I normally don’t mention current events or politics on this blog. It’s my intention to foster contemplation about the church and other spiritual concerns, not partisan or party ideologies. However, I’m going to make an exception this time. The events transpiring in Afghanistan have hit me hard. You see, I lived there for six months during my teens. I traveled over much of the country as a young man. I’ve been through the Khyber pass more times than I can remember. Missionaries there were personal acquaintances and friends. I went to school with their children. I was involved in humanitarian relief efforts during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the 1980s. I personally knew one of the members of the underground church who was tortured to death for his faith by one of the war-lords of that era. Our family helped sponsor Afghan refugees. So the Afghan people have been dear to my heart.
To see the feckless and incompetent bumbling of those who currently hold the reins of power in this country has been heart-rending and depressing. (Don’t like the adjectives I used in reference to the powers that be? Then replace them with “heartless” and “evil” – take your pick. If they aren’t irresponsible then what they’ve done is by design. If they aren’t incompetent, then what they’re doing is by intent. And, if it’s by design and by intent then there is no other way I can describe them except heartless and evil.) It didn’t have to be this way. Those responsible for the needless debacle which is unfolding already have the blood of uncounted innocents on their hands and will add the blood of countless more. What will they possibly be able to say when they stand before the Judge to give account?
Aside from the purely human cost, there is another aspect to the pullout from Afghanistan. Regardless of the merits of the United States invading the place to begin with; regardless of whatever justification there may have been to stay there after the original stated goal of bringing to justice the man who attacked us had been achieved, the US incurred a moral obligation to the people who chose to believe that we had something better to offer them. By its actions the administration has just thrown away 20 years of blood, treasure and good will. It has abandoned those who trusted us. The US has lost all credibility in the region and, I dare say, around the world. This administration has proven that our word cannot be relied upon. Our country’s promises are hollow. It has demonstrated that America will use people, then abandon them when the whim takes it. This administration has shown the Afghans who served our country faithfully that it thinks far less of them than those who illegally cross our southern border. Be sure that the world has taken note of the hypocrisy and callous cynicism. They hold us in contempt – and rightly so. They will exact a reckoning for this administration’s perfidy.
Why bring this up on a blog whose purpose is to explore spiritual concepts and ideas? Because it has a direct application to the church. This administration provides us with a graphic illustration of everything church leadership is not supposed to be.
It’s hard to imagine a more callous disregard for others than we are witnessing. One of the outstanding characteristics of Christ – who is our model of leadership – is compassion. That is, “feeling along with.” We are to have empathy for those whom we serve. In truth, compassion is supposed to be one of the characteristics which defines every follower of Christ, not just leaders. And this compassion should extend not just to those who come from the same background or ethnic group, but to everyone. Paul writes, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:11-12 NIV) If Paul were writing today he might well say, “There is neither American or Afghan.”
Something else this administration displays is an arrogant elitism which views others as tools or as things beneath its contempt. In contrast, the Apostle Peter writes that Shepherds in the church (that is, Elders) should be, “…eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3 NIV)
The Apostle Paul writes that an Overseer (an Elder), “…must be above reproach…” (1 Timothy 3:2 NIV) It’s been instructive to watch this administration try to dodge responsibility. The disaster in Afghanistan is everybody else’s fault, except the person(s) who issued the orders which broke faith with the people they abandoned to their fate. Paul’s meaning is that a real leader isn’t “above reproach” because he passes the blame, rather he is blameless because he isn’t guilty of wrongdoing to start with.
Another thing Paul writes concerning an Elder is, “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” (1 Timothy 3:7 NIV) This administration has disgraced America’s name for at least a generation.
A good leader should also model the virtues he expects others to cultivate. Paul writes to a leader he was mentoring, “…set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 NIV) In contrast, the example we have seen from this administration in all of these areas is purely negative.
Much more could be said about leadership in the church contrasted to what this administration is displaying. However, I will conclude by saying that a leader should live by the same ideals he proclaims. Paul writes, “if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”” (Romans 2:19-24 NIV) During the last several months we’ve heard a lot of preachments from the administration about “the right thing to do.” I think the administration’s actions have revealed what those preachments really are – they are blasphemy.
One of the most common accusations leveled against the church is that it is full of hypocrites. Let’s not allow anyone to tar us with the same brush as our national leaders. If we do, people outside the church, let alone Christ, will be fully justified in saying, “…I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” (Luke 13:27 NIV)
Finally, we must not allow our righteous anger at the administration and its actions tempt us into sin of our own. We must not show our leaders the same contempt they are displaying for the people they have abandoned in Afghanistan. Instead, regardless of how we feel, it is our duty to pray for those in power. As unlikely as it seems, Christ wants to save even those responsible for the disaster. “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV)
Frankly, I’m having trouble giving thanks right now for those in power in this country. May God give me, and all the followers of Christ, the humility and grace to obey the Lord’s command even though our emotions would have us do something very different!