The answer one hears, often whispered in carefully modulated tones within cloistered walls, is that these evils, like many other sins, are indeed the proper concern of committed Christians. But they are best dealt with through prayer and meditation rather than through direct action by the church itself. Instead, the argument goes, the business of the church is simply to be the church, a safe place from which to perform charity and good works, a beacon of godliness inspiring our Christ-delivered mission of preaching the Gospel to a lost world. Even as that world collapses, this traditional suggests that the lambs should certainly pray but otherwise to remain obediently silent.
For most of the last ten years, I shared that view of the world and (whatever our denominational variances) the proper functions of true Christian disciples. But I now believe that the church has a special obligation: Not only to pray but also to speak out fearlessly, especially at the national and local levels. The reason is less theological than practical: Because that is where the sin is, in a continuous cascade of evil from nation to state to city. And if the church cravenly fails to confront those evils – from the Christian holocaust in the Middle East to abortion and attacks on family values – then why exactly are we here? If we should somehow fail to denounce the great evils of our times and to speak out against them, then what good are we –on Earth or in Heaven?
I began to change my mind beginning in September, 2013. I was then one of an elite group of military analysts invited to Cairo to meet with the Egyptian government that had recently overthrown the tyranny of the Moslem Brotherhood. We met many brave men and women who had taken great personal risks while confronting that evil. Easily the most impressive was Tawadros II, Pope of the Coptic Christian Church. With his long hair, full beard and flowing robes, he would have instantly stood out from the crowd in any San Antonio church.
Yet his personal example of forbearance and forgiveness – even as Coptic churches were being bull-dozed by the Moslem Brotherhood and their congregations slaughtered – was one of those history-changing moments recalling Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa. I still treasure the small leatherette plaque the Pope gave each of us with three simple words: Love Never Fails. It is a sentiment shared by most Christian churches, Protestant or Catholic. But in Egypt that example of faith-in-action turned around an entire country! Who knows, it may even have helped to begin the long process of igniting an Islamic Reformation.
If Egypt provided a compelling example of grace confronting evil at the national level, then my return to San Antonio showed what happened at the local level when faith took a hike. I have already recounted in this journal how the Non-Discrimination Ordinance (NDO) that divided our community in late 2013 took place against a backdrop of largely silent churches. Mayor Castro even cited the lack of opposition by our leading Christian institutions as justification for enacting the NDO. How disgraceful was their retreat?
I resigned from a church that was conspicuously silent on the NDO. But afterwards that sin was compounded when the church leadership cravenly prevented its own members from circulating petitions calling for the measure’s repeal.
National sins inevitably flow down to the lowest local levels, corrupting anything that gets in their way. Regardless of how strongly we argue that our doctrinal beliefs are soundly rooted in Scripture, un-churched people judge us more by our actions than those high-sounding words. Today in this country, most declared Christians neither serve in our military nor do they even bother to vote. If you doubt that, then recall that less than half of 1% of Americans ever serve in uniform, meaning that over 99% never do. Instead we habitually fight our wars using Other People’s Kids, a term coined in my book Warheads. Because such national sins always have consequences, it is no surprise that less than half of all evangelicals even bother to vote. Remember when Julian Castro was “elected” in May, 2013 by only 7% of all registered voters? How can we blame him for thinking that Christians were more serious about lesser issues – like church attendance and overall popularity – than about standing up for politically incorrect biblical values?
As a savvy politician, Mayor Castro understood better than most that lambs are most reliably silent when they are being set up for the kill. And that the values Christians won’t fight for are the ones that politicians like him can conveniently ignore.
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