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Letters to Christians in the U.S.A.

In 2006 alone, I've been in 20 countries around the world. Everywhere in my travels, I hear committed Christians expressing deep concerns about the direction and global role of the U.S. But they fear that their fellow Christians in the U.S. either don't know or don't care about their concerns. So I offered to give them a place to express their concerns and hopes and requests. I hope you'll hear these voices - voices of your brothers and sisters around the world - and take their concerns to heart. I encourage you to invite others to read and dialogue about these heartfelt messages too. Can we hear the voice of God in these voices from our fellow Christians?

I expect to be getting more and more of these in over the coming months. I'll post them as they arrive.

Letter from London

I have had the privilege of traveling to the US several times a year for the last ten years, for work, study, and vacation. Through all those visits I am still amazed at the sheer size, and diversity of the US, and have delighted in every experience I have had, in visiting twenty states so far. Indeed the US has been our favorite place as a family to visit and stay, especially for a two-month sabbatical.
One year I stood sweating in 95 degrees of hot sunshine in Houston in January and that same to day traveled on a short flight to Atlanta, where I had to scrape Snow off my hire car. It’s an experience that reminds of the difficulty in trying to make general statements about the USA. The more I visit, the harder it is to ‘sum up’ what Americans are like.
So knowing I will have to visit much more to begin to understand the US, I offer these few thoughts and observations, a someone who loves the USA. I see how the US has provided so much for the rest of the world, and pray for it to thrive, and hope you read these thoughts in light of that hope.


The Religion of Politics
Amongst of our friends in the US, we have noticed a growing trend and change. People we love who are republicans and democrats are becoming increasingly hostile to each other. There has been a polarization in politics fueled by religion that has distressed us; mainly due to the way it has affected the character of people we love.
I have sat in meetings with Christians who are convinced George Bush is God’s man, and every Christian must vote for him or be part of some left wing conspiracy against God. I have been in meetings with left leaning Christians, where I thought it would be easier to admit to murder than to say I liked republicans.
Now I believe our faith should inform our politics, but the co-opting and polarizing of faith by politics, seems ugly and wrong. Or has politics been co-opted and polarized by faith? Surely there is another path, a way where Christian faith informs and critiques the left and right. The US could lead the rest of the world in walking that path.
The Environment
Every time I post an item on my web site about global warming I usually have a Christian from the US comment that there is no such thing, and it still shocks me when they do. In UK and Europe we believe in global warming, we believe we are consuming energy and pumping toxins into our atmosphere in a way that cannot be sustained.
The environment is a huge and growing issue in the UK that politicians on all sides are responding to, and making part of their policies. Yet the US, the largest polluter of all nations seems to prefer to pretend it isn’t happening, or just ignore the problem.
Yet with the sheer numbers of Christians in the US, if they all engaged in tackling global warming, they could make all the world of difference, and set an example that our children and history would remember. At present Christianity in the US seems more synonymous with consumption.
Al Gores’ video ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is currently making waves in the UK, and by the sounds of it is doing so in the USA. Yet I suspect that, as he is a democrat vast swathes of the US won’t ever take the movie seriously let alone watch it, out of political bias and prejudice.
‘God Bless America’
We hear George Bush say it regularly; in fact in all our imported US TV and films, the phrase ‘God Bless America’ is a very natural and normal expression in the USA, as well as talking about praying.
The use of God and prayer in public life by public people is a question of your sanity in the UK. The US has a separation of church and state, yet has a very religious society. The UK has a state church, but a very secular society.
But if the UK prime minister used these phrases, there would be outcry; they are inconceivable in public life, except maybe for our Queen. In deed earlier this year Tony Blair in an in-depth and wide ranging interview referred to his belief in God in guiding him, and there was a public outcry, and fear that he was a religious maniac.
Even our Queen, can only make a statement of broad general spirituality, rather than a definite claims of God being for us as a nation, and an appeal to prayer.
There is a voluntary principle in the USA with no tradition of church-state, yet the US is a country that claims ‘One Nation under God’ and that ‘in God we trust’. Whilst 40% claim to attend weekly in the US, with people seemingly anxious to be seen as churchgoing, in the UK the claim for church association is 5-7%. It is 1% in many of our largest towns and cities.
Religion in the UK was imposed until recent times, but we can now choose our religion. In the USA, religion has always been personal choice. I’m not sure if that qualifies us to make any observations, but it might explain some of the ways we see things taking shape in the USA, and I hope help you understand us better.
So I will continue praying that the Christians of the US would unite under God, and lead the way in caring for our planet, and no partisan engagement in politics. There are enough of you to make all the world of difference.

