Overseer or regulator? Enabler or enforcer? International diplomat or homeland protector? For generations, people have asked these and other questions regarding the appropriate role of government in society. The much-needed answers to these questions, however, have been more difficult than ever to come by lately in this ever-changing world that abruptly, and sometimes rudely, causes us to shift our paradigm on seemingly almost a daily basis. While society at large may never never be able to settle on what the exact responsibilities of government actually are, the body of Christ is duly positioned to act in areas and in ways that elected and appointed municipalities simply cannot and should not.
The aforementioned questions are more relevant now than ever before because of the incessant ideological banter surrounding the most powerful man in the world. President Barack Obama, because of his skin color (like it or not); his relative pre-presidential inexperience in Washington; his genuine willingness to scoff at the status quo and engage in good-faith, bipartisan negotiation; his extraordinarily natural engagement with pop culture; and his great love for sports; is a polarizing national and worldwide figure. Some love him because they believe his amenable, charismatic personality connects with the common person, brings people together, and affects change. Others do not care for him because his policies threaten their status quo in ways that will hurt their bottom line and thus disturb their peace of mind. Some on both ends of the spectrum tend to question many of his moves, not necessarily because they are unethical or ill-advised, but because they are inconsistent with the lofty expectations that have been placed on both him and his administration.
Two examples of the strong questioning President Obama receives both concern the one aspect besides race most strongly affecting his polarizing character: his love for sports. The President came under heavy criticism when he traveled to St. Louis to throw out the first pitch in the 2009 MLB All-Star Game in July, as many of his critics opined that he should spend less time at sporting events and more time concentrating on health care. This criticism was, at best, disingenuous because he had been working on just that issue all day before arriving shortly ahead of the game's start.
The same line of thinking motivating many people's comments about the President's appearance in July was repeated a few weeks ago, as news broke of both the heinous beating death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert in Chicago and President Obama's announcement that he would make the trip to Copenhagen, Denmark to personally campaign for the 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Chicago. Very similar to those complaining about President Obama even appearing at the All-Star Game, more than one person, including Jemele Hill, a gifted and more-than-reputable sports columnist for ESPN.com, has asked, in the wake of the Albert tragedy, whether or not the President should be more concerned about gang violence in Chicago and other urban areas than with lobbying for the country to host the Games. Opinions on this question are widespread, but one fact cannot be ignored; President Obama spent all of five hours in Copenhagen, five hours out of a week filled with hours upon hours of war-room sessions, cabinet meetings, press conferences, and diplomatic trips to various places, all in attempts to bring oft-promised change to a multiplicity of vital domestic and worldwide issues.
Derrion Albert's tragic, senseless beating represents a very real problem in this country, especially in predominantly black areas, that cannot be ignored. The fact that a promising young black teenager succumbed to the very gang violence he was trying to avoid is beyond sad, but the fact that society does not have a good handle on who exactly needs to shoulder the brunt of the responsibility for fostering the perpetuation of a culture that allows this kind of reprehensible activity to take place is even sadder. Many pointed the finger at President Obama for seemingly caring more about Chicago hosting the Olympics than about eradicating youth violence in the city, but can that really be considered an accurate assessment? Answering this question requires asking three more. One, would anyone be questioning the President's concern for gang violence had his trip to Copenhagen not been coincidentally a few days after the Albert killing? Two, would critics have changed their tune about President Obama's priorities had the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chosen Chicago, instead of Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Games? Three, and most importantly, what are we doing ourselves doing each and every day to rid our own neighborhoods of violence?
