After Easter, I find myself once again distracted from my usual blog about church and preaching to address a few issues I saw on the news. I think these have implications in our church ministry towards our pew sitters. In 2 Timothy, the author talked of two kinds of pressure on the church: the external persecution or heresies and internal disarray. This week, we find both kinds. The way the church react to these pressures shows once more that it can suffer Easter amnesia very easily.
To top off the bad news, the Chinese government decides that not only will underground Christians be persecuted, but even those registered with the state will not be immune to oppression. For some reason, the British press is more interested in this development than Americans. Instead of dismantling the cross per the original threat, the government decided to take down a huge and beautiful church building in Wenzhou. There’s something quite disturbing about this over-the-top move by the government. Deng Xiaoping has famously stated that once economic development takes root, stability will come. I believe a lot of China-watcher Christians also unwittingly bought into that theory. They hesitate to call attention to human rights abuse in China while secretly hope that the church would grow magically under persecution. The idea is that as long as capitalism takes root, the country will begin to respect human rights. There’s one tiny problem with this theory. It’s totally contrary to reality. Wenzhou is one of the richest areas of China, and it is by far the most “Christian.” The Wenzhou brothers and sisters I know are proud that even during the Cultural Revolution, they stood bravely to never stop meeting for worship. At the same time, Wenzhou merchants are traditionally some of the shrewdest businessmen on planet earth. If you don’t believe me, just check out your Italian made fashion. I know for a fact that these are made by Wenzhou Chinese hands who have immigrated to Italy. How do I know? I know some of them personally. So, here we have a place where we can test out the hybrid of Deng’s secularized version of economic stability on the one hand and naive western Christians’ capitalistic mission on the other. Here’s the problem. We have neither stability, nor freedom of religion, nor much of any mission work. Still believe in your Christianized version of capitalism? Think again. Mammon will not create greater freedom. In fact, it can create the very opposite.
As if the outside persecution against the church is not bad enough news, I have three bad news from inside the church. First, Sarah Palin, a known US Christian political figure, compared water boarding terrorists to baptism. At minute 7.24 of this video in the speech to the National Rifle Association, she made that horrifying statement. Baptism is a sacred rite for all Christians, no matter what our views of gun are. To compare torture with something as joyful and sacred as baptism is yet another unfortunate testimony of our faith that we can’t afford right now. This was so offensive that some Christians started a petition to denounce her witness. Lest we think this is strange, this merging of religion and political abuse should be no surprise to anyone who has been following the development of the religious right in our country. I want to point out that statistics have proven that majority of white Protestants approve of terrorist torture. No, I’m not a white-hating racist. That’s what the statistics say. You can find the statistics here. I’m not in favor of terrorists running about and harming our families, but torture? How does that reflect our faith? Jesus’ kingdom was accomplished as he suffered as a tortured criminal. Why would his followers endorse torture? The problem this shows, besides a lack of theological sensitivity towards baptism, is that many Protestants think that power is the key to the kingdom. We just celebrated Easter. To use evil to accomplish our idea of good goes directly against the whole spirit of the cross. Have we forgotten Easter?
