Is The U.S. God’S Land?

Thank you for Mark Noll’s balanced and thoughtful editorial, “Is This Land God’s Land?” [July 11]. It was a much needed statement. The view held by so many Christians that America is God’s chosen nation has caused great harm, both in the church and in the political arena. Of all people, Christians should have a broader world view that extends beyond nationalistic loyalties.


Andover, N.H.

Thanks for your editorial. On July 4th, our family enjoyed cooking out, eating watermelon, watching the New York gala on TV, and viewing a nearby fireworks display. But this year there was a patriotic “plus”: I took time out for a quiet hour of reading the entire U.S. Constitution. That’s one way all Americans can approach next year’s bicentennial of our Constitution.

The statue in New York is a symbol of our liberty; the Constitution is the substance of our liberty.


Memphis, Tenn.

Noll’s editorial wisely steers between two simple-minded views about America and its place in the world. The messianic view is clearly unscriptural, although God may well intend different roles for different nations. The view that America is the epitome of evil is simply dishonest. Both views have forgotten that all people are sinners and have fallen short of God’s standards. Both views seem to expect exalted moral behavior from this nation of mere mortals. The difference is that the simpletons on the Right seem to believe that we have in fact reached exalted status, while the simpletons on the Left seem to believe that our failure to live up to perfection somehow condemns everything about America.

To the extent America does reflect and practice biblical principles, it is because the past generations tried to bring the nation into line with those principles. That some Christians have confused Americanism with Christianity is in one sense a tribute to the partial success of past efforts. Lincoln was right about America having a special role. But the proper response to that role is not pride, but stewardship.


Brooklyn, Wis.

As a Christian and patriotic Canadian, I appreciated Noll’s editorial. It seems to me that American messianism, linked as it is to nationalism, implies that the national aspirations of all other countries are subservient to those of the U.S.A. Indeed, other countries’ aspirations could easily become labeled demonic, and hence, targets for military intervention.

Any messianism, other than that of Christ, is heretical.


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Saskatoon, Sask., Canada

How Do Churches Grow?

I found Sharon Mumper’s article “Where in the World Is the Church Growing?” [July 11] interesting and exciting. But I was somewhat troubled by the implications of her analysis of the rapid growth of the Pentecostal churches, particularly in Brazil. Paraphrasing Peter Wagner, she writes: “These people can be reached only by those who know how to handle the supernatural.” If the gospel itself does not concern the supernatural, what is its point? On what basis are the other churches growing?


Niles, Mich.

As an Anglican (and therefore within the Catholic tradition), though I find myself in sympathy with believers in the fundamentals of the Christian tradition, I am constantly repulsed by the arrogance of articles like this one. If my experience in this community is any indication, the “church” of which you speak grows not by adding former unbelievers to the ranks of those united to Christ by baptism, but by proselytizing those already within the body of Christ.


Church of Saint Alban the Martyr

Superior, Wis.

Honest Tidings

Ever since that seminar last spring, “Confronting in Love,” our church has been on an openness and honesty kick. Abigail Abbott, our “Sunshine Sister,” is leading the way. She’s in charge of sending greeting cards on behalf of church officers to associates who are sick, tired, or otherwise in need of attention. But Abby’s been having some trouble finding cards that are truly open and honest. So she’s been buying blank cards and trying her own hand at poetic sentiment.

Here’s a sampling:

From the choir director:

I’m glad your operation Went off without a hitch.

But please don’t hurry back, friend

The choir’s now on pitch.

From the board chairman:

We heard about your mishap.

It was a true disaster.

But since you’ve been away we find

Our business goes much faster.

From the church treasurer:

Good luck with your malpractice suit, We hear that it’s a honey.

And just a quick reminder:

You still need to tithe the money.

Please feel free to use these fine poems in your own “Sunshine” ministry. No need to give Mrs. Abbott credit. In fact, the less you say, the better.


Asking Questions

Philip Yancey’s suggestions echo my frustrations [“I Just Thought I’d Ask,” July 11]. Sadly, I am discovering that many in our churches don’t want to hear such questions. And heaven forbid that they should have to wrestle with possible answers! What are believers afraid of? Why do they avoid confrontational questions? Why do so many seem unwilling to conform to the biblical call to obedience? Why do societal concepts of status quo shape our theology when our theology should be shaping our lifestyles? I was just wondering.

