A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Whatever Became of Sacrifice?

When I was young I remember my grandfather (when he was alive) and my grandmother telling me stories of how everyone in the United States sacrificed for the war effort during WW II-- enduring regular and scheduled blackouts, saving tin, and making do with what had been rationed. They felt it important to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves and their daily routine.

I highlight those memories only to ask a question: What has happened to the notion of sacrifice in America? After 9/11, when the World Trade Center lay in ruins, then Mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani told us that as a people, the best way to fight terrorism was to go to the movies, and then President George W. Bush motivated us to go shopping. The way to fight terrorism it seemed was through consumerism-- greed that would put Al Qaeda back on its heels.

In reference to the current health care debate, President Barack Obama is doing exactly the same thing. He keeps promising health care for everyone that will be better than what we have currently, that will not cut medical care, that will drive down costs, and that will not cost the average consumer a dime in new taxes; and it will not raise the already out-of-control deficit. Not only does no one who has seriously studied the issue believe this, but it is the same mantra we continue to hear from politicians in both parties-- we will give you everything and it will cost nothing-- except for the rich, of course, because we hate them.

I do not entirely blame former President Bush nor President Obama for this situation of non-sacrificial politics-- as voters we better be honest and admit that is exactly what we want to hear from candidates and elected officials-- we will give you everything and you do not need to sacrifice one little bit. If George Bush had told us that the war on terror would have required a severely restricted way of life, he would not have served a second term. If President Obama were to decide to tell us that we would have to do with less in order to give basic health care to everyone (however that is achieved), he would definitely not be re-elected in 2012.

This is not a post on President Bush's foreign policy, nor is it an evaluation of President Obama's domestic policy. It is a post on why sacrifice has become such a four-letter word in American culture, and it seems by extension, the church. The church argues over whether health care is a right or a commodity, when we should be asking what each congregation can do to help someone in need of health care. It is estimated that their are 450,000 church congregations in the United States. Is it not possible for each church to decide to cover the health care of just one family inside or outside the church? Would it solve the problems of all the uninsured in America? Clearly not! But we would be able to give almost a half a million people access to health insurance, and it could and likely would impact the very debate we are having in the United States. By our actions we would be saying to Washington DC, "You would be a better empire if you provided access to health care for your people."

But only the context of sacrifice would even consider such an idea. The fact that most churches, I dare say, have not even considered the possibility betrays the lack of sacrifice, the lack of interest in embodying the sacrificial love of Christ to the world. Don't get me wrong-- it is not that churches are not generous-- they are-- they are just not reflective of what it means to be generous in a sacrificial way-- in the way that reflects the cross of Jesus Christ to the world.

After 9/11 George Bush gave me no help in suggesting how I might sacrifice for those whose lives were changed forever. Since President Obama has been in office he has given me no counsel as to how I might sacrifice for someone else who has no medical insurance. The question I must face is why should I even expect that? I believe that George Bush and Barack Obama are decent men who want what is best for the country, but they are so helplessly stuck in the midst of the Principalities and Powers that rule this world, it makes it impossible for them to convey such prophetic truth. Only the preachers, the prophets who stand before their people every Sunday, are able to proclaim such commitment; and if they won't their laity will.

Let me be clear-- I support basic and affordable health care for everyone. I am skeptical of the "public option" only because I am doubtful that the government can pull it off competently, nothing more. But in the midst of the debate over how the Principality and Power called the United States can initiate health care reform, I believe that the church should be ahead of the game and work to cover as many people as it possibly can, and thereby demonstrate a powerful witness to others concerning what is possible. The church is a sleeping giant with resources available to it, both spiritual and physical, that can shake the very foundations of every civilization, but they are under-utilized because we continue to think the nation-state is where the real action is. We continue to believe that Caesar is more effective in accomplishing tasks than the people of God brought into existence by nothing less than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And I believe that the only thing that keeps the church from this is the individual Christian addiction to two new cars in the garage with big payments, credit card debt, and over-priced vacations to Disney World-- in other words,-- our lack of commitment to the Kingdom of God.

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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian


visual theology said...

Really thoughtful and timely post Allan. You are right to hold us all to account for our unwillingness to engage with the Kingdom of God in a truly sacrificial way. Bless you.

Michael said...

My partisan opinion is this: sacrifice will be demanded of us and has been too many times before in the form of higher taxes. However, it cannot be called "sacrifice" because there is no love of country or the poor on April 15! Only the reminder that we have been enslaved precisely because we do not understand the concept of "sacrificial love". Makes me wonder if we are in the midst of yet another Exile and must return to faithfulness. Ezekiel, where art thou??

Very well stated, Allan. I sometimes think the government would not be so overbearing if the Church had done what she was called to do faithfully. The government has tried to close the gaps and cracks through which so many have fallen. At least, that's what we are told.

Clay Knick said...

Very good as usual.

