Sir Edmund Burke made the much quoted opinion in the 18th century that: “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” That sounds commendable except that knowing exactly what to do is seldom all that simple. It is more often a murky choice between shades of grey. We like clear good guy or bad guy, black or white, acceptable or unacceptable choices, … and they almost never are.

Then we can attempt to escape any responsibility at all, and attempt to be passive. That also has often dire consequences. There is still all too fresh in our historical memories the story of Nazi Germany, which in a time following its defeat in World War I, and in a time of economic difficulties, and national malaise there arose out of nowhere a charismatic figure who became a trauma to the whole world with his mantra that he would make Germany again an international power. Thus emerged out of a Bavarian beer hall Adolph Hitler with his huge ego and a manic agenda that destroyed millions of lives. Among others whom Adolph Hitler mesmerized were all of the passive church members who succumbed to his challenge that to be a true Christian was to be a German Christian and support his Third Reich. To that end he seduced a vast majority of the Christian church to passively support, or offer no resistance, to what he was doing Those in the church who opposed him were dealt with severely.

One of those was Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who late in the game was imprisoned and became a voice of repentance for the church in the aftermath of that horrible period in which Hitler sought to exterminate his opposition. His lament was that the Nazi’s first came after the socialists, but since he wasn’t a socialist remained quiet. Then they came after the trade unionist, but since he wasn’t a trade unionist he remained silent as they were imprisoned in concentration camps. Then they came after the Jews, but since he wasn’t a Jew he didn’t lift his voice in protest. … But finally, he related, “they came for me,” and there was no one left to protest. He became a voice for justice only after it was too late. That may be an extreme example, but it didn’t seem so at the time. It was allowing a destructive and horribly unjust political unreality to go un-protested.

The Christian church was born into a period when it was very often the target of the hostile Roman Empire on the one hand, and of the established Jewish community on the other. It suffered untold numbers of martyrs, and frequently had to be very clandestine in its meetings. And yet … as it obeyed its calling to be God’s pilgrim people and to be the demonstration of his New Humanity living out the mandates of Jesus’ teachings, … it , like leaven,permeated the empire. The last book in the Bible reports that in the face of all of the fierce opposition of evil, God’s faithful people overcame “by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, even at the risk of their lives.” In many occasions in history “no man dared join himself to them unless he were one of them.”

And so it has ever been down through the centuries. The political dominions are always in the hands of imperfect people, those with massive egos, or agendas and platforms that do not seek the welfare of all citizens with justice. God people are citizens of two kingdoms, and this is never an easy relationship. They have often endured “fire and sword” and yet it is these who are God’s incarnation who quietly inhabit this political ethos as light and leaven, this humanly impossible calling, knowing that Jesus is the one who ultimately will prevail and destroy all that is of the darkness. We are no exceptions to this calling to be light in the darkness, and in the confusing political ethos and mixed motives of the politicians. Take heart. To do and say nothing is not an acceptable stance. “What does the Lord require of thee, O man, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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