#BICHistoryMatters

Facebook-LogoIn yesterday’s post, I teased a new initiative that the Brethren in Christ Historical Society is undertaking during the Brethren in Christ Church’s 2014 General Conference: a social media campaign! (I’ve also already blogged about the Society’s “takeover” of social media, including Facebook and Twitter.)

We’re basing our social media campaign around a central question: Does History Matter? We, of course, believe it does!

Throughout General Conference, we’ll be sharing fun facts, images, quotes, and clips from previous General Conferences — all the way back to the first Conference in 1871! We’ll be using the hashtag mentioned in this post’s title: #BICHistoryMatters

Be sure to like the Society on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. You can also track the hashtag on both sites to see everything we’ve posted.

Together, let’s consider the important role of history in our lives as Brethren in Christ today!

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Are You Ready for General Conference 2014?

GC2014On Friday, July 11, 2014, the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. will gather for its biennial General Conference. This year, conference delegates will gather at Lancaster Mennonite School in Lancaster, Pa. This gathering promises to be a historic conference — and in a way it already is, even before the first vote has been cast, because it’s the first time General Conference has been held in Lancaster — the birthplace and supposed “heartland” of the Brethren in Christ community — since 1946!

If you’re a delegate, stop by and say “hi” — I’ll be wandering around Conference all weekend, blogging and assisting with the Brethren in Christ Historical Society‘s social media campaign (more on that later!).

If you won’t be in Lancaster, be sure to follow the General Conference blog and / or the General Church’s Twitter feed for Conference updates. And stay tuned to The Search for Piety and Obedience, as I’ll be sharing unique content all weekend long!

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Evangelicals on the “Uneasy Tension Between God and Country”

qideasLast week’s twin posts on celebrating “Independence Day” as an Anabaptist (here, here) garnered lots of responses — likes, comments, shares — on both the blog and on social media. As I’ve already pointed out, readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience seemed to resonate with the ambivalence I (and fellow blogger Kurt Willems) feel on July 4th.

Most of the articles we shared reflected on nationalistic celebrations from a distinctively Anabaptist perspective. Yet Anabaptists aren’t the only ones who recognize the potential problems of blending nationalism and Christian faith.

Last Fourth of July, QIdeas posted a thought-provoking article by Michael Wear titled “Our Long, Uneasy Tension Between God and Country.” (They re-tweeted it this year, which is how it caught my attention.) QIdeas — founded by Gabe Lyons, of unChristian and The Next Christians — is an Evangelical organization founded to help Christians better engage culture for the purposes of redemption and reconciliation. They produce a lot of thoughtful stuff, from articles like the one I’m sharing here to videos and other media. But they do all of it from a distinctively Evangelical perspective.

That’s why I was a bit shocked — but pleasantly so — to discover the QIdeas piece on the dangers of Christian nationalism.

Here’s a taste:

. . . evangelicals, in particular, have long been comfortable with a bold, unapologetic patriotism. A recent survey shows that even today, in what many consider a “post-Christian” America, white evangelicals are the most patriotic religious group in the country. This intense patriotism has contributed to America’s “civil religion” in a substantial way, and with that our national discourse. . . .

President Ronald Reagan became beloved by evangelicals for melding an American optimism and religious language. America, he said, was a “shining city on a hill.” The memorable phrase was taken from John Winthrop, who took the phrase from Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 5:14b). Winthrop used the phrase during a sermon aboard the ship, Arbella, which carried puritans commissioned by King Charles I to establish Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Winthrop told his shipmates: “Consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill; the eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and byword through the world.” For Winthrop, the idea of a city upon a hill was not about God’s exceptional favor, but the accountability they would be under as professing Christians to personal obedience and faithfulness.

Still, this story—and so many others we collect about the founders’ faith, the history of our Constitution, and references to God on our monuments and by our nation’s leaders through the years—have led some to suggest Winthrop’s vision of what ought to be actually came to be. Until very recently, some Christians acted as though the idea that America is not a “Christian nation” is heresy. As Christians, we are at war with ourselves to love and follow Jesus fully, yet we have sometimes communicated that our nation—a nation full of people with diverse faiths and no faith at all—consistently represents God’s will on earth. This is a dangerous patriotism. It lacks common sense, and it is bad theology.

Check out the full article here.

QIdeas certainly isn’t articulating Anabaptist theology in this article. Reflecting its Reformed/Calvinist Evangelical orientation, the piece concludes with a call toward “Christian pacifism” that reflects the Reformed “worldview” theology of seeking to redeem culture, politics, etc., as distinct realms of God’s creation. There’s no mention of the dualistic “two kingdom” theology embraced by many Anabaptists — including some of the neo-Anabaptists who function in Evangelical circles today. Yet the article rightly calls Evangelicals to disengage from the culture wars posture that would seek to all too easily blend nationalism with Christian faith — and instead replace that posture with one that seeks “an ever-expanding domain of justice in our nation.”

 

As I tweeted over the weekend, this is an important article for Brethren in Christ (and other Anabaptist) groups to read and consider, especially given our ties to Evangelicals in recent years.

