Rod Dreher has a good piece here on the great looming alternative that now confronts us.
Within the biblical framework of a rightly-ordered patriotism, it is easy for Christians to take our native loyalties to our native land as a simple given, while reserving to ourselves the right to disagree with or oppose the decisions and mandates of the current administration. Jeremiah was no less a patriot for challenging King Zedekiah. Seems simple.
But when the canker of rebellious idolatry is well-advanced in any nation, the possibility of the regnant idolaters seeing believers as part of a loyal opposition begins to steadily erode. A totalitarian miasma sets in, and any disagreement with the current forms of legislated disobedience is taken either as mental illness or treason. When Stalin wanted to deal with his political enemies, he used psychiatry to define them into his version of the outer darkness. When the ancient Romans persecuted the Christians, they did so because the Christians were enemies of mankind. And in our day, simple disagreement with the proposals surrounding same sex mirage is categorized simply, routinely, and quite handily, as “hate.” That was an extraordinary move, and entirely predictable.
And someone who is mentally ill, or treasonous, is not someone who can be a loyal son of his nation. He cannot be one who simply disagrees with the current push for same sex mirages. He is outside the pale, and he is out there by definition.
So Christians need to start making some emotional adjustments, by way of preparation. “I love my country, I fear my government” is a common sentiment among us, reflecting the common distinction I mentioned above. And our position is that our fear of God necessitates that we oppose certain actions of our government, but we need not say that it necessitates a contempt for our people, customs, language, culture, etc. That is, it does not necessitate it on our end. It very well may become a requirement coming at us from the other direction. In fact, that is what is happening, and it has been the strategic play since the appearance of the very first “Hate is Not a Family Value” bumper sticker.
I do love my country, and detest the current regime (and by “regime” I am referring to more than the current administration). Well, of course the current regime has the ability to make us choose between their policies and Jesus — that’s the easy part — but they can also frame the debate in such a way that it appears we have to reject our people and nation for the sake of Christ. It does no good to complain about them taking hostages like this — one of the results of them being in power is they can manipulate things in this way. We are not all the way there yet, but we are most of the way there.
In other words, what happens when the definition of fundamental allegiance is formally and officially altered (actually, or in effect), such that any true believer in Christ would be prohibited from professing it? The early Christians were not persecuted because of their loyalty to Jesus. That was fine with the Romans. Whatever you wanted to worship in your spare time was fine with them. The problem was caused by the Christian loyalty to Jesus precluding a certain kind of loyalty to the state. The Christians were not persecuted because of their prayers to Jesus. They were persecuted because of their refusal to say a dinky little ceremonial prayer to Caesar.
As Chesterton puts it in The Everlasting Man . . .
“A convenient compromise had been made between all the multitudinous myths and religions of the Empire; that each group should worship freely and merely give a sort of official flourish of thanks to the tolerant Emperor, by tossing a little incense to him under his official title of Divus” (p. 163).
The only problem was that faithful Christians, a lot of them, wouldn’t do it. From a secular vantage point, the Romans really were being extremely tolerant, and were fully prepared to continue being that tolerant — as long as they were recognized as the final authority. And the Christians, refusing to make that concession, seemed to the authorities to be driven by sheer cussedness. But given God’s Word to us, Christians simply cannot do this kind of thing. Not to overstate the case, it is the “Supreme Court,” not the “Supreme Being.”
Because of this, again in Chesterton’s words, the enemies of Christ responded the way they always do, by surrounding us with their own peculiar forms of organized malice — “the halo of hatred around the Church of God.” And as American Christians, once free and happy, prepare themselves to start wearing that peculiar halo again, a recent move is to accuse them of being whiners about a bunch of nothing, a charge that appears to be right on schedule. You poor, delusional thing, you. “The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee?” (John 7:20).
It is most clear that we are on the verge of that stage of the proceedings now. So when the decree comes down and we are told — as we are now being prepared to be told — that we cannot oppose same sex mirage and be good Americans, our first reply ought to be “very well then, have it your way. We shall be bad Americans.”