Contrary to popular belief, it takes neither political office nor significant legislative power to make true transformative change in our communities. (A trip to the movie theater to view Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story provides a perfect illustration of this fact.) This message should make more sense to Christians to anyone, as the Bible advises its readers that God never intended for God's people to be primarily dependent upon the rule of established governments (1 Samuel 8). The only reason the Israelites ever had a king is because they asked for one! Furthermore, and most importantly, those who believe that the Old and New Testaments are not separate, but are two equal parts of a whole story that communicates the fulfillment of Christ over all generations understand the importance of the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah (Christ) in the book of the prophet Isaiah (9:6-7):
"For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (NRSV)"
Two important phrases tell readers all they need to know about the authority of Christ: "authority rests upon his shoulders" and "His authority shall grow continually". The "authority" Isaiah refers to in his prophecy speaks to established governments, which he stated would rest upon the shoulders of Jesus. This means that governmental authority was to submit to the divine authority of Christ, which Isaiah goes on to say would grow continually. Juxtaposing this truth with the fact that human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), of Whom Jesus is God's son, and also considering that Jesus proclaimed that those who followed Him would do even greater works than He did while on earth (John 14:12), Christians should be expected to both have and actively walk in the authority of Christ. What walking this authority means, in light of various scriptures throughout both testaments, is that the body of Christ is not supposed to be dependent upon the rule of governments. This is not to say that Christians are not to obey governmental authority, as doing so would violate scripture (Romans 13:1-7), but this means that established governments should be more dependent on Christians than vice versa.
So, what does all of this have to do with Derrion Albert, Barack Obama, or the 2016 Olympic Games? It's actually very simple. The body of Christ has been empowered with the Holy Spirit ever since the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), almost two thousand years ago, for life-giving, life-transforming service to all people, in all places, at all times. That power, coupled with scriptures' numerous promises of Christian authority, means that the Church, not the government, should be the first institution answering the clarion call to reclaim crime-ridden, poverty-stricken communities. Instead of asking what President Obama needs to be doing about crime in urban communities, in light of the Derrion Albert tragedy, the Church needs to ask herself what she needs to be doing about crime. Jesus was accused of many things while He was alive on earth, but one thing even His most ardent critics could never accuse Him of was inaction.
Throughout Christ's short earthly life and ministry, He mastered both theory and praxis, as he not only taught in the synagogues, baffling both priests and scribes with His thorough knowledge of scripture, but He also applied that knowledge by spending a great deal of His time with thieves, tax collectors, and other “untouchables” with whom none considered godly in His day even dared to be associated. Jesus both talked about and demonstrated the power of God in a manner that tangibly transformed the communities in which He both lived and ministered. It is therefore a given that anyone who calls him or herself a Christian must be committed to godly action, as well as verbal Christian proclamation. Followers of Christ who have this understanding must not look to the President of the United States to be the primary crime stopper, but they must look within themselves, both individually and collectively, to discern what they need to do to create a better environment in their neighborhoods and schools for learning and growing. Christians must band together with other Christians to clean up and protect neighborhoods, develop strategies, pull together resources, re-form neighborhood block clubs, and donate tutoring hours, mentoring time, and sweat equity into projects that will help provide the kind of environment in which both young men and young women can learn safely, prepare for their bright futures, and thrive as valuable, productive citizens in this global society
The “greater works” Jesus said His people would do throughout the generations did not refer to building bigger, more architecturally impressive worship facilities with family-life centers, funding television ministries, or hosting Christian cruises or conferences in which entertainment is a given and salvation is at a premium. Those works Jesus was talking about then and still expects from His people even now are just that—works. True Christians see a problem, pray about it, and get busy. True Christians apply their faith in a way that will both benefit and preach Christ to those behind them. True Christians use the gifts God has them to radically transform their sphere of influence. True Christians do not wait for President Obama, their states' governors, or their cities' mayors or police officers to make a difference in the community. In short, true Christians do exactly what Jesus has told them to do—they go to work.
The moral of this story is that when the body of Christ is doing what it is supposed to be doing, it will apply the laws enacted by established governments, giving the laws the teeth they need to be effective. President Obama needs to be free to focus on the myriad of national and international issues he inherited when taking office, while the community directs its attention toward community issues. Derrion Albert tragedies will stop happening when the Christian community finally realizes that it needs to be spending less time in church and more time taking the Church to the streets. It's that simple.
Please consider subscribing via email by clicking "Subscribe" above. Also, consider using the "Share This" button below to share on your favorite social networking site such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Stumbleupon, etc.