Part I

Chapter 3

If So Facto


If this were.

If this were so, I would have . . .

"If" is a big word. It is the language of dreams. And we are all prone to self-aggrandizement in our dreams. We love to project ourselves into the past or the future where our actions can take place in isolation from reality and consequences. Similarly, we speak great swelling words about what we would do if we were somewhere else -- preferably thousands of miles (or years) away. It is simple to project virtues for ourselves into other times or places -- virtues for which there is no foundation in our real lives.

Virtue is safe and easy when removed by distance or time. Jesus hit squarely upon this issue when he quoted the scribes and Pharisees, "If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have . . ." (Matthew 23: 30)

We have all heard from the people who cannot give to help the Church or the poor because they needed their money to help them get more money. "When this big deal goes through I'll give," they say, or "When I get financially set, then I'll really be able to put in a lot of money into the Lord's work." Their great works for Jesus are all in the future -- none ever exist in the present. The answer to such dodges is, "I will know what you'll do with your first million by what I see you do now with the ten dollar bill in your pocket." Those who are unwilling to give with what they have are unlikely to develop generosity as they acquire money. This is just another self delusion.

A similar practice is to express "love for the whole world" while being unable to show love for a next door neighbor. Distance solves the issue of having to deal with the messy and obnoxious problems of live human beings.

In this way it is easy to project into the past or the future and find in yourself virtues that you do not exercise today. This is exactly what the Pharisees did with their claim of how they would not have killed the prophets had they been there.

American Christians differ little here. After reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, an inspirational viewing of the movie, The Hiding Place, or hearing the story of Salvation Army founder, William Booth, we, of course, say that we would have helped the slaves escape, hidden Jews from the Nazis, and worked with the slum-dwellers of London. After all, the Abolitionists, Corrie Ten Boom, and William Booth are all our heroes. Surely -- we imagine -- we would stand against the evil of apartheid if we were in South Africa. But we flatter ourselves. The reality is that, like the ten dollar bill in the pocket, we would have done then whatever we are willing to do now.

We easily forget that even in these earlier struggles most of the Church was headed toward the tall grass. Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednigo stood alone while all the other Jews in Babylon had their noses to the pavement. A bare handful of the American Church hid slaves -- most opposed the Abolitionists who did and decried them as "radicals." Even the Confessing Church in Germany started by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others to form a resistance to the Nazi agenda ended up burning its pinch of incense to the Teutonic Caesar. The few of this group who refused were, like Bonhoeffer, hunted down and imprisoned. Many were killed.

These past heroes of the faith may give us a warm glow in memory but most were far less comfortable to live with. They were a constant challenge for the Christians of their time to look intently at the suffering and oppression of others -- and do something. Often that something was dangerous, or illegal, or merely unpopular. Few will risk those things today. There is risk and discomfort in obeying Christ, these saints say to us in word and deed. By looking at the Church's response to abortion, we can easily deduce that, had the pastors of today been in Corrie Ten Boom's house, they would have rejected taking in the Jewish child just as her own pastor did. Nor would they be likely to have helped slaves if they won't even stand up to today's court injunctions against public preaching.

The pitiful, and often contrary, response of the American Church to the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s speaks volumes.

Past examples abound and there is no shortage of current needs to be addressed. Are there still oppressed? Do not women march daily into abortuaries to offer human sacrifices to the Goddess of Convenience? Do the poor still haunt our streets? Where will we spend the ten dollar bill in our spiritual pockets?

The question is: What are we doing today with what we have today?

The answer is: Not much.

Go To Chapter Four

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Copyright © 1999 Paul deParrie