to the many faithful who have gone on before us:
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”
(G. K. Chesterton “The Ethics of Elfland,” Orthodoxy)
To be Orthodox one must appreciate that the Church is bigger than their own individual perspective. The Church is bigger than this generation. Yes, we, the Church militant, are still in the the fight and yet undoing the contribution of the Church triumphant is foolishness. It is a special kind of ignorance in an age where ‘progress’ too often means replacing an old church building with a Dollar General.
Christ is the foundation of the Church, but much has been built, from the Apostle’s time forward, that is beneficial to our spiritual growth and also very beautiful.
The Beauty of Orthodox Worship
There is something incredible about participating in a tradition of worship that has passed the test of time. The basic form of Divine Liturgy has endured, despite the severe persecution of the Orthodox, and in to join in this is to join in the choir of all who have worshipped in this manner.
To those who have never been to an Orthodox service, the first experience may feel foreign, especially if there is some ethnic flavor mixed in, and yet why would we expect the Church (which is universal throughout time) to be a reflection of our modern American culture? Are we truly that arrogant to believe that our own practices, built from the clay of Modernism, is superior to the gold refined over the centuries? We’re better than the entire Church spanning the millennia?
Before going further, consider for a moment that every Church has a liturgy, an order to the service, their own unique traditions, and there’s a reason for this. Protestants, from revival meetings to special mother’s day services, have formed their own traditions to replace those more timeless. I’ve heard about conservative Mennonite churches where at least one elder would insist that the ordained men enter in order of their respective ranks.
And, lest my ‘contemporary’ friends see themselves as superior. Not everyone is up front leading the service.
Order is good. St. Paul spoke to this need for order in worship as an alternative to the chaos and confusion of everyone talking over each other. We are creatures of habit, when brushing our teeth or taking a shower, rather than go through the wasted mental effort of finding a new way each time, we repeat a liturgy of a sort. We can get more done when we finally cease these useless arguments over worship style and move on to things of more substance.
Before I had ever entered an Orthodox liturgical service, I (like most or many Protestant borns) would’ve believed it to be stuffy and boring. I mean, how can something prewritten, predetermined, be as authentic or real as my own concept of worship?
However, upon reflection, considering the many times of Mennonite deacons begging for testimonies and prayer requests to a deafening silence or the same requests over and over again from the same people, the liturgical form that covers everything in prayer makes much more sense. Every service the priest leads us in prayer, through a list that covers pretty much everything, and I’ll often think (and pray) for a specific reason while crossing myself to physically confirm my inner thoughts.
Which is the one beauty of Orthodox worship: It is immersive, involves all senses, we love the beauty of the house we share, our temple, that is divided in a similar way to the Biblical places of worship. There is rich symbolism, incense rising as prayer (as is described in Scripture) and an altar, behind the Iconostasis, where the Communion is prepared. Better yet, the entire service is participatory, a sort of call and response style, with the entire Divine Liturgy service centered around our partaking of the body and blood of Christ.
The second thing I have found, as beautiful, is that this repetition of Scripture in song is spiritually like the muscle memory formed from any other practice. I can’t count the times when the music and words of a liturgical service will pop up during the week, either as a comfort or a challenge, and how these phrases have started to shape my perspective. For example, “put not your trust in princess or sons of man in who there is no salvation.” What a great reminder in this time when the institution of government seems to be failing, right?
Well worn pathways are not confining, they are freeing. Why hack our way through the jungle of life, being ‘authentic’ in the way of every other person in this age who has lost both religion and depth, undisciplined, when there is a rich banquet of tradition to draw upon? Does reciting the Lord’s Prayer over and over again ever take away from the meaning of the words or cause you to want to rewrite it for our own time? I should pray not!
No, we need good ritual in our life because it helps us to focus. Everything in Orthodox worship is founded upon Scripture and a beautiful expression of obedience. It has richness and depth, from the Lenten journey of fasting and reflection, to the icons, incense, vestments, altars, oil, candles, hymns, recitations and processions. It connects is to centuries of the faithful, in our participation in the Church that they built together on the foundation of Christ and is wonderful.
In the end, as Father Seraphim reminds us often in his homilies, we are not saved by our church attendance, we can read Scripture, sing, give tithes and it all be for naught. If there is no spiritual fruit this is all empty and utterly meaningless as far as salvation. However, as St Paul speaks of the law being a guardian, the established prescription and pattern for worship, once catalyzed with sincere Christian faith, is an invaluable asset. It may not be necessary for salvation, the repentant thief on the cross beside Jesus was never Baptized, and yet it does greatly enhance the life of the believer.
Lastly, Orthodox worship doesn’t take away from our ability to worship spontaneously, in the spur of the moment, like King David dancing as the Ark of the Covenant was being processed through the city of Jerusalem. This is not an either/or thing nor have I found the tradition to be onerous or confining in the way one may fear coming out of a legalistic tradition. There is a sort of casualness to our formality, an allowance for imperfection. So simple even children participate.
Structure We Need To Thrive
Us creative types loath structure. We like to color outside of the lines, right? And yet, despite this umbrage, we often live as beneficiaries of the structure that others provide. Many artists would starve, or be overrun, unable to do their work, outside the structure that others have diligently maintained for them. And many would do better, even in their passionate pursuits, if they would acknowledge their need.
The framework that Orthodoxy provides, likewise, for me has been that missing element that I didn’t even know that I needed. This idea that tradition is somehow bad is corrosive, it is creating a generation desperate to find their place, suicidal, distorted and unfulfilled. We are better when plugged in, when a part of something bigger than ourselves. Tradition brings us together and Orthodoxy enhances rather than take away from worship.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
(Malachi 4:5-6 NIV)
That end to the Old Testament has intrigued me. It contains a very clear either/or option. Either the people heed the message of Elijah or the land will be totally destroyed. God desired all to be saved, to be united in love for each other, and yet also doesn’t force the relationship and eventually the opportunity for reconciliation will end.
This is how John the Baptist was introduced in the New Testament:
He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
(Luke 1:16-17 NIV)
Unfortunately, we see how this would eventually work out for the nation, as a whole, of those who didn’t repent or turn from their religious elitism. We see it in the following pronouncement of Jesus:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
(Matthew 10:34-36 NIV)
Many picked or else.
They choose their own destruction rather than heed the message and accept the offer of repentance and life.
I’m convinced it didn’t need to be that way, that had the people accepted their Lord and Savior, the city of Jerusalem would’ve stood and would not have been destroyed by the Romans. It was political division, the insanity of the zealots (including Judas) pursuing their own version of social justice, the complacent ruling class unable to make up their minds, that ultimately doomed the city to destruction.
