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Pastor's Message - May 2024

~Are There Bad Ways to Be a Christian? ~

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide

in God, and God abides in them.”

~1 John 4:16b




Dear Members and Friends,


Is it possible to be Christian in all the wrong ways, or for all the wrong reasons? I read an article in the latest edition of The Atlantic, which claims that Russia plays the religion card in a very big way. The Russian Orthodox Church officially supports the war on Ukraine, deeming it a sort of holy war to regain control of Kyiv—which is one of that church’s most sacred sites. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Church, has called Ukrainian leaders “the Antichrist,” and he has stated openly that the freewheeling West represents a threat to Christian values. The article claims that in Russia, the church and the state are entirely intertwined. Every Sunday, your local priest declares the party line, which asserts that “Saint Russia is the savior of the world,” that Russia is the sole force for good, that Russia stands against the encroaching evil of the apostate West. The United States and all Western European nations are heretics and godless secularists. Indeed, one justification for the war on Ukraine is its increasing tolerance of homosexuality and faiths other than the Orthodox Church. This is not to say that the Orthodox Church is an evil institution. As with any church, it’s made up of diverse people with different ways of practicing their faith. But Orthodoxy is one of the few Christian churches that is growing in membership in the United States today. Why? It’s attracting people on the extreme right who admire Russia’s actions in the world. In 2015, Franklin Graham (son of the famous Billy Graham) stated that America needs a leader like Vladimir Putin.


Which brings me to my main concern: Christian nationalism. We’ve been hearing a lot about it in recent years. But what is it, and how do we resist it and offer the world alternative and more faithful ways to be Christian? Christian nationalism goes back as far as the Roman emperor Constantine, who attributed his military victory to Christ and made Christianity Rome’s official religion. Ever since those days, Christian churches have been doing something Jesus himself never did: vying for political power; forcing their rules on society; giving special status and rights to Christians; siding with the rich and powerful; making life hard for anyone who disagrees.


Our own American brand of Christian nationalism looks very different from Russia’s, but does it really? The Russian Church is more monolithic, but the desire to “make America a Christian nation” is not dissimilar to what we see in Russia. American Christian nationalists believe that the United States is God’s appointed protector of all that is good. They want to legislate evangelical values as the law of the land. They want to put Christian prayer in public schools, allow only Christians to hold public office, make it illegal to teach school children about our history of slavery and genocide, and eliminate the separation of church and state. Is this what the humble Jesus is all about?


Insofar as this brand of politicized Christianity makes non-Christians into second class citizens and dismisses the problem of racism in our country, the Session of Bower Hill Church has asked our presbytery to take an official stand against Christian nationalism. Also, Dan Aleshire, former head of the Association of Theological Schools (the accrediting agency for seminaries), will be talking to our adult class about the threat of Christian nationalism on April 28 and May 5.


America should be a force for good in the world, and being Christian is a good thing. But Christians shouldn’t force their values or agendas on anyone. That’s not the way of Jesus. Let’s offer the world a loving alternative for being Christian.


Christ’s Peace,

~Brian



 





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