Jason Clark
London, UK
http://www.jasonclark.ws


Letter from Malaysia
Dear Brothers and Sisters in North America,

We know that your country, the United States, is one of the most
exceptional, resource rich,
lands-flowing-with-milk-and-honey of our
present day. When the world looks at America today however, it
immediately, wrongly and rightly, perceives of disproportionality, in
terms of political clout, air-time, military force, or even basic
things you take for granted, like opportunity- compared to the rest of
the world. Some are legitimate woes, brought about by the workings of
a system of national and international economic and political
governance that treads on the rights of the poor. But some are
woefully inaccurate, as one need only to look at the situation in your
Deep South and elsewhere to see the unequal balance still existing
between the different peoples and races within your country, as well
as the tremendous resilience, at least on the rhetorical level, of
attempting to right some very grave historical wrongs.

But our plea, at the present time, from the rest of the world, is that
you look beyond your borders, and we don't just mean your physical,
geographical ones. Look beyond your borders of class, of race, of
creed, of political opinion, of your own little townships and hamlets,
of your cities and corporations, beyond your façade of high-school,
college, and grad-school, beyond your spiritual myopia, into a reality
that you and the rest of the world face. Look towards the destitute,
the defenseless, the millions going to a certain death because of war,
poverty, disease, and the tens-of-millions already living a crushing
mortality through the grind of their mere daily existence. Look
towards a world and environment that has witnessed savage brutality.
Think of yourselves as citizens of the world, as we are- who groan, as
you do, for the righting of wrongs. Make these things, the concerns of
the world, your concerns as well. And live it.

Look beyond the introverted world of media and glossy magazines,
towards the bleak, stark faces of the world looking back at you. Stand
from a viewpoint removed from where you usually stand- detach yourself
from your pedestal, destroy it, and attempt to gaze back at the world
as it truly is. Growing up in any strong, overriding culture carries
with it a certain habit of under-appreciating the viewpoint of the
other, or worse, dressing these opinions around your own. You will
realize that the rest of the world understands you better than you
understand it, due to your central, prevailing position- so be humble
as you speak.

You have much to teach the world and much to give. But we long to see
you, brothers and sisters, as that— beloved siblings, but on the same
level playing field. Not above us in terms of a self-perpetuating
aggrandizement, but as equals, who hold the keys to each other's
mutual enrichment, fulfillment, and leadership in the many shared
arenas of our common lives. The world does not like to be bullied,
have its name sullied, or have causes dropped when their time in the
limelight has passed over. So treat us and the problems of the world
with honesty, integrity, and we'll protect your names as well. We want
to stand by you as brothers and sisters, fighting the battles that
matter, on the same turf, for the same reasons. That is, as our wish
is for the rest of the world, our hope in these perilous times.

Sincerely,
Reuben Liew
International Civil Worker in Malaysia

Letter from South Africa

Maintaining prophetic distance
Let me tell you a story. In the mid 80's I was a member of a church in a
small town in South Africa. This was a time of much unrest in our country.
The fight for freedom from Apartheid was in full swing. People where dying
every day. It was a time of running battles between young black kids armed
with sticks and stones and soldiers in armored vehicles carrying assault
rifles.

My pastor at the time ran a leadership training school for local young black
leaders – something that I thought was wonderfully progressive. What I
found out years later is that his training school was funded by military
intelligence and that while providing training to those kids, he was also
providing information to the military as to who the most promising young
black leaders were. Many of those leaders where detained, tortured and
killed.

My pastor took sides and in the process lost his capacity to stand back from
the action - he lost his prophetic distance.

