Friday, September 14, 2007

The Global Face of Christianity

I've disagreed in the past with Jim Wallis's attempts to foster a Christian progressive politics built on a framework "neither Left nor Right" (why can't we just follow our conscience directly to the Progressive Left?) and his complaint that somehow the secular Left isn't accepting enough of Christians (Huh? Aren't they our closest allies?). But this week I have to give Wallis credit for his perceptive commentary on the Iraq debate, in which he points out the global Christian condemnation of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. As Wallis points out: "Outside the borders of the United States of America, a vast, vast majority of the world's people are steadfastly against the American war in Iraq and the foreign policies of the U.S. in general. Take out all the non-Christians from that global population sample and among the people of God [sic] the opposition remains the same. Even reduce that number to only evangelical Christians worldwide and you are still left with an overwhelming majority of born-again, Bible-believing Christians who are against American policy in Iraq and, indeed, the entire Middle East region."

In asking (with tongue in cheek) our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in America--sadly, still over-represented among Bush's war backers--"what do some American Christians know that the rest of the global Christian community doesn't?" Wallis is highlighting the disconnect between the global, universal claims of Christianity and its absurdly parochial, nationalistic adherents in the USA. Now, I've never been one of those Christians who believes that our goal is to convert the world to Christianity (my view tends more towards seeing value in all great world religions and seeing the Christian global mandate as an open invitation and a call for the equal value of all people in the eyes of God) but even--or especially--if you do, can you possibly reconcile this glaring contradiction?

One of my greatest ongoing irritations about American political culture, which I am glad to see someone as visible as Wallis writing about, is the idolatry of linking "God and Country" in the manner so prevalent in the United States. And, actually, Wallis sticks out his neck pretty far. "Personally, to be frank," he writes, "I think it is because far too many American Christians are simply Americans first and Christians second." Now one might quibble with his apparent implication (dispelled in his other writings, and countless other observers) that the Iraq War might actually be in the interest of the United States. But I think he is saying that the call for allegiance or loyalty to the USA, however misguided it may be in any particular and real situation, has trumped religious faith for many American Christians.

Such an accusation is pretty serious, and I expect him to be criticized for it. But I think he has a good point--tough point, but one we need to hear. As the idolatry of nationalism works its ugly ways on American Christians, we have tended to forget the core messages of Christianity and simply transmute the religion into a worship of flag and militaristic nationalism, which is almost completely at odds with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. I've complained before about having flags in church. (What more potent form of idolatry can we imagine in this modern world, except perhaps a gigantic pile of money that we worship?--oh wait, they do have the "Avenue of Christian Capitalists" or whatever it is called at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California...) The practice continues unabated in the vast majority of Protestant congregations (what about Roman Catholic...not sure?) Many churches sing patriotic hymns, mourn the losses of U.S. life far beyond how they mourn the loss of non-U.S. citizens (such as the ones the U.S. bombs), and otherwise display a contempt for the universal love and global ethics of Jesus. Thanks Jim Wallis, for sticking your neck out on this one. It's a message that the Christians of America need to wrestle with.