Monday, July 6, 2015

America the Great?

          Presented for your consideration (as Rod Serling would say):  a great and powerful society, yet one whose laws and culture were a standing offence to God and in open defiance of His Law.  At the heart of this society stood a principle that the Christians within it abhorred.  This principle was supported by the full force of draconian law, and promoted throughout its educational system.  There was no escape:  from the time children were young they were bombarded with the varied elements of this principle, which was suffused throughout the entire educational process.  Teachers had no choice but to acquiesce, for the principle was universal through that culture.  The society considered itself to be based on justice, the rule of law, and tolerance, and Christians who objected to this principle were denounced as narrow, bigoted, perverse, mean-spirited, for their opposition to the majority.  Everyone else accepted this principle:  what was the Christians’ problem?  When the Christians refused to go along and openly denounced this principle, they were persecuted, both informally and formally, both experiencing hostility from their neighbours as well as through civil penalties. 
            Though one might perhaps guess that I am describing America in the twenty-first century in the light of the recent decision of the Supreme Court, I am actually describing Rome in the third century, and the principle referred to above is not same-sex marriage, but idolatry.  I refer to such long dead history because such history is not long dead.  The issue of Christians facing a hostile environment is perennial.  More than that, it is the norm:  “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20).  “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).  The persecution of the first three centuries of the Church’s existence was not anything strange or foreign, but our default mode in this age.  Nero and Diocletian were the norm; Constantine and Justinian the exception.  Byzantium was a blip.  (A long blip, admittedly, but a blip.)  Things since then have not gone crazy, but have simply been in the long process of returning to normal.  In the catacombs of the Christians there is a sign which reads, “Home Sweet Home”.  And anyway, in North America there is no actual persecution; for the real stuff you have to go overseas.
            There has been a lot of discussion of the recent decision of the American Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, including much celebration from those who applaud the decision, and much hand-wringing from those who decry it.  Some of these latter suggest that God will now abandon America, and that moreover the decision signals the beginning of a draconian persecution of those Americans who still disagree with the ruling and who will publicly denounce homosexual activity as sinful.  Some suggest that if the churches will dare to resist the ruling they will be stripped of their tax-exempt status and go under financially.  Some have suggested fines or imprisonment for those especially vocal in their protest.  Though I do not celebrate or support the decision (being a Canadian, of course, my opinion scarcely matters one way or the other), yet I still cannot subscribe to the various doomsday scenarios sometimes offered.  It is not as if the American Supreme Court has been uniformly kind to Christian practice up until now, as the tremendous number of abortions done since the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973 attests.  We also find wide-spread violence in the land, concerns about latent and systemic racism, child pornography, and sexual violence against women.  I point these things out not to bash from friends and neighbours to the south, but only to suggest that the recent decision of the American Supreme Court does not represent a substantial sea-change of moral direction, but only the next step in a secular spiral.  (I may add that my own Canada is pretty much the same but different, and certainly no better.)
Of course I have no idea whether the recent decision presages an upswing in hostility to Christians of traditional faith, much less a persecution of them.  But even if it does, and doomsday scenarios are proved prescient, and dark times come, there is still no reason for panic or to rush around proclaiming that the sky is falling.  All it will mean for us is a return to the catacombs.  We were fine down there then, and we will be fine now.  America has for some time regarded itself as being a Christian nation, with a Constitution and a judiciary enshrining those Christian principles.  Some revision of that view may become necessary, as Christians are shoved to the cultural margins and open expression of Christian values becomes increasingly unwelcome.  Perhaps America’s identity as a Christian nation is not as secure as some had thought.  But our identity as Christians never was tied to any one flag, but to the Cross.  It always was the case that here we have no continuing city.  A return to the catacombs will simply make that perennial fact more apparent.
America has not yet become Babylon the Great, despite the recent legal ruling, though it does seem to be keeping to that trajectory.  But even if it does, so what?  We can peek at the end of the Book, and see how the story will end.  And it turns out that it will end with glory, with the kingdom of this world becoming the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.  Babylon the Great will fall, and when it does, the saints and apostles and prophets in heaven will rejoice, for it had become the dwelling place demons, the haunt of every foul spirit, and every foul and hateful bird (Rev. 18:2).


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