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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Common Enemies Can Cause Fatal Attractions

It has happened in the past. The Church has signed an agreement with a group because of a common enemy only to find that its new friend is a cause for the Church's demise. This happened in 1933 when the Roman Church signed a Konkordat with Hitler's government. Their main reason for doing so was that the Pope supported the Nazi opposition to Communism. In addition, the Roman Church as a whole, not including every member, was not a big fan of the Jews. In that Konkordat, the Nazi government promised the Roman Church freedom and protection while the Roman Church promised not to interfere. History tells us that it didn't work out that well for the Roman Church.

Of course, that is not the only example of the Church making questionable alliances because of some common foe. But we have two new potential examples in the Middle East and Africa. Since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, Syrian Christians have, for the most part, thrown their support behind its brutal dictator, President Assad. Why? It is because his government has been giving them protection from its enemies. But it's not just protection, it is jobs (click here). Though not calling for outright support for Assad's government today, Christians just met with President Obama where he reminded them of who was their guardian 'angel' and they asked Obama to be careful in which rebel groups he supported. They were particularly opposed to any American support for foreign groups (click here and there).

Egyptian Christians have faced a similar dilemma. They either see themselves go unprotected or they choose to align themselves with power that both protects them and oppresses others. And their support for Egypt's President didn't start with its current one. This kind of alliance goes back to the days of Egypt's first President to be recently overthrown, Hosni Mubarak (click here). Just as in Syria, the history of church support for the government in Egypt sheds a different light on the persecution faced by Christians in the region. For it may not be due to just hatred of another religion, it could also partially be because those who are persecuting Christians believe that the friend of their enemy is their enemy. Out of taking care of themselves first, Christians in both countries might have been too scared to realize that they were compromising their values for their security. And this is tough to say because choosing one's own security over principles is our natural inclination, though not a Biblical one.

This story of the Church aligning itself with power is like the 2nd verse of Herman Hermits' song, I'm Henry VIII I Am. Take the French Revolution for example. Though not for the same reasons as what we are seeing in Syria and Egypt, the Church aligned itself with power and prospered because of it. Thus, when the French Revolution broke out, the Church was targeted because of its active support for the Nobility. And this is where history is a little different from the present. The targeting of the Church in Syria and Egypt is more less because of guilt by association. Yes, there is political support for oppressive governments. But in these examples, the Church was merely trying to buy protection for itself even though their protection continues to lead to the oppression of others. Because both the Church and the government have some common predators/enemies, the Churches in these two countries have thrown their faith and support for those with power.

And it's not like the Christian Church here in America doesn't have its own dilemma to face. Only instead of needing protection, the Church here faces a prosperity issue. Either support, silently or vigorously, an exploitive Capitalist economic system so that it will win friends and prosper itself, or preach against the sins of the system and suffer the popular and economic consequences (click here). There seems to be no middle ground. However, there are trends. Those Churches that follow more orthodox theologies tend to align themselves with the status quo. Those Churches with more accommodating and liberal theologies have a greater tendency than their more conservative counterparts to challenge the status quo especially in behalf of the marginalized. But the liberal Church's tendencies here are nothing to write home about.

In all of these cases, what we are talking about is the Church's tendency to proclaim itself as a guardian of truth while compromising what should be its values to gain something from the current system. In the case of the French Revolution, the Church gained power. In America, the Church gained respect and prosperity. In Nazi Germany, the Church avoided state persecution.  

But the return is not only a sacrificing of at least a part of its soul, it meant temporal losses too. In the French Revolution, the Church faced scorn, rejection, and a seat at the table because of its association with the Nobility. With America, the Church's fate because of its partnership with an exploitive Capitalism is too early to tell. With Nazi Germany, the Church's new beau was a monstrous beast that brought down everyone with it. 

What will be the fate of the Syrian and Egyptian Church? We do not know. What is obvious is that their situations, so far, most resemble the Roman Church's situation with Nazi Germany. But whatever happens, the greater tragedy is that the Church will be too interested in its own short-term outcomes to care about the compromises it is making. And if we Christians wonder why people don't believe the Gospel we preach, we need to go look into a mirror to see if our credibility is down. For while claiming to preach values and faith, we have all too often shown that our only interest is self-interest despite how others around us suffer.




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