How to FINALLY make America Great: Author and pastor has 11 ways to stop the rhetoric and live a Christian life

[The following interview appeared in the Feb 6th edition of Spark Magazine, a quarterly publication of the Winston Salem Journal.]

By Jodi Stephenson Sarver

Feb 6, 2017

The Rev. S.J. Munson’s name might be familiar to readers of the Winston-Salem Journal’s Opinion pages as an occasional letter writer. Writing is one of his passions, and he is the author of two books, Christ Held Hostage and The Treasure of Israel, as well as plays, theological articles and fiction.         

          His other passion is ministry, and for three decades he has been an outspoken activist with a deep concern for the issues of poverty and justice. After years of identifying as a conservative, Munson had what he calls a “political epiphany” during the 2000 presidential election. He discerned that issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and prayer in school became the hot-button topics that politicians kept using every two to four years to hijack Christianity, exploit voters and win elections, he says. He checked into liberal candidates, and he found similar problems in how their platforms meshed with biblical principles. He looked to independent candidates, and felt that they fared no better. Like Goldilocks in search of the right bed, Munson felt as if none of the political parties fit “just right” with Christ’s teachings.
          “Jesus is neither Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. You can’t classify him,” Munson explains. “I can safely say that Jesus never conceived that the church would be joined at the hip with one political party or another.”

          In his book Christ Held Hostage, Munson explains that political campaigns and the corporations that fund them politicize issues that “point a finger at others for being the source of our nation’s problems” and never make most Americans face their own complicity in a corrupt and unjust system.

          He decided it was time to focus on the issues that are most prevalent in the gospels: poverty, injustice and caring for the weakest members of society and then support the behaviors, policies and candidates in line with those teachings, regardless of party affiliation. What follows are Munson’s ideas about how Americans can challenge their biases and start the process of making this country great.

          Don’t Tolerate Intolerance. More than 85 percent of American churches are still mostly segregated, according to a 2014 study by LifeWay Research and corroborated by the Brookings Institute. It’s a passive form of racism when we segregate to worship, and it’s not reflective of how heaven will be, Munson explains.

          “The church looks all the more out of touch when it doesn’t reflect its community,” he says. In Acts 7, the ancient church was also confronted with the problem of cultural intolerance. A committee was formed, and church leaders decided that the best way to defeat intolerance was to transfer power from the current ruling church group to the outsiders.

          “A great way to diffuse racism is by transferring power to the powerless. The church has to be proactive and promote people of different races to power positions,” Munson says. “The church should not be a haven for racism, misogyny or xenophobia. It should be a place where our bigotries are exposed, not massaged.”

           Work for Peace Not War. How to treat other people … our enemies, immigrants, refugees, the poor … is all covered in Old Testament law and New Testament gospels, where compassion and mercy are foundational elements.

          “We have to disenthrall ourselves of violence, hate, greed and empire,” Munson says. As a country, he believes that Americans have become desensitized to what’s done in our name around the world by our leaders.

          “We must realize that those dots on a map are real people crying out for food, jobs and life. Isn’t being concerned about the victims of war a family value? If we don’t hear them, how do we expect that God will hear our cries?” Munson asks. “How can we want food, jobs and life for our family but not for others? Sabre-rattling is not Christianity. It’s not conservative versus liberal. It’s right versus wrong.”

          Build Bridges Not Walls. Many people know the parable of the Samaritan helping the Jew, but the cultural significance of this act can be lost today. He got him to a safe place and paid for his medical care, despite harboring deep-seated dislike and distrust.

“It’s a radical teaching,” Munson says. “Not only is our enemy our neighbor, but he is also the example of how to behave.” When Jesus talks about loving your enemies, he’s talking about people who may want to hurt you, he says. “That may seem unpatriotic, but we’re Christians first. Our citizenship is not of this world. We have to choose our heavenly citizenship.”

          Be an Involved Citizen. Have you seen Finding Nemo? At the end of the film, Nemo and Marlin are reunited, but Dory and other fish are caught in a trawler’s fishing net. Nemo and Marlin mobilize the fish to swim down, and the combined pressure of all their fins swimming in the same direction snaps the net.

          “Swimming together is how change happens. Voting every two to four years is not enough to make positive change happen,” Munson says, adding that as citizens we have to get involved. “Positive change happens when like-minded people band together and demand change,” he adds. Throughout this country’s history, Christians have banded together to take on issues including workers’ rights during the industrial revolution, women’s suffrage and child labor. “It’s not up to our president to change the country. It’s up to us to step up and work together to change something,” he says.

          Another civic duty citizens have is to ensure that the information they’re reading is coming from reputable sources. Using reliable and vetted sources from ethical journalists helps ensure people aren’t hearing propaganda, Munson says. “Don’t just believe what you see, hear or read. Check it out. Truth isn’t relative.”