Jesus is uniting or divisive. The choice is ours. Like it or not, the Gospel lays out a choice between unity or division. The truth will set you free or you’ll stay in bondage to your sin, to your preferences, your prejudices and perish. If we would truly choose Jesus then we would let go of all of our other identities, grievances and special privileges, we would be united in love.
Many who profess Christ today are more like those who rejected him. They choose tribe over unity, they choose political gain over peace, they accuse others while being as guilty or more guilty themselves. We would be wise to do as Jesus told his disciples regarding those who refuse to hear, to kick the dust from our sandals and move on to those more receptive.
Peace Through Separation
This theme of peace through separation is throughout Scripture, one example being Abram and Lot:
“…quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
(Genesis 13:7-13 NIV)
Lot picked the area close to the city, pitching his tent towards Sodom, Abram went the other way, and the strife between their clans ended. Nobody was offended, there was no reason to be offended, seperation to avoid unnecessary conflict is a peaceable solution.
We see the same happen in the New Testament:
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
(Acts 15:36-41 NIV)
Imagine that. A sharp disagreement, even within the early church, leading to a parting of ways. And it actually seemed to work for the best. Sometimes the best solution to an irreconcilable difference is to go different ways. It seems that actually enhanced rather than take way from their respective ministries. At the very least, we see this affair being stated matter of factly and not a cause for additional drama.
There is, however, at least one case of separation gone awry and that’s when Pharoah refused to let the children of Isreal go. He had refused after first bring asked nicely, relented only after a series of plagues that increased in severity, then changed his mind once again and pursued those seeking freedom from him. Why? Well, because he was exploiting their labor and knew letting them go would cost him.
That is also how an abusive spouse acts. They simply can’t tolerate someone wanting to get away from them, they’re insecure, they need to have control, and would sooner murder the other person than allow them to go in peace. They can’t stand that someone would dare to expose their own ugliness and will slander the other party rather than repent of creating the conditions that led to the other party being uncomfortable remaining with them.
A Christian is able to walk away in peace, without things ending on their own terms, but those who are exploiting others or trying to advantage themselves cannot. Is it better that there is no seperation? Sure. Is separation wrong when remaining together becomes unbearable? Absolutely not! In short, seperation is a peaceable solution for peaceable people. But tyrants, who must have their own way, will refuse to leave others be.
Two Groups, Presenting an A-B Option
About six months ago, in response to the increased promotion of tribalism, I started a group on social media “One Nation Under God…” The point was to present an alternative to these divisive forces. A place where people of all colors, creeds, genders, or orientations could celebrate our common humanity together. The idea being that we could act “one nation” rather than allow our differences to divide us. I featured a picture of a diverse group of American children and posted feel-good stories of people overcoming conflicts, Good Samaritan acts, and kindness.
That group, which is representative of my highest aspirations and my desire to be unified with all, only attracted a handful of friends and remains at only a few dozen members. I would rather that we learn to get along, to hear each other’s perspectives, to find our common humanity, and respect our differences.
That’s definitely my option A.
However, around the start of the new year, after a contentious election season and continuing strife, seeing some voices were not being represented, I decide (on a whim) to start a group where disenfranchised rural people could find a home. My group description contrasted “two different Americans” and went on to note the differing cultural values between rural and urban people, with a lament of double standards, and a call for a peaceful resolution.
Well, on one level, it was option B, to advocate for an amicable divorce rather than continue the perpetual conflict and subjugation of one half of the country or the other every four years.
But, on another level, it was still in hopes of option A, to make those on the ‘other side’ aware of this grievance, to hopefully find a listening ear, and then find an understanding together. In other words, it was the same reason that any other peaceful advocacy group exists, to give some a voice in the conversation, to say our culture matters, to stop sweeping our issues under the rug, and have a dialogue.
First and foremost, the group was created as a haven for rural people, who tend to be more reserved and too often get dominated by their socially adept, politically powerful, urban counterparts. There was no hate or contempt for those on the other side of the divide, only a listing of different cultural values, a lament of double-standards, and a call for a peaceful resolution to irreconcilable differences. Rural people have the same desire to feel safe, to feel reasonably represented, and speak against the cultural imperialism of the truly privileged as anyone else.
Many people are fleeing urban areas to escape tyranny and violence. And they are all welcome to live in rural areas. But, that said, those bringing their problems with them, their tribalism and hate, are best staying where they are rather than have them bring their divisiveness to us. Little old Asian women aren’t being physically assaulted by grown men in central Pennsylvania and some of us would rather keep it that way. We believe in equal justice under the law, merit and not quotas, and no special treatment for some over others.
Respect our values or let us go our separate ways. That’s all. Option A and B. Hear the grievance and maybe we can patch things up. That’s always possible. But, respond with more accusations and hate? Yeah, that will only confirm my own reason to leave.
Pharaoh’s ‘Woke’ Army Is Outraged
I was blindsided by it. A friend went me a private message to alert me. The eye of Sauron had found The Rural Divide and the legions of far-left sympathizing, the hoards of apologists for wokeism and closed social justice warriors were on their way to overrun this resistance to their totalitarian agenda. Behind the buttery smooth words, of well-trained passive-aggressive Mennonite-borns, there was seething rage—a sea of hatred, irrationality and nasty accusations
Murder in words.
Only one person reached out for an explanation. A few others to heap condemnation and clearly unwilling to listen. Even some old friends were unwittingly used as pawns. But the truly disappointing part is that those who led this campaign know me enough to know that their characterization of the group was a lie.
For those who don’t know me, I was the religious odd ball at my school (as a conservative Mennonite) and found my place amongst the other misfits. One of my close friends, throughout my school years, came out of the closet in highschool and never once did I think of him as less a person than me. My cafeteria clique consisted of the only Roman Catholic and Mormon guys in the school, an ethnic Indian Hindu, a Filipino Seventh-day adventist. My other closest friend was an atheist fellow.
After school, I’ve only ever dated women categorized as “people of color” according to the current jargon. I’ve punched an openly racist Kansan (not my finest moment) and lost my job as a result. I was obsessed with the Civil Rights Era and fully embraced what Martin Luther King Jr said about content of character over color of skin. My assailants are mostly whites who grew up in ethically homogeneous enclaves, homeschooled, often privileged over me and extremely gullible too. They, like their forbearers, seem to believe that their own poop don’t stink.
Anyhow, back to the present drama, one particularly sanctimonious religious elite, likely trying to impress his peers with this virtue signaling display, suggested that those who joined the group were not even Christian.
Imagine that, you get a random request for a group, decide to accept the invite to see what it is, and bam suddenly you’re out of the Kingdom. Wow! Yeah, I’m thinking this extremely judgmental elite confuses Christianity with cancel culture. Or maybe it is that they are from a conservative Mennonite background where a marriage partner who separates from their abuser is often treated as the guilty party? The apple doesn’t always fall far from the tree, does it?