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Brethren in Christ on the World Wide Web

Here are a few Brethren in Christ-related links that caught my attention over the past weeks:

- Like the Brethren in Christ Historical Society on Facebook, and follow the Brethren in Christ Historical Society on Twitter (@BIChistory)

Screen shot 2014-07-01 at 12.51.11 AM – Get ready for the 2014 General Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. by reading the agenda and program, and by following the church on Twitter @BICChurchUS

- The Zambian Brethren in Christ Church is offering a parenting and conflict resolution seminar intended “to promote peace and dialogue among families”

John-Wesley-in-America- How American Evangelicalism has changed since 1950

- A new book on John Wesley and “primitive Christianity” in America

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Look Who I Found (Literally) Hanging Out at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

English artist George Romney's 1788-89 portrait of John Wesley, on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

English artist George Romney’s 1788-89 portrait of John Wesley, on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

John Wesley!

While wandering through the labyrinthine Philadelphia Museum of Art (what a great place!) over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, I stumbled on this piece of their permanent collection. The portrait of Wesley was painted by the English artist George Romney ca. 1788-89. It is currently on display in the museum’s John Howard McFadden Collection.

As readers of The Search for Piety and Obedience know, Wesley was an 18th-century Anglican minister and theologian, most known for being the “father of Methodism” (although he never intended to start a faith community separate from the Church of England!). Along with his brother, Charles, Wesley contributed significantly to the Evangelical revivals that swept through England in the mid-18th century. For the Brethren in Christ and other American Holiness groups, Wesley is remembered for his doctrine of “perfect love,” which decisively shaped the (very American) concept of second-work sanctification that became popular in many Evangelical circles in the 19th century.

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Some More Thoughts on Being American and Anabaptist

statue-of-libertyYesterday’s post garnered a lot of comments, likes, and re-posts, both on the blog and on The Search for Piety and Obedience Facebook page. Thanks to all of you who responded with thoughts, comments, and affirmation. I sense that many readers of the blog also feel the tension of being American and confessing Anabaptism.

In the spirit of extending the conversation, here’s a roundup of articles from around the web that I found both creative and life-giving in their quest to be faithful to the way of Christ in an American context:

  • Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt has some good stuff to say about the perils of embracing “American exceptionalism” (hint: it’s bad theology).
  • Like me, Ben Corey has a hard time understanding why American Christians are so resistant to the concept of “enemy love” — even though its biblical!

Readers: Feel free to share any articles you find helpful on this topic in the Comments below!

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Celebrating “Independence Day” as an Anabaptist

constitution

Is it biblical for Christians to declare “we the people” — when that declaration separates us from the nation-transcending Kingdom of God?

As an American Anabaptist, I’ve always experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance when it comes to celebrating “Independence Day” every July 4th.

On the one hand, I’m grateful for the freedoms implicit in being an American citizen. I’m grateful for the freedom to worship freely, to speak freely, and to assemble freely, among others. I’m grateful to call home a country that in its theory and its foundational documents (if not always in practice) actively welcomes diversity and warmly celebrates the unique contributions of people from different races, ethnicities, genders, and ages. In many ways, I love being an American.

On the other hand, I find plenty about the “American way of life” undeserving of celebration: our legacy of violent war and oppression, slavery, racism, sexism, political discord. More fundamentally, I find myself resistant to celebrating July 4th because, as a Christian, I recognize that my true freedom lies not in a Declaration of Independence, a Bill of Rights, or a Constitution — but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And I acknowledge that although I love being an American, my true loyalty rests not with a national creed or in a political party, but with the Kingdom of God, whose citizens transcend national boundaries, political affiliations, or racial and ethnic categorization and find their unity in Christ alone.

It’s why I keep putting “Independence Day” in quotation marks: if we’re honest about our Christian convictions and true to the biblical witness, isn’t every day “independence day”? Doesn’t every day we’re alive afford us opportunity to celebrate and express gratitude for the tremendous free gift of grace made possible through Christ Jesus — the grace that liberates us from our bondage to sin and that frees us to join in God’s incredible work of redeeming and restoring all creation?

For all these reasons and more, I find the words of my friend and fellow Brethren in Christ Kurt Willems incredibly comforting. In a post at his popular The Pangea Blog, Kurt offers some thoughtful reflections on why American Christians should not celebrate July 4th — at least not in the way we’ve been taught to do.

Here’s a taste of Kurt’s piece:

For the past several years I have publicly discussed why I tend to avoid associating myself with Independence Day. For a few years in a row I posted what was called my “annual unpopular post.” It all began in 2009 (when I hardly blogged), with a post titled: An “unpopular” 4th of July Post… Why this is Not a Day to Celebrate [later re-blogged and nuanced the following year: here].

As you can imagine, the reaction to such a stance in a country like ours has been diverse. Numerous times I’ve been told things like: “If you don’t like America, then why don’t you move out of the country or something!?”

In these instances, it becomes even more clear how much the story of Christianity has been prostituted to the story of Empire. That may come across as harsh, but I honestly do not intend to be harsh. And in all honesty, controversy is not my favorite pasttime, as I don’t love conflict. I am saddened that I’ve lost friends over this conviction. Yet, the more I read the Scriptures and get to know the Christ of the Scriptures, the more I’m compelled to speak the truth in love.

At the same time, I think there is much about this country to celebrate. For instance, I think American culture is something to take pride in. We have a unique bond as Americans. I love American people! I love living in America – in case that isn’t clear. But, I love something even more–or should I say, I love Someone even more. The way of Jesus invites us to name the good in culture while simultaneously living countercultural lives. So, on this Fourth of July, I want to celebrate the good and wear kingdom “lenses” at the same time.

Kurt goes on to offer eight tips on celebrating “Independence Day” while wearing “kingdom lenses.”

Read the full post here.

Readers: Share your thoughts on these reflections below. Do you struggle to reconcile your Christian convictions with the call of American nationalism? How do you celebrate July 4th?

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