PamBG said...

I believe that the church should be ahead of the game and work to cover as many people as it possibly can, and thereby demonstrate a powerful witness to others concerning what is possible.

I think this would be fantastic. Now, I guess the question is, why don't we do it?

You've identified some moral and spiritual issues that I agree with.

The church is a sleeping giant with resources available to it, both spiritual and physical, that can shake the very foundations of every civilization, but they are under-utilized because we continue to think the nation-state is where the real action is.

Here is where I diverge from you. The church has only to rise up and implement any solutions it might have - there is nothing stopping us. But we don't. For the spiritual reasons you have outlined.

And, personally speaking, I'm more distrustful of the church's ability to take care of healthcare reform than the government's. It's not lack of imagination about the Kingdom: it's experience of life. And a conviction that we can't wait 5 or 10 or 20 years (Hah!) until the church becomes holy.

I'm afraid this morning's edition of our local paper provides a perfect illustration. Some members of our local mega-church (I'm told 9000 people worshiping on Sunday, and very proud of it's strict doctrine and discipleship program) are putting on a fund-raiser to pay the $1000 / month co-pays that their 7-year-old daughter needs. The article was obviously trying to get local people to attend the fund-raising dinner. The article also mentioned that the family are paying the cost of the meal themselves and that contributions toward the could would be welcome. I'm afraid I couldn't help but multiply 9000 by $0.50 and I hope that the church family made a generous offering toward the cost of the meal which the author of the article omitted to mention.

But if you've got any concrete, practical ways that the church can get there in the next 2 to 5 years, I'm genuinely all ears.

Allan R. Bevere said...


What is stopping us is exactly what I said-- it is not only the matter of inability to sacrifice individually, but it is also the continued belief that the state should take care of these things. Listen to the debate-- no one is talking the what I am, at least in the public arena. Christians are arguing over whether health care should be a government run thing or something accomplished through the wheels of the free market. And I was not suggesting that the either of these options is not workable. What I am arguing is that if the church were willing and had a biblical ecclesiology ecclesiology it could be a powerful witness in word and in deed to the state and to the private sector on the importance of making health care available.

And, yes, it is a lack of imagination about the kingdom, about what is possible. It is the experience of the resurrection and the Holy Spirit that counts.

It is amazing-- I get criticized for putting forth the politics of witness as one of withdrawal from the public sphere (which is simply not true), but when I put forth an example of what the politics of witness might look like, I am told that it is unrealistic, as if counting on the nation or the financial sector is.

Moreover, I am told that unless this can be acomplished in two to five years forget it. The church has had centuries to be co-opted by the nation-state; it unfortunately will not be undone overnight. I am sure glad God didn't quit on us after we rejected the first two or three prophets.

Your example of the mega-church proves my point. If they adopted an ecclesiology I am suggesting, as opposed to the Constantinian one most Christians uncritically accept, their whole approach would be different.

I am not going to abandon what I think is an ecclesiology faithful to the NT witness because Christians are so co-opted into believing that the Empire is more capable and thus more faithful than the church; neither will I reject it for the sake of expediency.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Don't you miss the everyday sacrifices that many do everyday?

When there is a World War, it is easy to see and to do sacrifice, as something we love is being attacked. But, I again suggest that many do sacrifice for what they love...at least I know we have.

Perhaps, there is some expectation you have in mind that you are not seeing...maybe then, you need new eyes to see and understand.

Mr. Brown said...

I might be missing your point but it seems to me that a politics of witness could and should include the church saying that we believe in universal health care because we know how devastating an illness or injury can be to a family and that because we have the means, we will do what we can to insure that no one has to suffer that fate. Universal health care is consistent with an ethic of a compassion and concern for the poor-something both Jesus and Paul emphasized. I don't think a politics of witness excludes that; if anything, it should lead us to show these "godless liberals" who care about people that we care about people to. That's a witness I can support.

And I don't see how this works without a public option. Unless there is an affordable alternative to private health insurance, we are just sticking bandaids on a patient that needs surgery.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Mr. Brown:

The issue is not universal health care, but how it should be provided. Obviously a public option is one option, but if the issue is bringing down the cost of health insurance, it is not clear that a public option will do that, since government programs tend to cost too much or are under-funded.

Allowing people to buy insurance across state lines would indeed bring health care premiums down, and so would TORT reform, even though there is debate as to how much the latter would help.

I am not sure who the "godless liberals" are you refer to, but I suspect they are in the same group with the "godless conservatives." The godless and the godly are all over the political spectrum, which is one of the reasons why I have been suggesting the church's embrace of Christendom is such a mistake.

Paul Miller said...

I intent to study all of this, but I don't think I will agree. The government is surely more impartial in giving aid and defenitly better equiped then the church. And too much social responsibility a church cannot bear. This I clearly see in my country. Maybe in the States it is different, but I doubt it...