I’m sure they are too ‘woke’ to carry on the prior generation’s opinions regarding abused women leaving their abusers. And yet, under this new facade of social justice, they carry on the exact same attitude in regards to those who wish to be separated from those that routinely accuse, slander, and belittle them?
Reminds me of this:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”
(Matthew 23:29-39 NIV)
It is interesting, first, that this passage above contains both a loving lament and harsh condemnation, both in the same thought. This goes back to the either/or proposition of Malachi. Second, those who killed Jesus, along with the other prophets, thought they were the enlightened and righteous ones. Saul, who latter become St Paul, harassed, pursued and killed Christians thinking this was God’s work. He found fault in others despite being murderous himself and it was only after repentance that he could see.
The very same people today, who are heroes in their own eyes for attacking peaceable people today, would likely be cheering loudly for Jim Crow laws a few generations ago, or aligned with Bolsheviks in Russia and Nazis in Germany before their atrocities were fully known. It’s amazing the similarities between abusers, both then and now, rather than live and let live or leave when unwelcomed, they “pursue to town to town” and demand their piece of God’s people like the mob of degenerates in Sodom wanting a to ‘know’ Lot’s angelic visitors:
Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
(Genesis 19:4-5 NIV)
The far-left is equally aggressive today in pursuit of anyone who would rather not be with them. If you’re putoff by their nastiness they’ll accuse you of an “ism” or being “phobic” and harass and lie in an effort to have their way with you. To them you have no rights as an individual, you belong to them, and if you refuse their advances they will break your door down…
And those outraged about The Rural Divide acted in the same manner. They attacked in a swarm, relentless, demanding to know why the group existed, trying to infiltrate, and were no different than that enraged mob picking up stones to murder St Stephen for his paraphrasing of what Jesus said:
“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.”
(Acts 7:52 NIV)
A Time To Reconcile, A Time To Choose A Side
If anyone in that cabal of hate and hysteria would like to approach me and apologize, I’m more than willing to forgive the slanderous attacks. Unlike the far-left, I believe in repentance, that people should be forgiven of their faults and can change. I’m willing to reconcile with any of those who participated in this spreading of malicious nonsense about me. A simple apology admitting that they misunderstood or were misled into believing my group was something it was not would be sufficient enough.
There are those whom I blocked on social media for their racism or otherwise rude and elitist behavior that I would gladly welcome back into my life if there was a hint of repentance. That’s option A.
This is option B:
But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
(1 Corinthians 5:11 NIV)
St Paul prefaces this by saying that he’s not speaking against association with sinful non-Christians, who God will judge. But he’s talking about those who profess Christ and yet refuse to repent of their sin. This excommunication is necessary to maintain our own integrity and as not to confuse our non-believing neighbors. It applies, not in cases of different preferences, but in cases of clearly defined sin and lack of repentance. In case I’m unclear:
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions.
(1 Timothy 6:3-4 NIV)
I’m sure this was just St Paul’s white cisgender male privilege speaking right?
More toxic masculinity, I suppose?
Whatever the case, if even Paul and Barnabas had to go their separate ways over a dispute, both early church missionaries and leaders, then why is it so offensive or wrong that some would rather peaceably divide rather than continue in a quarrel? Isn’t that what happened with Abram and Lot when their groups were in conflict? Abraham going the way of the country and Lot picking the life of the city?
In the end, it is laughable that any Protestant religious separatist, especially these proud social justice preaching types who still identify as “Anabaptist” and refuse to seek membership with the universal church, would be at all critical of those rural folks who wish to have a separate space for themselves. Their hateful reaction confirmed every reason why The Rural Divide exists.
The Rural Divide is a group open to all shades of skin color, even those of other cultures, but only where there is mutual respect and not cultural imperialism. And, yes, the unrepentant ‘woke’ nationalists can stay out.
Relax, folks, it is just a Facebook group.
Everyone else has their safe space, wants their communities and values to be respected.
Jesus was an extremely divisive figure. He said insulting things, routinely called out the religious elites, and was ultimately nailed to the cross for the inflammatory things that he said. Some of what Jesus said, if taken in context, would make Donald J Trump blush. And, lest someone say that this role was reserved for him, as son of God, Saint Stephen was cancelled by an enraged mob for doubling down on what Jesus said and St Paul literally told his religious rivals to emasculate themselves in one of his rebukes.
When someone uses “unChrist-like” to describe something another person did that offended them, it immediately flags that person as an unthoughtful and reactionary person. It is a favorite term of Mennonite religious snobs, with an extremely black and white perspective on everything, and seem to think that Jesus was some kind of Marxist hipster douche, like them, rather than a man who could throw a rhetorical punch, call people out for their hypocrisy and made many enemies within the ranks of the self-righteous religious elites.
If Jesus were in the flesh today he would enrage the ‘woke’ social justice left like he did the Pharisees. He would violate their speech codes, intentionally, like he did by healing on the Sabbath and allowing his disciples to ignore the cleansing rituals:
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”
(Matthew 15:2-9 NIV)
These studious religious experts, looked up to within their own religious circles, point out that the disciples of Jesus are not behaving correctly according to their standards. But Jesus, rather than apologize, instead uses what would now be called a “whataboutism” by those trying to deflect legitimate criticism. He goes after their own crafty violation of the law, their legalistic approach that neglected the spirit or intention of the law, and then attacks them personally, calling them hypocrites, with empty words, who merely follow after human rules.
However, what is most interesting about the Gospel account is that those who loathed Jesus couldn’t condemn him on the basis of his inflammatory rhetoric alone. No, they still had to connive to misrepresent the actual intent of his words to paint him as violent and a threat to the powers that be. They maliciously twisted his words to suggest that he was planning to lead a violent insurrection and should therefore be condemned:
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’ ” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.
(Mark 14:55-59 NIV)
That passage (above) would, if they had social media then, would likely be rated as being false by the fact-checkers. Why? Well, Jesus did indeed say that the temple would be destroyed:
“Destroy this temple…”
(John 2:19 NIV)
See! Right there it is! Incitement to violence! Jesus, speaking to the crowd, with his followers listen and willing to obey, says “destroy this temple.” Clearly a madman, speaking in a fit of rage after assaulting money changers on sacred ground, attacking established institutions, and a man clearly leading an insurrection, right? No wonder the frenzied mobs wanted him dead, permanently removed, his followers purged from polite society, they were being misled and used as pawns by the powers that be who saw Jesus as a threat to their own religious/political racket.
