This is the moment, I guess.
Well, not precisely this moment. At the present moment, we’ll pay respects and acknowledge (I hope) the passing of an extraordinary woman. Sure, the usual assortment of trolls will no doubt emerge from under their bridges to ooze vitriol toward Ruth Bader Ginsberg onto their Twitter feeds. But I believe most of us, even if we disagreed with some of her stances on issues, will at the very least grudgingly admit that here was a person of strong conviction and character.
Then, after these moments of tender reflection, a large sector of America’s Christian population will become giddy with excitement and anticipation. They’ll anxiously await a Supreme Court nomination from the president to swing the bench to a conservative majority.
This, after all, is the moment they’ve long pictured. This is the moment for which they’ve prayed. It’s the moment for which they’ve strategised and for which they’ve voted. And yes, this is the moment for which they’ve compromised. This is the moment for which they’ve said, “The ends justify the means.”
But let’s play a game: Enter the Delorean or the phone booth or the hot tub, or whatever time machine you prefer and jump ahead with me 20 years to 2040. Roe vs. Wade has not been overturned. Why not? Because the Supreme Court is made up of human beings and human beings, whatever their supposed ideologies, are unpredictable. And because, quite frankly, overturning Roe vs. Wade, we’ve now discovered, just wasn’t that easy to do, legally speaking.
What’s more, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have died – and have been replaced by left-leaning justices – and John Roberts is clinging on by a thread. Meanwhile, American society has little interest in or time for Christians or for their message. Blatant hypocrisy has finally become our undoing, at least from the standpoint of credibility.
What will we think then? Will it occur to us that perhaps we should have diverted all that energy in directions besides the acquisition of political power. Will we ask whether our character wasn’t, after all. more important than ‘winning’?
Of course, it might be helpful if we simply asked those questions now. Many of us insist that, if we can just get the right political forces to align, we can ‘turn the nation back to God’. We can ‘once again’ have ‘a Christian nation’. The problem with that thinking is that nations can’t be Christian. Only something – in reality, someone – that you can baptise can be Christian. Only a group of people empowered by the Spirit of God can be Christian. Saying that the American nation state can somehow become ‘Christian’ is like saying that my toothbrush can become Christian, or my IKEA sofa set can become Christian (I know, I know. But it was cheap, easy to assemble, we had young kids, and we didn’t want anything expensive that they could destroy).
Someone will say to me, “Yes, but we can vote for people who will act according to Christian moral principles!” My first answer to that would be, “How’s that working out for you?” My second would be that you can dress up anyone in a disguise, but it doesn’t change what they are underneath.
When Leia infiltrated Jabba’s palace to rescue Han Solo, she donned a mask and adopted a gravelly mechanised voice and a peculiar dialect, pretending to be a bounty hunter named Boushh. So convincing was her portrayal that she even received a nod of approval from Boba Fett himself! But in the end, she was found out.
In the same way, we can try to agitate for our government to act in ‘Christian’ ways and to champion ‘Christian values’, but in the end, the ruse won’t hold. That’s because only the assembly of believers has been baptised and empowered by the Spirit to live the life we find in the New Testament. Only that assembly could ever hope to – indeed, could ever be expected to – live out the way of Jesus. The New Testament writers are clear and resolute: Christian values, Christian morality, Christian ethics are meant to be practised by Christians, not by the world in its current condition. That world, simply put, lacks the power to do so.
New Testament ethicists like Stanley Hauerwas and Richard Hays, among others, routinely make this point. They emphasise the vital need for communities whose purpose is to embody the way of Jesus – which is the way of the cross. These communities have no interest in ‘winning’, because the way of the cross has more to do with a very strange kind of losing. They don’t expect or seek or require political power or seats on judicial benches; they seek only to show what the kingdom of God should look like. Obviously, this attitude is utterly counter-cultural, so they don’t expect to be understood or accepted either.
If we’re really interested in the nation’s ‘morality’ or its ‘values’, then our primary step must be to sort out our own. These model communities of believers exist to help us to do that. And when we’re empowered by Jesus and the Spirit and committed to walking as he walked (which is the only genuinely moral life that we could live), others might actually find us attractive, or at least interesting, instead of off-putting and belligerent.
Maybe this is that moment.
Feature Image: RBG (from ABC Australia at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-19/ruth-bader-ginsburg-notorious-rbg-us-supreme-court-justice-dead/11256624)
- Bill and Ted’s phone booth (from Bill and Ted 3’s Twitter page at https://twitter.com/billandted3)
- Leia as Boushh (from Wookiepedia at https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Boushh/Legends)
- Boba Fett nod GIF (from Boba Fett Fan Club at https://www.bobafettfanclub.com/multimedia/galleries/album/117/)