In the news a few weeks ago, there was a harrowing story that illustrated religious peace between Christians and Muslims. Islamic militants from Somalia attacked a bus full of commuters in Kenya. After ambushing the bus and boarding, the militants attempted to divide the people between Muslims and Christians so that they could murder the Christ followers. But the Muslim passengers refused to cooperate, saying they had to kill everyone or leave—their bravery saved everyone from a massacre.
After hearing this story, only one thing crossed my mind. Would American Christians do the same for our Muslim neighbors here? The answer to that question lies in one simple truth.
We are afraid of not being safe.
I have seen a rising trend of PolitiChristianity—in which political values become mistaken for Christian virtues. Especially with issues related to safety and security.
We have become so desensitized to the calling to take up our cross and follow Christ—we think it means to attend church, to wear cross necklaces, to maybe talk about Christ in uncomfortable situations at work. Do we not realize that this calling was originally one to a tortuous death? The ending was not pretty or easy. It was not safe. So why have we become so absorbed with safety to the point that our rights eclipse our responsibilities, and that our political values are held onto more dearly than moral virtues?
Safety is about protecting things of this earth.
Luke 9:23 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more…When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
There’s one key word here I want to highlight. When. Christ does not say “If you are brought before those who want to hurt you.” He tells us it will happen. So why are we shocked when it happens? We are to suffer joyfully and selflessly as Jesus did.
Luke 12:4, 11 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their lives will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
When we are focused on safety and self preservation, then we are focused on the flesh. As Christians, we know that the flesh is finite and will fade. We are promised eternal glory with Jesus in heaven, a life everlasting. So why are we so afraid of losing our lives now? I think much of this has to do with political values becoming mistaken for Christian virtues.
Values vs. Virtues
A value is a vague and obscure term. It is different for everyone, depending on your political affiliation, ethnicity, culture, educational status. I may value healthy eating. I could value animal rights. I could value environmental issues, public healthcare, the right to bear arms or freedom of the press.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (really, the only dictionary I think is worth using), the word “value” did not carry moral connotations until the 19th century—and this understanding of the word originated in the United States. Interesting. It was often associated with social values, which thereby became related to moral principles about what is considered important.
So how is this different than a virtue?
Virtues are moral standards deemed as desirable in a person. The word dates back to the 13th century. In religious contexts, there are the four cardinal virtues (Justice, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude), three theological virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity) and then seven virtues that oppose the seven deadly sins. These are Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness and Humility.
These principles are intended to be absolutes that transcend boundaries.
You have may noticed that nothing along the lines of self-preservation, security and safety is listed. These virtues are others-focused and self-sacrificial.
As values became a greater part of our cultural vernacular, people began to associate political values (small government, less taxes or antitrust laws and subsidies) with moral virtues.
But what happens when political values become interchanged with moral virtues? Sometimes, it’s a good thing. Such as when we feel that a certain policy violates human rights, such as the right to life. But sometimes we find ourselves equivocating cases of subjective values with objective virtues, which creates a misappropriation of terms. Therefore, we begin to make arguments based on faulty presuppositions.
We are to cultivate an eternal worldview.
Luke 12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor…For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”
Again and again in the Scriptures, we see a call to discomfort and to a lack of security, whether it’s financial or physical. We are to be poured out for others, not so concerned with safety and security.
Luke 13:27 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
This does not mean that we are to despise our family—instead it means that even our loved ones cannot have a higher place in our hearts than God. In addition, even our own lives are not to be viewed as more precious. If we are truly to model our lives after Christ, then we are to cultivate an eternal worldview that sees purpose in the physical and yet knows that the things of this world will pass away.
If we truly believe, as Paul wrote, that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) then we understand that there is something more beautiful than life itself. That was surely the worldview of Jim Elliot and his team in Ecuador, who had the weapons to defend themselves against the Auca Indians and yet allowed themselves to be killed to further the message of the Gospel.
While fear drives us to defend ourselves, courage drives us to defend others.
As the opening story of the Kenyan Muslims and Christians illustrates, we are called to place others above ourselves like the Good Samaritan. When we become absorbed with self preservation, safety and security, then perhaps we are confusing values with virtues—perhaps we are acting out of fear, not courage.
Chesterton calls courage “a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying.” Of course, carelessness does not mean recklessness. But it does mean risk taking. It means cultivating an eternal worldview and living with the courageous perspective of where we are headed. Consider Jonah who was sent to the Ninevites, considered the most dangerous enemies of Israel. That call was not safe or secure. But he followed the Lord.
Instead of fear, which can lead to a reaction of seeking safety before anything else, we are to live “without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you” (Philippians 1:28).
Author Scott Bader-Saye writes in Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, “Like Abraham setting out from Ur, like the Israelites setting out from Egypt, like the disciples following a Messiah who had no place to lay his head, so Christians today follow God not to seek safety, but to participate in a quest for fragile goodness and thereby to find our fulfillment as human beings.”
We are called to defense of the Gospel, not defense of self.
Naturally, this gets into political and social issues with moral ambiguity. I am by no means trying to encourage blanket pacifism as a moral standard—however, I am beginning to see a difference between individual and institutional pacifism. I am not telling you to never defend yourselves or your families, and this is especially different for those who are in law enforcement and the military. But I simply believe that we as Christians in America often make a political value into a moral virtue, sometimes without theological grounding.
When I look at the life of Christ, led like a lamb among wolves, and the lives of his apostles, all of whom were persecuted, I do not see safety and security upheld as virtues. I see sacrifice—which is the ultimate sign of surrendering physical safety for a higher purpose.
May we be the kind of Christians who stand up for those around us, even if it may not be safe or comfortable.