The second bit of bad news is that this week is the anniversary of the LA Rodney King Riot. I remember it as clear as yesterday because one of my Vietnamese-American friends lost his furniture store down in South Central to rioting blacks. What really bothered me was the fact that many (but not all, of course) blacks were taking out their anger on the Koreans who lived among them while the perpetrators of the original beating were not Koreans at all. To make matters worse, the media has silenced the Korean-Amercan (also Asian-American) voices in the reporting but you can read about their harrowing tales here. I’m not going to skirt the issue and be politically correct here. I believe many Asians do not like blacks due to incidents like this. Then, my friend Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim comes to the rescue with the Rev. Jessie Jackson. On Easter, they both wrote an article, pointing out that to be an Easter Christian, one has to LIVE the spirit of Easter, and that includes advocating for the oppressed. The case in point is their strong voice in trying to get the release of Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae who is wrongly imprisoned in a North Korean prison amidst failing health. Now, I know a lot of evangelicals do not like the Rev. Jackson, calling him a race baiter and even questioning the authenticity of his faith, but I can tell you that he is one who has started making the necessary reconciliatory step towards Asian Christians from the black community. I also love the way he supported Grace who is Korean. I salute them both in the steps they bring to reconciliation between two communities, deeply hurt by the LA Riot. Then, the cynical side of me begin to question why there’s NO evangelical voice, at least not among our most famous leaders, speaking up for Bae. If there were, they were only a whisper. Powerful people who are in huge Christian organizations have long forgotten about one of their own, an evangelical missionary who gave his life for the good of the North Korean people, but they sure are concerned about the definition of justification or gay people. They might think that an Asian-American missionary being imprisoned and tortured to be an ethnic problem, but no, it is not. It is a Body problem! I realize that a lot of the powerful evangelical Christians aren’t really that concerned about North Korea because after all, these people are our enemies. Instead, they’re in love with their own ideas. Want to talk rubbish about Jackson? At least he’s doing something. Oh, the 25th anniversary of Tienanmen massacre is coming up. Do you expect any American Christian leader to say anything? I wager you won’t. Let’s be honest. We aren’t Easter people. We hardly read the Bible as literally as we claim, especially when it comes to loving our enemies or being proud of those who suffer for the gospel. Easter is about reconciliation between people of different political convictions, races and genders. Have we forgotten Easter?
Third and finally, we have an article from Today Christian that has begun to receive a chorus of “amen’s” from the evangelical contingent about how married men should behave around single ladies. Let me summarize the advice.
1) Keep the ring on.
2) Hang up pictures of your wife at work.
3) Keep eye contact simple and short.
4) Keep conversations general and professional.
5) Talk about your wife and family often.
These cliches have filled many marital enrichment seminars. In fact, I bet some people make a living speaking about them. There’s only one problem. The single woman is made the villain! These five steps are given not so much to show how we should conduct ourselves professionally, but to prevent the single women from hitting on the married men. I have news for my evangelical brothers. You aren’t that sexy. In general, the above five bits of advice is what I call professional behavior or more simply, living like a good guy.
I consider myself to be a flawed good guy, okay? I keep my ring on ALL of the time unless I’m playing sports. I hang up pictures of my family at work just out of love. I do keep eye contact simple and short because after all, I’m not having a date with the girls at work. Of course, I keep conversations general and professional because after all, I AM a professional. In fact, I talk about my wife so often that she’s embarrassed by my public praises. Would this keep the single girls from hitting on me? I doubt it because I’m an evangelical married man, and I’m so much sexier than the other kinds of married men (sarcasm mode). Such is not the point. I think the article also attributes motive for all married men and single women as well. Thus, it has potential to degrade both genders equally but in a different manner. Yet, it lacks one important ingredient: a biblical basis.
Call me naive, but here goes what the Bible has to say. The author of 1 Timothy 5.1-2 told Timothy something quite simple, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” That’s it. The Bible can be so simple! Let’s face it. Jesus dealt with the heart much more than these little silly steps. Do we honestly think that following these steps will keep our marriage affair-proof? Then, we’ve bought into a simplistic bill of goods that is constructed based out of bias and appearance of respectability. In fact, I can show you example, if you wish, of men who follow these steps and commit adultery. There goes THAT theory. If we care more about relationships than about prevention, I think we’d land in the right place. What Jesus did on the cross allowed for the church to form a new family where members would extend each other respect as fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. Have we forgotten Easter?
In conclusion, what have we learned from this week of bad news? First, money can’t save, no matter what the western mega-churches and mega-organizations tell you. Money is never the central key to God’s work. Second, if money can’t save, power certainly can’t save. Sarah Palin’s use of baptismal rite as a powerful threat is one of the clearest picture of Protestantism. Third, we need to take reconciliation ministry of Jesus more seriously across denominational and theological divide. The world should know us by our unity more than our theological differences. Fourth, we need to take the new family Jesus established more seriously. If we fail any of the above points, we have forgotten Easter. The church ministry must never forget Easter or it’ll fail to be the church.