Mike Cope's blog

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I've seen lots of angry Christians on television in the past week. One late-night comedian said, "They're tired of being the persecuted majority, and they're not going to take it any longer!" The ironies are too great. We can hardly understand the New Testament when we live with a "persecuted majority" complex where we're mad at people all the time. As the church's influence continues to decline, some will just continue to be apoplectic. Others, perhaps, will return to founding documents like 1 Peter. There we're told to expect persecution -- especially since we follow one who was crucified. "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." Peter encourages Christ-followers to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in them -- but with GENTLENESS and RESPECT for those who aren't (yet) believers. He tells women who have unbelieving husbands that the key isn't to nag them into the kingdom but to live with beauty--the beauty of GENTLE spirits. Right now many don't accept our status as "aliens and strangers" in this world.


  • I readily admit I have to watch myself from being caught up in the "cause of the week" - be it from Capital Hill or locally. I find that often I (and we) look for the easy path - it is far easier to fight for a cause than it is to drop to our knees and pray for those we don't like.

    By Blogger KentF, at 4/28/2005 05:41:00 AM  

  • You mean we can't dislike them into liking us? :-)

    By Blogger Matt Elliott, at 4/28/2005 05:55:00 AM  

  • It's always interesting when people adopt political action as a way of furthering religion. U.S. politics seems to have a way of polarizing people, so when people carry their Christian agenda into politics, we should not be surprised that the result is polarization. Richard Hughes' book (Myths America Lives By) is helpful in understanding a lot of what we hear about America being a "chosen nation" and a "Christian nation" -- two of the myths.

    By Blogger Jim Hughes, at 4/28/2005 06:23:00 AM  

  • Try explaining this persecution to people with disabilities, to people living in crime-filled neighborhoods, to people who are hungry, to people who cannot, to people without clean drinking water, to people abused, tortured, and crushed.

    This clammer about being persectued has diminished the ministry that could be theirs. It rings so hollow when they can sit on soft pews in a climate controlled building and speaking freely about anything they want.

    Thanks for the post, Mike.

    By Blogger Fajita, at 4/28/2005 06:29:00 AM  

  • It's interesting you posted this message today, Mike. I am posting something similar, taken from a discussion of which I was a part with Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, authors of The Shaping of Things to Come, last Friday.

    Profundity was flowing freely that night, but this quote from Frost stayed in my mind. (He is talking about changes the church needs to make to reach the not-yet-Christians on the fringes):

    The incarnation is absolutely central, and I would suggest, the most disturbing of all doctrines. Really, in abandoning the genuine nature of the incarnation, you've got a God-like person who isn't really that human at all. The reason why I think it disturbs us this much is that it challenges us to be Christlike, and to be Christlike is to be completely faithful to Yahweh, while at the same time thriving in the host empire. Fully human – fully holy. A lot of times we like the fully holy Jesus, but we don’t like the fully holy Jesus.

    Jesus has basically become the picture book Jesus – the alabaster Jesus, the stain-glass Jesus. But the Jesus of the Bible is actually a radical, Middle-eastern subversive, actually calling us to the same kind of lifestyle. That is a very, very distressing thought to many Americans.

    I don't want to follow the Jesus from the Jesus movies. He doesn't excite me at all. The real man Jesus gathered together a band of disciples and radically changed the world. Who could do that, looking like he just stepped out of a shampoo commercial?

    "A radical, middle-Eastern subversive, calling us to the same kind of lifestyle." Wow. Tell that to the TBN crew, or even James Dobson for that matter.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 4/28/2005 06:55:00 AM  

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    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 4/28/2005 07:00:00 AM  

  • Amen.

    By Blogger Little Light, at 4/28/2005 07:31:00 AM  

  • I really enjoyed the chapter in Donald Miller's book "Blue Like Jazz" where they had a confessional on campus at Reed College during their Pagan Weekend and they used it to confess the sins of christianity on the world. Great chapter with great responses.

