Monthly Archives: August 2011

Would You Commit Treason?

Treason against your country is considered the highest of crimes. It is a capital crime, punishable by death, and can be sentenced by a court martial and sentenced without appeal or trial by jury. The label of traitor is among the most  offensive that can be applied to a citizen. To be willing to commit treason is to reject the idea of loyalty to one’s nation in favor of another loyalty, whether loyalty to self-advancement or loyalty to some ideal by which the actions of the nation can be judged.

Now imagine this scenario: You are a citizen of a nation at war. You believe in the war, in your leaders and in the rightness of your cause. As the war drags on, a deadly disease strikes first your troops, and then your citizens. As a matter of national security, this disease is quarantined and kept top secret, and most of the population is unaware of its existence. Still, it spreads easily, and kills at a prodigious rate: a full 2/3 of those infected die (as compared to the 1/3 mortality rate of the Black death), and of those who survive, there is no real recovery: they simply remain ill indefinitely.

Fortunately, an unlikely discovery yields an unexpected cure. Soon, the disease is stamped out among your nation’s soldiers and citizens, though now your nation is at an overwhelming disadvantage against your enemy, whose troops have not been touched by the disease.

Until you learn that your national leaders have deliberately planted the disease among your enemy’s major cities and military bases. The disease has not been quarantined (as it was in your nation), and is rapidly spreading beyond your enemy’s borders. Soon, instead of being the weakest military in the world, your nation will have the strongest military. As such, the nature of the cure is a top national secret, known only to a handful of people. You are one of those people.

Would you commit treason by sharing the cure with your nation’s enemies, in order to potentially save billions of lives?

I imagine many people would say yes. The willingness to commit treason raises a lot of questions.

  • If you are willing to commit treason under some circumstances, are you truly loyal to your nation?
  • If this is the case,  can loyalty to nation be considered a virtue?
  • Does the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance allow for the willingness to commit treason?
  • For Christians, how does Romans 13 inform such a decision?

What do you think?


Starbucks, Homosexuality and Forgiveness

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, was scheduled to speak at an event called Global Leadership Summit, hosted at Willow Creek Community Church.  Summit is a conference about leadership and church marketing that I would never, ever attend.  At the last minute, Schultz backed out of the event due to a “boycott Starbucks” campaign by a gay-rights group.

Bill Hybels is one of the senior pastors at Willow Creek, and one of the event coordinators.  He addressed the event crowd, and summarized the situation, and responded the following way.

1. Hybels said that Willow Creek is not anti-gay (as the boycott was alleging), because Willow Creek is not anti-anybody.  It was founded on the idea that God is for everyone.  He backed up this assertion by drawing attention to the “hundreds” of same-sex couples who attend Willow Creek every week.

2. Hybels further observed that Willow Creek does believe that the expectations for Christian discipleship laid out in the New Testament call for a specific sexual ethic.  Willow Creek accordingly calls all homosexual and heterosexual Christians to live according to such an ethic, and reserve sexual intimacy for the confines of man and woman within marriage.

3. He described how he explained all of this to upper-level management at Starbucks, who were unimpressed because they had to make a “business decision.”  So he said of course they allowed Schultz out of his contract to speak, and were not going to hold his contract against him.  “He had a business decision to make, and he made it.”

4. He lamented that the gay-rights group would resort to throwing mud first rather than talking to a Willow Creek associate to understand their perspective.  But that is the culture, he implied, what do you expect?

5. He asked the church to pray for him and other leaders as they attempted to follow Mt. 18 and meet specifically with those who started the boycott.  “We’re gonna just sit down and see if we can talk.” (Mt. 18 is actually addressed to someone within the church who sins against you, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment.)

6. Hybels encouraged participants at the Summit to purchase a copy of Schultz’s book on leadership, saying that it was really a very good book.

7. Finally, he encouraged members of the church to hit Starbucks sometime during the Summit, to buy some coffee and to “show some Christian good will” to Howard Schultz.

What do you think of the situation?  What do you think of Hybels’ response?  Would you call his position “anti-gay”?  Should he be afraid of being labeled “anti-gay?”  Did he respond in a Christian manner to the threat of boycott, and to Howard Schultz’s decision to back out?


Obama, Ramadan and 9/11

Obama recently hosted an Iftar dinner at the White House.  (Iftar is the traditional light meal offered at the end of the fasting day during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.)  Members of the diplomatic corps and prominent Muslim American public figures were present at this dinner.

In what many (including myself) see as a very odd twist, Obama used this opportunity to begin the lead-up to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  “In one month,” Obama said, “we will mark the 10th anniversary of those awful attacks that brought so much pain to our hearts.”

First thought: It seems politically dangerous to host a Muslim dinner at the White House.  The right will vilify you for it.  It seems equally politically dangerous to bring up 9/11 in such a context. The left will vilify you for it.

But Obama did not paint an image of 9/11 as Muslims vs. U.S.  He depicted Muslims primarily (perhaps entirely) as victims of 9/11.  He mentioned the Muslims who worked in the WTC buildings, who worshiped together in a Muslim chapel there.  He mentioned the Muslim Americans who were among the emergency crews who rushed to help survivors.  He mentioned U.S. soldiers of Muslim faith who have fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the center of these remarks stand these words:

This year and every year, we must ask ourselves: how do we honor those patriots — those who died and those who serve? In this season of remembrance the answer is the same as it was 10 Septembers ago. We must be the America they lived for, the America they died for, the America they sacrificed for. An America that doesn’t simply tolerate people of different backgrounds and beliefs, but an America where we are enriched by our diversity. Here in the United States there is no ‘them’ or ‘us;’ it’s just us.

Second thought: This is a remarkable rhetorical move.  And I think Obama means it.  America, in order to be America, must be inclusive not only of certain differing beliefs, but of the idea that the inclusion of differing beliefs make us better.

Third thought: I am mildly uncomfortable (though unsurprised) with the civil-religious tone of some of Obama’s remarks.  To invoke the notion of “the America they sacrificed for” is to make the nation into a spiritual body that can be sacrificed for.  Many present in the WTC on Sept. 11th were there because they worked for Lehman Brothers, yet we would not say that they sacrificed their lives for the financial company. 

Fourth thought: I am not convinced that Christians can fit comfortably into this rubric.  The faithful church always strives to distinguish between the Christian “we” and the American “we,” and to understand itself in terms of Christian identity rather than liberal inclusivity. 

What do you think of Obama’s 9/11 Ramadan words?

Obama’s Iftar Dinner