We will fight for peace, but we will do no violence.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When Charles Finney Meets Smith & Wesson

A friend of mine is a deputy game warden and generally pretty negative about Christianity. He and I have some great talks. He'll admit he likes talking to me but will also admit he doesn't think much of most Christians.
At one point he was invited to a talk. A guy that had been a Big Game guide and former game warden was giving a talk at a local church building. There was a free dinner and a talk. My friend went. He was interested in hearing the talk and getting the free meal. He related this to me not long after.

He was confused because suddenly the talk about turkeys, deer and bear shifted gears. It had been used as a kind of a bizarre segue to a gospel presentation. My friend was pretty irritated, no longer wanted to be there and felt like he had been tricked. I assured him he had been.

For years we theological conservatives have joked about how these goofy 'churches' should just offer free beer. That will certainly get some people to come and visit.

Well apparently it's now being tried with guns. This has been going on for some time but this story is helpful because it gives us a little window into that world. This is Finney's system reaching its telos, its ultimate and extreme end. It can't go much further. I hope I don't eat my words.

But there's something else going on here too. This isn't just Finney.

The United States was birthed in armed revolution, a fight over taxes and tyrannical government. Those who are trying to argue the reasons for 1776 were over religious freedom have been deceived or are lying themselves.

The Christians who refused to go along were persecuted and many fled to Canada as Loyalists. I believe a branch of my family was part of this group. They settled in Coburg Canada but by the 1850's had changed their mind and moved to Cook County Illinois which at the time was still rural farm country. Later they went west.

Another branch of my family fought in the American Revolution. In fact my GGGGGG-grandfather fought in the French and Indian War and then (when quite a bit older) in the Rebellion of 1776. All of his sons also fought in the war and afterward they moved from the Carolinas down to Georgia and as soon as the Louisiana Purchase opened up they wandered into the Ozarks where they stayed until The Great Depression.

I only say this to make it clear that I have family on all sides. The Civil War too. My own heritage would be enough to make some burst with pride, but also (and rightly) a good deal of shame. But I have no loyalties apart from Zion.

The Christian Meta-Narrative...the story applied to the history... is that America is a Christian Nation, blessed by God and formed by His Providence.

Of course it was Providential, so was the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan. That doesn't mean it was sanctified. But in the American narrative, God had a 'special' plan for the fledgling United States.

The Founders became almost-but-not-quite Saints in a kind of Nationalist religion... which makes sense if you believe the nation was a kind of New Israel. Many nations have done this. England, Scotland, and South Africa are just a few that come to mind. It seems rather silly and sometimes obscene when the narrative is claimed by other nations, but we seem to miss that when we apply it to America.

The documents that formed the ideology of the new nation were venerated as almost-but-not-quite inspired by God. Some go all the way and admit they do believe they were inspired. Though it's a grievous heresy it is tolerated by many churches.

Basically the notion of armed revolt has been given theological legitimacy. This is critical to understanding the Christian spin on gun culture. The theology is spurious but it is born of the narrative. It is viewed almost in terms similar to that of a holy crusade.

During the Clinton years the country was greatly stirred, perhaps even more than the opening years of the Obama administration. I think some people have forgotten how upset people were to see the changing of the guard. The World War II generation had passed and the Boomer president was dancing on the stage to Fleetwood Mac. He was perceived as the marijuana smoking, draft dodging womanizer who came out of the gate trying to allow gays to be in the military and pass legislation leading to socialized medicine. To make it worse he had his feminist wife lead the legislative charge.

The Ruby Ridge incident had occurred during the last months of the Bush administration but it was fresh in the minds of many on the Right. Then came Waco, followed by the Brady Bill, then the Assault Weapons Ban. The Militia movement was in high gear. Whether or not Janet Reno is a lesbian she was perceived as such and it seemed to many on the Right that the Cold War had been lost...Communists and the New World Order had taken over. The UN army was coming. Clinton proved the coward in Somalia and people were suspicious of his facilitating the deal between Israel and the PLO. The Anti-Abortion movement was in full swing. Reagan and Bush had failed them and now with Clinton in office abortion doctors started to die. Does anyone remember Paul Hill?

Then Oklahoma City happened followed by Eric Rudolph and the Olympic bombing in Atlanta, and then more bombings at abortion clinics. The Montana Freemen prepared for war.

To the rest of the world the New World Order meant an American Empire, Neo-Feudalism, theft and murder through Globalization. Wall Street surged as the technological revolution led to rapid growth and speculation, which only empowered the new transnational corporations which were wedded to American power. The Left battled in Seattle but to the Right, Globalization was a plot to undermine America. Their country had been overtaken by minorities, gays, and multi-culturalism. A One World Government and Religion were on the near horizon.

Rush Limbaugh went from a star to a super-star. The end of America was predicted, people were buying guns and getting gold. I remember those days very well.

The Second Amendment got a boost and has ever since been an issue that stirs deep passions. During the Bush years the energies were focused elsewhere (the perceived threat of Islamic invasion and sleeper cells) but all those forces which lay dormant from the 1990's were reborn during the summer of 2009.

These churches are playing on these fears and emotions. They've used them (sacrilegiously) as a tie-in with the gospel message. They're using them to lure angry people into the church...and for what?

The reality is that the American Revolution is not justifiable in light of Scripture. There's no basis for the taking up of arms against George III. He many have been a scoundrel...most kings were. But if Paul could instruct the Church as he did in Romans 13 and call even the horrid government of Nero a 'good'...then what happened in 1776 was sin.

Rome used taxes to fund their military conquests and build temples to pagan gods. This was known and yet the Church is instructed to pay the taxes and as much as is possible, obey the laws. We won't embrace their ideas about citizenship. We'll speak the truth even if it upsets them, but we're never told to refuse to pay taxes and there's no basis for armed revolt. Those who advocate these views are in sin.

The problem on a basic level is a misunderstanding and/or rejection of the Bible's concept of the Kingdom in this age and our calling as a Church.

Of course if I'm right that destroys the whole narrative...the whole religion that has been created. And let me assure you, people are far more passionate about 1776 than they are about Jesus Christ. Insulting the Rebellion will get you physically attacked and much quicker than someone insulting the Church of Christ.

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