I’ve been intrigued by the theological language of World War Two for some time now; although the war ended some 70 years ago, we are still trying to make sense of the massive loss of life on the battlefield, in the concentration camps, and in attacks on civilian areas. The theological language of the era emphasized polarity of good and evil, Allies and Axis, us and them. We view one side as good and the other side as evil (or at least the leader was evil), and this is still a regular theme in our art, literature, movies, and other cultural spaces. From my perspective of looking back toward a time before I was alive, WWII was fought in the physical realm, but on cosmic terms for the spiritual well being of our entire planet.
The language of WWII is once again a part of our national dialogue. Sides are being painted as good or evil, us and them; fear of the other is causing reactionary language around border protection and deportation that parallels the language of internment, concentration camps, and ethnic cleansing of the 1940s.
As far as I can tell, there has always been a divide between us and them, with mistreatment toward those not like us. Our ancient scripture recognized that this was an issue and calls all faithful people to welcome the stranger and treat them as our neighbor. Our scripture also calls on our leaders to be just toward the least among us, to be humble like the last among us, and to be kind even to the lost among us.
The change in administration symbolizes other theological themes that are discomfiting to me. All of the Christian leaders chosen to pray at the inauguration next week come out of the Prosperity Gospel portion of evangelicalism. Proponents of the Prosperity Gospel claim that wealth is a blessing bestowed by God, and that God will grant that blessing of wealth if you pray hard enough. To me, this type of theology contradicts what Jesus has said (e.g., “Blessed are the poor…”), and it’s not surprising that these faith leaders are going to usher in an administration that has more billionaire business people in it than at any time previously in our history. We are all waiting to see how policy will be shaped, not by long-term politicians, but by wealthy business people. Some in our congregation are ready for the change, and others are fearing what will happen to issues of social justice when business principles are applied.
I am clear that these are not just political, nor historical, nor even business concepts; these are theological issues. Categorizing good and evil, rejecting or welcoming outsiders, and claiming blessing in wealth or poverty are issues that God cares about, that Jesus preached about, and that we as followers must pay attention to. They do not belong merely to the Congress to debate; they belong in the church as we discern how we will treat our fellow travellers on this planet.
I believe that these days will be rich for theological conversation, and that these conversations, as necessary as they may be, will be uncomfortable. One of the great things, though, is that in church we are neither Republican nor Democrat, but part of the Body of Christ. As church we get to discern what that means for us. And I am praying for our country and our world in these theological times.
Peace, Pastor Tony