Independence

It’s Independence Day weekend, 2014, as this is being written.  It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in America.  The Supreme Court handed down three decisions that have caused quite a stir.  One of them, related to the free exercise of religion, probably has caused the most public outcry.

The case, if you’re not aware off it, relates to the relatively new federal government mandate that businesses of a certain size must provide contraception under their health insurance offerings, without a copay.

A few privately-held businesses run by Christians–most notably craft store chain Hobby Lobby–pushed back.  Out of 20 contraceptives mandated by the federal government, four of them can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.  The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, consider that abortion and didn’t want to provide those particular contraceptives as a matter of religious conviction and conscience.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, sided with Hobby Lobby.

Many of those who disagreed with the ruling went from complaining about the ruling and the Court to attacking the Green family personally.  I suspect that is an emotional reaction to feeling helpless, like their world is out of their control.  Trolling around on social media, I even saw one person say that the ruling had ruined his holiday weekend.

Interestingly, the very same “Roberts Court” made a related decision only two years ago, also in a 5-4 split.  In that case in 2012, the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as “Obamacare”, was upheld.  The folks upset now were dancing in the streets then.

If you follow politics, then you know this is par for the course.  Every two years, or four years, or eight years, fortunes change for both sides.  The political tide ebbs, and it flows, and sometimes floods.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been making my way through one of the Great Courses–recordings of college courses by excellent professors.  This one is about the history of freedom.  The course starts in 490 BC, at the Battle of Marathon.  From there, the lecturer takes the listener to the society of ancient Greece–which seemed to have many of our same problems and applied some of our same solutions (or perhaps more accurately, we apply some of their solutions).

My take-away?  Nearly 2500 years later, we still can’t get it right.  The world is still a mess.  American culture is still rife with strife.

For the Christian, we realize we are citizens of two kingdoms–an earthly one and an eternal one.  The earthly one will not last.  That fact matters, because it can lead us to a healthier perspective.

It reminds us to ensure we’re not investing in this earthly one too much–though we are called, for sure, to invest in it some.  For example, we care for the poor and fight for justice not because it’s our innate political drive, but because God says to (e.g., Psalm 41:1; Proverbs 19:17, 22:22; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10).  We are not called to keep our faith out of the public forum–we are called to apply our faith in public and not hide that we do it (Matthew 5:16).

But we also remember that Jesus says wars will continue, nations will continue to fight one another, and natural disasters will come (Matthew 24:6-14).

What then is our hope?  It is our faith, though not in a religious movement, but in the One who saves us, who sustains us.  Jesus is the way to salvation (John 14:6).  He gives us his Word to guide us in this age and into the one to come.  He sends us the Holy Spirit to teach us and to empower us to live in this age.

And, we are reminded that this age will terminate.  One day, there will be a good government.  But it won’t be a human one.  It will be led by Jesus (Matthew 25:31-32; Revelation 11:15-18).

Jesus reminds us to look to him:  “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Christ is a fixed point in a world that never stops changing.  As the old hymn goes,

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

That is true independence.

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and Jesus

As I write this, it is not yet 24 hours since a jury of six women in Sanford Florida pronounced George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder. Zimmerman is, of course, the (now 29-year-old) man who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Martin was African-American; George Zimmerman self-describes as Hispanic (white father, Peruvian mother).

For the last year and a half, the case has served as a focal point of racial tension in the United States. It has been an ongoing topic of discussion and even had the President of the United States commenting on it.

I didn’t watch the trial and so I cannot comment on whether the jury chose wisely or not. My own feelings are mixed. It seems to me a case of cascading tragedies and one can quickly fall down a rabbit hole of “what ifs”. What is clear is that one young man is dead and another man might as well be.

The case has larger implications for the United States. It has shown that there is still racial strife and pain in our country. It’s not surprising; the national sins of slavery and discrimination may forever stain the United States.  I used to think we were much further along in racial reconciliation and healing in our nation; I’m no longer confident of that.

As I consider the case in light of my faith, I reach two conclusions.

First, for those of us who are Christians, we must cling to faith in Jesus. That faith soothes our own fears, anxiety, pain and frustration.  Second, that faith ought to direct us to action.

In times of trouble I recall the account of Peter walking on the water to meet Jesus.  We often focus on the act itself but forget the context of the act.

The disciples were in a boat, absent Jesus, on the Sea of Galilee. It was night. Tremendously strong winds were knocking their boat around. As Matthew 14:22-33 reports, Jesus came walking across the water to meet the disciples in the boat. At first they thought he was a ghost, but Jesus called out to them.  Peter stepped out of the boat and himself began walking on water, toward his teacher.  But as soon as he took his focus off of Jesus and remembered the storm they were caught in, Peter began to sink into the sea.

How does this relate to the Zimmerman case?  I find myself discouraged as I look at this personal, political and cultural storm. I can sink into despair about the future so long as I focus on it.  But when I remember my faith in Christ, I gain strength–and hope.  It’s hard to do much without hope of some kind.  But I can do all things in Christ, which strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).

But feeling good ourselves is not enough–it’s only a starting point.

We must stop looking at each other with suspicion. It cannot be that a young black man in a hoodie is just assumed to be a hoodlum. Nor can it be assumed that all whites are secret racists (or even not-so-secret racists).  I’ve heard both sentiments.  We all need to go out of our way to put those stereotypes to rest–and this needs to be an active effort.

For Christians, this is not something that is foreign to us.  We believe in a common ancestry of all people through both Adam and Noah.  We are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  As the old hymn goes,

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight

Every color every race, all are covered by His grace
Jesus loves the little children of the world

Parable after parable from Jesus illustrates the necessity of seeing all people as God’s children–the Good Samaritan comes to mind, but there are many others.  Paul wrote that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  There is no room for racism or division of any sort in the house of God.

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more complete union, must find some way to reconcile with one another.  As a Christian, I can tell you the avenue is faith in Christ.  The longer I consider it the more I realize that many of the “political” problems we face have spiritual cores and therefore need spiritual solutions.  Certainly racism will cease to be a problem if we love and respect God and recognize all our fellow humans as our brothers and sisters, created in His image just as we are.