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A Message to All the Saints: What Shall We Do Now?
The Church's Priestly Response
David M. Best
Adapted from a sermon preached on All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2001 to the congregation of First Church of the Nazarene, San Diego, California. An abridged version was published in Holiness Today, February 2003.
"Rabbi, who sinned…that this man was born blind" (John 9:2).
I was a very young child traveling with my parents across the desert of the United States Great Southwest, and I wanted to see a train. "There are no trains," my father responded. I repeated my request moments later. My father patiently repeated his response. I persisted - as only a three year old can -- and pleaded again; this was followed by a more final sounding response, "David there are no trains here." I had one more comment: "Why?"
My love of trains has not lessened with the passing of years, and neither has my curiosity and a "Why not?" attitude. But the "why" of the events of September 11 elude me. I have read countless articles, scores of emails. I have not come here today to give you another prophetic explanation. And actually, I would caution us to carefully sift the prophet's and pundit's teaching through a screen of sound doctrine.
Rather than ask "Why?" the more critical question is "What?" "What should we do now? The indicatives of our faith create imperatives; our behavior must be consistent with Gospel ethics. For the Christian, an ethical response, is I suggest to you, at least three fold:
First, to sorrow with those who suffer and mourn. We must never forget that in the face of death, "Jesus wept." Death is certainly a part of life, but not God's first plan. Every death -- even a peaceful one such as my uncle experienced just ten days ago in New York City, or my friend Dana last summer -- even these so called peaceful deaths painfully remind us of sin's ill effect on God's good creation.
Christ came that we might have life, and have it fully. In his ministry, Jesus confronted death and thwarted it-most dramatically at Lazarus' tomb. Through his own life, death, resurrection and ascension Jesus dealt a fatal blow to evil.
But the unexpected, violent death on the magnitude that invaded our lives on Sept. 11 is unfathomable and frightening, in part, because it was so unimaginable.
So we lament; we cry out to God for relief, and in so doing we acknowledge that this state of death and destruction is not God's plan. We grieve the losses, and we do this together as was demonstrated so spontaneously in New York City. This was seen vividly in the report I made from to Nazarene Communications Network for its news special, "Tragedy: The Church Responds." Just days after September 11, I went to Union Square Park to report on a city's outpouring of communal grief and sorrow. Union Square was the closest place the public were allowed to Ground Zero. People flooded the park, bringing flowers, candles, memorial signs and filled it with a prayerful silence eerily strange to New York City streets, transforming this public square into a sanctuary for sorrow.
But in addition to sorrowing and standing together with those who suffer, we as Christians are called to speak, to give a reason for the hope within us.
I hesitate in one sense to even speak of speaking! Normally, Christians, especially those in the conservative, evangelical tradition, have no problem speaking. In truth, most evangelicals are woefully unacquainted with the discipline of silence, but are quite eager and experienced in speaking! And speak they do, often without first thinking…and then usually crediting their blather to the Spirit.
But for Christians, speaking is always more than oral verbalization. The evangelical is challenged to testify, to witness. The word translated in the English Bible, "witness" is actually martyr. To be a witness--or martyr-is to encounter death because of your faith. In fact, it is sometimes lack of speech-an unwillingness to denounce the faith-that prompts the final verdict.
A few days after September 11, I was asked by Goodwill Industries to create and conduct some services for their staff at various locations in the city. In these Services of Remembrance, Prayer and Hope, I reminded the Goodwill members that New York's mighty industries of commerce had stalled, and even stopped. But now, more than ever, the city needed the industries of Goodwill to continue, and even increase.
You and I are members of the Community created by the Good News of God. This good news is declared with our lips, but also demonstrated by our lives.
In my report to NCN News, I suggest the church seek the wisdom to know when to speak and when to "Shut up." My courteous, caring and classy wife is horrified whenever I use the term "shut up." Although always attentive to her perspective and insights, I am reminded that the psalmist records God as saying, "Be Still"--better translated, "Cease!" "Stop it." "Hush up." "You striving and speaking must end. Know that I am. In a knowing born out of intimate, personal relationship, you will be formed more to my character and actions." The wisdom of Francis of Assisi is on my desk, "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words."
How shall the Christian community respond to evil? Certainly not by denying or ignoring it., but the gospel story teaches that evil is defeated through suffering love. We are to overcome evil by doing good. The psalmist taught the people of God to sing, "Some trust in horses, some in chariots, but we trust in the Lord." (Psalm 20:7)
But how must we as the Christian community respond? It will require grace for us to be bearers of grace and good news. Some of us are afraid, and fear can be rational or irrational. But fear need not overcome us, or even by our primary, basic response to the events we have experienced. In the first moments of September 11 and in the days to follow, we saw another response.
Firefighters, EMTs, police rushed into the face of danger (don't tell me they didn't have some fear) but service and sacrifice over powered fear - the fear even of death. And note well that the rescuers served without regard to the status of those they saved. Mayor Rudolph Guiliani said, I think without exaggeration, that here was a demonstration of unconditional love. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life" (John 15:13). Even civilians, when they could have escaped and saved themselves, stayed behind to help the disabled and weak.
My friend Eddie spent thirty years as a New York City firefighter. Here is story full of mystery, but also grace. He was part of a special team that responded to emergencies and disasters. The expertise of his unit meant they were often loaned out to other disasters around the country and world. Eddie, for example, went to Oklahoma City after the explosion of the Federal building there.
Well, in July 2001, Eddie accepted a position with a private firm specializing in disaster response, emergency and antiterrorism. He and his family moved to Virginia. Then, September 11 came. His former unit was one of the first to respond to the call and reach the World Trade Center. And every one in that unit perished. Eddie lost every one of his former colleagues and associates-friends-some he'd had for thirty years!
