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08.01.2021

Not Only in America

It’s difficult to find the right words in response to recent events in Washington DC.

But one phrase that seems apposite is contained in Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella, Heart of Darkness: ‘The horror! The horror.’

These words are whispered by Mr Kurtz, a trader in ivory in Africa. Kurtz is on his deathbed as he expresses his final judgement, both on his own life and actions, and on humanity and imperialism.

What are we to make of events in America? Certainly, we should recoil in horror: at the actions of a sitting President who incited insurrection; at the racism exposed through the action or inaction of the authorities (compare this with the response to the Black Lives Matter protests); and at the blasphemy of those who carried a banner displaying an American flag and the words ‘Jesus is my Saviour’ and ‘Trump is my President’.

We should express horror, although it’s easy for us to watch events unfold in the States, passing judgement at a distance. We must not be complacent about the state of our own nation. And neither should we ignore what these events reveal about our humanity. Along with Mr Kurtz, our horror should be directed partly at ourselves.

Because in a democracy, we get the leaders we deserve. If we’re concerned about the quality of our politics and political leaders, we should get involved and change them. ‘Decisions,’ as President Bartlett in The West Wing reminds us, ‘are made by those who show up.’ If we oppose racism and double standards, we should redouble our efforts to put into practice the theology we profess, that all human beings are created equally in the image of God. And if we object to the way Christianity is being co-opted by one group, we should avoid the temptation of co-opting it into another. We should be rigorous in critiquing, theologically, our own political assumptions and commitments, and invite others to do the same.

Jesus calls us to live our lives as he would live them if he were us, right here, right now, on our frontline. The kingdom of God is less about getting us into heaven, than getting heaven into us, and into the world. This requires us not only to express horror at wrong, but address those wrongs and become the change we seek.

Paul Woolley
CEO, LICC 

Comments

  1. Powerful post. Thanks Paul for having the courage to call this out, and call us up to a higher standard as those contributing to the common good through wise political engagement. It’s far too easy to criticise without lifting a finger to help. Praying for all our leaders in this most challenging season.

    By David Benson - 8 Jan 2021
    • Thanks Dave. Courage and wisdom are definitely things we need just now.

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  2. Your mission and vision is especially needed in these turbulent days. Nothing is left in the foundation level except the word of the Lord and that is authentic in the way you interpret it!

    By Wesley Loane - 8 Jan 2021
    • Thanks Wesley. I’m grateful. ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.’ (Psalm 46:1-3)

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  3. Mr Woolley, I do wonder at your agenda. Where’s the balance? How many other acts of violence have been perpetrated around the world this week? How much insurrection? How much racism around the globe? Why select the USA? In many ways, your article seems to repeat those of liberal thinkers in the US and UK. I could have replaced the LICC logo with BBC or CNN and read very similar words. Were you planning on mentioning Hong Kong? China? Niger? Belarus? To name but a few – all of which are equally readily available as stories about the USA from the BBC.

    I trust you are in possession of the full facts about police intervention in protest rallies and haven’t just repeated sentiments of an incoming President in one particular country and biased journalism in the UK.

    As part of our judicious critiquing you refer to, I’d hope you’d encourage us all not to be swayed by bandwagons and movements that no more have Jesus as its Head or Source than a few hundred people in one country do in the USA.

    Perhaps the change Jesus might seek of us is less that we follow and react but that we proactively change and lead – starting with more loving of enemies and forgiving those who trespass against us, especially those who trespass against our point of view – seemingly the worst of all tespasses. Before we cast stones, removing planks helps us see much more clearly. I speak to myself too.

    Regards

    By Brian Smith - 8 Jan 2021
    • Thanks Brian. Sorry you didn’t like the piece, but I’m always open to critique! Why focus on the situation in the States? Well, it’s been in the news and the events of the last few days are serious and unprecedented in recent times. The last time Congress was stormed was by the British during the Civil War in 1814. The aim of Connecting with Culture is to encourage a conversation between the Bible and the culture (or the ‘word’ and the ‘world’, if you prefer). I think there’s an important challenge back to you also: let’s be careful that neither of us are too quick to legitimate theologically pre-existing political commitments. I’m grateful for your engagement with the piece.

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  4. Love this Paul, and thanks for a memerable quote. I just shared to the our Christian fellowship yammer page at JLR. “The kingdom of God is less about getting us into heaven, than getting heaven into us, and into the world.”

    By Mark Wassell - 8 Jan 2021
    • Thanks Mark. That’s good to know! I’m sure there’ll be a little more of heaven in JLR by the end of the day!

