Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

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.


Anonymous said...

I live in and amongst an Amish community. They own land on two sides of my property.

Centuries ago, in the 1500's they decided to circle the wagons and to never un-circle them. Much of the reasons are depicted in book titled, Martyrs Mirror. The Amish are a pacifistic closed society. No doctors, lawyers, college educated professionals etc. can be found in their society. Engagement with the outside world is minimal.

I agree. There is a tension as to when to circle 'em up or to hit the trail. The Amish are a good example of circling up and never hitting the trail again.

Ronald Polinder said...

To be sure, we can have tendencies to circle the wagons, and for some, that is what the Christian School movement was. But not when it is at its best--I am so grateful for how it challenged Colleen and me to "go out," go to the frontiers of the Kingdom. I have not read the Rauch article, but I wonder what would happen if he spent some time with Christian people around the nation and world who serve and serve and serve, usually quietly--follow some of those World Renew folks, or some of those faithful missionaries deeply engaged with the people they have come to love and serve. I'm hopeful!

Ron Polinder

Anonymous said...

In reading Rauch in Atlantic, his article on his father was deeply moving. However, my general impression of Rauch is that he like others of his religious persuasion has circled (girdled) his own intellectual wagons.