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‘Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed…’ – Luke 11:17 ESV
It’s truly a jaw dropping moment when 25,000 national guards are needed to be drafted into Washington to ensure a peaceable and safe inauguration of the new president of America -Joe Biden. Not only is he the president of America, the office he occupies is regarded as being that of the primary key holder of the free world. This makes it even more surprising to watch the White House being encircled by the erection of fences and barricades all topped by razor wire!
Biden acknowledges that perhaps the greatest challenge of his tenure is that of reunifying America. This is no mean feat! The depth of division is both shocking and profoundly disturbing. The nation is seriously divided in so many ways. Whilst, not surprisingly, many would lay the blame fairly and squarely at the feet of Mr Trump – after all he is the archetypal wall builder – however this is not the whole story. What plays out before our eyes is much more than a few cracks that have appeared as the result of the incumbency of a hard-nosed business man – turned Reality TV host. For years, beneath the ground, full scale social, cultural and spiritual subsidence has taken place. Jesus teaches us that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. The issue is always beneath the surface, it’s a core issue.
Divisive rhetoric is not just the domain of the Ex-President. Recently, some on the far left of the Democratic Party made the claim that Trump supporters were all white or white-supremacists – of course it’s a ridiculous claim – what’s more, language like this is schismatic and damaging. Last week, Joe Biden himself continued to talk divisively as he announced help for small businesses recovering from the Corona crisis, he said his administration would give ‘priority’ to ‘Black, Latino, Asian and Native American owned small businesses’ as well as ‘women-owned’ businesses. Whilst many would applaud, what could have been heard as the desire to address economic and social inequality, his divisive social categorisation has the potential of exaggerating the deep underlying divisions that exist in the country.
What, if anything, does all this tell us? We have to ask ourselves whether what seems to be playing out before us as Biden struggles to re-unify America, are simply the birth pangs of a new administration; or is what we are seeing and hearing symbolic of this moment time, the epoch in which we live. Division is certainly not limited to America! I can see separatist movements everywhere – all claiming to be truth tellers – polarisation and tribalism are accelerating. There is increasing aggressiveness in those championing ‘wokeness’, a growing ‘cancel culture’, the weaponisation of information, Identity Politics, even a return to Nationalism, I could go on! These are resulting in an increasingly divided and fragmented society where people are isolated, putting any remaining sense of common good and collective interest at risk. Even within social justice movements (the new religion of the post-modern era) there are multiple fractures. Whilst we all acknowledge God is ever with us, present even in death’s dark vale, there is a marked acceleration of the demonic which continues its destructive work. I’d add my cry to that of others:- some of whom who would go as far as saying; ‘if we as human beings continue on this trajectory, we are on a course to the destruction of civilization as we know it.’
Scripture is clear, one of the clearest hallmarks of the demonic is that of division and separation. In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus unlocks a person from the prison in which the powers of darkness have held him, He’s accused of using Satanic power. Jesus offers us some remarkable insight and wisdom as he responds to this accusation.
Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart. Luke 11:17 ESV
Dystopia is defined by Jesus as the demise of two critical pieces of interdependent social architecture; the nation and the family – a ‘kingdom divided by civil war’ and ‘a family splintered by feuding’. The way to destroy society, even civilization as we know it, is to allow it to be divided by narrow feudalism and civil division, even war. As you would expect, much has already been said about the integrity of Biden’s inaugural speech but the truth that Jesus reveals is the reality of dystopian America. Biden said;
“The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you, or worship like you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do,” ……. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red versus blue. Rural versus urban. Conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls, instead of harden our hearts.”
It’s clear, these words of Jesus are not be consigned to or defined by Pentecostal charismatic spiritual methodologies, within what we have traditionally called church. No, Jesus is making a much more important point! This is also about the socio-political and cultural architecture originally entrusted to Adam and Eve and now in the hands of the ekklesia of God (an assembly of citizens entrusted with governing power – Jesus’ definition of the church).
Whatever your political affiliation, your ideological position or your theological conviction, we must conclude that this is not just Biden’s issue, not just the democrats’ problem, or even America’s issue. The church (the ekklesia of God) has to take some responsibility. At one level you can’t deny that the evangelical church in America hasn’t taken responsibility – it has! They voted, and exit polls recorded that 75% of white evangelicals voted to keep Trump as president, responding to his conservative policies including; among other things, his pro-life, pro-Israel position. The idolization of Trump by many evangelicals seems to have resulted in them turning a blind eye to his scandal-ridden presidency, accusations of rape, sexual assault and harassment, three marriages and allegedly paying off a pornography actor who claims she had an affair with him. Many of the big names of the evangelical church in America had endorsed his presidency with their unequivocal seal of approval. In an interview last year Franklyn Graham and Eric Metaxas, two prominent figures within the American evangelical movement affirmed him as fit to lead and attributed any opposition to Trump’s presidency as demonically inspired!