Another character comes to mind – this time Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu. He too
was involved – he too seemed to have taken sides – he certainly was the
"rabble rouser for peace" (see the new book about his life). Maybe most of
us would say that he chose the right side and so he did not need to stand
back at a prophetic distance.

But today he remains a voice for justice and peace and righteousness – a
voice that today speaks at times against the very people whom he spoke so
eloquently for in the 1980's.

He did choose sides – but it was not a political side – he chose the side of
justice and truth. Today he speaks against those who would corrupt our
democracy, who would enrich themselves at the expense of the poor, who are
hardhearted towards those who suffer from AIDS. Honestly I feel that he
speaks the prophetic word of God.

As I watch your country enter into an election period my encouragement is
choose well. As I watch your government's decisions on Iraq and Iran and
North Korea, on global warming and world trade and the role of the UN, my
heart sinks. My encouragement is choose well. Choose life and truth and
justice and righteousness. But more than that maintain your prophetic
distance. Don't get so caught up in the process that you loose your ability
to see.

Yours in His name

Sean Callaghan
Pastor
Melville Junction Church
Johannesburg
South Africa


Storytelling in Iraq

I think it’s safe to say George Bush is not the Devil –even if half the world may think he is. But if the President wants to play Moses to the Muslims he can’t have them thinking he is the Pharaoh either.

See, unlike the historical Moses --who fought his job description-- the President has taken on the liberation of not just one people but of the entire the Middle East!

How so? The President has defined victory in Iraq as a strong government allied with the United States in the Global War on Terror and spreading our kind of democracy throughout the Middle East. Staying the course isn’t about eliminating WMDs or catching Saddam Hussein; our troops already won that war. Now it is about getting Iraqis first to embrace our cause and then evangelize their neighbors about its beauty.

The President didn’t ask Congress or the People for that job; he took it on himself. And it is not a fight he can hand off to the military either---the National Guard isn’t about nation-building. On this one---the struggle for the hearts and minds, the trust of the Iraqi people---the President needs to shoulder his own cross.

Which brings us back to Moses and Pharaoh.

Moses wanted to leave; the President wants to stay. Moses wasn’t looking for permanent bases, no-bid contracts or a launching pad for future invasions. If Bush wants to be believable he needs to be about leaving, soon. Otherwise he starts to look like Pharaoh.

Moses brought plagues, but not on the people he wanted to lead. Bush has failed miserably at protecting the Iraqi people. Our military needs to be used to plague al Qaeda, not to lose itself in the swirl of a civil war it can’t possibly sort out.

Moses was highly aware of his limitations. Bush---like Pharaoh---listens to no one. No matter how many reports reveal his crusade has actually made us more vulnerable to terrorism, he asks the troops to shoulder on.

When Moses got in a jam he parted the Red Sea, well, perhaps he had a little help from above. Now the President may have heavenly connections, but to win military battles he doesn’t need miracles, he has the US military. But when he made this about democracy building. The President made it a whole new ball game. He moved the goal posts on himself. The military already won the ‘game’ against Sadaam and his phantom WMD; it was a blowout. But in this round, the President doesn’t need a miracle comeback from the military but rather a miracle of statesmanship from himself.

Joseph Nye says, “In the information age it matters not only whose army wins, but whose story wins.” In the Exodus story Moses liberates his nation from bondage. In the President’s dramatic narrative, Iraqis and then the whole Middle East join in the unique American experiment of Freedom and Democracy. The modern version of milk and honey. In his choice of story, the President has made his challenge even deeper, he is asking Iraqis to play roles in a foreign production.

And how can they be expected to embrace the storyline of freedom, rights, and the rule of law when the back-story includes warrantless wiretaps, abuse, torture, rape and extraordinary rendition?

Finally, in the Exodus story Moses conquers his fear of speaking and confronts Pharaoh verbally again and again. For the President’s story to prevail, he needs to stop hiding behind handlers and speaking to Republican crowds. If he can’t convince us of the power of our own story, how can he hope to win over the Middle East? To win in Iraq he needs to become a master storyteller and weave together the lives of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

But if he isn’t up to that task, if the story of America in Iraq isn’t going to have a happy ending, then it’s just a fairy tale and its time for us to close the book.

