This past weekend Chris Weidman and Stephen Thompson – two devout Christians – were scheduled to fight in one of the biggest events in Ultimate Fighting history—against two other devout Christians. It seemed like a sad metaphor for the current state of the church.
The men that Weidman and Thompson were facing had each gone through hard times outside of the ring.
One had just won the welterweight championship, but was awarded what has become the typical backlash, calling him everything from a nigger to…? After he spoke about what had happened, Thompson criticized him for “throwing racism out there”…and thus joined the ‘race card’ dismissals now so common in America.
The other tested positive for a banned substance, and Weidman – his Christian brother – joined the herd of non-believers quick to suggest that substance might have been a steroid…it wasn’t.
On fight night Weidman and Thompson both entered the ring draped in the American flag.
Neither joining the secular herd nor waving its banner are inherently a crime, but by (1) adopting secular rhetoric to diminish the struggles of fellow believers, then (2) entering the ring waiving a flag that has begun to function as the banner for dismissing those struggles—their connection to their brothers across the ring was…?
What was clear is that Weidman and Thompson entered the ring representing their tribe—in a sport that often markets to tribalism. And while the UFC is a sport where your tribe can cheer you on, they don’t step in the circle with you. So after Thompson faced the brother who’s ordeal he dismissed:
…and after Weidman stepped in the circle to face the brother he accused of cheating:
I could be wrong. It’s quite possible that these were complete coincidences. It’s possible that God doesn’t speak through sports. It’s also possible that God treats every Christian alike no matter what they say or do…
…but it’s also possible that He uses even small things to get our attention.
Many in the church have failed to see the tension between Christianity and patriotism. But American Christianity continues to fail at producing the unity of mere Christianity.
Clutching stuff may be the definitive characteristic of American Christianity—while letting go is that which defines mere Christianity.
Luke 14:33 English Standard Version (ESV)33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
American Christianity has essentially interpreted this principle out of the bible. We no longer consider the need to strive for it—because we no longer consider it. We simply continue to clutch – among other things – the flag. Many fail to see the problem because their Christianity never took them very far from their patriotism.
An elder I knew described it this way.
A kid fell out of bed and cried loud enough to alarm his parents. When they got there to check on him they asked “What happened?” To which he responded: “I guess I stayed too close to where I got in?”
That is modern American Christianity.
It’s a synchretistic brand of Christianity that has never really left America. Thus its most devout followers can wrap themselves in the flag—and dismiss those who suffer under it.
The reason we have such a hard time empathizing with – much less loving – Christians outside our ethnic or national tribe, could be that we were baptized into an idol: a salvation of affirmation. Where God draws near to affirm our way of life and spread the good news of its obvious superiority. A religion where God helps everyone better understand us—while we sit 2-3 generations deep in believers who’ve lost their ability to truly help anyone better understand Him.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that evangelism is a lost practice throughout much of the church—since true knowledge of God is a lost priority.
We now thrive on a gospel where understanding how to relate to Jesus is optional, and truly understanding those He’s commanded us to love seems a burden. We reduce the fact that Jesus was a Jew to trivia…as if it adds no insight into His suffering—that part of His life through which He was actually perfected.
Hebrews 2:10-12 English Standard Version (ESV)10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
Jews suffered racial hatred then—as they do to this day. So I don’t suppose Jesus’ ethnicity played any role in Roman soldiers – complete strangers – beating Him relentlessly even though they had no idea whether he’d actually committed a crime?
Just as much of the church misses a deeper understanding of His suffering, it also dismisses the ways ethnicity affects His people who suffer today. Familiar allegiances to country and kin have almost extinguished empathy for those beyond “our” chosen circle. We respond to “tribal” allegiances so consistently that secular marketing both counts on it—and looks to manipulate it.
It’s happening again. Tonight Andre Ward fights Sergey Kovalev. Andre is a Christian, and he isn’t much of a flag waiver. But his entourage is talking…a lot. Part of what’s coming out of his camp is an appeal to America’s superiority over Russia. Another part is the painful stretching of biblical texts to prove why Andre’s going to win.
I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight, but nationalism and biblical manipulation are two habits that typically don’t impress God. He’s patient though, so we’ll see…
Psalm 103:10-11 New Living Translation (NLT)
10 He does not punish us for all our sins;he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear himis as great as the height of the heavens above the earth
…but those aren’t the types of things that God allows to stay in His camp for long.
Beyond the flag though, American Christianity is clinging to a culture that’s more openly embracing darkness, and that’s producing a stunning brand of cognitive dissonance:
1 John 1:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.…Ephesians 5:6-11 English Standard Version (ESV)
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.2 Corinthians 6:14-18 English Standard Version (ESV)
14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial?[a] Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”
Clinging to the flag and its baggage has compromised our ability to relate to – much less love – the brethren. Why does that matter? Because God says it’s impossible to love the God you can’t see, without loving the brother that you can. (1 John 4:20-21) There’s a day coming when God may reveal that your problem isn’t just with your brother…it’s with…
Decide for yourself though. Whether or not I’m seeing this correctly, I need His mercy as much as anyone.