Follow the Real Jesus—Reject the Leaven of the Pharisees
Christianity, real Christianity, did not parrot the popular narrative. It was extremely divisive, although not along lines of gender, race or superficial difference, and it was those with the blessing of the established institutions who pursued and persecuted his followers. The followers of Jesus, for their part, were defiant like Him, they refused to stop speaking the truth even against the orders of governing authorities. These weren’t no limp-wristed mealy-mouthed educated folk, trying to position themselves for the approval of others.
The followers of Jesus today, as simple blue collar workers, would be called ‘deplorables’ by the elites who despised them. Some of them, as Romans or former collaborators with Rome, would be hated “fascists” or any other of a long list of names used by social justice activists to silence, marginalize or dehumanize their political opposition.
And, yes, the hypocritical religious elites of our day will use “unChrist-like” in an attempt to discredit and shame legitimate critics. They see themselves as being the pure and undefiled arbiters of truth. And you? Well, you’re the unwashed masses, those not privileged with their superior intelligence or education. No, they are, in their own minds, more truly compassionate, those who listen to and represent the downtrodden, while you are too dumb or hard-hearted to comprehend. Of course, it is all hogwash. Nevertheless, they do have a power to lead silly women and weak men astray with their nonsense.
Ultimately, contrary to the myths of the sanctimonious Mennonite progressives, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a divisive message. It calls all to repentance, it stands in opposition to all tribalism and identity politics, and offends the elites who are not accustomed to being put in their place. It is not all kumbaya, linking hands singing “praise and worship” around a fire while shaking a tambourine, or unity around the lowest common denominator. No, sometimes it is harsh, raw and divisive truth, like this:
“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
(Matthew 16:6 NIV)
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
(Luke 12:1 NIV)
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
(Matthew 10:34-36 NIV)
Those of the prideful social justice mindset, like those of any other errant ideology, the Pharisaical “leaven” of our own time, should be called to repentance. They, themselves, are not arbiters of truth, who can declare a person as not Christian for belonging to a group not their own. No, they are like the self-righteous religious elites who confronted Jesus for his incorrect, according to their own rules of conduct, teachings and example. The religious ‘progressive’ today would imagine themselves on the “right side of history” the same as Jesus sarcastically and very caustically condemned:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
(Matthew 23:29-32 NIV)
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
(Matthew 23:33-35 NIV)
Religious elites today never understand that the words of Jesus address them, personally, as much as anyone else nor are capable of understanding that those who were called “you brood of vipers” were the polished, the educated, those of correct pedigree and how dare this uncouth uneducated man tell them otherwise! They were completely justified in their own minds and this man had no business name calling! I mean, how unChrist-like can you be? The real Christ, according to their own experts and expectations, would be a religious bigot like them, would talk down to those lacking sophistication, and endorse them as rulers.
Let My People Go!
The sanctimonious never mind their own business. No, they’re always out to prove themselves more righteous, thus must pursue and destroy anyone who stands in their way, points out their egregious doublestandards or otherwise triggers the privileged religious elites. They are entitled, they have the credentials, who are you to stand up to their bullying and abuse?
They need a captive audience.
They need to have you around, as their whipping boys, to feel better about themselves.
Cutting to the chase, after years of seeing good rural people belittled and falsely accused, having their grievances ignored by the coastal elites, I decided to start a Facebook group to highlight this growing divide. It was a semi-serious solution, where urban and rural people, with their vastly different needs, would be governed separately and in a way better matched to their own needs. The key operant words words being “peaceful partitioning” of the two divergent Americas as a means to avoid violence.
Unfortunately, and predictably, while enjoyed with light-hearted amusement by the rural folks invited, it was soon met with an extremely vicious response. As aggressive as those men in Sodom knocking on Lot’s door, demanding access to his angelic guests, and not taking “no” for an answer, the assault was on. By the direction of a few agitators mischaracterizing the group according to their own blinding prejudice, many in the social justice mob (or sympathetic) began to stalk the group and harass me. How dare rural people seek to be separate and safe from them! [Insert popular false accusations here.]
It was “unChrist-like,” they cried, with a collective banshee howl, and heaped condemnation.
And yet, those who tell you that there is no Christian precedent for peaceful separation between disagreeing parties are either ignorant or liars. In Scripture there are multiple times when conflict between parties led to separation, as a means to keep the peace, starting with Lot and Abraham who went their different ways to end conflict between their parties. And, even in the New Testament, there was a time when St Paul and St Barnabas, had a severe disagreement and decided to go their separate ways.
The only time where this sort of separation did not go smoothly was when Moses asked Pharaoh, “let my people go!” Evil Pharaoh had initially balked, he didn’t want to lose his source of cheap labor and felt he had all of the power on his side. But Moses persisted, and God assisted by visiting Egypt with a series of plagues, until the tyrant was forced to loosen his grip. Finally, only when the cost became too high, the beleaguered abuser of the children of Israel allowed them to go—only to go against his own word later and pursue them to his own peril.
Maybe Pharaoh is the Christ of the social justice Mennonite?
I’m sure he was polished and prestigious.
Whatever the case, insisting that every American be under the same national flag has nothing to do with Christ or his teachings. I have worshipped in foreign nations, amongst those who didn’t share my political affiliation, and it never ever took away from unity in Christ. No, only when Christianity is corrupted, turned into a political ideology, does this difference in national identity become an issue. And it is not coincidence that those influenced by Marxist political ideology cannot see the vast difference between the two kingdoms. They profess faith, they condemn us as nationalists, yet are the ones who are truly blending religion and politics.
Lastly, there’s something deliciously ironic about a bunch of religious separatists, proud of their Anabaptist heritage, lecturing peaceable folks about keeping unity in the church.
You’re joking, right?
These are people who have no desire to reconsider and reunite with the historic church, that transcends nations, is timeless and complete.
No, they see themselves as superior-minded, able to discern for themselves what is correct ‘Christ-like’ teachings. There is zero self-awareness or introspection as they parrot popular leftist slogans and copy cancel culture against those who dissent to their rule. They are always looking outward, at the Publican over there, praying in his unsophisticated humble manner, trying to justify themselves. They see themselves as the gatekeepers of the kingdom and yet, if they do not repent, they too will be shut out and condemned to outer darkness.
Some day Jesus will divide the sheep from the goats. I ask everyone to consider what side they want to be on in that final judgment. Rural or urban, none of us are in a position to decide who belongs in the church or does not. Those suggesting that being a part of a Facebook group they disapprove of are any less Christian than them? They are delusional. Full of themselves. It is cultural imperialism at best (no surprise some of these are in that special self-congratulatory ‘missionary’ class, who travel over land in sea like those addressed in Matthew 23:15) and is an attitude that will only drive the wedge deeper.