    By Blogger happytheman, at 4/28/2005 07:33:00 AM  

  • At times, we do seem to be faced with a complex paradox.

    We have deep desires to protect the innocent and vulnerable, including those that have yet to be born, and yet we don't want to seem radical and angry. But then, even our Savior used His anger to change some wordly acceptable but God-angering practices.

    Jesus made people [including His own family] so angry they rioted and tried to murder Him, wanting to throw Him over a cliff.

    Jesus both acted AND prayed - guess we can too. :o)

    Philip Yancy writes in "The Jesus I Never Knew" that Jesus didn't call us to be political activists [my paraphrase], rather, He calls us to follow Him, sharing with everyone we meet our faith, thereby changing the world one person at a time. I agree, to a point, but also agree that He puts different ministries on different hearts, some of which do call for open battle, i.e. the gentle but firm James Dobson in his quest to protect the unborn.

    As the Apostles in Acts said [again, my paraphrase], are we to follow man's impositions or God's Will?

    I admit to being a news and politics junky, and I pray all I do and say about these two interests never overshadow who I am in Christ - that all I do and say reflects to His glory and honor.

    I agree with Hirsch and Frost, I too would not wish to follow a "shampoo ad-Jesus" - and know I don't, Praise Him! But then, ;) why would I look for Him in an ad? ;)

    By Blogger Kathy, at 4/28/2005 07:37:00 AM  

  • If I'm not mistaken that was a quote from The Daily Show. I never miss it. Anyway, really appreciate your post.

    By Blogger Kyle, at 4/28/2005 07:55:00 AM  

  • I do too, and for some reason it brings to mind a quote from a Monty Python sketch featuring Graham Chapman as an interviewee on the telly: "I think all right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent-thinking people in this country are fed up with being sick and tired. I'm certainly not – and I'm sick and tired of being told that I am."

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 4/28/2005 09:32:00 AM  

  • I just want to say two things.

    1.) AMEN!

    2.) I'm going to admit that I had to look up the word "apoplectic", you freaking genius, you. :-)

    Beneath His Mercy,

    By Blogger Brian Burkett, at 4/28/2005 09:40:00 AM  

  • Mike, I agree with you completely in what your words specifically say. I have one question, though, which puzzles me often.
    How do I deal with my conviction that the rights of the unborn in our country are not well protected, without being one of the "angry majority"?

    By Blogger cathy moore, at 4/28/2005 10:02:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Thanks for another new (renewed) challenge. So what righteous words and acts could get Jesus killed in the here and now? Would that even happen to Jesus where I live? If not, then what would he at least be hated for?

    Larry James kinda bugs me. But I don't want to kill him. (Sorry, Larry. . . . Sort of).

    Anyway, I do think that the recent history of privilege has become a big problem. I'm an insider in a lot of ways, and I like it.

    By Blogger Frank Bellizzi, at 4/28/2005 10:48:00 AM  

  • So glad I'm not the only one who had to look up apoplectic! :)

    By Blogger SG, at 4/28/2005 11:14:00 AM  

  • I definetly agree with the person that said "How do I deal with my conviction that the rights of the unborn in our country are not well protected" I deal with this too but I don't know if I can reasonably expect a country that (for the most part and sadly) doesn't know Jesus to protect the unborn. I have to say that I have given up on politics to insure that life is given the proper value and I think that a Christians time is better spent in teaching others about Christ, who then can teach them Himself about the value of His creation.

    By Blogger Matt P, at 4/28/2005 11:29:00 AM  

  • If we don't want to get wet, we need to get out of the political waters in which we are drowning. Judy Thomas---and go back to that house built on the rock. (I love mixed metaphors!)

    By Blogger judy thomas, at 4/28/2005 11:38:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    I'm sure you and your readers will enjoy my new book soon to be released, "Your Best Strange and Alien Life Now"

    If you liked my first book, "The Persecuted Driven Life" then you will love this one.