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  5. Thank you, and especially for highlighting the shameful contrast with the treatment of Black Lives Matter protestors. Trump’s screeching U-turn statement heard on the radio this morning, struck me as that of a bad little boy who has finally submitted – probably in show only – to wiser heads who have told him what he must now do, to avoid a whipping.
    But I still totally take your main point about examining ourselves in light of events too!

    By Bruce Gulland - 8 Jan 2021
    • Thanks Bruce. That’s kind of you.

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  6. Actually the Kingdom of God has never, ever been about “getting us into heaven” but about resurrection & new creation – heaven transforming HERE.
    Another misleading part of this, is the approving reference to the fictional West Wing President who is infamous for ridiculing Christian values of sexual morality. Surely similar words can be used to advance your arguments without giving such credit & tugging towards his fashionable BBC type political agenda?
    Which tends to indicate that Brian Smith’s comment is rather appropriate.
    Mr Smith makes some very good points.
    Any thuggish behaviour is to be opposed, whether it’s irrational right-wing conspiracy theorists or left-wing BLM rioters but the media in this country has it’s favourite targets & we should be careful of being sucked in to their ‘trendy’ agendas.
    In the last national paper I bought there was a small feature about a black jazz artist not being on the A Level curriculum anymore (presumably to arouse our righteous indignation) but merely a few titchy paragraphs later in the same paper about the hundreds of slaughtered villagers in Christian parts of West Africa by Islamist militants. Even this was, of course, reported as if it were merely some ethnic ‘tribal unrest’, (in case anyone appears to be “Islamaphobic”!) If it were not for Christian charities reporting the realities ‘from the ground’ our own trusted media here would have us all believing that a few naïve malcontents in the States were the big issue.

    By Mr. M. Brittain - 8 Jan 2021
    • You’re right Michael – The kingdom of God has always been about resurrection and new creation, but that’s not always understood. Sorry you didn’t like The West Wing quote, but on this at least Jed Bartlet was spot on! We certainly need to engage critically with the media as well as being self critical (in light of Scripture) of our pre-existing commitments. I appreciate you commenting.

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  7. This is a brilliant and very moving piece of writing. Thank you

    By Simon May - 8 Jan 2021
    • Thanks Simon. I appreciate that.

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  8. I think the title of this piece embraces many of these great comments: ‘Not Only In America’. Thank you Paul for pointing out the injustices lately seen in the US needing to stretch our own eyes and hearts as we stumble along in pursuit of the deeper ChristlIke life.
    ‘Lord, Thy Kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven in me.’

    By Yazz Evans - 8 Jan 2021
    • Amen! Thanks Yazz. Good of you to write.

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  9. LICC has made a big difference in our (meaning my wife Peggy And myself) and as an American I particularly appreciate this Connecting with Culture. Especially valuable is your example of responding to criticism. Thank you!

    By Gary Nielsen - 8 Jan 2021
    • Thank you Gary. That’s kind of you to say so.

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  10. ‘The kingdom of God is less about getting us into heaven, than getting heaven into us, and into the world.’
    I love these words. They are simple and yet full of the deep meaning that Jesus embodied for us. Plenty of people outside the church misunderstand what the Kingdom of God is about. Perhaps people inside too. The call to live out heaven daily and to weave it into our world is a beautiful one, and reflects Jesus call on [us] to ask the Father daily for His Kingdom to come and his will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, knowing full well that we are to be actively involved in answering our prayers. We become party in bringing his Kingdom… servant-hearted and full of forgiveness just as we are forgiven.

    By Anthea Cowen - 8 Jan 2021
    • Absolutely! Thanks for your comment Anthea. The Lord’s Prayer really is that radical!

      By Paul Woolley - 8 Jan 2021
  11. As an America, what I witnessed as many of you in the UK shocked and horrified me. Furthermore, what is worse is that the assault on Congress was permitted, if not openly incited by President Trump. As an evangelical Christian, what has perhaps been most perplexing to me during the past five years of Trumpmania is that the American church has been largely silent about President Trump’s behavior, while publicly standing behind his political platform. As a card-carrying Republican for the past 40 years, I, as well as many American evangelical Christians have mostly identified with the Republican political platform because we understand it as being more congruent with biblical values. However, this is no excuse for the American church to permit the bullying, bullying, and berating behaviors of Donald Trump. Rarely did any Christian leader publicly criticize the President’s behavior.