          Ditch the Partisan Politics. When President George Washington left office, he gave a farewell address that is amazingly prophetic. In it he says that partisan politics has the ability to destroy a republic, serving as a distraction for leaders and agitator of the public, and it “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption” and causes men to “seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual” who in turn brings about the end of the republic.

          “Bailing out of the political party system is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m not invested in the party. I’m invested in the truth and what’s best for our country,” he says.

          Rediscover Humility. Humility should be an important aspect of Christian life, but there seems to be an idea among Christians in America that they need to be in control to effect change, but this is not a biblical concept, Munson explains.

“Jesus said the greatest among you will be the servant. He led by example, and that example is to be servant.” History shows that change isn’t effective when it comes from top down by edict, he says.

          “Christianity is much more effective when we live scripture and become a moral influence than a political power. Political power just makes us hated.” Munson believes that atheism and disillusionment are on the rise in U.S., and it’s mostly due to political partisanship.

          Become an Ethical Consumer. Many Americans love discounts, inexpensive products and finding the best deal. But what’s behind the “sale” sign is likely the product of child labor, sweatshops or even slavery.

          “We have a discount culture, and we want to get the most for our money, but we need to keep justice in mind. Is what we’re buying the fruit of injustice?” Munson asks. Although fair trade clothing is expensive compared to going to discount stores, thrift stores and garage sales are good shopping options, he says.

           “Every purchase we make is a blow for or against justice, so be informed where products come from,” he advises. A good website to refer to is greenamerica.org. Another area of financial responsibility for Christians is in retirement choices. “It’s important to do business with companies that are trying to take a stand against bad practices,” he says, and he lists ussif.org as a resource for people to use to find socially responsible investments or SRIs. “They’re not perfect, but they’re companies that are trying to be ethical and take a stand.”

          Care for God’s Creation. “From page one of the Bible we’re told to take care of the environment. It should be a no-brainer for Christians,” Munson says. “And how do you take care of something that’s not yours? You take special care of it because you have to give it back.”

          Educating ourselves about the cost of what we consume and, for example, purchasing grass-fed local beef, would have a huge effect on reducing greenhouse gases. “In Revelations 11:18, God says he will destroy those who destroy the earth. If our interpretation of the scripture causes us to disrespect people or the Earth, then we need a new interpretation because it’s not following the spirit of Christ,” he explains.

Stand up to Corporate Greed. Have you seen the bumper sticker that quotes part of 2 Chronicles 7:14? “If my people will humble themselves and pray …”

          The ellipses replace an essential part of the verse, Munson says. It’s “turn from their wicked ways,” so what are our wicked ways, he asks? They are the corporate sins that we participate in because we’re part of a system, Munson explains.

          “Greed is the most serious threat to our survival as a species, and it permeates society at every level,” he says. The Bible has a lot to say about greed, and Munson refers to James 5 where Jesus’ brother chastises the rich for cheating workers and fattening themselves at the expense of the poor.

          Greed is also the main reason that Sodom was destroyed; its citizens were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned about the needy, he says. “We need to reread scriptures with new eyes and discover what’s important to God and why. We have cultural, political and religious filters that we need to remove and discover God’s priorities.”

          We’re in This Together. Another area where political leaders have hijacked Christianity, Munson notes, is by painting America as “the city on the hill,” a metaphor from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

          The phrase comes from a sermon delivered by Gov. Jonathan Winthrop to Puritans sailing to the New World, except he said that in order to become a shining city on a hill, its people had to be governed by justice and mercy, by love and generosity in their relationships and commerce, Munson says. Instead, to Americans it’s come to mean that the U.S. has a God-given destiny to enforce its will around the world and that its policies are supported by God, he explains.

          Relying on Isaiah 58, Winthrop did not envision a society where each member could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, Munson says. “His vision could be achieved only if all worked together, sacrificed, shared with and cared for one another. But I have faith that when the word is preached that the Holy Spirit is present, and people can be transformed,” Munson says.

 

S.J. Munson’s book Christ Held Hostage is designed for group or individual study and is available in paperback and Kindle versions on amazon.com.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

4 responses to “How to FINALLY make America Great: Author and pastor has 11 ways to stop the rhetoric and live a Christian life

  1. Bill Adams

    Hey Steve! this is excellent!

    I hope you guys are well. Miss you all!

    Bill

    On Fri, Feb 10, 2017 at 10:02 PM, Majoring in the Majors wrote:

    > sjmunson posted: “[The following interview appeared in the Feb 6th edition > of Spark Magazine, a quarterly publication of the Winston Salem Journal.] > By Jodi Stephenson Sarver Feb 6, 2017 The Rev. S.J. Munson’s name might be > familiar to readers of the Winston-Salem Journ” >

  2. Congratulations on getting some much deserved recognition! Concerning cultural intolerance, is the reference to Acts 7 correct? That chapter is the account of Stephen’s sermon and subsequent stoning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s