    I'll tell you what is ironic is that you pointing out how angry the angry Christians (isn't that an oxymoron?) really are is going to make some angry Christians really angry! Not that is irony!

    Great Post!

    Oh, I almost forgot! For those of you who are interested you can pre-order my book and save 77% when you use your "Prayer of Jabez Visa Card" If you order in the next day or two I'll throw in a free Persecuted Driven Life mock turtle neck made by an eight year old girl who works 14 hours a day in a sweatshop in Indonesia for about 93 cents a day as my way of saying "Thanks for being so persecuted"

    By Blogger Joel Quile, at 4/28/2005 12:48:00 PM  

  • Mike,

    You’re entirely right that we should expect persecution and that we should not conform to the world.

    On the other hand, we are to transform this world. Peter lived in a time when he had no political say and no political power. I don’t think, like Lipscomb did, that Peter would have scoffed at the chance to remove the Roman government and replace it with one that persecuted less. Democracy is a blessing from God, at least that’s how the framers saw it.

    God has given us the government we have, with the capacity to elect our own representatives. Don’t you think Christians should take advantage of that to elect people who are less hostile to religion? Or should we actively seek to create a setting in which we are persecuted?


    By Blogger Old Pybus, at 4/28/2005 12:49:00 PM  

  • Thanks for last night's words at Highland and then making the point again today on your BLOG.


    By Blogger Donald Philip Simpson, at 4/28/2005 02:55:00 PM  

  • I started voting Democrat just to tick off those angry Christians.

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 4/28/2005 03:06:00 PM  

  • True persecution comes from a healthy understanding of following Christ. As I see it, what we're dealing with is dichotomous thinking within the Christian community. Either we come to the table apocalyptically or we approach life prophetically. In the former we act out of a fairly low anthropology, while in the latter we affirm a higher anthropology. Within our tradition, with the exception of people like Larry James, we have historically been a people obsessed with passively preparing for the coming of Christ since there's nothing we can do to effect any significant change on earth. The prophetic views history not as having already been decided but as the necessary vehicle through which God continues to work.

    When Christ said that we would be persecuted, he was saying that those who truly followed in his footsteps would encounter resistance (as all prophets did and continue to experience). Many conservative Christians in this country want to jump on the persecution bandwagon thinking that playing the victim will somehow expedite Christ's return.

    There's a difference between being picked on for being ridiculous or duplicitous and being persecuted. We seem to think that the existence of the former necessarily implies the latter. The time is coming for us to reclaim a higher notion of humanity that reclaims our status as co-laborers with God to bring about God's will on earth as it is in heaven. As the angels said to the disciples following Jesus' ascension in Acts, "Why do you guys stand there looking at the sky?"

    I think they would ask us the same question.

    By Blogger Krister, at 4/28/2005 03:14:00 PM  

  • Looks like I'm not the only one who agrees with you, and I can't tell you how happy this makes me!!! I've had more than I can take of hearing the vituperate railings of the politically motivate from the nation's pulpits. When will we learn that we are NOT of this world?

    Thanks for another excellent and well-thought-out post.

    By Blogger Scott, at 4/28/2005 05:02:00 PM  

  • Hmmm. I don't know.

    Shouldn't the fact that almost 90% of teenagers have viewed porn make us angry? Shouldn't the fact that we see nearly 14,000 sexual scenes and references each year on television make us angry? How about the fact that over 1,000,000 innocent babies are murdered each year? How about the rampant materialism? The neglect of the poor?

    Shouldn't we get angry over the things that anger God??? Shouldn't we oppose all who would support and promote the items mentioned above???

