There is great rejoicing … and there is grave concern. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is “free”, and his parents are grateful. But his was a negotiated freedom, and there is an uproar in the US.
This is going to be a difficult path to walk – balancing joy and relief with politics. There are questions swirling around the exact details of Sgt. Bergdahl’s capture five years ago. In the deal, five Taliban detainees were sent to Qatar in return for Bergdahl’s release. Is US security compromised with the release of the five Taliban detainees?
But the question that is causing the biggest political stir is this: Did the US president overstep his authority? Did he appropriately notify Congress, or did he do an end run around congressional representational authority? There will be hearings for sure, as soon as we are done with all the other hearings (Benghazi, the VA, legalized marijuana, climate change, etc.).
“Representation” is at the heart of the American psyche. It was the rallying cry of our revolution – No taxation without representation! Everyone gets a voice … or at least, we get to choose who speaks for us.
This issue is forever contemporary. From my grandson saying to me: You are not the boss of me! to a congress holding a president’s feet to the fire for leapfrogging over their prerogatives, power is mitigated by constraints imposed on it by the people.
Let’s turn this from politics toward religion – specifically, the Christian religion. The opening line of H. Richard Niebuhr’s book, first published in 1929 and titled The Social Sources of Denominationalism, is this: “Christendom has often achieved apparent success by ignoring the precepts of its founder.”
Niebuhr cedes the necessity of compromise without letting go of the fact of its inherent evil. When the essence of the gospel is compromised, even when some “greater good” might be the motive, there is hypocrisy. With Pentecost just around the corner, we once again will hear of the miraculous unity – that “Parthians, Medes and Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya near Cyrene, visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs” all heard the wonders of God being proclaimed in their own tongue. Today, for each of those nations and peoples referred to in Acts 2:9-11, there are a hundred different denominations to choose from. The marvel of “diversity” has yielded to us a gospel that lets us pick and choose until we find the one we can feel most comfortable with.
Niebuhr notes that while we want to couch our motives and actions in some higher purpose arising from some deeper conviction, the truth of the matter is that we are looking for a way that most easily works for us. We are fine with someone who “is the boss of me”, so long as that someone thinks, believes, and acts as I do.
As Christians wrestle with the ethical challenges large and small that crop up in our lives, we ponder this relentless question: Who is the boss of me? We would like to think it is Jesus …