But Eddie, in his new job, responded to the call for help. He was in the city from the beginning of the response. He was back, working day after day in the very place that took the lives of his friends…or should we say, where his friends gave their lives? Surely God's grace was at work helping Eddie, and can help us, "be better than we know how to be."
But we can by our intention, impede or invite this flow of grace. Now, more than ever, the body of Christ needs to re-member Christ's suffering, and his victory over death. Let us renew our baptismal vows and seek communion with Christ and one another by regularly attending to the Lord's Supper, to common prayer, and fellowship.
Finally, let me suggest that the way we must live is through renewing our commitment to service.
The Cross of Christ is a central symbol for Christianity. But Christ's passion and suffering flows from his commitment to service and obedience to God. He is the suffering servant, or as Mark's Gospel portrays him, a servant king. Before his final meal on earth that he ordained all his followers to continue eating, Jesus took a towel and basin and washed his disciples feet, the work of the lowest servant.
As with Jesus, the Christian community's service flows out of its faith, love and hope in the promises of God. At a time of deep uncertainty for the United States and the world, the Christian faith still is indomitably optimistic because our "hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."
In CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, the Wicked White Witch was evil personified. She possessed a deep magic over Narnia. But through his characters in the stories, Lewis was clear to declare a central Christian truth: Though evil has a deep magic hold on this world, "there is a magic deeper still." That deeper magic is not always visible at first. The shadows that evil casts can be as sinister as those made by the jetliners passing over Manhattan's concrete canyon that bright, sunny morning of September 11.
But in the dark shadows cast by suffering and sorrow, I remember hearing somebody sing, "Standing somewhere in the shadows you'll find Jesus, he's the only one who cares and understands. Standing somewhere in the shadows you'll find Jesus, and you'll know him by the nail prints in his hands."
What all this means to the United States I am still pondering. I admit I'm not as gifted as some prophets who pronounce they already know. But I think I might suggest something for Christians in America. The destruction we experienced on September 11, the despair, the shock and sorrow that followed is not so uncommon in other places I've been. And it was only 140 years ago that our country experienced violence that brought death many times greater than the number that died on September 11. Violent loss of life in brief moments of time was common in the bloody battles of Civil War-a violence Americans inflicted on fellow citizens But unlike its current enemies, who can recite the West's abuses of power done in the name of religion decades and even centuries ago, Americans' collective memory is relatively brief.
So the events of September 11, without our requesting (or desiring?) it, have jarred our memory and brought us into solidarity with so many of the poor and suffering of this world. Those thousands lost in a typhoon, to mass murder in Rwanda or 30,000 gunned down in one day at Kiev's Babi Yar.
On September 11, over eight times the number of people who perished in New York City died in other parts of the world that day. 30,100 innocent children died from mostly preventable and treatable causes such as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, malaria or malnutrition related causes. And then it happened again on September 12, September 13, September 14, and continued at this pace every day to this day.
Today, Christians in America may be better able now to bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ. So we sorrow with those who sorrow…speak good news through words and deeds of care, and …we serve in hope-demonstrating mercy and seeking justice.
We cannot always know the "Why?" We cannot understand everything in this life, but "By and by when the morning comes, when the saints of God are gathered home we will tell the story, how we overcome, and we'll understand it better by and by."
Until then, we live by faith . . . faith in Christ, who delivered the fatal blow to evil, faith in the resurrected ascended Christ who has defeated death . . . with a certainty, and hope in God's tomorrow.
All Saints' Day was November 1, but for many churches, it is celebrated today (the first Sunday in November). We remember and give thanks to God for all those who died in Christ and faithfully finished the race. Those saints have gone on before us, and are now, the writer of Hebrews declares, a cloud of witnesses surrounding us today. Will we be faithful to one another and all these watching and cheering us on? Every moment of each day you and I are presented with concrete, tangible opportunities to be partners in the promises of God's tomorrow.
My father joined that cloud of witnesses five and half years ago. He graduated from high school and entered Pasadena College just months after the violence and horror of World War II had ended. Interestingly, for voice studies one year he chose to learn and record a song with an optimistic lyric. As a child growing up, I listened many times to that scratchy, 78 rpm record. I recorded this same song 51 years later and included it in an album project dedicated to my dad.
It's an old, old song now, the melody sounds from another time, but the words have fresh relevance as we sorrow together, speak the gospel together in love and serve together in hope. I can't sing the song through the printed page, but as you read the lyrics, ask God to speak to your heart and head; to move your hands for undertaking whatever he asks you to do with your life, your time, your resources today . . . in thereby live in the reality of God's tomorrow.
God's Tomorrow is a day of gladness
And its joys shall never end.
No more weeping, no more sense of sadness
No more foes to make afraid.
God's Tomorrow, God's Tomorrow
Every cloud will pass away, at the dawning of the day
God's Tomorrow, no more sorrow.
For I know that God's Tomorrow will be better than today.
God's Tomorrow is a day of glory
We shall wear the crown of life.
Sing through countless years love's old, old story.
Free forever from all strife.
God's Tomorrow, God's Tomorrow
Every cloud will pass away, at the dawning of the day
God's Tomorrow, no more sorrow.
For I know that God's Tomorrow will be better than today.
A. H. Ackley
From a Tuesday of Terror to A “More Perfect Way”
The Church’s Prophetic Response
David M. Best
was in New York City on September 11, 2001, traveling from his
apartment in Harlem to some meetings at Morgan Stanley-Dean Witter’s
midtown Manhattan office when the tragic events of that morning
This article is divided into two parts. The first is a personal reflection. Part II is an examination of the church’s response to terror and evil.
An abridged version adapted by the editors of Holiness Today was published in November 2002 under the title “Confronting the Terror.”
Part I A Personal Reflection
Alan Jackson’s song, that struck such a chord in the hearts of people asked, “Where were you when the world stopped turning?” I was in New York City. I saw the despair and destruction evil wrought. But I also witnessed grace so powerful as to transform evil’s effect into good. Even when unscrupulous individuals, for personal profit attempted to con or exploit people’s loss and vulnerability, other just persons rose up to denounce this behavior and protect those being exploited.
I was there. I had friends who lost loved ones and business associates of over three decades. I am not unusual. It is said that every resident of New York City lost a friend, relative, business associate, or was just one person removed from someone who perished in the attack.
I was there. I was privileged to serve churches and community groups providing relief, counseling and compassion to a city in great grief. And people far beyond New York’s city limits called, wrote or emailed me in the hours following the attack asking what they could do, and wanting to make some sense out of this tragedy. It was an honor, and probably therapeutic for me, to correspond through email with thousands of people around the world in following the days and weeks as together we attempted to form a Christ-like response to this evil.
Today, many New Yorkers are still experiencing stress. Some surveys show over 1/3 of all those who live in New York City are exhibiting signs of dis-ease. Children particularly are vulnerable, and many are unnerved by any loud, unexpected noises (a very real problem when living in a big city where loud noises are certainly uncommon but usually unexpected).
Others are still grieving. A special program was produced by Nazarene Communication News, Tragedy: The Church Responds. In it host Michael Estep interviews and dialogues with grief educator Harold Ivan Smith. This program can be helpful for anyone grieving or someone working with those who are.
Although growing dimmer, still now two years after “that September day,” reminders of the day’s events are all around us from daily news briefings about the war on terrorism to increased security measures almost everywhere.
It is important for the Church to intentionally reflect on its continuing responsibilities as a Gospel community; to avoid finding itself inadvertently carried along on the wind of nationalism or ethnocentrism, and instead be directed by the wind of God’s Spirit.
Part II How Shall the Church Respond to Terror?
First we must be honest and admit that the Church, as an institution has, in fact, participated in and used terror. A rationale for the use of violence similar to what is now argued by Muslim terrorists can be found in the Western Church’s history. The Crusades, for example, were religious-political wars conducted by European Christians against Muslims to recapture territory the Church deemed defiled by Islamic control. The Inquisition sought adherence to Christian orthodoxy through intimidation and torture.
During the Protestant Reformation, Christians systematically tortured, executed and exiled other Christians who held different beliefs on baptism or church authority. Protestant dissidents and Catholics in the American colonies were frequent targets of violence authorized by the majority Christians.
Such practices can readily occur when the church consorts with the state in alliances, often labeled “holy” that are anything but. A careful examination of the history, philosophy, and theology underlying the interrelationship of Church and State must be undertaken.
A good beginning for the Church’s response to terror is prayerful confession and repentance for any evil attitudes and actions of our own heart and hands. A second step might be to ask “Should the Church’s response to evil and terrorism be distinguishable in content or manner from other institutions or individuals?”
That the Church must respond to evil is not in doubt. The dilemma always has been in what way shall the Church respond? Is there a distinctly Christian response?
In the weeks following September 11,2001, Dr. Tom Nees interviewed the General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene. Each General Superintendent responded in his own voice, offering his perspective or emphasizing different aspects of the tragic events of September 11. In contrast to their personally unique reflections, there was a significant similarity in replies to the question, “How should the Church respond?” The Church must respond with hope, grace and love.
Their responses were certainly consistent with the theological heritage of the Church of the Nazarene. An emphasize on grace and love is central to the Wesleyan/Holiness theological tradition. It is a view of grace that optimistically imagines every human being – no matter how degraded by sinful, destructive behavior—to be capable of transformation through the redemptive, amazing grace of God. The Wesleyan- Holiness tradition proclaims the possibility of a person possessing God’s perfect love that can indeed, cast out all fear.(I John 4:18) and compel love for others (I John 4:20) Such a love is not awash with sentiment, but filled with action, and demonstrated in tangible form through acts of mercy, compassion and restorative justice.
Jesus taught that the entire Law was summarized and fulfilled in loving God and loving others. In Jesus day, people could identify the disciples of various teachers by a particular garment or style of grooming. Jesus taught, “People will know you are my disciples by your love.” The distinctive garb of the Christian is love. These expressions of love were obviously evident enough to first century unbelievers that they actually defined Jesus’ followers by it.
Christians who claim a theological and ecclesiastical heritage with John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and Phineas Bresee can be said to embrace, in the terminology of Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, a theology of love. Wesley desired to renew all Christendom with “scriptural holiness” and an experience of what he called “perfect love.”
For Christians, the cross represents God’s suffering love in Christ. The towel and basin represent the life of service to which Jesus calls his disciples. The disciples’ Master, who the Church declares Lord of Lords and King of Kings, is indeed King--but he is a Suffering Servant King. Those who are hurt or lost -- emotionally, physically, spiritually – can experience grace, mercy, justice and reconciliation to God, oneself and the community through the love and service of the King’s ambassadors.
The Hebrew prophet summarizes what is required of those who experience this grace-filled relationship with God: To love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)
In the New Testament, John spoke of love in quite concrete, and specific terms. “For God so loved the world, that he gave . . .”(John 3:16) Then in the other, lesser quoted John 3:16, he writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? . . .Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:16-17)
A holy love from God is a love that gives. It is “agape” – unconditional and never ending in seeking the best for others. Love may certainly contain deep emotion, but it is most characterized by action. Love, in the biblical lexicon, is a verb.
Although not practiced flawlessly, most Christians would agree that love is the Church’s central response to the pain and despair experienced in the world by all creation. God is love and light in whom there is no darkness. Death and destruction are not God’s intentions. God creates and intends life -- life abundantly. (John 10:10)
So how shall we respond then when evildoers wreak havoc, death and destruction? What is love’s role when I find myself, my friends, my community caught in evil’s grip? A passive stance in the face of evil or injustice is not an option for Christians. But how does the Church confront evil? Could it be in the same way the Church is called to treat those damaged by evil and sin—with grace and love?
Love is not weak. It is the most powerful force in the world. Love is not passive. It is action personified. It never accepts evil. It always resists it. Love overcomes evil with good.
During a time of pervasive evil perpetrated by Americans on other American citizens, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. noted that Christians are “called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility, not social respectability. We are commanded to live differently and according to a higher loyalty.” (Strength to Love: 22)
Dr. King never sugar coated the depth of evil present. “When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the green herb.”(20)
He maintained that “nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church. Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times preserved that which is immoral and unethical. Called to combat social evils, it has remained silent behind stained-glass windows.” (25)
But the manner in which the Church combats evil is the distinctive often lost by the Church’s conformity to this world. “Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.” (27)
In these days of continued reaction to September 11, it is all too easy for individuals -- even Christians -- to become hardhearted and bitter, hungry for revenge, ready to “combat the opponent with physical violence and corroding hatred Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace.” (18) We see this truth illustrated almost daily in Israel and the West Bank.
Dr. King reminds the church that “when we allow the spark of revenge in our souls to flame up in hate towards our enemies, Jesus teaches, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’” (23)
And in his eloquent style, King’s words reverberate with new challenge to us four decades after they were first uttered: “A voice, echoing through the corridors of time, says to every intemperate Peter, ‘Put up thy sword.’ History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that failed to follow Christ’s command.” (18-19)
Jesus noted that the rules of engagement with evil had been an eye for an eye, but to his followers he offered a new way. Jesus did not say the injustice of Rome was OK or should be ignored by his disciples as an unspiritual, political matter. No, he instructed his followers to combat that injustice, but in a strange, new way: carry the load twice as far as is demanded by your oppressor.
Love seeks to overcome evil not with lethal force, but soul force. Love seeks to stop violence with nonviolent resistance, not more violence.
Some ask, didn’t Jesus violate his own teaching by his actions in the Temple? At first glance it appears so. Scholars have debated the meaning of his actions for years.
How angry Jesus must have been to see that people were exploiting the poor in the name of God. Religion was being used as a barrier to keep people from God! (‘My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations.” Emphasis mine)
But what physical injury did Jesus inflict on the money-changers? None is actually recorded. Was there other loss or hurt from his actions? Animals were uncaged and vendors undoubtedly lost merchandise or money, but no loss of human life is recorded by any of the Gospel writers.
The major injury inflicted was upon the socio-economic status quo: a coalescing of social, economic and religious systems that abused the poor and made it difficult for even the financially able to worship and pray.
Jesus, through this powerful and forceful, but non lethal act of civil disobedience, disrupted the entire power structure of his society. Out of love and justice, he attacked the cornerstone of a corrupt political-religious-economic system. He did all this with non violent means—and later would accept the consequences of his civil disobedience.
Had he wished, Jesus could have armed his followers, planned a guerrilla military action against the money-changers, probably killing many of them, and then gone after the leaders behind the system. Jesus did not do this, and his chosen tactic is clearly confirmed later. Make no mistake, he could have taken this approach. Would he have been captured? Most likely. And probably executed by the authorities for civil unrest and criminal activities. As it was, the action he chose to take against evil did cost him his life. But note, at his arrest, he explicitly confirmed his methodology: ”Peter, put away the sword.”
Violence begets violence. If you hurt me, I will hurt you equally or even more. Evil is not defeated when the wronged party responds in similar fashion. Lethal force turns a person into an object to be eliminated and allows for no salvation or reconciliation.
In my native country, an evil of unimaginable scope existed and was protected by the laws for nearly three centuries. Finally, after national leaders continued to ignore or create expedient, yet ineffective solutions to the evil of slavery, a social and political division occurred that erupted into military conflict that historians call the American Civil War or War Between the States. Northern states called it the War of Rebellion, and the official government military records of the conflict are so named. Southern states called it the War of Northern Aggression.
Unable to mend the immediate political and economic rift--rooted in an evil that the political leaders had compromised on continually, beginning with the Constitution’s drafting--a bloody four years followed. In some single days of battle, nearly ten times the number of people were killed and wounded than perished at the World Trade Center September 11, 2001.
The military victory went to the US Federal Government. A political solution and constitutional crisis was resolved by military means but the root evil was not eradicated nearly as effectively as lives and landscape at Gettysburg or Atlanta. In 1865, the American Civil War ended, slavery was outlawed by adoption of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution and the seeds planted for the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee.
In the following 100 years, evil hatred and demonic discrimination against other human beings made in God’s image continued openly and was even protected by newly formed laws. Not only did the evil remain, in some ways it became more violently expressed through the rise of white supremacy groups, legalized lynching and mob violence.
Today, over 130 years after the Civil War, one rarely sees violent outbreaks of racial hostility in the United States. Amazingly, however, there are still emotional, spiritual and social scars visible, and wounds unhealed. I have personally witnessed this continued animosity from the unique experience of being born and raised in the western state of California, having worked in Missouri, and now currently living in New York City while maintaining an office in Nashville, near my ancestral roots in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Many, if not most Americans remember or care little about history. But tradition and history are prized by Southerners—both black and white. Blacks strive to remember and pass on the heritage of their struggle. So do those Southern whites who speak and write about “The Lost Cause.”
When you use violence to combat evil, there must always be a winner and loser. Often times the winners’ sense of history isn’t high…memory is poor. But the loser never forgets. You can find examples of this today not only among whites in America’s South, but on Native American reservations and in the villages and cities of eastern Europe, Russia, Serbia and Afghanistan.
For evil to be defeated, persons and systems must be redemptively transformed. On the cross, Jesus received unto himself all the evil and sin of the world. And in that process of suffering love, an evil, fallen world was redeemed. But in this time between God’s redemptive act in Jesus and the final consummation of redemption, how does a civil society constrain evil doers, and remain civil?