    By Blogger Lucinda Ross, at 4/28/2005 05:27:00 PM  

  • Is your anger going to bring more to Christ? If you bring more to Christ will they, then join you in your quest to change hearts? When culture changes then these things you mention will naturally change as well. Hating suffering, loving one's neighbor, peace and forgiveness and all the other things that I learned from Jesus, won't these things come if we change hearts instead of trying to force the law. Instead of telling an artist what he can paint maybe we could start with loving the artist. Then maybe he'll want to paint something more righteous. On the political side I personnally have to continue fighting for personal freedoms of speech and expression. God doesn't force my hand, and niether should I force my brother's.

    By Blogger Kyle, at 4/28/2005 07:16:00 PM  

  • Should those things anger us? Of course...but we have to remember who the enemy is. It's not our neighbors who are trapped by sin (just like we once were...). Our enemy is Satan. Let's save our anger for him.

    The church MUST get its head on straight about its attitude toward the world and the lost. We LOVE to quote John 3:16...but we need to look at it closer. It says that God loved the world so much that he sent his only son to die for it. But we in the church only love it enough to yell at it. Can't we at least muster enough love to open up our arms and invite them in? This here post basically just asked us Christians to behave like Jesus did...are we going to argue with that?

    By Blogger Neal W., at 4/28/2005 07:23:00 PM  

  • Thanks, Neal. Well said. Jesus got really hacked at times -- but it was directed toward religious hypocrisy. He tended to be a gentle shepherd with those who were lost. I keep hearing lots of defense of Christian anger; and I keep reading NT warnings against anger and pleas for gentleness and respect. I fear that at times our angry outbursts are attempts to cover our "persecuted majority" complex with justification.

    I want to write more about Christian involvement in politics, abortion, etc., soon. I'm still braindead right now.

    I hope everyone gets the regular e-mails from Jim Wallis and Sojourners. (Sign up at sojo.net.)

    Here are his words today:

    Last week, I wrote about the "Justice Sunday" event held at a Louisville, Kentucky, mega-church. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson, and Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler were joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on video in the event titled "Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith." Of course, I have no objection to Christian leaders expressing their faith in the public arena - it's a good thing that I do all the time. The question is not whether to do so, but how. As I heard more and more about "Justice Sunday," it felt to me like it was crossing an important line - saying that a political issue was a test of faith.

    So, when I was invited to speak at an interfaith "Freedom and Faith" service at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, I agreed. On Sunday morning, I flew to Louisville, and that afternoon addressed more than 1,000 people who attended the rally. I didn't go to say that these leaders shouldn't bring their faith into politics; the issues concerning them - abortion and family values - are also important to me. But the way they were doing it was wrong. The clear implication of their message was that those who opposed them are not people of faith.

    We can get some historical perspective by looking at how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did it - and he was the church leader who did it best. Once after he was arrested, he wrote a very famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," addressed to the white clergy who were opposing him on the issues of racial segregation and violence against black people. Never once did he say that they were not people of faith. He appealed to their faith, challenged their faith, asked them to go deeper with their faith, but he never said they were not real Christians. If Dr. King refused to attack the integrity and faith of his opponents over such a clear gospel issue, how can the Religious Right do it over presidential nominees and a Senate procedural issue known as the filibuster?

    After the "Justice Sunday" event, and the controversy surrounding it, some of the sponsors are denying they ever claimed that those who oppose them are hostile to people of faith. Yet their words stand for themselves. In the letter announcing the event on the Family Research Council Web site, Tony Perkins wrote: "Many of these nominees to the all-important appellate court level are being blocked...because they are people of faith and moral convictions.... We must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith."

    So, I told the Louisville rally that when someone has stolen our faith in the public arena, it is time to take our faith back. "Justice Sunday" was an attempt to hijack Christianity for a partisan and ideological agenda. Those on the Religious Right are declaring a religious war to give their version of faith religious supremacy in America. And some members of the Republican Party seem ready almost to declare a Christian theocracy in America. It is time to take back both our faith and our Constitution.