Letter from Guatemala

Dear Brian:

I don't like you.

You make me lay awake at night re thinking how church should be these
days. I don't like you because you creep into my thoughts about how
Christianity will be in the coming decades around the world.

Like so many of my thinking Christian friends from different
countries, you take me to that uncomfortable place of meditation I
love to be in.

On an Argentinean street, while slowly walking like life was eternal,
this summer you and I talked about these things; Christianity and the
global mind; about how Church is about you and me . . and about the
rest of the 6 billion people in the world.

So, this is not that personal Brain. It's not that I don't like you,
it's that now I think I know why there could be Christians that don't
like you. Yet, they keep tabs on you and read you. And since they
read you, maybe you can help me convey my feelings to our American
brothers and sisters that just might read you.

Now, let me begin by letting you know that I am a Guatemalan. I live
in Guatemala City and my heart is set in Latin America. I am the 4th.
generation of "preachers" in my family. And part of the reason I am
in the ministry is because of loving brothers and sisters in the U.S.
that had a huge impact on my life.

The house I grew up in, was built by a group of missionaries from de
U.S. I had clothes because the giving hearts of U.S. Christian churches.

The Word of God came to my country more than one hundred years ago
because of a U.S. missionary.

I am writing to you in English because of my experience with loving
U.S. families that took me in as one of their own to live with them.

But as I studied Latin American Christianity and its impact on
culture, I found out that I pretty much had to to take "Latin" from "
Latin American Christianity" because many times it seems that
"Christianity" is not a way of living but a brand of music, a style
of clothing and a format of stage performance that has steadily been
exported from United States.

My dear American brothers and sisters, believe me when I say that
God is not an American, I don't think his native tongue is English.
God doesn't watch Fox news over CNN—although I do!— He doesn't buy
in Walmart and boycott K-mart.

God feels joy when the American Christian people get together to eat
turkey and give thanks that last Thursday in November, but we, the
rest of the world, really don't get the point. I mean, we know about
being thankful and all but not the whole turkey-Pilgrim thing. Please
don't be mad if we don't get together that Thursday, we may need to
work that day or go to the stadium to see the world's most popular
sport, soccer.

Can you believe there are Christian people around the world who have
never, I mean never heard of Billy Graham (my own personal hero) or
Benny Hinn (not so much my hero!). . . aauurrgg the nerve! But it is
true. What you value and admire are your values, get it? They are
part of what has made Unite Sates a most admired country. But I don't
think they are the basic thing that will necessarily make other
cultures great.

Believe me, there are funerals around the world where "I can only
imagine" is just not sung.

There are Christian brothers and sisters in all countries that have
never heard and will probably never hear, "How Great Thou Art". And
then, there are others who have heard it and just don't like it. Now,
this is coming from the son who's mother did the official translation
to Spanish of that historic hymn. It may be beautiful, but it is not
essential for Christianity.

U.S. Christian T.V. is one a the greatest exports the American Church
has. It mingles the gospel with American values. This is not bad in
the sense that Americans values are not bad, but never the less they
are American. They are not Latin American, they are not African. . .
an so on. Now, our young Christian leaders in Latin American
countries are growing up with the idea that a man and a woman of God
have to be like what they see on Christian T.V.

So, come Sunday morning, our churches are singing Praise and Worship
with the style that the worship leader sees on American Christian
T.V. People on the stage are all dressed in black, suite and tie,
showing there best, maybe to The King, but maybe to the audience
because that is what they see on American Christian T.V.

After the American brand of Christian music, sermon and performance
is finished, people go from church to eat. And where do they go? To
American franchises; TG Friday's, Chilli's, and of course, the big
Golden Arches, MacDonald's. It's such a common thing, people in the
Church lobby will only say: ". . .'meet you guys in Mac".

Guatemala has the greatest number of McDonald's restaurants in Latin
America. I heard a well known Guatemalan pastor talking to an
American missionary about this phenomenon. "Isn't it great that we
have more McDonald's than any other country in Latin America?" said
the pastor—"God is bringing prosperity to our people"—he continued.
"Yes"- said the missionary– "It's truly a blessing". Now, don't get
me wrong, Brian, I like Big Macs and I think McDonald's has the best
fries ever, but it can hardly be called a "blessing" to our country.
I know it means jobs and all, but that many fast food restaurants
doesn't show prosperity, it shows that our people don't know how to
spend their money wisely. We are a poor country, we don`t have money
for this, yet we come up with it and spend it!

