A Declaration

"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

What was an outspoken and communal decree 238 years ago, reacted against a tyrannical king across the Atlantic Ocean and reacted for the lives of the people on the left and right, men and women gathered to declare what kind of people they would be. They gathered to say they would stand for one another above all else; they would stand unified, even unto death. 

I’m not sure if you've read it lately, or ever. But it’s not long and you could read it in ten minutes. When you read it, you would hear this, a collective voice saying something like, “We are going to be a people, gathered for the preservation of one another, and you can do nothing about it. We are going to stand, not for a king, not for political recognition, not for perceived power, not for fear-driven rule; we will stand for the most elementary of things, we will stand for the preservation of one another."

Amidst, grilled meat, patio furniture, annoying family members and color combinations of red, white and blue, the 4th of July and the Declaration of Independence offers questions for us; what kind of people will we be? What flag is worth our flying? What will we stand for above all else?

In 1973 at Stanford University they did something called The Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment was designed around a simple concept. They would convert a small hallway with three rooms into a prison. There would be two types of people, Guards and prisoners. Both the guards and prisoners would be volunteers. Over 10 people volunteered to be part of this experiment not knowing what was to come. They were all given their roles, some were guardsmen and some prisoners. They were given no other direction, just their identity in the experiment and plopped in the middle of the fake hallway prison. By the end of the two weeks, the guards became like real guards. Treating prisoners as inhuman, swearing at them, making them do disgusting things. The most astonishing thing is that none of the other guards, even though they felt it was wrong, stood up for the prisoners. Never did they once say, “Hey maybe this is too much.” And the prisoners never stood up for one another, they actually gave up on each other. Turned in on themselves and became selfish.

The core of the experiment was to determine if they put good people in an evil place, would the good people prevail? Would the convictions and morals of good people remain enough to overcome the evil situation? Would people "mutually pledge to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor?"

 Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, director of the experiment, makes this claim, “The sad message is in this case, the evil place won over the good people.” I want nothing more than to prove Dr. Zimbardo’s experiment wrong, that there is good news. That good people will overcome the evil situation. That good news was proclaimed in a man 2000 years ago and it is still alive today by those who follow closely. 

In Jesus there is bread for the hungry, water for the thirsty and life for the dead. In Jesus there is even further reason to suggest that all people are "created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This is something to declare loudly; it’s certainly part of what Jesus dies and rises to uphold. This is a declaration we ought to stand for, the beginning of a state that stands for the preservation of one another, a flag worth flying.

Pathetic or Prophetic

The Church is in transition. Halfway in and out of a job currently. Crashing every major networking suite and backyard BBQ in hopes of making that one connection. That one connection that leads to greater notoriety and ultimately an identity worthy of business card publication. Maybe even drive a Dodge Stratus.

Between the largest church planter’s conference in the nation, rainbow colored bread, and the Pope offering atheists what they don’t necessarily want, the Church is having an identity crisis. Who are we? What do we even do? To what are we called?

What complicates the crisis even more is the inconceivable truth that individuals come to the Church asking those same questions. Yet, simultaneously, individuals leave the Church because no answer, advice or consolation was readily available or agreeable. In the midst of transition the Church is knowingly thrust into a losing battle; so long as it seeks to be everything to all people.

In the book of Hosea, a man (named Hosea) is compelled beyond any sense of normalcy to speak the hard truth to the divided kingdom, Israel and Judah. God has a message for them and that message is displayed tangibly in the wife, children and words Hosea chooses. Hosea marries a prostitute named Gomer to indicate to Israel and Judah the way God chooses to remain faithful to Israel and Judah despite their continued unfaithfulness with other gods. Hosea is compelled to symbolically name his children as declarative statements of God’s current attitude towards the divided kingdom. Lo-ammi, ‘not my people’ and lo-ruhamah, ‘not loved.’ Hosea fully takes on the call in his life, to the extent that he marries the publicly unfaithful and names his children as walking convictions. Hosea is prophetic. His identity is wrapped up in his ability to speak the truth of justice and mercy, where it is badly needed, on behalf of God. Israel and Judah badly need it, the world in 2014 badly needs it.

But this identity comes at a cost, for it means the Church must stand for something rather than everything. Or in a postmodern context, it means the Church must stand for something rather than against everything.

The Church is caught, externally and internally, between standing for everything and standing for nothing. At some point the Church needs to lay down the passively aggressive nature of typed words and stand strong for the prophetic nature of the cross as a living proclamation of justice and mercy for the sake of new life. But until then, sweeping proclamations of inclusiveness for the sake of being liked and polled well (or hard-nosed, closed minded, legalistic interpretations of scripture) will keep us just out of reach of the real world and comfortably in an identity crisis we, apparently, aren’t opposed to have.