    It is now clear there are some who will fight this religious war by any means necessary. So we will fight, but not the way they do. We must never lie or misrepresent the facts or the truth. We must not demonize or vilify those who are our opponents. We must claim that those who disagree with our judgments are still real people of faith. We must not fight the way they do, but fight we must. A great deal is at stake in this battle for the heart and soul of faith in America and for the nation's future itself. We will not allow faith to be put into the service of one political agenda.

    This is a call for the rest of the churches to wake up. This is a call for people of faith everywhere to stand up and let their faith be heard. This is not a call to be just concerned, or just a little worried, or even just alarmed. This is a call for clear speech and courageous action. This is a call to take back our faith, and in the words of the prophet Micah, "to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God."

    By Blogger Mike, at 4/28/2005 07:49:00 PM  

  • Neal makes a great point.
    "We LOVE to quote John 3:16...but we need to look at it closer. It says that God loved the world so much that he sent his only son to die for it. But we in the church only love it enough to yell at it. Can't we at least muster enough love to open up our arms and invite them in?"

    But I would take it one step further. We should be going out to the world and showing people God's love not standing in fear and yelling at them. "Speak the truth in love." We need to recognize that we are indeed aliens and this is not "our turf" and approach the world from our Father's view towards them.

    By Blogger songbirdintl, at 4/29/2005 06:42:00 AM  

  • I liken the angry voices of Christian "prophets" in America to an inner-city church that tries to "stamp out" the gangs in the area by building on their turf, speaking harshly against them, etc. What does the church have to offer a gang member, anyway? He already has a mission, a band of people that watch his back, and a purpose for which to live (allbeit the wrong purpose). In the same way, the church will never stamp out evil in our society (and I wonder if it is called to do that, in the way we think of the phrase), but it can begin to tell a different story. If we are concerned about social issues regarding life, begin telling stories of the life that is found in Christ and the epic into which we are initiated. This happens on a person-to-person level, not a legislative, authoritarian level.

    What's more, I'm not sure if I want a completely "moral" and "Christian" society. I kind of like the idea of the church returning to a more "subversive" status in society. This is, after all, how Jesus conducted his ministry and how the church spread. Disciple-making has flourished the most in the times when the surrounding culture has been most oppressive and disapproving. The first three centuries of Christianity is a case in point. The situation in China right now under the Mao reign should be a reminder of this. Could it be possible that a growing (and often justified) suspicion of the Church and increasing oppression thereof is a good thing for the expansion of the kingdom?

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 4/29/2005 11:10:00 AM  

  • Such great and thoughtful comments ... reading through them all, I'm a bit too brain-dead. So cannot for the moment comment with much clarity.

    Just curious, but have any of you read Archbishop Desmond Tutu's 'God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time'? He sets forth the premise that Christians have a responsibility to be involved in politics, though not necessarily the American type. His book may then seem not very relevant to American Christians. So some of you may not have read it. But if you have, I would be interested to know your perspective(s).

    It is also somewhat intriguing to notice how God's actions affected the politics of the day for, say, Joseph, Lot, Moses, Esther, and yes, Jezebel's husband (even then wives were not shrinking violets when it came to meddling in their husband's 'affairs of state'!).

    Blessings all!

    By Blogger Deb, at 4/30/2005 09:38:00 AM  

  • mike, i'm waiting for your post on christianity and politics. that topic (or should i say, those topics?) have been weighing heavily on me - and many others, i'm sure - as of late, and i look forward to hearing your insight on the matter. thank you for the challenging things you write on here so often, and for the challenging things that other people write that you present to us. i'll write you more later regarding guatemala.

    By Blogger kentbrantly, at 4/30/2005 03:14:00 PM  

  • I have been so fed up with the state of politics in this country lately. I actually did some serious research on what it would take to emigrate.

    Problem is, every other country in the world has its problems . . . and I also have a special-needs child and have to consider what is best for him.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/30/2005 03:27:00 PM  

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