Emerge and Restore

Exploring faith, God, and church in the 21st century...

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Location: Kansas, United States

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Conquest, Control, and Church

I was priveleged to attend a day-long seminar with Brian McLaren last week (Kansas doesn't exactly get a flood of great speakers coming through). Although much of what he said was familiar to those of us who read his books, he was challenging and left many of the 300 ministers (well...pastors - I think only four of us were from CoCs) with headaches after they thought through some of the ramifications of what he said. One thing that has made me uncomfortable about McLaren's writings is his tendancy to appear without backbone, almost pluralistic. Hearing him speak wiped away those doubts. Make no mistake, behind the humble, soft-spoken demeanor is a very bold man who knows what he stands for. Several times he made statements (about Left-Behind "theology", lack of justice in the church, etc.), that given his audience, made me cringe. I totally agree with him, but I don't know if I would have the guts to say the same thing.

Easily the most controversial topic of the day was when he asked us to rethink our notion of Conquest and Control and the role in plays in the life of the church. The Bible was written, both Old and New Testaments, mostly in a time when God's people were a minority, a marginalized group of stragglers and strays who were looked down on and often persecuted by surrounding society. But a few hundred years after Jesus, something happened. A Roman emperor became a Christian and this "new" religion was thrust into a situation of power than it wasn't prepared for and maybe shouldn't have accepted. But for better or for worse, the church ruled the western world for centuries. Wars were fought in the name of Jesus, people who didn't agree with the church were tortured and killed, entire continents were stolen away from the indigenous people, genocide was committed by "Christians." Our faith was forced on people against their will. Jesus was communicated through conquest and control. And although modernity dethroned the church as the ultimate authority in favor of reason and science, we've retained some of that conquering attitude. Sometimes we long for the "good old days" of being in charge, instead of the really old days of being persecuted and hated.

The church no longer holds a sacred place in our society. We've been marginalized in another way...we've made ourselves irrelevant and ignored. But we are NOT persecuted, at least in the West. Yet we still hold onto that militaristic language that created the need for our removal from power in the first place. We still talk of "taking back the nation for Jesus." Our most famous speakers still hold crusades. We seek to convert non-Christians instead of invite them. We sing 'Onward Christian Soldiers', 'Soldiers of Christ Arise', etc., and teach our children to be in the 'Lord's Army.' Does that sound eerily familiar to anyone else? How is this better than jihad? Because we are right and they are wrong? Or because those in power get to set the rules, and we long to set the rules for others instead of settling for playing by the different rules of Christ's kingdom?

Sure, there is plenty of war language in the Bible, particularly in the OT. But as McLaren pointed out, there is a marked difference in conquest language used by people who are fighting for their survival against vicious oppressors and conquest language used by people who are wealthy and fat and who have sacrificed their credibility by selling out to the values of their culture. It's different to be fighting for your own rights than to be fighting for power with which to overrule the rights of others. That power sounds like what Jesus catagorically avoided during his time on earth. McLaren asked for a shift in values from conquest and control to one of conservation. Conservation of the environment, of course, but that's only part of the story. Conservation of the rights and lives of others, honoring what's beautiful about them as God-given and inviting into the kingdom, but not forcing them to play by our rules until they choose to.

He reminded us of the incident in March 2001 where the Taliban destroyed the gigantic, ancient statues of Buddha that had been carved into the side of a mountain near Bamiyan long before Islam was ever heard of. There was worldwide outrage that these historical artworks had been desecrated. His question to the audience was, if you had lived in Afganistan at the time, in fact, if Christians had ruled Afganistan, would you have felt it was your Christian duty to support the destruction of those statues or to speak out and stand against the effort to blow them up? Maybe that's the difference between conquest and conservation. It was interesting to discuss. Lots of different opinions. What do you think?


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