Non lethal weapons are now available that can constrain, capture and incapacitate criminals. Judicial systems and institutions dealing with criminals can be developed that truly live up to their usually euphemistic name, correctional facilities.
The challenge for the church is to provide an alternative way to combat evil. A “more perfect way” shapes an individual’s heart and characterizes the community of Jesus as it bands together around the Table of Thanksgiving, to do as Jesus did—serve (towel & basin) and love (the cross). The church’s mission is to offer forgiveness, reconciliation and the bread of life--just as Jesus did even to enemies planning to take his.
Will the church follow the Suffering Servant King and march as Christian soldiers under his banner of love? Can Christ’s disciples use weapons of nonviolent resistance to evil, practice tangible love toward those who persecute us, and build Spirit-led communities where righteousness (justice) and peace meet? (Psalm 85:10, Romans 14:17)
Hear some of the specific actions called for by the General Superintendents in their interviews with Dr. Nees
“The church has to speak with a renewed authority its hope in Christ. . . .Our people have demonstrated a compassion that says something about the DNA of the Church of the Nazarene.” (Jesse Middendorf)
The most effective Christian witness “is the way of love – patient, kind, never rude, not-easily-angered. Our goal in everything is to be like Jesus, even in the way we witness to Muslims. How would he respond to those who perpetuated the 9/11 tragedy? ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ We have to go to these people and be involved with them “ (Jim Bond)
“[The church must] demonstrate that there’s hope. . . .The world at its worst needs the church at its best. [People are] searching. . . . we’ve got to be there with reality.” (Talmadge Johnson)
“The church of God, and the Church of the Nazarene in particular, cannot ignore the injustice of global economic inequities that to some degree spur social, political, and terrorist unrest As radical disciples of Jesus, we do not return an eye for an eye. We do not become bitter …we must find ways to confront injustice and evil at the personal and systemic levels.” (Jerry Porter)
“The message of perfect love involves forgiveness. Not only have we been forgiven and then cleansed and filled with the love of God in our hearts, but that, in turn, enables us to forgive people who have wronged us. It takes us a while. But the grace of God is powerful enough to enable us to forgive people who hurt us and wronged us if we will just absolutely let the power and love of God work within our hearts and lives We must do more than wave the American flag. I believe that as Christians and as Nazarenes we must wave high the bloodstained banner of Jesus Christ. I have a flag decal in the back window of my car. But my hope is not in the Stars and Stripes, but in the banner of Jesus Christ.” (Jim Diehl)
"When you take children and nurture them in the Word of God and in the power of His love and teach them how to exploit that love to achieve uncommon good, you have exactly the opposite effect [from hatred]. That is what the Church has been called to do with our love. It is the only antidote to hatred.” (Paul Cunningham)
In these days of world wide terror, we are searching for security and safety, but they appear illusive. Remember Betsy Ten Boom’s word to her sister Corrie just after they barely escaped being hit be a German bomb one night in their home. “The only safety is in the center of God’s will.” What is God’s will when it comes to the instituted spheres of authority called the State and Church? We are now left with the very practical question of how does the Christian community’s response of grace and love interact with the State?
Assumptions about this interaction help determine how the Church understands and relates to state sanctioned warfare. Historically, the Church has taken significantly differing positions about war that include: Nonresistance (participate only as noncombatants); Pacifism (have nothing to do with war); Just War (fight in a defensive war); Preventative War (engage in war to prevent an attack or correct injustice).
These various stances on war can be traced to more foundational beliefs pertaining to the God-instituted orders (family, state, church) and how these spheres of authority interrelate. Additional factors that influence and shape Christian views about warfare include doctrinal positions on such issues as creation, human nature, atonement, the Church and end times.
For example, one line of Christian thought relegates all authority to the secular government for dealing with what is viewed as a hopelessly sinful, flawed world. The Church’s sphere of responsibility is the spiritual. Both spheres operate simultaneously, but never intersect. So, the state must wield the sword to restrain evil and maintain some order, but the Christian, in this view, is not to participate in any part of the state. Likewise, the state has no power or role to play in the Church.
Aligning oneself with this model may be inconsistent with a Wesleyan-Holiness theology that affirms the Gospel can actually transform lives and even “reform the nation” (to use Wesley’s phrase). Those in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, however, with its generally positive view toward government authority, must take care to not blithely endorse state sanctioned military action. The historical record indicates that Christians have far too often endorsed their nation’s wars that in no way met the Church’s own theological-philosophical criteria of a “just war,” and thus made themselves servants of a bloodthirsty king, not the Servant King.
Whenever war is raised as the means to restrain evil or resolve international conflicts, Wesleyans ought to read again John Wesley’s words:
"Now, who can reconcile war, I will not say to religion, but to any degree of reason or common sense?” (Works IX, 221)
“What an amazing way of deciding controversies! But so it is; and O what horrors attend on it! At what price is the decision made! By the blood and wounds of thousands;” (Works, XI, 121)
“Hark! The cannon’s roar! A pitchy cloud covers the face of the sky. Noise, confusion, terror, reign over all! Dying groans are on every side. The bodies of men are pierced, torn, hewed in pieces; their blood is poured on the earth like water! Their souls take their flight into the eternal world; perhaps into everlasting misery. The ministers of grace turn away from the horrid scene; the ministers of vengeance triumph.” (Works VII, 404)
“When a land is visited by famine, or plague, or earthquake, the people commonly see and acknowledge the hand of God. But whenever war breaks out, God is forgotten, if he be not set at open defiance.” (Works XII, 327)
Each of us individually, and the church as community, must intentionally reflect on our response to violence, and how the church relates to the state.
Here are some very practical, beginning steps
1. Pray for yourself, repenting and asking forgiveness for any attitudes of hatred or revenge.
2. Pray for your city, state and national leaders Wesley undoubtedly prayed prayers similar to those found in the 1979 version of The Book of Common Prayer (see pages 154, 258, 384, 820-824)
3. Pray for your enemies. (This will require an authentic inner transformation by the Spirit of which Dr. King wrote.)
4. Attend carefully to corporate worship and the sacraments as means of grace
5. Commit to an intentional study and development of a Christian response to evil and terror Consider crafting with fellow parishioners a response framed by the Wesleyan quadrilateral of Scripture, Church tradition, Experience and Reason.
Remember, although the Church has historically chosen different options in responding to evil, terror and warfare, what is not an option is not responding. In his preface to the German edition of The Divine Imperative, Emil Brunner writes: “The question, ‘What ought we to do?’ the great question of humanity, is the entrance to the Christian Faith; none can evade it who wish to enter the sanctuary But it is also the gate through which one passes out of the sanctuary again, back into life; but in spite of the fact that the question—so far as the actual language is concerned—is unaltered, it has gained new meaning.”
The Church’s Pastoral Response
David M. Best
INTRODUCTION - The Problem of Evil
Theologically conservative Christians rarely deny the existence of evil or a personal Satan. After September 11, 2001, even more theologically liberal Christians, as well as unbelievers, were openly speaking of evil and its demonic, yet human manifestations.
As the old saying goes, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” After September 11, to listen to people and observe attendance at worship services, there appeared to be at least fewer atheists and possibly no doubters about evil’s existence in the world.
Those who have long ministered in inner city neighborhoods realize that no philosophical arguments are needed to convince the urban dweller of the existence of God and of sin. The only question on the streets is: Which is the stronger?
I The Power of Divine Love
Scripture presents God’s love as a redeeming, creating life force. What are some examples from history of love bringing about personal and social change?
A. Transforms enemies to friends
B. Offers possibility for justice to prevail and people to flourish
C. Resists evil and changes its ill effects to good.
II The Weakness of Lethal Force
What are the moral and practical weakness and deficiencies of force. Does it really work in the long term? Consider at some examples from history.
A. Defeats enemies and reinforces their hatred and resentment to continue as your enemy
B. Wreaks destruction on God’s creation, personal relationships and societal structures
C. Disrupts economies (except for those who benefit from sale of weapons/armaments)
D. Engenders a spirit of revenge and retaliation in those defeated
But evil is alive and active. How is it to be constrained, if not eliminated in this present age, so there might be civil, common good? This leads to us to consider the role of the State and its relationship to the Church.
III The Dilemma of Being the Church in a Fallen World
How to be a kingdom community--abiding by the royal law of love and following the Suffering Servant King--while living in a world where evil has been defeated, but not fully expelled.
A. The Different Christian Approaches to Understanding the Instituted Orders of Church and State
Christian thinkers over the years have formulated at least four ways of thinking about the relationship of the Church and State, and interpreting the New Testament’s most extensive discussion of the state and the Christian’s responsibility to it. (Romans 13)1. Constantinian/Augustinian - The state and church are separate spheres, but the state seems to be the higher authority that legitimizes the church’s existence and confers rights upon it.
2. Anabaptist - Total separate spheres of responsibility. The church disciplines and regulates the lives of believers. The state, with the sword, punishes and corrects sinners. There is no interaction.
3. Reformed - the state is given for the correction of sinful people, and citizens can revolt against a state that governs poorly.
4. Lutheran - the state and church are two kingdoms/realms that coexist through a system of checks and balances.
B. Examining Paul’s Teaching from Romans 13
Is there a distinctly Wesleyan approach to this question? I am indebted to Dr. Leon Hynson for helping me organize and define this outline of a Wesleyan- Holiness approach to the Church’s relation to the State.
In Wesleyan heritage of England and North America “the approach to the state has been characterized by a consistent conservatism in the tradition of the English Protestant Reformation,” according to Hynson (255). Working from an interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 friendly to government, but often hostile to the concerns of the average citizen, the Church gave the “state a quasi-divine (or sacred) status quite contrary to the way in which the New Testament views it.” (Hynson: 255)
Wesley himself was both loyal to and critical of the state. He sometimes approved of revolution. He also advocated civil disobedience to change slavery (Works XI, “Thoughts Upon Slavery”)
For Wesley, Divine government was primary, with the state created by God under it for guaranteeing safety and peace. The state can punish wrongdoers and reward law abiding citizens, but does not possess any sacred qualities, or share divine power.
Instead of servile subjection to an unjust government, could Paul in Romans 13 be describing the ideal state prescribed by God. Contrast his description with Nero’s Rome and one can’t imagine Paul has it as the model. He may, in fact, be subtly critiquing it and offering “those in Caesar’s household” an understanding of what God expects from the State. There must be some validity to this line of thinking when we see how dramatically different government is described in the other 13, Revelation 13. Now, instead of a picture of God’s intention for the State, we have an accurate description of Rome at the time of he early church.
Looking at the greater context of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Hynson suggests that the Christian is to understand and relate to the state through four foundational beliefs or principles:1. Jesus is Lord. The state is created by God to provide justice and peace. We submit to the state out our submission to Jesus, but the state is subservient and responsible to Jesus also. If the state is unjust, there is warrant for Christians to resist.
