August 23, 2005

A Persecuted People

So I just saw this on msn. Imagine my first reaction: appalled? frightened? worried? irritated? disgusted? horrified? all of the above?

oddly amused?

Truth be told, I'm never quite sure what to make of people who make it a career to talk about politics and religion on public-access broadcasting. In my family, we always avoid two subjects at family gatherings: you guessed it, politics and religion.

Now, this could be because my immediate family and my extended family have somewhat different ideas on the subjects in question. My immediate family is pretty center/conservative, while my extended family is (for the most part) pretty liberal. While nobody except me is officially registered for a particular political party [side note: I only registered republican so I could have more power - in NY you can only vote in primaries if you register with the party ... not that I ever use it], pretty much everyone tends towards certain party lines. It makes for a lot of fightin' words - so we avoid it.

The reason we avoid talking about religion is because - inevitably - it leads back to politics. This both confuses me and pisses me off. I want my family to know the joys of following God and serving Him and fellow man. I want my family to understand grace and - to be blunt - I want to see them in heaven.

And yet they want nothing to do with the kingdom of heaven.

Why? It's because of the people that make religion - especially Christians and Muslims, as of late - into a joke. They make religion into something political, something involving the state, instead of something involving other people.

Now, it used to be that this was how it was supposed to be. In ancient Israel, church and state were invariably tied together - the sovereign ruler was also supposed to be the mouthpiece of God to His people. As it turns out, that's not always what happened, so God had to appoint prophets to talk to the ruler when the ruler strayed away from God. Case in point: David and Nathan (check out 2 Samuel and 1 Kings for the stories). Anyway, things have changed a little. Jesus came and knocked the whole system onto its face and said that a new age had dawned. No longer did the priests intervene for the people; rather, the people had to work out their salvation with God on their own (to find that God made it quite simple, really).

With this transformation, the state and church were separated. And then Constantine had to go and mess it up - Christianity became Christendom. My opinion? The church functions best when being openly persecuted. If someone in power decides that Christians should fight lions for the entertainment of the pagan masses, then in that state you'll find that those that declare themselves Christians really mean it.

I'm not suggesting we elect officials who will take away our religious freedom, it's quite a gift. But with that gift comes responsibility, a responsibility that Pat Robertson and his kind seem to have forgotten about. We are responsible to - without condemnation or judgement - be Jesus to the world. I can't imagine that includes condemning an elected official to assasination.

I feel bad for people like George W. Bush - they have the horribly complicated job of separating politics from religion in their own personal life. I respect him for such a struggle, for struggle he must. I'm also glad to find out that the white house called Robertson's comments "inappropriate" - the understatement of the day, for sure.

The irony? We're still being persecuted. The problem is that it's so much more suble these days. As in the first century, when persecution-by-lions didn't work, evil turned to persecution-by-power. Offer them pain, and if their faith is strong, good will prevail. Offer them power, and their greed will consume them.

No comments: