So I spent last week in a seminary class on Christian Ethics. The class began the morning after the grammies, and not surprisingly the class opened with some alarmed comments about the shenanigans of the night before.
At any rate, some folks in the class were “shocked” and “appalled” at some of the performances.
Which made me think of satanic statues.
(As you do)
Lately, some pagan—and even straight up satanic—groups (I’m not using these terms pejoratively: they are self-identified pagans and satanists) have petitioned to have monuments and statues placed on courthouse and state lawns alongside “Christian” symbols (you can read the story here).
So I know that I’m supposed to be angry and indignant at this outrage, but I’m really not.
(Well, excepting the fact that the statue is actually quite hideous and ugly… THAT is quite disappointing.)
You see, I like it when people and institutions “show their cards.” When they take off the masks they wear and just declare, “This is who I am: deal with it.”
I like it because then I know a little more of the truth, and I can choose to accept it or walk away from it.
But at least I know.
In these two cases—the Grammies and these petitions—the music industry and our culture—are “showing their cards.”
Church (and I mean everybody): they are not our friends. We should not be surprised.
I don’t mean in a “get-scared-they’re-coming-to-take-me-away-and-oh-please-Jesus-come-back-it’s-the-Left-Behind-series-starting-where-is-Kirk-Cameron” way.
I mean a little more in the “raise-eyebrow-roll-your-eye-turn-off-the-TV-and-read-a-good-book-or-better-yet-have-a-conversation-with-your-actual-family” way.
Let me be really blunt:
- The Grammies—and the music industry—exist for pretty much one reason: to make money. While they occasionally make a reference to “values”, and while people may occasionally thank God during an acceptance speach, if the industry has to choose between a dollar and Christian values, they will choose the dollar. They are obligated to.
- The state exists to be a political entity. It has to perpetuate that system. If you know history—at least anything besides recent North American history—you’d discover that the “State” is no friend to faith. Because of the unique era of history that we’ve lived in, it’s easy to believe that our (awesome) political system is an ally of our faith, but that’s an illusion that most of the world does not live in (for that matter, it’s an illusion that most of the history of the Church doesn’t share, but see below).
(This is probably the time that I’d say I don’t believe in a “Christian nation.” I believe in Christians who may be part of shaping a nation, (but really, have you seen the “Jefferson Bible”?) but largely Christianity and politics have been disasters (#Calvin’sGeneva #Rwanda).
Now, in regards to the State, there is some good news:
This is not new.
Our New Testament was written in an era where the State and Roman culture dominated the landscape. But there are repeated reminders that culture, and in particular the State, do NOT have the same interests as Jesus (and His church).
Here are three of my favorites:
In Matthew 2, the magi show up and tell Herod that the KING OF THE JEWS has been born. “When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jeruslam was troubled with him.” (2v3) Why? Because if someone else (namely, Jesus) is King, it means Herod is not. It means that there’s a new king, and he’s coming to Jerusalem to shake things up. Things are about to change. You have to understand that the Jews (and the Christians) of the 1st century didn’t hear “King” like we do, as a private, faith-filled term. They knew their king ruled. Like really. Externally. Visibly. (It goes without saying that we should realize that Jesus is a real, ruling, living King.)
Mark begins his gospel like this: The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son…” (1v1) The Greek word for “good news” is euangelion which, oddly enough, was used by the Roman state to announce a military victory. It seems that what Mark is saying is that Jesus as the Messiah means that a visible, military victory is going to be one. It means that Jesus’ “kingdom” (state) is going to be the new reality.
Saint Paul probably knew this more than any of the writer of the New Testament. He was a Roman citizen, after all, and so he was quite aware of its agenda, and he knew it was not Jesus’ agenda. In 1 Thessalonians he is writing to a church about the time when all things will be resolved, a final time when Jesus will bring all things visibly together. He writes this odd phrase: “When they are saying, ‘there is peace and security,’ at that time sudden destruction will attack them, like labor pains start with a pregnant woman, and they definitely won’t escape.”
Here’s the thing: “PEACE AND SECURITY” WAS A ROMAN SLOGAN. It was meant to remind people, “Hey, your peace, security, and well-being all come from Rome. (So keep supporting us.)” Paul is saying though, “Actually the folks—the state—who are saying we will provide your peace and security are deceived, and they are not your friends.”
For Paul, Rome was no friend of Jesus Christ and His church (though Paul was not above giving sensible advice to living under authority: see Romans 13).
I think the same is true for us today. We shouldn’t be shocked when we see ridiculous behavior on the Grammies, or ugly public art (though I’m sure we Christians have created our share).
To me it’s just those institutions showing their cards.
They are not my friend, and their agenda is not the Church’s agenda.
So get over the shock, and keep on walking, folks. We still have work to do.