Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Ah. God and state. What is Caesar's and what is not.
The story of the Baptist missionaries playing Pied Piper to a bunch of Haitian kids gives me a Sunday School flashback rash. In Sunday School I learned all about the miraculous things that faith could do: it could roll away a stone from a tomb; it could raise the dead; it could be as small as a mustard seed yet grow into a mighty oak; it could allow you to walk on water, feed hundreds with just a few loaves, it could make you lay down your nets and follow some guy (nevermind about providing a living for your family depending on the revenue of what you caught.)
Basically, if you had the faith of a child you could be a superhero. You could do Anything!!
Or it could land you in jail.
Right now those 10 well-intentioned Baptists are sitting in jail, and quoting Phillipians. The significance of Phillipians? It's the letter Paul wrote while in jail awaiting trial in Rome to the church in Phillipi. He's writing to friends, reassuring them, encouraging them and sharing how his faith (slightly bigger than a mustard seed) in Christ has carried him through this period of darkness. It's a beautiful letter, I've always thought.
But Paul is also the go-to apostle when it comes to invoking martyrdom and going 'balls out' for the Lord.
'Limits be damned! I'm on fire for Christ! I am His Chief Sinner! Arrrgh!'
But the Phillipians letter also shows the limits of faith; for all his faith, Paul is still going to trial. He will be executed in Rome. He will eventually bow his knee to Caesar. His faith is great, but his faith can't stop the workings of the state.
I don't think faith exists to embolden magical, fantastical thinking. And it was fantastical for those people to think they could 'rescue' Haitian children and then ...what? Just scoot them over the border and keep them indefinitely? Seems so. My religious training has always taught that you have faith *in* Christ -- but don't get all crazy with it. In other words, being faithful is great but that doesn't mean the State can't exert its own will on your ass when you break their laws. (That's what landed Paul in prison in the first place.)
I also don't think God communicates to us in mysterious, ill-thought directives, despite what someone's father might say: “They were acting in faith. That may sound trivial, but they were acting not only in faith but God’s faith.” God wanted them to ignore procedure and just snatch children across the border? Really? God works like that? I'd like to see that demonstrated, somewhere.
This is also the uncomfortable tension between how we practice our evangelical faith (I say 'we/our' because I can't really get rid of it, no matter how many presbyterian cocktail parties I attend) and the rules of the world we live in. Faith doesn't exist in a completely rule-free zone. On one side you have John Brown; on the other, Scott Roeder. On one side you have the many missionaries who have been in Haiti for years, delivering critical services. But on the other, you have the nagging, troublesome tendency of faith groups to enthusiastically 'fix' things without thinking if they really ought, to the detriment of the very people they're trying to help. Unintended consequences are a bitch.
One's faith may say 'Save teh poor fetus babehs!' So you shoot Dr. Tiller. Well, suck it up. The state has a rule for that.
One's faith may even say 'Rescue the poor little black babehs!' So you load up a bunch and take them without permission. Their country has a rule for that.
One's faith dictates gays are an 'abomination.' So you strip them of civil rights. Well, our constitution has a rule for that.
I understand what walking in faith means to an evangelical. You walk by faith, not by sight. You believe there is a purpose, a meaning ahead of you and you walk toward it, even if the path is scary. But where does faith and common sense take leave of one another? Does walking in faith mean to put aside critical thinking skills? Does it mean to ignore the rules of a sovereign country?
To quote a blog friend of mine: You may believe those babies are better off in Idaho, but that doesn't make them 'orphans'.