Nobody wants to stay in a toxic relationship. Nobody wants to share a home with their unrepentant abusers. If these elites want to be heard by those of us who have listened to them lecture and condemn year after year, then it is time for them to start listening to our grievances too. If not, if they are incapable, then the most Christ-like thing they can do is let us go our separate ways. It is not peaceable to demand that others see things your own way, there is no reason why Christians can’t go their separate ways, and being in two different nations doesn’t mean we should be at war with each other.
Recently I was asked, by a friend on Facebook, a Social Justice Anabaptist, to participate in a “focus group” discussion with Conservative Anabaptists who Support Trump (which they refer to as CAST) and for the stated purpose of finding common ground. I have no reason to doubt the intentions of such an effort, although there is a sort of wariness that comes from having observed these kinds of conversations, it reminds me a bit of the foot-in-the-door tactics of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon missionaries. This “having a conversation” can be code for a sort of Evangelical push of agenda.
But, my initial skepticism aside, I’m not truly part of the Anabaptist church anymore and I’m not sure how they would find common ground with me except they abandon their “former delusion,” stop dividing themselves into political categories, conservative and liberal, truly follow Christ and become Orthodox Christians. So, if they want my advice on how to heal their current schism, perhaps they should look to reconciling the much more significant division from the Apostle’s church first and leave their political disputes to a different venue?
Furthermore, I’m not sure that I “support Trump” so much as I oppose partnering with corporate elitist interests, in bed with a Chinese Communist dictatorship, against my neighbors. I did not vote for Trump in 2016 and even wrote several blogs (1,2,3) to persuade my conservative Mennonite and Amish peers to reconsider. It was only since then, since observing the viciousness of the assault against Trump and reconsidering my own perspective of the man, that I realized I had been duped by some very sophisticated propagandists.
No, that is not to say that my criticisms of the man were invalid, but understanding the other side, knowing their agenda and tactics, certainly can put him in a different light.
While I do not support those who confuse the American flag with the cross, I likewise have must warn those who are fooled into believing that the Gospel of Jesus is compatible with the divisive Social Justice narrative and grievance culture. As I’ve said in another recent blog, there is no rivalry between the kingdom of heaven and the ordained governments of this world. They are two parallel systems, one for our physical protection from evildoers and the other for our salvation from sin and death.
I don’t have a problem with voting for a leader who best fills the role of government described in Romans 13, providing some general protections for all people, but I do think it is problematic to use the government to enforce Christian morality and values. The point of Jesus saying “sell all and give to the poor” was not to express a Socialist ideal, or else he would’ve joined Judas in his rebuke of that woman’s worshipful display of pouring out expensive perfume, but rather it was to point people to the kingdom of heaven. In other words, Judas was trying to turn the words of Jesus into a political solution for social inequalities, while Jesus was primarily interested in the salvation of souls. So, unlike a leftist who looks to government as savior, I do not look to Trump (or any man) to fill the role of Christ. The President, in my view, is put in his position for a purpose different from my own. I do not look to civil authority to bring salvation to the world any more than I look to the fast-food employee flipping my burger to be my bread of life.
So, with all that in mind, here are my responses to the questions offered by the Social Justice Anabaptist:
1) What are the top three issues in ranked order you think best answer the first title question?
Rational, issues-based, voting is a myth. We make decisions based on our intuitions, our experiences, and what we know (or think we know) about the options available. Most elections come down to a choice between two candidates and are decided on the basis of their individual character or that of the ‘side’ which they represent. I didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 because I had questions about his character that could not be resolved. But, that said, I certainly did prefer the risk-taking approach of Trump over that of the careful, yet seemingly dishonest and conniving words of the alternative, and was proven right when she suddenly changed her tune about accepting election results to push a relentless “resistance” campaign based upon a fictional Russian collusion narrative.
2) Would you say the Bible has much to say to guide us in our political choices?
Men look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. There are many chosen by Jesus, to lead his church, who did not measure up to the standards of the smug and sanctimonious religious leaders of that day. Trump is outwardly flawed, he wears his faults on his sleeves, he is called a narcissist and other nasty things, but the blue-collar guy (hurt by ‘progressive’ tax, trade, and border policies) saw his heart better than the truly privileged social elites who hate him. Ultimately, God is sovereign, parsing the Bible for a concrete answer or justification for every choice is foolishness, and my stating some eloquent theology in defense of my choices wouldn’t persuade a skeptic regardless.
3) If so, what Bible verse or spiritual concept guides your political thinking most?
Nothing specific. But generally, God gives us freedom and choice. God also, for our own common good, provides boundaries and divisions. Cities had walls, civilizations have laws. The kingdom of heaven, while open to all who repent, has clear entry requirements.
4) I have heard a lot of folks say that they support the platform though they don’t particularly support the man, Donald Trump, his personal behavior, rhetoric and swagger. Do you feel like that is the consensus of CAST you know?
This question reminds me of the Pharisee, whose house Jesus was visiting, and protests the blunt commentary, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” (Luke 11:45). He gets bulldozed. Jesus doesn’t lose a beat. Jesus continues to hammer his point home. There are several times when Jesus gets questioned for offending the elites and he doubles down rather than soften his tone.
The political class often hides their corruption under pious speech and pretense of righteousness. Trump is hated by these people for his crudeness of speech and swagger. But the working class is more concerned with actual substance over style, they aren’t at all offended by a little shop talk, and there’s also a reason for Trump being extremely popular in hip-hop and rap culture. Or at least Trump was popular before his political enemies poisoned this connection.
Incidentally, those who have a problem with Trump’s flamboyant style are probably also, for strategic or cynical reasons, holding back on their judgment of others of similar behavior. By saying Trump is “not Presidential” or complaining about his neglect of decorum, they may actually be implying that he’s not elite (or white) enough for the office. In other words, it is sort of a racist or classist thing. Trump, in being like an uncultured average person, offends those who feel superior to all and entitled to rule.
Anyhow, those who said that Trump would choose conservative Supreme Court Justices were proven right thrice. That will be Trump’s legacy more than his personality, that and the fact that he didn’t lead us into another war, that he brokered several peace deals, and was extremely restrained in his response to the violence of leftists. Sure, maybe Trump is a Twitter troll, but at least he cared enough about random Iranian soldiers to call off a retaliatory missile strike in response to the downing of a drone. So maybe it is time for you, who judge him, to start considering his actions over his rhetoric? Maybe he is right to stand apart from the fawning praise of John “bomb-bomb-Iran” McCain and to defy the neocon establishment? He was elected to put America first, to end endless wars, and that’s exactly what he did, yet some ‘Anabaptists’ still hate him because he isn’t a smooth warmongering liar like his predecessors?
5) Is there anything about his rhetoric, swagger or personal behavior, that does resonate with you or CAST? If so, can you explain that a bit?