My citizenship, my affections, my loyalties whether national or regional, my manner of expression, my lever-action Winchester, my language, my love of pie, my Americanism . . . these are all contingent things. They are all creatures, because they are attributes of my life and existence, and I am a creature. Our nation, and all its pleasant things, is a creature. The grass withers, and the flower fades.
The purveyors of soft despotism want to arrange things so that we conform fully to their agenda, or consign ourselves to their idea of the outer darkness, which turns out to be the same kind of place as Stalin’s.
Because I think like a Christian, I don’t necessarily think it is a necessary choice at all. But it is only not necessary in a nation that is not despotic — and ours is metastasizing into despotism. So under their terms, under their rule, such a choice is mandatory — because in times of persecution, they will make it necessary — which means that I will swallow the reductio. Force me to choose between Jesus and America, and then watch me choose Jesus.
The apostle Paul knew what it was to be a true Jew (Rom. 2:29). He loved his native people intensely (Rom. 9:3-5). But he also knew that it was possible for the earthly chess pieces to be maneuvered in such a way that we might have to sacrifice our queen, and real Christians are always prepared to do this gladly. This was something Paul was willing to do, and so if you successfully got him into the position where he had to decide between being a Hebrew of Hebrews, of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5) and the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:8), he didn’t even have to think about it. The prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14) or the Medal of Freedom? Well, if you make me choose, friend, the Medal of Freedom strikes me as a haphazard affair, as a Pringles lid hung around some compromised neck with frayed shoe laces, and said lid heavily caked with cat poo.
Is it really the settled public policy of the American nation that we must choose between our love for Jesus Christ and His heavenly kingdom, on the one hand, and on the other, parades in all our major cities celebrating anal intercourse? Well, let me think about it. Can you give me some more time?
Those believers who have had an ordinary love of country, coupled with a naive (and very unbiblical) belief that America could never become an idolatrous adversary to the kingdom of God, are the kind of people who would be quick to acknowledge on paper that if we had to choose between God and country, we should always and everywhere choose God. But having ticked that box, they murmur to themselves that they are very glad that they could never be called upon to make that choice. Sorry, but here it is. Right on top of us.
Our nation is a nation just like all the others, and we can spiral into spiritual apostasy just like all the others. We are now more than halfway down the line of statues in the royal hall of Charn, where the look of our earlier nobility has vanished and we are just three elections away from the coldest forms of despair. Just think — all over the world, drone strikes making the world safe for sodomy.
As a nation like all others, we do have the option of repentance as well. But the first sin requiring the deepest repentance will have to be that damn-fool notion of American exceptionalism.
This is why pastors have a particular and pressing duty here. If this despotic modern state is the idol of our age — and it is — then pastors have a pressing duty to prepare their parishioners to resist it. We have a duty to prepare our people to refuse to bow down when they hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer (Dan. 3:5). Those instruments seem odd to us today, and so does Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, but you may depend upon it — at the time, bowing down to that statue to that music at that time was about as mainstream as you could possibly get, and the only people left standing were the extremists and weirdos.
John warns Christians as little children, telling them to keep themselves from idols (1 John 5:21). This will be a pressing danger when the idolatry is mainstream, when paying your mortgage depends on conforming, when all the networks are asking what the big deal is, when we can’t buy or sell without offering that pinch of incense to the emperor, and the music has been playing for a good minute and a half now. People are starting to look. You see an official in the back writing down your name.
It is quite true that idolatry can exist as a matter of heart motive. Paul does says that greed is idolatry, for example (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). But the idolatrous state doesn’t care if you are an idolater in your heart only — they will at some point insist that you register. We sometimes have a rarefied view of idolatry, thinking that such a sin could only be determined when we appear before God at the great judgment seat. We will appear there in order to answer His series of trick questions, and when He asks us which is more important, being American or Christian, we need to say, “Christian! Of course!”
But the trick questions aren’t there — they are all here. Pastors don’t need to be preparing men to not deny Christ before the Father. They need to teach them how to not deny Him before men (Matt. 10:33).
Originally published on August 26, 2013.