Thursday, April 26, 2012

Christianity and Government

I have to start with a disclaimer ... I know this topic is covered in much better detail by others and I am going to do a poor job of citing any outside sources or necessarily creating new thoughts and opinions ... but this has been rolling around in my head for a week an I wanted to try and get it out on "paper" so to speak.

When I was younger ... don't actually remember when it was ... I decided I could not be President of the United States.  I disqualified myself from consideration because I would be unable to be an effective Commander-in-Chief.  I believed then, and I still believe today that Christian teaching (turn the other cheek, love your enemy) was clearly incompatible with the office of the President and the violence that the office is called to engage in, for the device of our country.

In Romans 13, Paul entreats all of us to be subject to authority and to government.  He makes the claim that all governments derive their power ultimately from God and they become violent (bearing the sword) instruments of God's wrath/judgment.  It is clear that Paul feels that the violence and punishment engaged in by the state is a way in which God's power is manifest in the world.

While I certainly agree that this is what Paul is saying in Romans, I struggle with it as being consistent with a larger Christian message.  As followers of a grace-filled God and as people who ultimately have ourselves fallen short of expectations, it is hard to see what seems to be a very violent and harsh form of justice to be something attributed to the same God of love we see in the Gospels and even in other places in Paul's letters.

The United Methodist Church is very clear in the Social Principles that we oppose violence in several forms that the government engages in.  One is war (which is clearly stated as incompatible with Christian teaching) and the other is the death penalty (which the UMC opposes).  While Paul may believe that God gives such authority and power to the state, the stance of the UMC is that we (as the state) should not use it.

Here is where I get hung up ... if I am not comfortable being President because of my faith is it okay for me to be comfortable with someone else being it instead?  It feels like saying I oppose killing animals for food ... but if you do the butchering I am okay with eating it.  Am I asking to have my cake and eat it too?  I think Paul is struggling to see how government can function without the sword.  Would any of us pay taxes without that threat? (yes we are not threatened by the sword, but instead we would risk being placed in jail at gun point ... so is it really that different?)  Would we feel safe in our borders without an army to defend us?  If our Christian values really are opposed to violence and war, are we comfortable "outsourcing" those to people with different beliefs around these matters?  Are we called to live in a state that is almost by nature un-Christian (though instituted by God) ... or are we called to find new ways to create a government that actually reflect our values and perhaps seek to transform the world into something other than what it is today?

What do you think ... do Christian values undermine some of the fundamental aspects of government (need for the sword)?  Is it okay for Christians to be a part of such a government without seeking its change?  How do those values get balanced out?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bow Ties are Cool

When I was in seminary I would jokingly invite people to sit with me at the "cool kids club."  Given my own shyness and geekyness it was far more an attempt at humor than an assertion of my own trendiness.  Simply by calling it the "cool kids club" I could not make it cool any more than repeatedly stating "bow ties are cool" makes that statement true.  (The use of Dr. Who in my example might be a further proof of my un-coolness ... or proof of how amazingly cool I am)  What brings all of this to mind is that yesterday I was reading yet another article about the demise of Facebook and how it is now clearly uncool.

I am not an expert on social media or social trends, but it feels like for at least a couple of years I have seen these stories about the decline of Facebook as if it is only a matter of time, and a short matter of time at that, before Facebook is too big, successful, evil, whatever to be cool and we must move on to something else.  I have seen several reasons expressed for why Facebook is/will be in decline.  The CNN article seems to imply that one of the declines of Facebook was when parents and shudder grandparents starting using Facebook.  Something cannot be cool if everyone is doing it!

What bothers me about all this is that as a society we place a ton of value on being cool and generally seem to define coolness in such a way that it is impossible for the public to be cool.  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we chase after something that by definition we can almost never attain.  We fight against it ... I went to a school of non-conformists (we all seemed to fight conformity in the same ways).  Some people resist the pressure to be cool by being deliberately uncool ... in a way that is clear to be perceived by others as being cool.  I was fighting against the pressures to be cool by jokingly creating a "cool kids club" so that by definition myself and really anyone could be cool.  In the end I think we are longing for community and we are longing for connection.  Coolness is all about a desire by us to be loved by others and to be invited in to something greater than ourselves.  Maybe we would be better off if we worried less about trying to be cool ourselves and instead worried about making those around us feel cool and the world would be a better place.  Besides we all know that anyone who hangs out with cool people has got to be cool as well.