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9/11 & The Church: What Shall We Do? The Church’s Priestly Response
David M. Best
David M. Best
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