What might Christians bring to the discussion about the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and our national dialogue on energy? I have been thinking and blogging intermittently about the oil spill and also about community and what that means. This week I’ve been thinking about the ways these two topics intersect.
Christians have a particular worldview, even I think, a necessary worldview to offer to the nation as we consider our energy policy. The world is not ours to destroy or abuse. Christians believe the world belongs to God. We are chosen by God, elected if you will, for service. Elected to care for the earth the way God cares for us and for the creation. The discussion about energy use will necessarily cover many things,certainly protecting the environment, but also there will be concern for the economy, for jobs, for the stock market, the international community and much more. These aren’t competing values with winners and losers. All these things matter in God’s sight. The tendency will be to get lost in the details and the complexity of the issue and lose sight of the bigger picture of responsible stewardship. It is important for people of faith to keep this “big picture” in mind and on the table.
The other important attribute Christians bring to this discussion is our recognition that because we are all created in God’s image, therefore, all of us matter. We cannot dismiss someone because we disagree with them. Our task is to listen, learn, and discuss respectfully with those with whom we disagree. Let me say it, before you do- Christians have done a terrible job of this. We have, there is simply no denying it. Never the less, we do know better, we know what we should be doing. We need to work hard on effective ways to act in congruence with what we believe. Then we need to share that with others.
We need to be involved in the discussion about energy use- as individuals, as congregations and as denominations. Historically Christians have been involved in political discussions with very mixed results. Well, all right, usually with poor results. The church is easily seduced by power. We have discovered nearly endless ways to seek, grab and cling to power. We can play that game with the best of them. Some Christian groups have advocated for non engagement in the world for this very reason.
It’s dangerous when we venture into political discussion, into legislation, into trying to affect real change. It’s dangerous. We risk much. We risk our fidelity to the gospel and to Christ.
And yet, it seems to me, that is exactly what we are called to do. Faithfulness to the gospel, to the kingdom of God has always been risky and dangerous. Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Paul, and Peter, they all lived dangerous and risky lives, faithful (as best they could be) to God and Christ, and engaged in the world.
But how do we negotiate this, the minefield of public engagement? That’s where community comes in.
Walter Bruggemann in his book Interpretation and Obedience writes about the need for Christians to be bilingual- to speak the language of faith and to be able to converse in the secular world. He uses the story found in 2 Kings 18-19 where Jerusalem in 701 BCE is under siege by the Assyrian army to make his point.The Assyrians have sent representative to the Jerusalem wall to negotiate with Judah. The lesson for Christians, Bruggemann writes is that
Christians should be nurtured to be bilingual, to know how to speak the language on the wall in the presence of the imperial negotiators, but also how to speak the language behind the wall in the community of faith, where a different set of assumptions, a different perception of the world, a different epistemology are at work. The conversation on the wall is crucial, because the Assyrians are real dialogue partners who must be taken seriously. They will not go away. But unless there is another conversation behind the wall in another language about another agenda, Judah on the wall will ony submit to and echo imperial perceptions of reality. (page 44)
Christians need to have our own conversations about what we are doing and why. We need to be clear about our understanding that the world belongs to God and we need to be clear that all of us are beloved by God. We need to hold firmly the vision of what is sometimes called “the common good”. Not a world of winners and losers but a world where all are safe, and able to care for themselves and others.
This isn’t the necessarily the view of Congress, the oil companies, or other nations in the world. Christians will need to help each other remember our vision as other forces try to corrupt it. It takes all of us, contemplatives, mystics, evangelicals, emergent, conservative, progressive, scholars, geeks and all the rest to keep our focus and to prayerfully support those who engage the larger culture. This is the conversation we have “behind the wall”, among ourselves, using the language of scripture and faith.
Some of us will need to translate the language of faith into “secular”. To find the words and images and concepts that resonate with the secular world. As Bruggemann writes, “The language behind the wall is dysfunctional on the wall. Any attempt to use it there misunderstands and betrays the power and claims of that alternative language that is not to include outsiders.” (45) For example, to discern a course of action through prayer makes perfect sense to Christians but not to atheists. For Christians a Biblical mandate to, say, have compassion for the poor, is powerful and should guide our behavior. Non Christians will not be persuaded by, “The Bible says…”.
We need to speak in ways that non Christians can understand. We need to find our common ground. Some of us will have to speak the language of business, of science, of policy and legislation. Some of us will be diplomats, some policy geeks, some deal makers. Those of us who work “outside the wall” need the support and care of the rest of us.
Some Christians worry that engagement with the secular world on the world’s terms means we must check our beliefs at the door. If we speak the language of secular power, does that mean we must hide our faith? I don’t think so. Because Christians engage the world from our particular worldview, we won’t do things exactly like everyone else. Even unspoken our values will be noticable. As Saint Francis said, “Speak the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.”
My experience is that there are opportunities to share one’s faith, because people will ask questions. They will ask about what we do and why we are doing it. “How can you listen to *** without becoming angry?” “How can you be patient with ### ?” “You always are concerned about those not represented here. Why is that?” ” I never find you playing at power games, Why?” And on and on. Christians who try to act as Christians, even while engaged in the secular world will be noticed as somewhat different.
If we have done our work “behind the wall” well, with care and love- people will notice and the world will be changed. Like a mustard seed, like a little yeast, we will have been faithful to our calling to love God and to love our neighbors.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
Quotes from: Interpretation and Obedience: From Faithful Reading to Faithful Living, Walter Bruggemann (Minneapolis:Fortress Press,1991)
Besides on this blog, I have written about Christians and the oil tragedy here.