Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"On the Side of the Angels"

Fill in the blanks in the two sentences below with your first instinct (or the most obvious popular answer), and then get back to me:
  • "Christians are too worldy; one of the main ways this is evidenced is by the way they_______________"
  • "The principal reason why the church has failed to make disciples of all nations is _____________________"

Of course, the "theologically correct" and conservagelical answers to #1 are:

  • they see the same movies non-Christians too, they dress like the world, they are lackadaiscal about church attendance, they don't witness enough etc etc yada yada.....

Of course, the "theologically correct" and conservagelical answers to #2 are:

  • they see the same movies non-Christians too, they dress like the world, they are lackadaiscal about church attendance, they don't witness enough etc etc yada yada.....

Which is why it was refreshing to hear Joseph D'Souza and Benedict Rogers, in "On the Side of the Angels" suggest that the answer to both is indeed the same, but the answer is:



More specifically, they offer that the best answer to #1 is:

  • we react only after a disaster has occurred-and sometimes not even then. (23)

...and that the answer to #2 is:

  • the church itself has in so many ways failed to live and teach fully all that Christ commanded in (the)areas (of) racism, corruption, economic exploitation, colonization, caste discrimination, paternalism, dehumanization and the oppression of women through the sex trade and various other means (174)

All this really grinds against my training.
Which is partly why all this is true.

As evangelical pastors in our mainline denomination, we often complained that all we heard about in pronouncements from headquarters were social justice issues. And we were most often right. But I am also sure that our reactionary mindset fostered in me a truncated gospel.

We are not gnostic.
But we are sometimes more famous/infamous for what we are against than what/who we are for. (see "Grab a Twinkie and think: does Dr. Dobson care?")

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, " Jesus said,
"to lead sinners into a personal prayer of salvation"

Uh, no....:

"...to preach good news to the poor
to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed."

Isn't that the (dreaded) "liberal agenda"?

It's simply Luke 4:18.

It's the simple message of "On the Side of the Angels:Justice, Human Rights and Kingdom Mission."

For years, we participated in the "International day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church."
Amd we still do. There is great biblical precedent for such.
Don't read me as soft here;
when a Christian pastor friend of mine in Peru tells of having a gun in his face and being asked to deny Jesus, I cannot turn away.

But in recent years I have wondered how we cannot not also mention the persecutions and injustices against believers in other religions..

and believers in no religions?

Why can I turn away then?>

D'Souza (who lives in India, and relays firsthand accounts of persecution of the Dalit)and Roberts tackle this extremely well.

The story of how the line "we're one, but not the same" in U2's "One" came about; that
these are the words Bono wrote in a note he wrote to Dalai Lama, respectfully declining an invitation to a meeting celebrating spiritual "sameness" always calls me back to center,

When the Dalai Lama was invited to speak in the Washington National Cathedral, Christians in the United States launched a protest campaign--mentioning nothing about the underlying suffering about the people in Tibet. There are indeed profound theological differences between Christianity and Buddhism, and certainly if the Dalai Lama were invited to conduct a religious ceremony within a specifically Christian context, there would be justifiable concerns about the synchronistic theology of his hosts .

But the manner in which we express those concerns, and the way we relate to other religious groups being oppressed is of critical importance.

It is quote ironic that the two U2 songs most often categorized (by Christians) as being songs
"about heaven" --"Where the Streets Have No Name" and "Walk On"---are indeed about heaven,
but also about justice issues in (respectively)Africa and Myanmar. The radical "both-and" cannot be torn asunder. Such would be divorce, and do violence to the gospel.
(See "Your favorite song about heaven is NOT "I Can Only Imagine")

The book is eminently practical: lots of real-life stories and examples of what one can do to live out a "mission as advocacy" worldview.

Several haunting case studies (ex. Why is it that of all Christians, the Pentecostals (a movement birthed in a prayer by a black man, a denomination formed in passion for racial inclusiveness and rights) was complicit in apartheid? p118-19) challenge and stretch us to fall back into line, and onto the side of the angels.

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!