Because the American export of Christianity, many in other countries
think God is Republican and that He hated Bill Clinton so that's why
He voted for Bush. And many wonder if it is at all possible to love
God and dislike Bush at the same time. Young ministers of the gospel
now don't know what to think and teach about war without having an
opinion against Bush because he was elected by our Evangelical
brothers and sisters. So, are all those people wrong, or are we wrong
if we are against the war in Iraq—-it gets tricky—
Aspiring young ministers have been developing an American Theology,
again, not bad, but not Latin American. It is a Western form of thought.

Sometime it seems the Christian Church in America gets its World View
from Fox News, Christianity Today and Focus On The Family. And then
that gets exported as Holy Grail to the rest of the world mingled in
with the Gospel.

And as the Church in America struggles to change to be relevant to
its culture, the ride starts again to now change the way the world
does Christianity because "it must", because "this is the way it
should be", because "the Lord showed us. . . ."

Oh, I know its cool to have dimmed light services with hundreds of
candles to create a more intimate feel for the whole church
experience thing, but really, in Latin America, Catholics have had
candles in low lighted churches for more than 500 years with very
little Godly influence over culture. The truth is we haven't seen
much spiritual, personal or community transformation from that import
either.

Post-modernism has been around our neighborhoods and jungles for
sometime now. It's not an Internet, industrialized-urban, cool
Christianity phenomenon. (Now, the whole video media thing, now that
is soooo cool! That is something that REALLY needs to get exported
with your Gospel. Please, get on with it)

Brian, amigo, do you remember the early missionary movement that God
brought to the heart of the Church in U.S. an Europe in the late
1800's? When American and British couples would leave literally
everything they had and would sail to Africa to give their hearts to
"those" people?

When the ships arrived to the African coast, these missionaries would
take their Bible in hand and would walk towards those lost souls.

Usually, the first thing they would do was. . . . to make sure all
the women in the villages had blouses. Why? well, there were men in
the group, holy men, they could certainly not see the indecency of a
half naked African woman. Well, I just want to ask, if that was such
a problem, why didn't the men plucked their eyes out? I believe that
would have been a more biblical attitude than making others dress
like the missionaries, wouldn't it?

I am writing not to gripe about America's attitude towards the rest
of the world. I am writing to remind our Christian Church in the U.S.
that the Gospel IS the Gospel, and other things are OTHER THINGS.

Please, don't ask us to sing your songs, ask to hear ours.

Don't teach us your Theology, help us ton develop ours.

Not all our churches can be MEGA churches, some of our towns are small!

We can't be prosperous like the preachers on you Christian T.V.
programs, there are places where there are no airports for those kind
of jets.

Why do your Christian T.V. shows have to go into all of our
countries? Can't they help us in some way to have our own Christian
T.V. , you know, shows that would be relevant to our cultures?

How should we elect our Presidents? We are young democracies; does a
born again President make a great President?

The point is, I'll watch Fox News, I like McDonald's, I'll shop at
WalMart and I love God, but they are not meant to be packaged
together as one cultural export.

Jesus is not a cultural conqueror, He is a cultural servant.

He's not the kind of missionary that would just walk into a
neighborhood to tell people how his town was better. Jesus is the
kind of missionary that would first walk the streets for 30 years
before ever making a statement.

Jesus would not sing "Open the eyes of my heart Lord" if it wasn't
"their" song. He would sing "La Cucaracha" if that was what it would
take to show love.

So maybe we should re think about the way we do Christianity unto
others.

Maybe, after all, we should be laying awake at night re thinking how
we export or import the Gospel.

The "American Interests" should be so low on the priority to-do list
of the Great Commission that if they don't get done, it won't matter
because God will bless the nation that serves HIM not the one that
serves its own flag.

Gracias Brian. Eres mi mejor amigo!
Junior Zapata
Guatemala City, Guatemala