Monday, November 15, 2010

Using the Name of the Lord in Vain

Beginning in the 15th century, slave ships took more than 12 million people out of Africa. The vast majority went to the Americas. In 1776, a medium sized ship docked along the island of Madagascar. The ship was equipped to hold approximately 100 or more slaves. It is assumed that the white captain of the ship called Meermin paid the king of the village Toulier to ask some of his people to visit the ship, unaware that they would be caught and shackled.
After the Africans were secured below deck, the ship set sail for Cape Town. The conditions of these ships were unimaginable. The temperature averaged over 100 degrees, and the air was so compromised that often it became impossible to even light a match. Only a couple portals were available to the 100 plus slaves, and it was almost inevitable that some would die to disease. The white slave traders always figured in deaths when assessing how many slaves they would take aboard. And many slave traders took some extra slaves that they would not document but sell for their own profit.
But something happened on this ship. The white slave traders made the slaves clean their firearms, and led by one slave, these slaves rebelled against the slave traders. Many were killed, and the slaves took control over the ship. The captain and his crew had deceived the slaves into thinking they had returned to Madagascar when in fact they were anchored off the coast of a Dutch settlement. The sentence for a slave who attacked his master was death by impalement on a stake.
Fearing for their lives, and locked inside the gun room, the slave traders write a letter to the Dutch farmers and place it in a bottle in hopes it will be found and read. Here is what that letter said:

Through the guidance of our Almighty and beloved God, the 140 male and female slaves which we exchanged at Madagascar have revolted and taken over the Meermin. About 70 of them went ashore with the boat but at least 50 have remained on board. 32 of the Europeans are still alive, but most of them are wounded. The slaves are in control of the whole ship, except for the gunroom, to which we have fled.

Although we trust in the Lord to save us we kindly request the finder of this letter to light three fires on the beach and stand guard at these behind the dunes, should the ship run aground, so that the slaves may not become aware that this is a Christian country. They will certainly kill us if they establish that we made them believe that this is their country.

In the name of the Lord we remain your obedient servant.

Now can you imagine such a thing? Men have surreptitiously enslaved other men, ripped them from their home and their families, and placed them in conditions that endangered their lives as they sailed for the slave trading docks of Cape Town. And when faced with the specter of losing their own lives, they use the name of God and profess their faith in Him to save them. It is the absolute height of deception and self righteousness, and it illustrates just how deeply men can be deceived into believing God is on their side when in reality He abhors their very conduct. Shocking, you say?
Indeed. But think about this shocking scenario. Imagine people who profess Christ taking up arms and slaughtering other people because these people, or their countrymen, slaughtered the countrymen of the professing believers. Imagine them dropping indiscriminate bombs that kill and maim thousands of men, women, and children. Imagine these actions were in defense of a standard of living that these believers thought would be decreased.
But also image that these professing believers would bomb villages in countries that they assumed would in the future present a security risk to the country in which they lived in accordance with God’s will. And regardless of whether or not their fellow soldiers were believers, these Christians would gladly kill with them. Now like the slave traders, these believers had been brought up in a culture that taught them that violence was acceptable in God’s sight, just as these slave traders had been taught that God approved slavery.
So not only did they not question their behavior, they believed that they had divine favor. And just like the letter written by the slave traders, these believers prayed that God would protect their soldiers as they killed others, including women and children, and that God would give them victory in their military campaigns. Victory, of course, must be translated as killing more of the enemy than the enemy kills of you. And the only reason you and I see some difference between the slave traders invoking God’s help in their endeavor and Christians invoking God’s help in war is because we have been taught from birth that it is divinely acceptable, just as had the slave traders been taught from birth that slavery was acceptable.
Step back and see that man has constructed his own god and called him “jesus”. This jesus takes sides against other countries and abrogates his own commandments when it comes to violence and war, especially when a democracy is involved which has a large professing Christian contingent. A believer is not allowed by God to kill his neighbor when that neighbor constructs a fence two feet into his property and refuses to move it, but he is allowed to kill his distant neighbor if that neighbor encroaches his land elsewhere. What kind of convoluted Christianity is that? Let us be honest about it, we refuse to give up our lives for Christ. As Patton put it, “I don’t want our men to die for their country, let the enemy die for his!”
And there you have it. When it comes to sacrifice and being like Jesus, we use the tired and safe illustration of being patient when someone cuts you off in traffic. How pitiful we are to illustrate Christlikeness with such a shallow and worthless model that elicits no real sacrifice, much less any danger to our lifestyle or very lives. We are soft and comfortable and squeal at the first sign of discomfort, or God forbid, any abridgment of our earthly rights. But we have to preach about sacrifice so we talk about financial commitments to building programs or teaching a Sunday School class or helping teenagers go to camp. But where is the call to mirror Stephen and die with forgiveness on our lips for our persecutors?
Peter picks up a sword to protect Jesus and yet Peter is not only rebuked, Jesus heals the man who came for His life!! What Christianity are we practicing today? And in the tradition of the slave traders, we invoke God’s blessing upon our actions even though they are in direct violation of the Scriptures which we claim to believe. And even while waging war and violence by claiming self defense, we glibly leaf through Fox’s Book of Martyrs and revel in their courage, but we are blind to that which indicts us through the sacrifice of those same martyrs. Why didn’t the friends of those martyrs pick up swords and rescue their friends?
If the community of Christ followers had in these last few centuries became peaceful and humble followers of the Lord Jesus, and moderate livers whose lifestyles were significantly different then the culture, perhaps His power and Person would have been much more tangible throughout communities in which we lived. But as has evolved, we have become faithful Americans whose religion is not much more than a box to be checked every ten years when the census is taken.
But let the lost around the world beware. If you attempt to threaten our lives or our lifestyles, we as believers will gladly stand with our lost brothers and sisters who happen to live near us and annihilate you and enjoy our technology as we watch our destruction take place in 3-D color on CNN, just before we get into the comfort of our air conditioned automobile and ride nicely to church on Sunday morning. All this while bombs kill and maim men, women, and children.
Oh yes, just in case we haven't already used the Lord's name in vain, when we arrive at church, and while carnage rages, we will sit on our padded pews, smiling to our neighbors, and let our pastor ask God to protect our troops and help us get a speedy victory. After about an hour we head off to eat again. Football awaits.

If that’s Christianity then I am an atheist.

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