Monday, May 6, 2013

What’s a Good Christian Nation To Do?

America has a body to bury and no one wants it buried in their “back yard.” That is a problem, not because bodies decay and cause a stink, but because refusal to bury the body of one whom we abhor says something important about the soul of America.

Anyone who has read my blog regularly would know that I don’t subscribe to the myth (as I see it) that the United States of America was created as a Christian nation. Granted that nearly all of the founding fathers professed some form of Christian belief and that a good number of them were devout in their practice of their religion, but when they gathered to “form a more perfect union” than that which had been formed under the Articles of Confederation, they purposely created a secular state. The document with which they constituted the new nation (The United States Constitution) is antiseptic in its God-excluding language. Those founders did not exclude God from their personal lives nor from the life of the nation. Indeed they expressed the need of a religious population in order for their secular government to succeed. But the government itself was not a Christian institution and was strictly forbidden to become the advocate, defender, or supporter of any religion. No one was to be forbidden participation in the government based on his (or her) religion or lack of religion.

But there is a myth abroad, supported by prominent protestant theologians and authors, claiming that we are now, and have been since the inception, a Christian nation. It seems, if we can believe the chatter on the conservative Christian networks, and much of the conservative non-religious media, that a large number of Americans, perhaps a majority, believe our nation is specially favored by God, is in fact a Christian nation. So, for the sake of argument here, lets assume that is the case. What, then, does a Christian nation look like and how does it conduct itself toward its enemies, particularly toward its dead enemies?

The relatives of a young man, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are seeking a place to bury his body. Mr. Tsarnaev has become a pariah in our society because of his alleged participation in the bombing at the Boston Marathon that resulted in three deaths and two hundred injuries, some of them very grave. Additionally he is accused of gunning down one police officer who later died and seriously wounding another who has survived. In the mind of many Americans, and apparently a majority of Massachusetts residents, he is undeserving of a formal burial in this country or in their state.

It is ironic, I believe, that Massachusetts is the very heart of our reputed Christian nation. It was in Massachusetts that the Pilgrims landed and the Puritans established their “city on a hill” that was intended to instruct the rest of the world in righteousness.

So it might be useful to ask ourselves, “What would our Pilgrim Fathers Do?” Sadly, our history reveals that they exhibited very little tolerance for aberrant beliefs or behaviors, sending Roger Williams (the founder of Rhode Island) and Anne Hutchinson packing when their doctrines did not line up with those of the Winthrops and the Mathers. And their record in dealing with accused “witches” left something to be desired as well.

So it might be more useful to ask ourselves, “What would our Pilgrim Fathers have done if they had been following the precepts of the one they professed to be serving, Jesus of Nazareth?” And of course that boils down pretty quickly to the question, now usually asked with a smirk, “What would Jesus Do?” But smirk or no smirk it is exactly the question a Christian Nation should be asking. And more specifically, it is the question that any person who professes to be a Christian should be asking.

The answer is not hard to find. Here are a few of Jesus’ statements that give us direction in cases like that involving Mr. Tsarnaev’s burial:

“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” 

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven . . . ” 

“. . . if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” 

Granted that none of these statements address specifically the treatment of a dead enemy’s body but it should be clear to any who wish to emulate their professed Lord and Master what he would say.

The man proclaimed to be the greatest theologian of the Christian church also had something to say on the subject that is relevant. Hear these words from the Apostle Paul: 

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” 

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

So, what is a good Christian Nation to do when its enemy’s family (many of whom are citizens of the nation) requests the right to give their deceased a decent burial under the terms of their religious understanding and practice?

Well, I leave it to you. It seems we could respond in Christian charity. But then we could suspend our Christian nation status just long enough to do unto our enemy what we would never want our enemy to do unto us.

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