Hynson reasons that “it is the will of God that we accept the state as the present order for human and social justice,” but continues by saying that “disobedience to the state on the ground of conscience, which is certainly inferred in [Romans] 13:5, is the one legitimate reason for disobedience.” (Hynson: 261)
2. Living righteously means loving the Lord with all our beings, and our neighbors as ourselves. This royal law of love is the ultimate guide for Christian ethical behavior the always involves expressing mercy, forgiveness, justice and grace. It is how the Christian relates to the state. The Christian, out of love, willingly subjects to the state that acts justly. “It is not possible to stand in the relation of love to a state that contravenes the integrity of love (or a critical element of love, which is justice).” (Hynson: 262)
3. Living this gospel ethics will produce conflict with evil in the world, even as Jesus experienced in his time. Again, how the Christian responds to this persecution for the faith is critical. Will we continue to overcome evil with good? Might an ingredient for defeating evil terrorists be lack of fear? When you no longer fear death, or loss of your material goods or style of life, terror is no longer terror and the terrorist has lost power over you.
4. Though necessary now, the state is not permanent. Eventually, the final government shall be upon Christ’s shoulders. The tension of living between the initial arrival of God’s reign and its fulfillment will cease when we live together under the governance of God’s city. Until then, Christians relate and have a responsibility to their dual citizenship, but knowing the one is always primary.
Hynson summarizes Paul’s teaching in Romans 13 into five key statements: 1. The state exists by divine purpose and permission (13.1)
2. The state is ordered under God [my emphasis]. It has a right to exist but is not to be glorified. It exists at the pleasure, and under the order, of God (13:2-4)
3. Christians are to submit (voluntary respect/adherence) to governing authorities. But a hierarchy that places the state equal to, or above the Church (or the church above the state) is in error. Both have legitimate functions, with proper regard for the authority of each. The emphasis is on authority, not force. (13:1-7)
4. The state has responsibility to execute justice. But it can also be unjust or demonic (Rev. 13) A balanced Wesleyan perspective will avoid either the error of suggesting the state is unnecessary or irrelevant (which leads to anarchism) or that it bears the image of God (imperial presidency, divine monarchs, or the state as god).
5. Christians must act according to a biblically informed conscience. (13:5) This allows for the possibility of “obedience to the just state and disobedience to the unjust state.” (Hynson: 267)
C. Toward a More Perfect Way
How does the overview of Pauline teaching square with Wesley’s teaching? Hynson suggests we need to clearly distinguish the “orders of creation.” There is danger when the spheres usurp illegitimate authority. For example, the modern state functions as a sovereign order, claiming jurisdiction over every aspect of life. One writer summarizes “the state as sovereign is simply the state as god.” Christian history is replete with examples of civil rulers seeking such absolute obedience from their citizens/subjects on the basis of Romans 13 for their purposes of tyranny and power. The other extreme, anarchy, however, is no less dangerous.
Hynson believes “that political state that fosters anarchy in the interest of defeating an opponent state will inevitably face the cancerous intrusion of terrorism in its own life system.” (269). He maintains that “the language of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 respectively is consistent in its rejection of both the deified state with its consequent idolatry, and the elimination of political order with its corollary of terror.” (Hynson: 269)
But equally important to maintaining the spheres’ legitimate authority is avoiding the attitude of some Christian traditions, that view the orders of society as in conflict with each other. This is inconsistent if one views the orders, or spheres as divinely instituted for our good. So also, the state is not essentially evil, as some Christian thought seems to say, but it can become demonized in the administration of its authority. (Revelation 13)
Rather than arranging the spheres in a traditional hierarchical model, Hynson places
1. Each of the three spheres (family, church, state) on an equal level with the other, but all under God. (The only time he suggests using the hierarchical model is when referring to the sovereignty of God from all creation exists.) Since the same human beings live their lives and shape each sphere, the orders are in this sense equal, though each has a primacy in its area of unique competencies.SUMMARY - Forming a Contemporary Strategy for Confronting Evil
2. The model is ‘the concept of a revolving relationship, family, Church, and state stand in dynamic relation to one another, around and under the center, Jesus Christ the Lord.” (Hynson: 275) Around Christ, the spheres have interlocking relationships and interaction in persons’ lives.
D. Wesley’s Context
John Wesley lived and ministered in 18th century England (with a brief time in the American colony of Georgia). For the political realm, it was a time of change and revolution. Socio-economically, the century was characterized by population growth, a transition from agrarian to Industrial society (with a large migration from rural to urban areas, and the attendant shifts in morality and sense of social stability. In this historical context, Wesley sought to understand and formulate a practical divinity for Church and state interrelationships. Hynson categories Wesley’s concerns around five themes:1. Order - a Reformation concern passed on to Wesley’s Church of England; a stress on obedience to the divine design of the creation; a fear of anarchy’s damage to social order, e.g., American Revolution)
2. Liberty - Wesley’s concern for order was that it guarantee civil, but also religious liberty. The state existed to ensure both kinds of liberties, and when it did not, Wesley was quick to criticize it.
3. The Established Church - Wesley lived and died a member in the Church of England, but while loyal to his church he recognized the religious liberties of Protestant dissenters. He viewed the national church as more a political, than ecclesiastical institution. Wesley’s obedience to church leadership stopped in matters of conscience that demanded a prior responsibility to God.
4. The “Established” State - Hynson labels Wesley’s view of the state “modified conservatism.” He did support establishing a new government if it guaranteed religious and civil liberty, but would not endorse revolution except in the most egregious violation of one’s conscience and human rights. Generally, he believed the right to self- government exited in the state of nature, but that once civil societies were formed, a person “born in any civilized country, is, so long as he continues therein, whether he chooses it or not, subject to the laws . . . of that country.” He argues that the state exists under divine mandate and insists its authority originates in God. Its form of government may be of many different types, but its origin of power is God.