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Worthington, Minn.

Each of Yancey’s questions was like a probe (or a goad, almost!), daring the mind to grapple with the issue, to think further.


Free Methodist Church

Santa Cruz, Calif.

Why do I find Yancey so refreshing and unique? Why have we forgotten Jehovah’s first reaction to the corrupting of his world (Gen. 3:9–13)? I, too, am just wondering.


Madison, Wis.

If Yancey really wants to know why our churches warn about human sexuality or why so many cases of church discipline involve sexual sin, let him ask a child who has been molested, a woman who has been raped, or simply read the Commission on Pornography’s Report. This area of sin leaves some particularly searing scars. May our churches never adopt the world’s accommodating attitude toward it!


Phoenix, Ariz.

I was especially pleased with those questions pertaining to the Song of Solomon and human sexuality. As a human sexuality educator in the church, I was delighted to see these questions in a widely read and respected Christian magazine. And, thank you, thank you, thank you (forgive my excess, but such is my delight) for noticing the inordinate amount of attention Christians give to sexual sins, while many other types go unaddressed.


Lutheran Social Services of Michigan

Saginaw, Mich.

I question Yancey’s putting forth such “avowedly Christian” authors as Tolstoy and Auden as examples of high Christian achievement in the arts. Tolstoy’s highly eclectic faith was as much influenced by nineteenth-century humanist philosophers and Eastern religion as it was by the Gospels. Auden was avowedly homosexual, openly living in sin most of his adult life. Faith certainly played a major part in both men’s writing, but I don’t think they are the ones today’s Christian artists should seek to emulate.


Norwalk, Conn.

Will The Real C. S. Lewis Stand Up?

A “review” where the writer gives his opinion is one thing, but a misrepresentation of the facts is another. That is what P. Allen Hargis has done in his article about Shadowlands [The Arts, July 11], The movie never purports to be a biography about Lewis, but a portrayal of his romance with Joy David man. Neither does it seem to me that Lewis talking about Jesus with his Cambridge faculty colleagues gives the impression of a “somber academic” nor that this movie ignores the spiritual dimension of Lewis’s life. Neither is there anything to suggest an “adversarial” relationship between Lewis and his priest “throughout the film.” Hargis seemed to have some kind of axe to grind, and it is unfortunate he did it on this fine film.

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Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio

Cincinnati, Ohio

Persecution In Nebraska

While rightly deploring persecution beyond our American doorstep [“Religious Persecution Is Not in Nebraska,” Speaking Out, July 11] let us not overlook the fact that such persecution does exist in Nebraska—and in our country. The religious press played up the Everett Sileven case in 1982 until it became almost an international event, while entirely overlooking a much worse and much more insidious affair: the persecution of several Amish families from Ohio and Pennsylvania who migrated to the Pawnee County area in southeastern Nebraska in the mid-1970s to farm and raise their children.

For every possible reason, from their shunning of public school education to their refusal to mechanize their small dairy operations, these Amish were harassed, jailed, and intimidated into going back to the East. As a pastor in southeast Nebraska at the time, I looked on in utter amazement and asked what many were asking: “What have we come to in this state?”


Batesville, Ind.

Robb has written “off the top of his head.” He is better informed about international persecution than in the United States. Using the jailing of Pastor Sileven as an illustration, he says, “All the state wanted was assurance that Sileven’s pupils would learn to read and write.” Well, they could have checked the National Test Scores and saved thousands of dollars for the state and many thousands of dollars for Sileven and his parishoners.

He further states that “the predicament of Pastor Silevan was exaggerated.” Sileven and seven of his men spent weeks in jail, while the wives and children fled the state. I never heard this on national news. Who exaggerated the injustice of this predicament?


White Pigeon, Mich.

Journalists like Robb compound the difficulty by not being fully informed. In speaking of religious persecution in mainland China, of which there has been undoubtedly a great deal, he made a misstatement: “During the Cultural Revolution [1966–77], no regular churches were allowed to stay open [true]. Now there are only several hundred.” The latter statement is grossly untrue. The Three Self Movement recently announced that the number of open churches now exceeds 4,000—with approval and permission of the government-sponsored Religious Affairs Bureau.

