Ironically for a Christian who is disconcertingly hesitant to evangelise, one of the areas that interests me most is the public role of the church. (Aside: right now I am in favour of a Terrence Malick approach to this role: that is, just get on with what you're supposed to be doing and completely shun the public spotlight. If the church, like Malick, gets labelled a "recluse" then we may actually be found to be doing something right. Rather than the church needing to come out responding to all the various "issues" thrown at it -- gay marriage, postmodernism, world hunger -- the church should remain silent. Not because the world won't listen but because the church is, first and foremost, the listening church, and for to long it has refused to listen to itself and the gifts that have been given to it.)
In relation to the public role of Christians, this paper provides insight into the goings on of the U.S. military training bases, as they more and more become arenas for "Christian fundamentalist" propaganda. According to the author, these fundamentalist Christians are marginalising those who don't agree with their religion, and turning the U.S. military into a modern version of the crusaders. The solution proposed is to make sure that they keep their Christian convictions private, so that the wall of separation between state and church is maintained.
This phenomena is strange for several reasons. For one, I don't think its possible or desirable for Christians to have to become effectively non-Christian in public, yet I completely disagree with almost everything that these Christians have done to the point where I think it would probably be better for both Christianity and the military if these Christians were, in their public life, non-Christians.
There is a deeper strangeness to the phenomenon, however. In the earliest centuries of the church, it was Christians who found themselves persecuted and marginalised in military life. The Roman army was one of many arenas of pagan worship, and Christians who refused the pressure to conform to the cultic patterns were harassed. Indeed, pressure came on these Christians from inside the church as well, for there was no easy assumption that Christian life and military life could be lived in harmony.
If nothing else, this paper reveals that that assumption is rampant in the church today. And its not just those warmongering American fundamentalist Christians who think this way. We may cringe at a picture of a tank with the verse "Put on the whole armour of God" as its caption, but most Christians wouldn't hesitate to affirm the presence of Christians in the military, or the presence of Christians in banks, or the presence of Christians in schools. Local churches should be about the business of bringing into question these easy affirmations as they discern what the Lordship of Jesus requires of those who confess it today.
The first step of this process of discernment is silence. Well, blog posts, then silence.