As violent demonstrations roil Hong Kong, a bold group of volunteers is providing moral support and physical protection for young protesters
Every week, if not every day, articles show up about Christians in a post-Christian culture. I’ve written a few, myself. Even though we saw it coming, the speed and vehemence of the “new normal” takes our breath away. We’re scrambling to find a place to stand, reassembling our ranks. If the noise temporarily settles, tempers are still frayed and feelings are on edge, just waiting to be set off again.
Our predicament seems precariously modern: Christianity in retreat, the Bible trashed, believers on the edge of the next big social revolution nickeling and diming their possible response. What will it cost to speak out boldly? Hesitantly answer a question put to us? Raise bushels to let out a sliver of light? It’s not Stalinist Russia; no secret police will knock down doors in the middle of the night to drag subversive Christians off to prison. (Not yet, anyway, I hear the cynics muttering.) In the time-honored American tradition, the local and online community will function as secret police through shaming, shunning, or boycotting.
All new? Jeremiah might have something to say to us from way back in sixth-century B.C. There was a roller coaster of a life: called against his inclination to prophesy, scorned in the marketplace, mocked by other prophets, thrown in a cistern, kidnapped and dragged off to Egypt, finally released to end his days in a demoralized Jerusalem, shadowed by the ruins of Solomon’s once-glorious temple. The best of the city’s sons and daughters had been carried off to Babylon, and rumors of their despair reached his ears: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).
But Jeremiah had it on good authority that destruction and exile were God’s will until judgment ran its course. The prophet called for parchment and ink and wrote to the exiles with instructions from the Lord: Settle down, plant gardens, build houses, get married. “[M]ultiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:6-7).
When we feel most like scurrying for cover is probably the very time we should be out and about, for ‘the love of Christ controls us,’ and the city’s welfare is in our hands.
Today, Babylon has come to us. “Our country,” as we fondly imagined it, has been hijacked by foreigners—or at least, their way of thinking is foreign and makes no sense to us. But it was always inevitable that “we the people” would evolve into something other than our 18th-century forefathers. The last 20 years—actually much longer—have been a tug-of-war between progressive and traditional worldviews, and the balance may well have tipped. We (meaning the American evangelicals who form the bulk of this magazine’s readership) are facing exile from the public square.
Jeremiah warns us against despair. In time God will restore all things, in our weary world or the world to come. Today’s Babylon will go the way of ancient Babylon, but Jerusalem remains forever. Meanwhile, we have the days allotted to us in a city called America. Pollyanna-types say, Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. God says, This is my world, and I’m in control. Seek the welfare of the city where I placed you.
This doesn’t have to look “religious.” Volunteer at the library (or local historic site, or museum). Organize a neighborhood block party or start a community garden. Get to know your children’s teachers. Say hello to strangers and offer help where you can. The actions of a Christian and of a secular, public-spirited citizen may look the same, but in long-term effect, and the motivation to keep going in spite of insult and opposition, Christians hold the advantage. When we feel most like scurrying for cover is probably the very time we should be out and about, for “the love of Christ controls us,” and the city’s welfare is in our hands.