Trump’s lack of a facade is a breath of fresh air compared to the lawyer-speak and “focus group” silliness of most in the political class. Psalm 55:21 could easily describe many others: “His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.” I prefer Trump’s recklessness and hyperbole, that he attacks others in the privileged class, over those who call common folk “deplorables” and “chumps” behind closed doors or in front of a partisan audience. I’ll not soon forget how Obama allowed his surrogates to slander the loyal opposition as “racist” for opposing his massive expansion of government power. The pretty “mean girls” may get away with their exclusive cliques and bullying because they have such sweet smiles and know how to use their outward beauty work the system, but that doesn’t make them good people or actually superior to those less sophisticated.
6) I assume one of the reasons, you support Trump is his opposition to the “liberal agenda.” Can you identify one part of the liberal agenda that is the most problematic to you?
Depending on coercion and threat of violence to take the property of one group to give to another, so that you can manipulate these others into being a loyal voting bloc? Do I really need to explain to an Anabaptist how unChristian that is?
7) Urban – rural divide. A look at the electoral map shows a dramatic difference in voting patterns based on population density. It seems that one of the things that resonates with Trump supporters is his disdain for the “urban elite.” Can you explain who that is because I might actually fit that category? Can you then explain what it is specifically that makes the urban elite so distasteful?
An elitist Social Justice Anabaptist won’t be able to see it anymore than those who condemned Jesus could understand their own need of him. There is much to say about the pride of the religious and social elites. The left seems to believe that they have all of the answers to everything, they condescend to minorities and treat them like helpless children, keep them dependent, and yet are truly full of themselves. Living in an urban environment is to be removed from the earth, what is natural and good, and is to have the privileged of not having to see the hard work that goes into putting bread on the shelf of that corner store. The exposure to the cosmopolitan world gives one a delusion of being more well-rounded and knowledgeable, yet also comes with a lack of groundedness and the humility of good discernment as well. That is why many elites rejected Trump. I mean, how dare he misspells a word on Twitter or be honest about the threat presented by open borders?
8) Trump has made negative comments about “democratic cities?” Do these comments resonate with CAST? Can you explain one or two top things about democratic cities that are negative?
Maybe you should look up Kimberly Klacik?
She said it best…
9) Trump supporters talk a lot about his defense of religious freedom. Can you help me understand that? What freedoms are we talking about specifically? Are these the sort of things: Right to post Ten Commandments in the courthouse, right to not sell wedding cakes to gay couples, right to not pay for abortive contraception for your employees? Right to worship in groups in spite of COVID?
Why do your ‘scientifically motivated’ Democrats make exceptions for their own, for violent protests and premature celebrations of a Biden win? Why do they support ending the life of a fetus, a separate living human, while claiming to be compassionate and concerned with rights? Why do they choose a fictional identity over biological evidence when it comes to X and Y chromosomes? Why is it okay to demand that someone bakes a cake celebrating a homosexual union, but then perfectly fine for a business to turn someone away people for not wearing something that invades their personal space?
Most conservative Christians simply want the tolerance to go in both directions. However, the left is constantly (like a domineering mother) imposing their own values and preferences on everyone else. Again, God gave us the freedom to follow Him. God also ordained the government to provide some basic order, keep the evildoers restrained and good people should not fear this. But, that is not and never will be a license for tyrannical rule.
10) Health outcomes of African Americans and also low income individuals of any race are substantially worse than the general population resulting in higher mortality rate for nearly every disease and almost every age group. Which responses do you think best describe the CAST response to this information: You may select more than one.
That’s sad, but it is not a government issue.
The Democrats’ efforts such as Medicare for All wouldn’t help this number anyway.
That’s fake news.
That’s sad and healthcare is an issue I disagree with Trump on.
I never heard that before I would have to think about that. Other.
Maybe the questioner hasn’t been around enough poor white people?
Anyhow, this idea that black and white are homogeneous groups, where all white people are equally ‘privileged’ and all black people are all hapless victims in need of help from white ‘progressives’ (you) is absolutely racist. Various studies show that liberals talk down to minorities, there is this racism of low expectations, and I’ve seen this first hand.
I’m quite familiar with the condescending ‘helpful’ attitude, the patronizing, and pandering behavior.
I’ve been around conservative Mennonite inner-city efforts, I know some of the players involved quite well and can tell you that many of the minorities whose cause they claim to champion are quite aware of this superior spirit amongst these ‘progressive’ types. Sure, these ‘helped’ might not confront the ‘helpers’ for this, they try to appreciate the attempt at support or understand even if it is misguided, and yet they really do not need the white savior ‘progressive’ swooping in. I’ve had some confide in me about this, some of the special sensitivity and exaggerated concern is extremely off-putting to minorities and, frankly, in my opinion, it is racist.
Anyhow, I think Social Justice Anabaptists, like their secular atheistic Marxist teachers, ask the wrong questions. That list of suggested responses above, for example, presupposes that government intervention is the answer to racial disparities (rather than the cause) and neglects the fact that billions have been spent to alleviate these problems with very little to show for it. It seems ‘progressives’ assume that disagreement with them stems from ignorance about the problem. In other words, a perspective so incredibly arrogant that it makes Trump look humble by comparison.
All but one of the options offered by the questioner suggests the ignorance or lack of compassion of those who disagree with their presumption of government as a solution. Extremely loaded, more statements than questions, and pretty much designed to trip up the person trying to answer in succinct manner. Of course, the expectation is that their conservative opposition, not as educated or articulate, will sputter something incoherent in response to this deceptive “galloping Gish” rhetorical strategy and look bad.
But, this strategy doesn’t get past me.
The Social Justice Anabaptists have nothing on me as far as compassion and desire to help others. However, what they lack and I do not, is a basic comprehension of economics and the history of these occasionally well-meaning big government efforts. Furthermore, minorities dying due to inadequate care is very personal to me. Saniyah, my little hope who died unexpectedly, was African American. And, yes, she had access to medical care despite her mother being an illegal immigrant. But the doctor? Had I known how potentially deadly her respiratory ailments were and how incompetent inner-city physicians are, I would have made sure she had a qualified physician in conservative rural Pennsylvania.
Here are some of the right questions to help get our far-leftist friends pointed in the direction of solutions that actually work:
Why has the decades-long “War on Poverty” been a dismissal failure? Could it be that the government is not positioned well to address those problems? Didn’t Jesus tell you to personally intervene on behalf of the poor rather than use government as a means to force your neighbors to do something? And, if all poor people are our personal responsibility then what are you doing for Filipinos, in the Philippines, who have less access to quality care than those in our own inner-cities?
11) In a CAST world view, what is racism and what should be done about it?
