Stay or Go? Fight or Flight?

I heard about Alejandro Gomez on the radio this morning. His Web site, StayorGo.us, invites visitors to vote whether he should remain in the US and pursue citizenship, or move abroad. On its face, this sounds like an interesting experiment, and with the publicity he’s gotten from radio shows and newspapers around the country (and even yours truly!), he might actually get some votes.

Which will be easy on his wallet. Each vote costs 10 bucks, and he’s setting the deciding votes at 1 million. So the American people effectively have the power to kick this guy out of the country.

The worser angels of my nature whisper: “What I wouldn’t give to have this opportunity with some other chowderheads!” I won’t actually post a list, since that might reveal more than I care to about my leanings, political and otherwise. (But the list might surprise even people who know me well.) Their better counterparts scold me for having the thought.

This little exchange might be funny if it didn’t illustrate the deepening chasm between folks in America.It echoes the findings of a recent study by the National Conference on Citizenship called the Civics Health Index. Written up in the September 10 issue of TIME, the Index found

“steep declines in most of the 40 measures that were analyzed, including how much people trust one another and major institutions, and their connections to their communities.”

This probably won’t surprise you much if you didn’t just awaken from a decade-long coma. The political situation has been worsening steadily, as more and more vitriol finds its way into the media stream (thanks to blogging, among other things). But the economic situation isn’t pretty either, as the divide between rich and poor starts to look positively canyonesque. According to the short summary in TIME, the Index also indicates that

“Americans are keenly aware of the fissures in society. Our surveys find that 96% believe the nation is deeply divided along economic lines, as many as say we are equally split along political ones.”

What must Christians do in this climate? What is our responsibility?

There are a load of Christians lobbing verbal grenades (and sometimes firing rockets) across that divide. On one side, some say we have to speak the truth to power. Which appears to be code for slam George W. Bush and his regime for virtually everything.

On the other, there are some Christians who say that Jesus was (to quote Derek Webb) “a white, middle-class Republican.” In fact, there are some even farther right, but we’ll leave them out of this.

I will refrain from mentioning names on either ledge, trusting that you know exactly which persons I’m talking about.

I agree that the issues we face as communities, as nations, as a world, are of tremendous consequence:

  • incredible poverty in numerous nations (not just the so-called developing world)
  • the wanton destruction of ecosystems by the short-sighted
  • treatable diseases like AIDS killing hundreds of thousands
  • increasing violence against non-combatants and soldiers alike, and the growing threat of terrorism
  • persecution and torture of dissidents of every kind, whether it’s Christians in China or women in Iran
  • and so on.

I don’t have and don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I feel confident that while Jesus would speak justice and truth, he would balance that truth with love, taking great care not to douse smoldering wicks or break bruised reeds. (Guess the debate can begin on these terms.) That kind of care seems largely absent in the current climate.

That saddens me. And it makes me almost dread the coming political ramp-up in my country. Is there a way back from the paths we seem to have chosen? A way forward through the storm? I have to believe there is, but I wonder if it will require some kind of judgment, followed by an exile that will remind us who we are.

(PLEASE NOTE: The “us” to which I’m referring is the church, not the nation. While I don’t care to open the “America is a Christian nation” barrel of snakes, I do not believe that America is somehow God’s chosen country. She has enjoyed phenomenal blessing for most of her history, and that prosperity has led her to embrace arrogance as a way of life. Blecch.)

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