Something Greater Than Wrong (?)

A few weeks ago, the internet became a public square hosting dialogue around the actions of one Joseph Kony. Kony is a military leader in Uganda – of the Lord’s Resistance Army – so I don’t have to tell you he also considers himself a righteous man. Kony has been active in Uganda since 1986, but what got our attention was a video from the NGO Invisible Children, which exposed (not that Kony was hiding anything) the kidnapping of children and forcing them to become soldiers and “wives” (read: sex slaves and housekeepers) on behalf of God’s cause. The video can be found on YouTube or anywhere and is a must-view, although little of it will surprise you (all of it will sadden you).

What will shock about Kony is how he’s been able to operate for so long: our government along with the UN have labeled the Lord’s Resistance Army as “terrorist” but have done nothing to stop him. Whether that “stop him” comes in sanctions or vocal outrage or direct military action is another debate, but the reality is: we’ve wanted to stop “terrorists” before. I want to play the “Because-America-has-nothing-to-gain-from-going-into-Uganda” Card, but I don’t know foreign policy. I know it is evil and sin to take children from their families against their will and force them into labor of any type, and I know America takes pride in their role as Sheriff of the World’s Police. Full disclosure: I also know that Pres. Obama sent 100 troops into Uganda to advise those fighting against the LRA (who may also be terrorists themselves), and that Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (which is like giving someone a citation for bad hygiene instead of a toothbrush).

All of this is distant from my field of expertise. If you want, I can read Huffington Post and NPR and study all night to pretend like I’ve been following it forever, but I haven’t. I have been interested in the Lord’s Army since 2005 though – when Kony was indicted – and am particularly interested in the way Kony has paralleled his work to the Gospel of Jesus. To be clear: Kony is not resisting the Lord; he is resisting on behalf of the Lord, and in his words, “defending the 10 Commandments” (wouldn’t you love to hear how he gets around “Thou Shall Not Kill”?). He is like many other groups who warmonger in the name of God.

Colonel Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church (leaders of the “God Hates F–s” movement)

Lieutenant Rachel Pendergraft and the “Knights Party” (I believe you know them as the Ku Klux Klan)

Now there is a showing of overwhelming public support for Pro-Lifers, who have taken a relatively unsound argument and morphed it into a war against women and sexual choice, using Christian morals of celibacy as the primary ground. I wonder what God thinks of all this. And by “this,” I mean them…and us.

There’s a strange tendency among progressives to talk about how ill-fated the other side is, erecting a fairly solid boundary between “Us” and “Them” (Pink Floyd was years ahead of its time). So we are going to let them be idiots while we talk amongst ourselves in our publications and pulpits. I’m starting to get the sense that the Left isolates as much as the Right alienates.

My primary thought these past few weeks – and especially as people have collectively blasted Kony – is: How do we create community that includes people with whom we do not agree? Instead of working by ourselves against (or in spite of) “them”, what are the areas in which we may collaborate? The kingdom is not full of folks on either side, but (in my imagination) resembles a mass of folks who are willing to unite around a God who transcends difference. Remember: Kony and Phelps and Robertson and other hate-spewing figures believe they are first in the kingdom, just as we do. Who is righteous here? It takes a mighty God to answer these questions. Good thing we serve one…

It’s a complicated scenario; and so I’ve decided not to sit somewhere on a spectrum of “right” and “wrong”, but to spend my time as pastor and shepherd affirming the holiness of Community. So whatever perspective destroys that ideal, I’m determined to speak against such practice. There are other universal ethical principles I keep in mind – removing the agency of the Other in any way is ALWAYS wrong – but I’m about done arguing my theology over and against another’s. Because who knows: I may be wrong.

My “aha” moment came as we were planning our March 24 youth event here at UChurch. Sit a bunch of UCC youth workers around the table – along with some folks who aren’t UCC at all – and differences will abound. So someone said, “I’m doing a piece that deals with bullying of gays.” Then someone said, “I don’t agree with homosexuality.” Then the room fell silent. Then arguing began. Then I said to myself, This is the end of productivity. Then I checked out. Then I walked through the sanctuary and felt sad. Here we were, a group of people from widely different backgrounds, trying to unite on behalf of our youth – who desperately needs advocates and microphones. Here we were, doing this universal good, when someone’s theology had to get in the way. I sat in the sanctuary and thought, “God help us. We are in the wilderness indeed.”

Pray for community in this world. The strands of union are fickle and have been worn by our biases. However divinely inspired, our prejudices must never become our manicured lawns that are fenced off from those who disagree. There must be room for us all to graze together. Above all, pray that we may have a sense of the Higher Good to which we are all called – that Good which transcends even our modest sacred traditions – for in that Good the true God is found.

Think about it. I may be wrong. But If I am: will you work with me anyway?

—Pastor Julian