Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How Would God Approach International Diplomacy?

When I think of God approaching international diplomacy, I trip over the assumption that God has some nationality. God is interested in humanity, not jingoism, patriotism, or xenophobia. Jesus said, “For God so love the world…” (John 3:16). God seeks to reconcile all things to God-self (Colossians 1:20). In Luke 5:32, Jesus proclaims a call to the unrighteous, which would imply those who are not already in the religious in-crowd. The biblical examples of God’s care for everyone go on and on.

Some years ago, imagining what-would-Jesus-do (WWJD) was an inspirational fad. People would consider what Jesus would do in various situations. Thus, this reflection is an attempt to apply WWJD to current events. Currently, the U.S. President is traveling in the Middle East. I thought about his interest in brokering peace and the almost continuous conflict in the region. From Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BCE) to centuries of Roman occupation to Islamic conversion after the Battle of Yarmouk (636 CE), the region has long-suffered conflict.

Instead of asking about God’s approach to international diplomacy  the twenty-first-century question could be reframed as, “How does God approach humanity?” The whole notion of foreign and domestic people is beyond the New Testament. A foreign invader occupied the land of the major biblical characters, like Paul, Peter, James, Mary, et al. They saw themselves as part of a community, in the world, but not of it. They were resident aliens (1 Peter 2:11).

Does that mean patriotism is not biblical? No. But, it might be a stretch to argue for a biblical basis for patriotism. For example, I like ice cream. Is ice cream biblical? The Bible does not address it. We neither say that ice cream is biblical nor that ice cream is not biblical. It is what I do with ice cream that can connect with a biblical ethic and an orthodox Christian worldview. If I choose not to help my brothers and sisters in need, but to buy ice cream, my life might not reflect what Jesus would do. However, if I enjoy ice cream in moderation and try to help my sisters and brothers in need, then I might be closer to following Jesus.

Likewise, when we consider international diplomacy if we adopt a position that puts one nation’s interests ahead of another one, at the other one’s expense, this policy might not be biblical. Let us consider a fictitious trade policy.
Suppose country A adopts a tariff on widgets.
Its widget industry is healthy, but country A wants the industry to grow.
This tariff adversely affects country B’s major widget manufacturer.
It has to close, lay off its workers, and the people begin to starve.

Country A’s policy, in this example, was unnecessary. They already had a healthy industry. They just wanted it to grow. The motivation appears to be greed. In this example, limited as it is, we can see how one policy can be unbiblical.

How would God approach international diplomacy  God would show concern for all people, including the populations on all sides of national boundaries. We should not forget that God did not set the boundaries, but people did. Compassion and mercy are the hallmarks of God’s worldview.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

God & Terrorism at a Concert

When I heard the breaking news, I had to search the internet to find out who Ariana Grande is? Since I have two sons, artists who appeal to mostly tween and teenaged girls are not on my radar. But, I could imagine them attending such a concert with their friends. Both of my sons have friends who are girls (perhaps, a girlfriend? Gulp!). Thus, I can put myself in the shoes of parents who thought they were giving their children a nice evening out.
Police work at Manchester Arena after bombing.

Now, the parents, family, and friends of twenty-two people will never see their children again. I cannot imagine the devastation they feel. My heart goes out to them. I pray that they can experience God's peace.

For me, the question comes back to God. Where was God? Why did God let this happen? And, can Christians say anything meaningful to those who lost a loved one? Can we say anything to those who experience heightened fear in the aftermath of such a tragedy?

God was there. God was dancing, laughing, and singing along with the young people. God might not have been thrilled with everything they did. For example, on the one hand, God would not bless a teen being mean to another. On the other hand, when the young people were having fun, God would be happy. God loves humanity; thus, God wants people to have fun and be happy.

If God is omnipresent, God was at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. If God is omniscient, God knew about the concert and knew the heart of the terrorist(s) before the terrorist act. God knew how many people would die and how many lives would be shattered. God knows how people will react. We do not know these things, but God knows.

Why did God let this happen? If God is omnipotent, God could have prevented it. True. If God is omnibenevolent, God is all-good and acts for humanity. So, why? Why did this happen? Why does anything bad happen?

These questions relate to a classic question in theology called theodicy, or the question of evil. One explanation comes out of a belief in human freedom. That is, God created us as free beings. Thus, we choose whether to accept or reject God. We choose daily whether to do good or bad. This explanation places the blame on the terrorist and the society that produced him. The terrorist had the choice, up until the moment he detonated the bomb. However, he did not act in a vacuum. He had a lifetime of experiences preparing him for that moment.

To the families and friends who lost a loved one, Christians can respond with love and compassion. If we know someone personally who lost a loved one, we can bring by a meal. It will not bring someone back, but it is a tangible expression of care. This gesture can start a conversation and open a whole realm of creative ways to respond positively: prayer vigils, round table discussions, reconciliation programs, and so on. 

What about the society that produced the terrorist? This question opens a whole new chapter and might be one of the greatest questions for the twenty-first century.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trump, Classified Information, & Theology

God wants a relationship with humanity. This theme repeats over and over again throughout the Bible. Church history corroborates the human/divine connection. And, personal experience can complement scripture and history. How do news stories comment on God’s relationship with humanity? Generally, they reflect a broken world. Humanity flees from God. Self-sufficiency and self-reliance morph into self-centeredness.

For example, a recent Washington Post story says, “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador.” Most news outlets seem to agree that he could declassify the information. He could even declassify it while speaking. The legality is beyond my area of expertise, but the theology is not.

What does this story say about God? We cannot know the inner workings of the president’s mind. So, we must set that question aside. Instead, division remains. People take sides. Social media reflects people pushing one way or another. Consensus seems unachievable. Along the linear spectrum of right/wrong, dialogue diminishes.

When the religious leaders questioned Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40, he points to a theme, not a law. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Telling secrets might be illegal. Or, it might not. More importantly, what does it say about trust? Trust in the president? Trust in government? Trust in neighbors?

People shift their beliefs and worldview away from loving God, and their actions reflect this reduced faith. When Pharisees asked Jesus about working on the sabbath, he said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:23-28). The idea of classified information in the modern secular era might seem distant from the biblical tradition. However, the spirit of governance is societal order. Militaries seek to keep the population safe. Intelligence attempts to thwart attacks. In other words, to paraphrase Jesus, “Classified information is made for humanity, not humanity for classified information.”

Whether the intelligence community and the executive branch choose to classify or declassify information is up to them. Did the president do something wrong? I do not know. Are the Russians our enemies? No. Even if they are (or Daesh/ISIS is), Jesus commented on that too. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Jesus’ words can be uncomfortable. Yet, they reflect God’s desire to relate to humanity. All people are equal before God. God is not American, white, or middle-class. The partisan rhetoric in the U.S. has consequences. One of these consequences is the inability to see another person’s perspective. People not only struggle with loving their enemies, but people struggle to love others who hold a different viewpoint.

Did Trump share classified information? This is the wrong question. Instead, a better question might be: how can we repair fractured relationships?