Racism is to abandon the standard of Martin Luther King, where people should be judged by “content of character” and not their skin color. Racism is to collectively blame or exempt people according to their skin color and to assume that skin color, not the difference in behavior, is the lead determiner of outcomes. Racists treat everyone differently, raising or lowering expectations, based only on skin color. In other words, if one man rapes a woman this is explained away as something in his environment or mostly ignored. But if another does the same, he is roundly condemned and his evil treated as if it is somehow reflecting upon all men of his skin color or class. Racial tribalism is as racist and bad now as it was when white supremacists had the numbers advantage and the KKK roamed at night. The conservative stands against all racially motivated violence. But Social Justice Anabaptists refuse to condemn those behind the current violence. What should be done about racism? Well, stop being racist, stop excusing racial tribalism, start treating all people as unique individuals, that’s what should be done.
12) What core Anabaptist value most drives you or CAST?
The Golden Rule.
13) If you or CAST found out your pastor voted for Biden, would you have trouble listening to his sermons or receiving counsel from him on other issues?
One of my priests, Fr. James, I suspect would be a Biden voter. But, the Orthodox, unlike most Protestants, understand that “my kingdom is not of this world” means segregation of worldly politics from the church environment and worship. One of the reasons that I left the Anabaptists is because both conservatives and their ‘progressive’ activist counterparts do not know how to keep worldly concerns separate from their worship and Communion together. I suppose this is a tendency to confuse Christian and civil duties goes all the way back to the Münster Rebellion? Wherever the case, I’ve scolded Mennonite pastors who brought their conservative anxieties into the church sanctuary, preached their fears, and also confront those who bring far-leftist political agenda in as well. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about the establishment of a Socialist state and those preaching the Social Justice message are preaching a false Gospel and heretical.
14) What do you think a church that is politically divided should do about that?
Stop pushing politics down throats and start loving as Jesus loved. Or, rather, understand that ‘progressive’ politics are as unChristian as any other politics, humble yourselves, and lead by an example of love rather than continue in the politely condescending tones. If you really want to overcome the divisiveness of Protestantism, stop being a separatist, take a step of faith towards Orthodoxy, and being in Communion with the truly kingdom oriented church of the Apostles. Repent! Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
15) What does the phrase “Make America Great Again” mean to Conservative Anabaptists that support Trump (CAST)? Is it referencing the period in the 50’s, prior to the modern socially liberal agenda that included Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, R v. W, Gay Rights, etc.?
Obviously, MAGA is not about any of those things listed. Sure, that is how the far-left controls minorities, through fear-mongering and lying about Trump’s intentions. It is also how smarmy Social Justice Anabaptists try to distinguish themselves as superior-minded and social elites. However, no Trump supporter that I know understands it to mean what the left-wing propagandists say and what it truly means is restoring the status of the United States as a world leader, building a strong middle-class (of all colors or creed) again and nothing to do with that leading question nonsense.
16) Do you think Trump’s strong economy (before COVID) is a key thing that contributes to CAST’s support of him?
Minorities did better under Trump, up until Democrat governors shut down their economies, and only a racist would not support the growing independence of minorities. Many do not realize that George Floyd had lost his job as a result of Democrat-imposed economic shutdowns. He had also been infected with Covid-19 despite these draconian measures. He may very well still be alive and well had it not been for ruinous ‘progressive’ policies. But the controlling left doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of their policies. They seem to believe that only their good intentions matter more than the actual results. Why aren’t you asking about the uptick in suicides and drug overdoses, depression, and quality of life concerns? The economy is life, conservatives intuitively understand this, they understand trade-offs, but ‘progressives’ routinely fail to recognize the folly of their utopian theories and disastrous outcomes of their solutions.
17) Is it a God-given right/responsibility for the secular government to maintain a strong military?
The common defense of a nation is the only legitimate reason why government exists, to physically defend people from evildoers within and without the borders, which is to provide for the general welfare of all citizens. One only needs to look at what happens when this God-ordained order breaks down to see how bad it can get. People need to be secure in their person and property to flourish. The weak and vulnerable suffer most from the neglect of these structures and institutions. That is why God ordained the structure of the family and church to care for our social needs, it is also why St Paul said we should not oppose this legitimate role of government to punish and protect us from evildoers.
18) All other things being equal, do you think it is more likely that a successful businessman would be Christian, or a government executive with a modest income?
Not my place to judge. Jesus had both a repentant tax collector and fishermen. As far as honest labor, certainly, the fishermen outranked a man who lived off what others produced. That’s not to say that those who truly work as public servants have no value, but they should also be appreciative that someone (often without a choice) is providing their income and needs. A business person, by contrast, cannot (outside of collusion with the corrupted government) cannot force you to buy their products and therefore must produce things of actual value or they would not be successful.
19) Is strong border security important?
Does your house have a roof, four walls, a door that can be locked?
Does your body have skin?
Of course, border security is important, President Obama articulated that on multiple occasions and echoed prior administrations about the need for secure borders. It is important for the same reasons why many people flee from other places to come here. They flee from places impoverished by corruption and unrestrained evildoers. Those who do evil would love to follow those fleeing them and many do get in as a direct result of lax enforcement of borders and immigration law. It is compassionate to let the good in and keep the bad out.
The real question is how can an intelligent and compassionate person not be in favor of vetting immigrants?
20) Do you see hunger as a moral issue?
The question is unclear. There is nothing immoral about hunger. Or maybe the question is whether or not it is moral to leave others hungry? If so, maybe we should establish some context first.
Are we talking about this:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
(James 2:15-16 NIV)
Are talking about the rich man stepping over Lazarus on his doorstep or the Priest and Levite who didn’t offer aid in the good Samaritan story?
If so, if we are talking about needs in the church and needs in our immediate physical proximity, then absolutely it is a moral issue. If God puts a need in our path then we should take care of it by the means God has given us. We are clearly instructed to provide for the needs of those in our church and extend a hand of charity to those whom we come in contact with. This is local, it is our individual duty, and not a responsibility that should be shunted off or delegated to the secular government.
If feeding the world is a Christian priority and moral prerogative, then let’s turn this around: How much food have you produced? I know farmers, conservative Mennonite, and many of them Trump supporters, who farm acres of land at a far lower cost than prior generations. They, through their labor, have done far more to feed the multitudes than anyone sitting on some ivory tower somewhere, would you dare speak down to them with this kind of inane question?
21) What are the top solutions to crime issues?
Definitely not Joe Biden’s 1994 Crime bill in light of his son still being a free man nor the zealous drug prosecutions of Kamala Harris who joked about using illegal drugs. Scripture says that crime should be punished. However, I am concerned with some crimes, because of political connections or being of the right class, being totally ignored for some and applied strictly for others. Favoritism is a sin in the church and, likewise, a legal double standard is an injustice. Equal protection under the law is ideal.
So that pretty much wraps it up.
Still, I would love to hear a Social Justice Anabaptist answer my questions scattered throughout this post and also would ask why one would believe that a political party, known for historically treating some as chattel, is actually any different today?
The big difference is that Social Justice Anabaptists, like their forebearers in Münster, believe that the role of government and church should be combined into one kingdom. Their more conservative (or traditional) counterparts have learned the hard lessons of Münster. The ‘progressives’ merge the message of the cross with a political agenda and join those who look to the government for salvation. The conservatives, by contrast, want a President that allows them to live peaceably, a government that fulfills a basic role of military defense and necessary punishment of evildoers, and they do not seek to impose religious moral obligations on their neighbors.
In conclusion, my advice to the ‘progressives’ is that they not hold their traditional counterparts hostage to their political ideologies. If they must, that they find one of the many mainline Mennonite groups (beholden to the Social Justice Agenda) to hitch their wagons to and not drag the rest of their brethren down with them into that divisive and nasty place. And my advice to the conservatives is not to engage in the conversation at all. If you must vote, do it quietly, otherwise, live out the commandments of Jesus, and don’t get sucked into the black hole of politics. For all, seek after Orthodox Christianity rather than political solutions. There is one church and it is not divided between conservatives and liberals.
Mary Jane Soriano, a 25-year college-graduate Filipino domestic worker, has been working in Hong Kong for some years. During her stay there, she always made a point to attend the Sunday Mass in a local church, even if her employer and his family belonged to another religion. Besides Mary’s humility, simplicity, hard work, honesty and other human qualities that inevitably impressed her employer is her indomitable Catholic faith the way she practiced—simple ways to keep her life and faith going and always trusting in God and pray daily, and be good and do good to others.
Indeed, God moves in mysterious ways, Christianity swept through the Roman empire as “a religion of woman and slaves” (probably because it gave hope to these disenfranchised people) and in that way this diaspora of Filipinos is bringing Christianity to the world. The message of Jesus, and the cross, is that we will suffer for the sake of his kingdom—but that, in the end, the sacrifice we make is going to be rewarded:
“So the last shall be first, the first last.” (Matthew 20:16 KJV)
I have deep respect for those who aren’t missionaries as an extension of their privilege, living in behind compound walls, and entirely supported by the generosity of others. OFWs may indeed be the greatest missionaries of our time.
“In my tens in Saudi Arabia, I have witnessed several Catholic or Christian Filipino migrants accept Islam under duress,” said Joselyn Cabrera, a Filipino Catholic nurse working at Riyadh hospital. Because of high unemployment levels in the Philippines, more than ten million Filipinos have left to seek jobs abroad. Every day, about 3,000 leave the country. Recently, a majority has gone to Arab countries—some 600,000 in all, 200,000 in Saudi Arabia alone.
The most recent case involves a woman who was raped at work. Because of the incident, Saudi authorities accused her of unlawful extramarital sex and on 11 September jailed her in the capital.
That doesn’t sound much like missionary service. It sounds like the vulnerable being exploited, forced to convert under duress, and is unacceptable.
Yes, the New Testament is full of stories of Christians ensuring terrible persecution for their faith. Yes, by their example of suffering example Christianity did spread to the world. But, no, that reality does not mean there is not a terrible cost nor does it absolve us of our own responsibility to intervene.
Suffer With Those Who Suffer
We should never allow our brothers and sisters to continue to endure hardships due to our own negligence or lack of compassion. No, as Christians, we are called to be their advocate, to care for them as we would for a member of our own families, and act on their behalf of them—like St Paul did in pleading for Onesimus:
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. (Philemon 1:8-10 NIV)
St Paul, in taking action on behalf of this runaway slave, was practicing what he preached:
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26 NIV)
This is what it means to be Christian:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. (Romans 12:9-16 NIV)
Incidentally, the description “low position” in the passage above means those who do menial tasks. That is to say the domestic worker, the migrant laborer, and all those toiling away in the factories, that make our electronic gadgets, for wages a fraction of our own. We should love them, suffer with them, and share out of our own abundance as need be. Those of us living in peace and prosperity have an obligation to help those who are currently endure terrible circumstances and especially those of the household of faith.
To be a part of the body of Christ means not being too busy with our own lives to care. It means being willing to intervene in love on behalf of OFWs around the world, to carry their cross and be an example of Christ.
Carrying the Cross of the Overseas Worker
We live in a culture that has been Christianized to the point that even secular artists now encourage Christian values. We now act as if compassion for those who are not part of our own biological families, national identity or ethnic tribe and race is something normal. That we should care about these others rather than use them as had been common prior to Christ. Take the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s, “On the Turning Away,” for example:
On the turning away From the pale and downtrodden And the words they say Which we won’t understand “Don’t accept that what’s happening Is just a case of others’ suffering Or you’ll find that you’re joining in The turning away”
A Christian should never turn away from those in desperate need. We should feel the loneliness of an OFW, as those who are far from home and are separated from their families (including their own young children) for years at a time, and share their sadness. We should think about their fears, mourn the trauma of those who have been sexually assaulted and are being held captive, as slaves, by their abusive employers. We should pray, encourage and absolutely—by all means available to us—work to deliver them from their captivity and bring them home to the families they love.
Sure, it may be the job of the OFW to be a witness to the world of Christ’s love. But it is also our responsibility as fellow Christians, their brothers and sisters in Christ, to be a witness of the Gospel to them by helping to carrying their cross. If Christ himself, according to Scripture, needed help to carry his cross—then how much more does an OFW need our intervention for them? It is for this very purpose that Jesus told the disciples he would go, so that we (who are part of his body and filled with the Holy Spirit) will do greater things in his name.
But What Can We Do?
Many do have compassion. However, the problem is, how do we effectively do anything to change the circumstances for millions of people on the opposite side of the world? Even if we spent every nickel and dime we earned trying to support them and their families it would only help a fraction of those who are in need and it would do absolutely nothing to solve the actual underlying causes of this grim reality for countless Filipino people.
There is not much we as individuals can do as individuals. However there is much we can do in our working together towards a particular end. It is my hope that in my bringing awareness to this issue that others will partner with me, willing to contribute in their own small part, and together we can bring an end to the abuse.
That is why I’ve started the Filipino American Coalition of Trade (FACT) to give opportunity to those who want to make a difference for those who bear the cross as the truest missionaries of our time.
Pray for those who will spend this Christmas as slaves, sojourners in foreign lands, and victims of circumstances beyond their own control. Pray for the well-being of the OFW and their families, pray for their freedom from the economic conditions that keep them bound and separated from their loved ones, and may God be glorified in us all.