Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Circling the wagons
Even before yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, Jonathan Rauch, in an article in the new Atlantic, warns evangelical Christians against what he calls "secession" from a world that's much wider than their own fellowship community. Rauch says evangelical Christians probably won't listen to anything he's saying anyway since he is, he says, a homosexual and an atheist; but he claims that if Christians "hunker down," they'll be taking a wrong turn.
When Christians create institutions set apart from the rest of society, he says, it effectively takes them out of the conversation, the dialogue that goes on in our culture or any other. He doesn't want evangelicals to fold up their tents and withdraw to gated communities. He fears, he says, that rulings like yesterday's Hobby Lobby decision, will make it easier for Christians simply to walk away from secular society and create their own businesses and pet clubs and bowling teams and what not else.
He says movements of believers both in to and away from secular society have waxed and waned in the American story, and now "perhaps were due for another withdrawal."
My background is heavily secessionist. After all, I couldn't be a Boy Scout when I grew up; my church created an alternative. I went to a Christian school, even though kids from other Christian families chose the public school a few blocks away. Historians claim that Dutch immigration throughout the 19th and early 20th century was especially given to clustering, that most of those leaving the Netherlands came from only a few areas, and that when they arrived here they almost always went to places where other Dutch immigrants were already building communities.
Rausch is right about secession waxing and waning among Christians. Those two impulses--going out and staying close--have empowered movements of evangelicals throughout American history; one is toward culture (think of prohibition and suffrage and, of course, abolition), and the other is away from culture (think prohibitions on dance, for instance, or movies).
The truth is most of us have done both. What the Hobby Lobby case points at is separation once again, the determination not to let any government--local, state, federal--interfere with someone's freedom to worship. I'm not interested in a fight about whether or not the SCOTUS ruling was right or wrong; politics today is highly separatist itself. I am interested in the kind of face evangelical Christians bring to the world God so loved that he. . .well, you know the rest.
On the road to the Kingdom, evangelicals might say, there are times when, no matter how tired or hurt or grieved, you stick it out and keep on trucking, keep pushing those oxen to haul the wagons ever west. But, there are also times when all you can do is circle those wagons, when the best offense is a stout defense, when standing still is the only way to go forward.
We've got advocates for both sides in the evangelical tent. In fact, those two contrary impulses belong to each of us and is in each of us. Sometimes we fight; sometimes we don't. Real life experiences generally helps us determine to choose our battles, not to fight them all.
The blessed genius is to know when to move and when to hunker down, when to go out into all the world and when to pull back the troops. There's a time to press on and time to secede, a time to scatter stones, as the Bible says, and a time to gather them.
Rausch says evangelicals have to pause and determine whether they want to be seen as "staying home with the shutters closed," especially during an era, he says, when young people have begun to equate religion with intolerance.
We've done it before, of course, circled the wagons and stayed the heck out of the world. We may well do it again. May God give us the wisdom to know when to mix it up and when to stay put.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 12:41 PM