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Santa Fe, N.M.

Pacifism And Political Liberty

Two salient difficulties came to my mind as I read Kenneth Kantzer’s “One Cheer for Carl Sagan” [Senior Editor, June 13]. First, he misconstrues the biblical motivation for pacifism. The implication is that unqualified preservation of life forms the basis of pacifism. It springs, instead, from obedience to Christ’s unconditional call for love and reconciliation.

A second lacuna results from a logical fallacy constructed by Kantzer, making a spurious either/or position: it is either life or liberty. He then asserts that biblically, liberty always takes precedence. While this is true in some cases, it is not in others. Christ never told his disciples to rebel against oppressive Roman rule, because they lacked genuine political liberty. Instead, they were to go the extra mile. Kantzer also fails to distinguish between taking life and laying it down. Coupled with his ambiguity regarding liberty, it engenders a false dichotomy between the two by removing them from an accurate and necessary context of obedience.


Mechanicsburg, Penn.

Kantzer seems to assume all the major social gospel foundational premises historically associated with theological liberalism. Today’s evangelical political-social activist will use the term “biblical” merely as an appealing label—not to denote actual exegesis. Conversely, “anti-biblical” is used to castigate a “pie in the sky” attitude—notwithstanding the absence of social-political goals in the ministry of Christ and the New Testament church and the biblical admonition to set our minds on heavenly things.


Alexandria, Va.

Yancey’S Straight Stick

Thank you for Philip Yancey’s insightful article “When the Facts Don’t Add Up” [June 13]. It lies as a straight stick of biblical reality beside so many crooked rods of sociological expediency. My tendency has sometimes been to try to straighten out others’ crooked sticks, rather than laying down a straight one and letting people choose between the two.


Jupiter, Fla.

I agree: If Job is “about” the problem of pain, it’s a very unsatisfactory book, for no answer to the problem is presented that bears the Master’s seal of approval. If, on the other hand, it’s about faith, then it is one of the most pertinent books in the Bible for these angst-ridden times.

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Vancouver, Wash.

I must take issue with Yancey’s first stated principle—that “God did not directly cause Job’s problems.” That principle, though attractive, is directly contradicted by direct statement and by implication throughout the text itself. It seems to me that, as we suffer through affliction, we must wrestle, as Job did, with this uncomfortable conclusion—that even affliction often comes from the hand of God. It must be agreed that Satan had a part in Job’s suffering. But I believe we must be careful not to stray too far from the text in our desire not to charge God with evil.


Adonai Fellowship, Inc.

Durango, Colo.

Feeding The Hungry Or Saving Souls?

Charles Colson rightly raises significant questions about the razzle-dazzle of celebrity hype in raising funds to feed the hungry in “We Aren’t The World” [June 13]. The church will be feeding the hungry and fostering community and agricultural development that chip away at the root causes of hunger long after many of the celebrities have overdosed on their affluent lifestyle.

However, I would raise the question of whether the phenomenon of celebrity fund raising for the hungry and the poor of the world may be a finger directed at the church in shame for her inadequate concern and action of commitment to the world’s poor. I am certain that saving souls costs less than feeding them!


Zion Mennonite Church

Archbold, Ohio

Aids: A Medical Issue

Regarding Tim Stafford’s editorial “Pardon My Morality” [June 13], it is important to distinguish medical issues from moral ones. From a medical point of view, which is, I presume, Dr. Dowdies field of expertise, reducing the number of sex partners and practicing safe sex will reduce the likelihood of becoming infected. The number of sex partners is a secondary consideration; safe sex is a primary consideration, AIDS is not a moral issue per se; it is a medical issue. That is not to say one ought not discuss the morality of sex, but they are two distinct issues. Joining them together has resulted in terrible discrimination that is absolutely un-Christian.

I also resent the implied analogy between persons with AIDS and muggers. Perhaps a truer analogy would be to compare persons with AIDS with lepers, for that is how they are so often treated. Surely we all remember how Jesus treated the lepers of his day.


AIDS Resource Center, Inc.

New York, N.Y.

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