April 18, 2018

Nations & Churches: Subservient versus Chirpy

Statements this week illustrated two very different perspectives by churches towards their nations. One from Syrian prelates condemned Western strikes on Syrian chemical weapons facilities and embraced Assad’s dictatorship. Another, from the Church of Norway, addressing their prime minister, chirpily insisted its nation accept more Mideast refugees.

Syrian church patriarchs immediately announced they “condemn and denounce the brutal aggression that took place this morning against our precious country Syria by the USA, France and the UK, under the allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons.” They claimed there was no evidence Syria’s dictatorship deployed chemical weapons and called upon America, British and French churches to “fulfill their Christian duties, according to the teachings of the Gospel, and condemn this aggression and to call their governments to commit to the protection of international peace.”

And they offered full-throttle enthusiasm for Assad’s regime and armed forces along with its Iranian and Russian patrons:

We salute the courage, heroism and sacrifices of the Syrian Arab Army which courageously protects Syria and provide security for its people. We pray for the souls of the martyrs and the recovery of the wounded. We are confident that the army will not bow before the external or internal terrorist aggressions; they will continue to fight courageously against terrorism until every inch of the Syrian land is cleansed from terrorism. We, likewise, commend the brave stand of countries which are friendly to the Syria and its people.

Their declaration offers no hint anywhere of prophetic critique towards their rulers or nation. Regime enemies are terrorists. The regime’s soldiers are heroes and martyrs. Of course, Syria’s Christians are a small and shrinking minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. Their government is a brutal dictatorship that squashes all dissent. Church prelates can’t criticize the regime without imperiling themselves and their flocks. They also regard the relatively secular rulers, however murderous, as preferable to direct Islamist rule.

We who aren’t in their precarious position cannot judge and condemn the obsequious Syrian prelates. But their unqualified support, at least publicly, for Assad is a model of how churches ideally do not witness to their nation. Justifiable fear and historical circumstance have forced church shepherds to become reliable parrots of their dictatorship.

In contrast to the Syrian hyper nationalism is a statement on immigration from the Church of Norway demanding its democratic government accept more Mideast refugees. Like the church in Syria, the Church of Norway is shrinking, but not due to war and persecution, but due to its own collapse of doctrine in favor of liberal secular accommodation.

The Church of Norway declaration is full of exclamation points, starting with “Welcome the stranger!” It insists: “Jesus was a refugee. He is a stranger, hungry, thirsty, and displaced. In our time. In our world.” So the immigration issue is therefore very simple. Y’all come!

These Norwegians denounce “xenophobia” and “fences” while breezily demanding: “The church must be a protest movement against injustice. There are many people living in fear, but the resurrected Jesus said to his disciples: Fear not! Be courageous!”

The Church of Norway implores congregations to ‘Welcome the Stranger!” and politically advocate for refugees. It tells Norway’s prime minister:

Be brave! Show hospitality in words and deeds. Ensure a decent public policy towards refugees and asylum seekers. Whatever you do for one of the least of these, you do for me, Jesus told us.

The Church of Norway is upset that Norway, like other European nations, has slowed its acceptance of refugees in response to concerns about primarily Muslim immigrants melding successfully into Norway and about potential Islamic radicalism leading to violence. Are these concerns based only on irrational xenophobia and fear? Or do governments not have an obligation to safeguard the interests and security of their own people? Is government’s primary obligation hospitality?

Congregations are rightly called to minister to all whom they can reach. But governments have very different God-ordained duties. The declining Church of Norway seems indifferent to these distinctions and instead regards its state and nation as cornucopias available to all.

These respective declarations from Syrian and Norwegian church officials showcase how Christian social witness ideally should not operate. The church should not reflexively support the state and demonize the state’s enemies as its own enemies. And the church should not pretend that it has no special responsibility for the health and safety of the nation where it resides.

The church is both universal and local, transcendent and rooted. It should speak independently but also seriously, with prudence, not with multiple exclamation marks and superficial sentiment.

9 Responses to Nations & Churches: Subservient versus Chirpy

  1. John Kenyon says:

    Puzzling blog in that it seems to assume bad faith–the Syrian Church is obsequious to the state and the Norwegian Church is unaware of the distinct duties of a government, rather than that both are acting in good faith. Perhaps. But how does one know their motives? Are those clerics/churches that support the coalition strike being obsequious? Those opposed not aware of the distinct role of government?

  2. Will says:

    Thank you for this! Churches (eg: the people within) have embraced the clubiness of it’s name sake, and hide in the absence of truth so they can…belong.

  3. Anthony James says:

    The church in Norway is right to quote Matthew, of course it is always best to look at the whole passage:
    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

    I believe Jesus’s words speak for themselves, and we, and our governments, should heed them.

  4. Grateful says:

    Apostate religious leaders worldwide have been leading Christians astray for years. Beginning with the Episcopal Church USA’s support of the Gay Rights movement through today’s Pope, the support of anti-Christian theologies and philosophies has driven may away from organized religion at best and away from Christianity altogether at worst. Christians who know the bible know what is right and what is wrong and church leaders will not be able to convince them that wrong is right and right is wrong. The specter of Episcopal Bishops leading gay Rights parades did more damage to orthodox Christianity than the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker scandals of the 80s. An openly communist Pope Francis is driving Catholics out of the church in record numbers. Religious leaders need to remain aloof from public political displays while condemning inhumane and anti-Christian acts by politicians within their flocks and behind the scenes. Public displays of political philosophies risk alienation of half of their flocks and condemnation by politicians whose acts they oppose. In ancient times and even today, Christians are being martyred for simply being Christians not just because of their political activities. Every time my Pastor says something negative about President Trump, he offends me and most of his congregation. Worse, he loses credibility as a religious leader and increases his status as a fool.

  5. Roberta Siegel says:

    I am grateful for grateful! Well said and “right”.

  6. I am grateful for Grateful ! Well spoken and he is right!

  7. Donald says:

    Remember the churches of Ephesus and Laodicia. The best we can hope for is faithfulness in our own congregation. The national structures are deeply flawed, if not outright apostate.

  8. Earl H Foote says:

    This “ownership” of churches by either governments or trendy political movements is more widespread than we think. I recently read a book about the development of the atom bomb, and it said that, when the U.S. dropped A-bombs on Japan, Pope Pius XII condemned the action. My immediate thought was, “Did he also condemn Mussolini for invading Ethiopia?” I don’t think so! The head of the Nazi puppet state of Slovakia was a Catholic priest. The current pope has authorized the Chinese government to appoint Catholic bishops who approve of birth control and abortion. I would say simply to trust in Jesus Christ and not in any human institution, including the Church, but I do feel called, as an Episcopalian, to speak out against Church statements with which I disagree.

  9. M Shelton says:

    There is no biblical or evangelical content to this blog. It seems that you oppose both Syrian and Norwegian clerics simply because they differ on your political stance, not because they oppose scripture or Christian tradition. To be fair, you should first lay out your position: Assad’s regime is bad because of x, y, and z. And immigration from Muslim countries, including refugees from Assad’s Syria is bad for Norway because x, y, and z. There’s some baseless prejudice peeking through, so it’s only fair for you to be transparent about those, while you criticize others. Otherwise, don’t use Bonhoeffer as your banner.

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