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Church Leaders or Useful Idiots?

by James Gibson

Church Leaders or Useful Idiots?
by James Gibson
Marshallville United Methodist Church

Former President George H.W. Bush recently offered a strong rebuttal to comments on United States foreign policy made by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church. Griswold had said, “I’d like to be able to go somewhere and not have to apologize for being from the United States. . .I am not surprised that we are hated and loathed. . .for indifference to human suffering.”

The former president called the bishop’s rhetoric “highly offensive” and seemed genuinely surprised that “this man of God” would “think so little of the United States providing food and other aid” to other countries. But for mainline Protestants familiar with the long struggle for the soul of the Church, and with Bishop Griswold’s unabashed allegiance to liberal causes, such comments are not in the least bit surprising. Neither is it surprising when retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert is seen in a television ad deploring current President George W. Bush’s resolve to disarm Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

In times of international crisis, the Church has a unique opportunity, indeed an obligation, to reach out to those enslaved by fear with the redemptive message of hope through Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. This hope is best expressed through the Church’s embodiment of a way of life radically different from that of the present world order; a worldview which transcends the crass and cynical politics which so often divide nations and peoples.

The Church, when it is truly being the Church, lives out the reality of the kingdom of God in the midst of an imperfect world where wars and rumors of wars are the norm until God at last completes the work of redemption begun and ended in Christ. The hardest lesson for many Christians to learn is that this final redemption will not come about merely by thinking nice thoughts and hoping that secular-minded politicians and diplomats will solve all the world's problems without bloodshed. Our own redemption required the shedding of the blood of the perfect, spotless Lamb of God. Likewise, the redemption of the whole creation will not be a painless affair. Both Jesus and Paul compare it to the pangs of childbirth (Matthew 24:8, Romans 8:22). But, despite all appearances to the contrary, God is at work, even (and especially) right now, perfecting his creation at the personal, corporate, and cosmic levels. War and violence are not his preference, but he nevertheless uses these consequences of the Fall to bring about, at last, the redemption of his creation.

When Church leaders, such as Bishops Griswold and Talbert, use their position of ecclesiastical authority to hurl insults at the President of the United States, questioning his motives and impugning his character simply because he cannot rule out the option of military force in fulfilling his obligation to restrain evil and maintain order; or when they make self-loathing comments about their own citizenship, they are not being faithful representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ. They are, instead, acting as useful idiots for the forces of evil who wish to unleash anarchy and chaos throughout the world.

The Church is neither utopian nor fatalistic in its view of the world. Rather, it is both visionary and realistic: visionary in that it sees beyond the tribulation of the present time to the final outcome of history when God's reign of peace and justice will permeate all of creation; realistic in that it sees the present tribulation as both the natural consequence of a fallen creation and the necessary ordeal such a creation must endure in order to be restored to its original, uncorrupted state.

The best critique with which the Church can confront the present world order is not through vocal and cynical contempt for world leaders whose actions, whether for war or for peace, will always be tainted by the fallen order. Rather, it is through quietly and resolutely embodying the hope of all creation; reminding the world that it is, in its present form, passing away and will be ultimately uprooted and supplanted by the eternal reign of God, when the Creator of the heavens and the earth will say in the end, as he said in the beginning, "It is good!"


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