Wesley’s conservative position is illustrated in a letter to a Methodist preacher: “Loyalty is with me an essential branch of religion and which I am sorry any Methodist should forget. There is the closest connexion, therefore, between my religious and my political conduct.” (Letters, Vol XI: 267)
But Wesley’s conservatism was definitely “modified” or moderated, in a nuanced manner not found with many Christians then or now. “It is perfectly clear, . . .” Hynson writes, “that when the laws of the state, specifically . . . Wesley’s England with its close Church-state ties, conflicted with the divine calling to proclaim Christ, Wesley was prepared to resist and violate those laws. Far from passively accepting punishment, Wesley wrote classic appeals to bishops, officers of state, members of Parliament, government officials, and even the king, to seek relief and religious freedom.” (Hynson: 283)
5. Reform - Wesley’s goal was reformation. His ultimate response to the question of Church-State interaction was wrapped up his reply to the question; “What may we reasonably believe to be God’s design in raising up the Preachers called Methodists? Not to form any new sect; but to reform the nation, particularly the church, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.” ( Works VIII: 299)
The questions remain for the Church. How shall we, as an authentic community of Jesus, combat evil and injustice? In what way(s) should the church support, or critique, the state’s use of lethal force in accomplishing its biblically instituted purpose to constrain evil and establish justice? (Romans 13:3)
Finally, what methodologies and tactics for addressing evil and establishing justice are most effective and consistent with Gospel ethic concern for both the “end” and the “means” to justice and peace?
We have seen how Wesley used scripture, church tradition, reason and experience to express a practical divinity for his time. Using the Wesleyan quadrilateral as a framework to form a position suitable for our historical context, consider the following questions:
- What does the Scripture teach about the orders, or spheres, of human society?
- What is the record of Church history/tradition on the interaction of Church and State?
- How shall we rationally and reasonably think about the lessons and principles gathered from these sources (above) and apply them to our current time?
- What can our experience, personally and collectively, teach us about engaging the evil powers and principalities? What practices have proven most effective and consistent with biblical ethics?
“The Ordered State and Christian Responsibility,” Leon O. Hynson. Unnumbered chapter
in Wesleyan Theological Perspectives Volume 3, Christian Ethics: An Inquiry into Christian Ethics from a Biblical Theological Perspective. pp. 255-293. Lane A. Scott and Leon O. Hynson, editors. Anderson, ID: Warner Press, 1986.
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1962
The Works of John Wesley Third Edition, John Wesley. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill
Press of Kansas City, 1979 (reprinted from the 1872 edition issued by the Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, London)
Questions for a Self or Group Study
- Where were you, and what were you doing when you heard the news about September 11. Do you remember your immediate feelings?
- What changes have you made in your life since September 11? Did you think of making others, but didn’t? If so, can you remember what they were? Why do you think you did not follow through with those changes?
- What reaction did you have then toward those who perpetrated the attacks? What do you feel or think about them today?
- Did you lose a relative, friend, a business associate September 11 in New York, Pennsylvania or Washington, DC? If so, what was their name(s)? Do you know someone who lost a loved one, friend or colleague in the disasters? If so, name those names you know.
- Did you attend any special services conducted (by your church or community organizations) in response to September 11? Did you find the services helpful in dealing with your thoughts and emotions after this tragedy? Did any of the services you attended (or saw on TV) disturb or confuse you? If so, why?
- After the disaster, did you get involved personally with any relief efforts? If so, what did you do, and how did you feel about your involvement?
- What do you think should be the Church’s response to those who planned and carried out these attacks? Have you been satisfied with the response of the Church at large? Your local church?
- What do you think should be the government’s response to the attacks? Have you been satisfied with the response of the United States and its coalition?
- What do you see as the Church’s role and responsibility to government in such a time as this?
- In your judgment, does the U.S. led “war on terrorism” meet the criteria of the “just war doctrine” established by Church theologians/scholars? Why, or why not?
- If you support the United States actions in the “war on terrorism,” are there additional tactics or strategies you believe would increase the likelihood of a just conclusion? What should the government do to protect its citizens from future attacks?
- If you do not support the U.S. led “war on terrorism” what do you believe the U.S. (and other governments) should do to administer justice to those who planned the attacks? To protect their citizens and defend their societies from future attacks?
“The Church After 9/11: Conversations with the General Superintendents” www.usamission.org
Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace, Roland H. Bainton. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960
Christianity Versus Violence: A Social and Historical Study of War and Christianity, Stanley Windass. London: Sheed and Ward, 1964
If God is God, Then Why? Letters from New York City. Al Truesdale. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. 1800-877-0700 www.nph.com
“A Moral Response to Terrorism: A Study Series by the Editors of Sojourners magazine” Sojourners Magazine, 2401 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009 1-800-714-7514 www.sojo.net
“The Ordered State and Christian Responsibility,” Leon O. Hynson, unnumbered chapter in Wesleyan Theological Perspectives Volume 3, Christian Ethics: An Inquiry into Christian Ethics from a Biblical Theological Perspective. Lane A. Scott and Leon O. Hynson, editors. Anderson, ID: Warner Press, 1986.
“Tragedy: The Church Responds” NCNDVD November-December 2001. Nazarene Communications Network, 6401 The Paseo, Kansas City, MO 64131 email@example.com
War: Four Christian Views. Herman A. Hoyt, Myron S. Augsburger, Arthur F. Holmes, Harold O.J. Brown. Edited by Robert G. Clouse. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981.
“What is Just War?” www.ewtn.com
“Just War Doctrine” Adult Education, Westminter Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, DE www.wpc.org/adulted/mcbrideclass/wardoctrine
“Just War Theory and Terrorism: Applying the Ancient Doctrine to the Current Conundrum, ” Keith J. Pavlischek. www.witherspoonfellowship.org (click on “Lecture Series”)
“Grace and Love Engaging Evil and Fear: A Study Guide for Considering a Wesleyan Theological Perspective on Injustice, Violence and Terror” www.TowelandBasin.org
When You Don’t Know What to Say: How to Help Your Grieving Friends, Harold Ivan Smith. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. 1-800-877-0700 www.nph.com
When Your People are Grieving: Leading in Times of Loss, Harold Ivan Smith. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. 1-800-877-0800 www.nph.com