Monday, December 27, 2010

Don't Ask, Do Tell

On December 15th of this year the House of Representatives voted 250 to 175 to repeal the Military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of handling homosexual behavior in the armed services. On December 18th the Senate paved the way for repeal voting 65 to 31 and the repeal was signed by President Barack Obama on December 22nd, thus fulfilling one of his campaign promises.

Many Christians are dismayed over such a blatant expression of immorality being officially sanctioned by the U.S. government. For the first time in the history of the country openly homosexual people will be allowed to serve honorably in the military. As you can imagine over the past week I have heard a lot of discussion about this and there are a few common themes in these conversations that are worthy of deeper consideration because they are (consciously or unconsciously) based upon certain unstated theological premises.

The major concern that I hear from brothers and sisters seems to be that this decision will bring God’s judgment upon the nation. To be sure our Lord is sovereign and does indeed judge nations. The question that is often not asked, however, is upon what basis he judges them and how this decision plays into that.

Some American Christians believe that God’s dealings with the United States are analogous to His dealings with Israel in the Old Testament. They observe that when Israel was faithful God blessed them and when they were not God cursed them. They then apply this logic to the United States. There are two problems with this line of thinking. First, it is a bit of an oversimplification regarding God’s dealings with Israel. Secondly, and more importantly, Israel was a national covenant people. Although many American’s act as though God has enacted some special relationship with the U.S. the fact is that He has not. America as a country has no special covenant relationship with God and we therefore should not assume that God will deal with us in the same way He dealt with historical Israel.

Most people I have met who fear coming judgment as a result of this decision, however, do so not on the basis of any perceived special relationship between America and God but rather on the basis of a more general assumption about how God deals with all nations. They point to the tremendous blessings we have received, conclude that those are the result of America’s godliness and Christian heritage, and then assume that as we turn our back on that heritage that God will remove his hedge of protection from us.

I do not disagree that judgment will come (more on that later) but I also think that the reasoning given above needs to be examined a bit more closely. If you think carefully about the argument above you will realize that what is being claimed is that God has blessed our country because of how “good” we were and that if we cease being “good” then punishment will follow. Does God give his blessings in response to the goodness of those who receive them? Most of the people who have made the kind of statement I included above would passionately disagree with that same logic if it was applied to individuals but they seem comfortable for some reason applying it to the nation as a whole. Are God’s blessings to nations somehow reciprocal while His blessings to individuals are wholly on the basis of grace? What level of goodness or godliness must a nation display to remain in a position to receive God’s blessings? How good does a country have to be to merit or earn God’s rewards?

 It seems to me that this line of thinking rests upon some very big assumptions, chief of which is that the Unites States has been blessed in the past because it has been such a godly nation. There are many brothers and sisters who speak as though we can look back to some kind of golden age where all things American were pure and Christ honoring. Where exactly would such a golden age of Christian virtue be found in our history? Perhaps they mean the post WWII years, when in the “interests of the state” we funded rebellions, orchestrated assassinations, injected people with syphilis and other diseases without consent, lied boldly, and set aside various liberties at our convenience. Or maybe they are referring to the 1920’s, an era of speakeasies, rampant prostitution, bootlegging, and crime. Or could it be the turn of the last century when we used our might to impose our imperial ambition upon weaker neighbors and social Darwinism and theological liberalism were beginning to take hold within our social and educational institutions? Maybe it was after the Civil War when cronyism and corruption were openly displayed and when the robber barons and captains of industry prospered while the crushing weight of poverty settled upon most working men and women and whole populations were forcibly and brutally relocated to less valuable land. Perhaps it was before the Civil war, when it was legal for one man to own another and large sections of our national economy were propped up by chattel slavery. Then again maybe the great Christian age was that first generation of founders, who enshrined into our governmental structures racist presuppositions that have polluted virtually our entire history and were the first in the world to create a wholly secular state that purposefully avoided any foundation of the government upon expressed theological support (although we were once a nation primarily of Christians we were never a Christian nation).

Please do not misunderstand me, I love my country and I believe it has been a blessing to the world in many ways but isn’t it presumptuous to assume that we have ever merited the blessings of God? It is perhaps more accurate to say that by God’s grace we have both blessed and been blessed. There is plenty of depravity to be found in any era and there has never been any golden age of pure Christian virtue. Read the sermons and letters of pastors from any era and you will find much despair about what is going on around them. True Christian’s of every age share the same burden which we now carry, that of being surrounded by a fallen world hurtling to hell and refusing to heed the warning. What we are losing as a nation is not holiness, it is rather the cultural influence of Christian morality (we must be careful to not confuse the two).

Rather than assuming that we are somehow blessed for the strength of our faith I often fear that the Lord may have put us here in this land of ease because perhaps our faith is too weak to withstand the persecution that brothers and sisters in other parts of the world endure. After all, isn’t it just as likely that America has been blessed out of God’s mercy for our weakness rather than out of recognition of our strength? Or more likely yet, that God has his own purposes in how He has used and is using our nation?

There is no question that we have been blessed and would like that to continue but aren’t righteousness and holiness sufficient desires for the people of God to wish them to be pursued in their own right? Rather than expect any kind of quid pro quo should we not pursue those things which are glorifying to God though we may suffer in doing so? Cannot we, like Job cry out “Though He slay me, I will yet trust in Him”? The decision to repeal this policy is clearly an ungodly one and we know that all such wickedness will be judged.  Our primary concern, however, should not be the temporal loss of blessings for American’s but rather the glory of God. We should be focused upon the preaching of the Gospel that others might understand and be saved. As the culture becomes bolder in its sinfulness our concern should be that the Church becomes bolder in its distinction from the world. Of far greater consequence for us as teachers and preachers than the erosion of godly influence in the broader culture is the erosion of godly knowledge and influence in our own churches. Let’s spend less time lamenting the loss of our privileged position among men and let us instead preach the Truth, not being ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power for salvation to everyone who believes. 

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