Equally, we mustn’t forget the American prophets who prophesied Trump would triumph over Biden, some declaring that he would not be impeached. Bethel’s Kris Vallotton, televangelist Pat Robertson, Dutch Sheets, Jeremiah Johnson to name but a few, prophesied him wining the election. Post-election the Independent ran a headline; ‘Pro-Trump Christian evangelical ‘prophets’ apologise for getting election result wrong’. Many prophetic voices had predicted his sucess. Kris Vallotton, one of Bill Johnson’s team at Bethel in California was one of those who prophesied a victory for Trump. Unlike others he has had the grace to apologise to Mr Biden directly via Instagram, although the post was later removed. However, others were adamant that the fight was not over. Jeremiah Johnson, a prophet who is based in North Carolina, said he still predicted that Mr Trump would reclaim the presidency, and that unspecified corruption in voting would be exposed. He told thousands of his followers that “God hates” the policies of Mr Biden. One of his November posts read; “While we wait until January to determine our next US President, observe the stunning blindness and hypocrisy in the body of Christ… Christians who voted for the shedding of innocent blood, the Equality Act, and anti-Israel legislation (ALL things God HATES) are now picking up stones to persecute prophets who supposedly missed it.”
Can the situation get any worse? Sadly, yes! Listening to Rick Joyner on The Jim Bakker Show (clues in the title) offer his prophetic perspective on America’s political situation, he told Bakker’s viewers that God had shown him in a dream of militia groups popping up like mushrooms all across America. He declared that it was time for Christians to take up arms and join local militia groups in the fight against what he would describe as the Marxist ideology of the democrats. It takes your breath away! Shoes fitted for the Gospel of peace have been exchanged for combat boots. It seems many think that their battle is against flesh and blood despite Paul’s clear instruction to the contrary. Forgetting the self-giving love that led the lamb silently to His slaughter, Joyner quotes Jesus words recorded by Luke in his Gospel – to buy a sword -and concludes that this is a mandate for believers to take up arms and join a militia group.
From this side of the Atlantic it seems that the bizarre behaviours and strategies adopted by the evangelical church of America result in widening of the social, cultural and political chasms that already exist. Perhaps this is due in no small part to a deepening affiliation with the political far right – or is this more than an affiliation? Franklyn Graham’s late father Billy Graham once said in a 1981 interview,
“It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”
It seems that the wedding went ahead! Whilst some of us can empathise with America’s evangelical’s desire for a government that is sympathetic to the values and ethics of a Judaeo Christian heritage, I can’t help thinking that they have become subject of their manipulating spouse for the last four years – Mr Trump.
When Jesus congratulates the Pharisees on their ability to read the signs in the ‘earth and sky’ (an agrian metaphor) to determine the next day’s labour, he uses the metaphor to confront their lack of discernment, their inability to make sense of the ‘signs of the times’. What we see today determines not just what we do tomorrow, but how we do it. In responding to these events, a friend suggested that we should ask ourselves the question; what if is this is not just a window but a mirror? It’s all too easy to sit in the comfort of our own evangelical paradigm making clever, even self-righteous observations, but we must ask the question, what does it say about us? The pandemic of division that ails America is surely rife in our dis-united Kingdom too? How will we recover and what do we need to do? The conclusions could full a book! I will offer two brief suggestions;
Repentance is not just turning away from something, it’s turning to someone – God. It is a return journey. This journey is not just an individual one; it must have a corporate, collective dimension to it. We might have accused the evangelical church in America of having wedded Donald Trump, perhaps even political idolatry, but what are the Golden Calves that we have made? The story of the Golden Calf is the story of Israel’s commodification of God, they make the god they want, in their own image and one that that they can possess and manage. How have we contributed to the social, political and spiritual fragmentation, polarisation and tribalisation of both the nation and the church? Repentance marks the start of any form of renewal, without it we remain locked up in the ‘status quo’ of the given paradigm and era into which we have become invested.
Metanoia, the Greek word for repentance also refers to a change of mind, a renewing of our ways of thinking. It disrupts old patterns of thought and opens up pathways of comprehension closed down by our fallen nature. The work of both Word and Spirit reshape our established ways of reason and perception and enable us access to new sense making thought processes. True repentance opens our minds to this type of renewal.
The cultural trajectory of the last 100 years leaves us with a legacy of a privatised and highly individualised approach to being human. The last 30 years of the politicising of identity continues to further fragment society and empowers alienation. The ascent of new tech platforms risk the formation of pseudo-virtual forms of relationship, void of the reality of true human connectivity. The church too has struggled as it’s tried to navigate the turbulent waters created by this cultural tide as it attempts to remain on an even keel by making church ‘culturally relevant’. During this period of time, the church has remained engaged in evangelistic outreach and has become increasing involved in social action and city reaching. We give thanks for these spheres of service and the fruit that they have borne and are bearing. Sadly, society continues to disassemble and fracture. Is this a time for the church to extend their stewardship of the world it’s been entrusted with and take a lead in strengthening civic society, by championing COMMON GOOD and the building of social capital (community)?
The life shaped by the Gospel and evidenced in the early church is what we can offer. Armed by a love that accepts, esteems and cherishes all; a hope that transcends our commodified existence; a regard for life that endows all of humanity with dignity; valuing family; the strength of collectivism expressed in a community that appreciates diversity – this is what society needs right now. There is a special role for the church as men and women of peace to strengthen our civil society. Could we become those who foster a culture of encounter, creators of spaces for real dialogue and agents of reconciliation? Could we imagine our street, our neighbourhood being shaped by the architecture of Gospel love, building bridges, drawing people together? Marching together to storm the gates of expressive individualism? In doing so, we would be creating capacity for welcoming and hosting the incarnate presence of Christ – this Gospel is the hope for our nation, for our world.