Tuesday, February 12, 2013

At the Intersection of Faith and Politics: Maybe we should lead with love?

What I often find at the intersection of faith and politics is becoming more disturbing all the time. No. not the gay agenda, same-sex marriage, Obamacare, the gun control debate, or pick your favorite"political agenda" here. I can deal with those things because my trust is not in our government, our people, any political system but squarely and solely in the Lord, I pray. No, what I find must disturbing is the fear so many Christians live with of other people who are different than they are. They probably wouldn't call it fear but that's exactly what it is.

The cross cultural insensitivity, which is where I want to focus this post, of too many Christians demonstrates a level of fear of the other that is alarming. It's not only unBiblical but wrong-headed lacking reason. Such behavior clearly demonstrates that many American Christians do not know who they are in Christ. They have a faith in their salvation but lack a true and abiding faith in the Savior in whom "we live, and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28) And that is disturbing since we have all we will ever need in the forgiveness, redemption and restorative supremacy of Christ. But is it believed? Is it understood? The clear evidence is not by many. While many American Christians believe they are "saved," something is terribly wrong with their understanding of what it means to be a Christ-follower.

Here's what I am talking about. Recently in the news, a school principle in Colorado was under fire for allowing a student group the liberty to say the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. The students of this cultural club changed the words "under God" to "under Allah" in this reciting. Who is attacking this school principal for not interfering in the rights of students to assemble and the exercise of their free speech? It isn't those who speak Arabic and use the word Allah to refer to the deity but rather those who believe in God. I have to assume that the majority of those who believe in God in this country are Christians although some may be Jewish or another faith tradition. For those who consider themselves Christians, they need to ask themselves on what Biblical basis would they attack this principal over his decision to allow students to exercise their Constitutional rights in THEIR cultural club?

Here are a couple of issues. First, if you know your Bible, you know it was written in either Hebrew or Greek and translated in its entirety into English by John Wycliffe in the 1380's AD (although portions existed in English before that.) Prior to the Wycliffe translation the Latin Vulgate was in use and in Latin the word for God used is Deus. Of course, if you know your Bible you know that the original Hebrew uses the word  El, YHWH,Yĕhovah , or Yahweh to refer to the deity and the Greek is θεός or Theos. The word God is from the Proto-Germanic "Guat" which originated with the Germanic tribe of Northern Europe. The word Gaut, which was later transliterated to God, was redeemed by early missionaries as a way to build a bridge for the Gospel to go forward.

Linguistically, there is nothing special about the word God in and of itself. If you want to split hairs, it is not even Biblical but only a later adaptation, so why make an issue out of it. Yes, it is commonly accept as the name of the deity by American Christians because of its common usage in English. But as the Gospel spreads around the world the word for the deity referred to in the Bible is translated into the local language so that people can embrace the Good News. Paul instructs us to "put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited." (2 Cor 6:3). The important thing then is not the word used for God but the understanding of character, nature and person of God. We must not give credence to any ideas that discredit our ministry.

Is it a Biblical response that drives these parents or ethnocentrism? It's one thing to be a patriot but another to be so prejudiced as to infringe on other's God given rights, which is the basis of our Constitution.As a patriot, we may feel that our liberty is under attack by such instances as this cultural clubs use of Arabic but as Christ-followers we need to ask "what are we fighting for?" If the answer doesn't have a solid Biblical basis we need to reconsider our position. In a recent article by Dr. Paul Louis Metzger he writes:  
"According to a recent Barna study, a strong percentage of Evangelical Christians believe their religious freedom is under threat. But is our religious freedom under threat, or simply our dominance? In view of the study, David Kinnaman, Barna’s president argues, 'Evangelicals have to be careful of embracing a double standard: to call for religious freedoms, but then desire the dominant religious influence to be Judeo-Christian. They cannot have it both ways. This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square, as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation.'”
The question we need to ask is, "is our goal culture dominance or the Gospel of Jesus Christ for all peoples?" If our response is ethnocentric, as was that of these parents, our witness is not going to be effective or our light is going to be dim at best.

Second, the word Allah is Arabic, not Islamic. Muslims, in fact, speak many different languages - from Urdu speakers of Pakistan, to Persian speakers of Iran, to Malaysian to English. The word Allah, predates Islam  and was used by Meccans as a reference to the creator-god, possibly the supreme deity. The word Allah is also used by Arabic Christians, Maltese Christians, Mizrahi Jews and by Bahá'ís, so it is not even exclusive to Islam. Allah simply means "the God." These facts obviously escaped those attacking this school principal who thought this student led cultural club was propagating Islam. There is no evidence of that in this account.

For far too many uninformed American Christians, their understanding of the word Allah is tinged with prejudice or worse xenophobia. They believe they have a basis for denigrating what others hold near and dear in their faith. For instance, a recent World Net Daily article ran under the title, "Is Allah the Anti-Christ?" Based on some spurious apologetic of "Former PLO operative turned Christian Arabic-language researcher Walid Shoebat" Shoebat believes, "there’s evidence that the name of Allah in Arabic is what the apostle John saw in his vision of the Antichrist’s name in the book of Revelation." Whether Shoebat understand this properly or not is not the point. Such thinking does nothing but set up stumbling blocks that alienate Muslims peoples from the Good News that Jesus is for Muslims too. We need to dismantle this kind of thinking that Shoebat fosters in the Church and embrace the "more excellent way."

Since students must be learners, obviously, experiencing other languages and cultures only makes sense, especially in our increasingly pluralistic society. That doesn't mean that students are converting but rather they are gaining an understanding of the world around them. The fact is that the U.S.A. is changing and many immigrants are coming from new places with all kinds of cultures and languages. They come for the American Dream, for a better way of life, for the freedoms we say we believe in. They often come to escape persecution, poverty or war in their homelands. They come to make a life for themselves here, and for the most part to acclimate into America culture while keeping some of their own heritage. Do we recognize the opportunities for the Gospel to go forward to, through and beyond these New American? 

These students were seeking to understand their changing world, not necessarily be converted by it but accepting of it for the sake of peace. Shouldn't their parents should do likewise? What message do we send to these impressionable young minds by attacking their principal? Intolerance of those who are different? Maybe Christian parents should teach their children to love by example and for the sake of Christ all for whom Jesus died? We cannot live sent today by putting stumbling blocks before other people. Maybe we should lead with love?

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