I met Will Willlimon recently.
(His preaching technique was exactly what I was taught in seminary. But that’s another story.)
In my first semester of seminary I read Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, written by Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas.
According to Amazon: “Only when the Church enacts its scandalous Jesus-centered tradition will it truly be the body of Christ and transform the world. … Resident Aliens discusses the nature of the church and its relationship to surrounding culture. It argues that churches should focus on developing Christian life and community rather than attempting to reform secular culture. Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon reject the idea that America is a Christian nation; instead, Christians should see themselves as “resident aliens” in a foreign land. According to Hauerwas and Willimon, the role of Christians is not to transform government but to live lives that model the love of Christ. Rather than try to convince others to change their ethics, Christians should model a new set of ethics that are grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.”
Their view is that Christians are not citizens of the United States, or Great Britain, or Canada, or the countries where we reside. We are resident aliens because we follow Jesus, whose Kingdom is not of this world.
Christianity began a significant change with the merger of the Jesus followers and the Roman Empire of Constantine.
Willimon and Hauerwas suggest that because so much focus is placed on individualism in our culture, rather than community, individual sacrifice must be found in some other way then helping others in the community. So the sacrifice of a soldier in combat is celebrated greater than the sacrifice of a pacifist who refuses to participate in the war. Another example is when professional sporting events start with salutes to the military, rather than tributes to the teachers who sacrifice financial gain to help children become better people.
Flags, uniforms and military flyovers are all symbols of the Empire, not the message of Jesus.
I had been a Christian only a few years before I began seminary. (I officiated the third Christmas Eve service I attended.) I read Resident Aliens in my first semester, and it deeply influenced my thinking and my understanding of the message of Jesus.
The ideas in Resident Aliens inform my theology and often surface in what I write.
I was pleased to shared with Willlimon how much his book meant to me.
He shared a story of a minister who led a book discussion at his church.
“How did it go?” Willimon asked.
“Not good,” was the response.
It can be a challenge to tell Christians their understanding of faith is built on false ideas.
The ideas in Resident Aliens are radical, but so is the message of Jesus. Empire Christians think that the ‘radical’ nature of Jesus means they should protest abortion or be concerned with the so-called ‘sins’ of others. The actual radical message of Jesus is that love is more important than politics, policies, national borders or governments.
Empire Christians support the government when it oppresses.
Jesus followers support the oppressed.
The difference really is that simple.