    What most American’s have heard from the Christian community over the past five years was a chorus of evangelical support from the likes of Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr. Robert Jeffress, along with many others. The only Christians publicly challenging the President’s behavior have been Max Lucado, John Piper, and Mark Galli. It was Lucado who in 2016 first warned of Trump’s immoral behaviors and that ignoring them would be dangerous. Immediately, evangelicals criticized him. In December of 2019, Mark Galli, the former editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, felt the ire of the evangelical community when he wrote an editorial stating that President Trump should be removed from office because of character issues (1). This past October, John Piper suffered consequences when posted an article that was critical of fellow evangelicals for overlooking the sins of boastfulness, vulgarity, and sexual immorality while targeting issues like abortion and socialist outreach. Because of these comments Interim Liberty University President Jerry Prevo directed removal of some student spiritual development video’s Piper had made at the request of Liberty University.

    As Christians, regardless of our nationality or political affiliation we must first understand we are citizens of heaven, which requires us to be ambassadors of Christ before nationality or political affiliation. Failure to understand our heavenly citizenship bodes to the root of the problem and what ails the American Church; a significant lack of Christ being Lord in every part of our life… a lack of being whole life disciples. As a believer in Christ for nearly 50-years, and as a pastor, I have seen American Christians increasingly compartmentalizing their faith. We tend to apply our faith within the four-walls of our church but fail to effectively live it out in our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities.

    Since the days of the Moral Majority in the 1980s, the American evangelical church has bought into the belief that political power was the way to change the course of America’s spiritual lethargy. We forgot that during the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries, Christians did not take up the cause of Christ through political means or by storming centers of political power. Christians became the hands and feet of Christ by serving Christ in their respective frontlines in humility, peace, and service to both believers and unbelievers. It is my opinion that what the world saw this week in Washington D.C. was a 100-year culmination of the American Church’s failure to be the hands and feet of Christ.

    It is interesting to note that the last time national church leaders lined up in droves to publicly endorse a candidate who promised to restore national pride and dignity was in 1930s Nazi Germany. During this time, many Protestants called themselves Storm Troopers of Jesus Christ (3). What is ironic is that the America that championed, following the UK’s lead, confronting one of history’s greatest human and political travesties, has itself made the same mistake some 90+ years later.

    Perhaps the greatest casualty of this week’s events in Washington DC is the witness of the American Church. Its leaders have discredited and its mission compromised. As such, what I have feared may eventually happen has come to fruition; the un-believing community feeling justified to turn on the Christian community. Just today, (January 8, 2021) The Atlantic Magazine’s Emma Green wrote an article titled A Christian Insurrection. A quick Google search reveals the same burgeoning public sentiment.

    I am fully convinced that as Christians on both sides of the Atlantic we must embrace whole life discipleship, allowing Christ to reign in every part of our life. We must also embrace the frontlines God has divinely placed us and become His hands and feet to the world around us. As a pastor, one of the greatest challenges is to have believers to understand they are first and foremost citizens of heaven. Thus, I encourage them that we must not engage unbelievers and those with liberal agendas from a political perspective or through a judgment eye. Rather we are to strive daily to see each person through the eyes of Christ and treat them as He would. This is how Rome was won for Christ, this is how both our nations became bastions of Christendom, and it is only the only way we will see revival in both of our nations.

    As a frequently traveler to the UK, I have gained a great admiration for the UK Church and for the LICC. I am so thankful to the LICC for championing the cause of Christ in the UK and have been especially impressed with the LICC’s passion to invest in churches to grow whole life disciples who embrace their frontlines. I, and many others in America greatly solicit your prayers for the American church for there are many spiritual diseases that ail it; this past week was such an indication. Please pray first and foremost that we would see the error of our way and that we would repent. Second, I would ask that you pray that revival would once again heal out nation.

    Claude Hungerford, Ph.D., MBA
    Associate Pastor of Ministry Development
    Grace Bible Church, La Vernia Texas

    1. https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2020/01/06/christianity-today-christian-post-editoiral-mark-galli-retires

    2. https://religionnews.com/2020/11/03/john-piper-jd-greear-convocation-video-booted-by-liberty-university-after-trump-criticism-southern-baptist/

    3. Holocaust and Human Behavior, 2017, Chapter 7

    By Claude Hungerford - 10 Jan 2021
  12. I found the comments of Claude Hungerford very helpful and that it was written by an evangelical in the USA who understand his country better than we do. It was spot on. Thank you

    By Mike Glover - 11 Jan 2021
    • Thanks Mike. Yes, it’s great getting the perspective of those in the country.

      By Paul Woolley - 12 Jan 2021

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