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City & Empire & Church

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on April 30, 2009

Craig Wong’s article provides an insightful sociological and historical analysis of his city, San Francisco. He is especially interested in how this framework is important if a church is to understand its own identity and agency. He is on staff of a church in the Mission District, Grace Fellowship Community Church. They are always asking two questions: What does it mean to be the church? What does it mean to be the church in San Francisco?  Wong writes, “Living in the most politically liberal metropolitan city in America has forced our congregation to look more closely at the substance of empire, and how the gospel raises a different set of questions than that of our fellow San Franciscans.” Even though the article was written during the previous presidency, churches in the US still find ourselves living within an empire that lives out basic assumptions about our interests, our economic priorities, and our military options. Among Wong’s conclusions: “Therefore, if our ministry in San Francisco is to have a truly salvific dimension it must expose the ’empty deceit of human traditions’ that disguise themselves as universal ideals promising personal happiness. Our mission calls for a confidence in the gospel that is willing to judge the American experiment as ‘an adventure that held the seeds of its own destruction within itself…its inadequate vision of human freedom [resulting in] self-centeredness, loneliness, superficiality, and harried consumerism’ (Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon). Given such judgement, we can regard San Francisco not merely as a woeful urban planning nightmare, but rather, as a window to the human futility of a dying order.” He believes their church’s San Francisco neighbors need to see in the church’s life a clarity about what the gospel looks like. “Were we to be faithful to the gospel, the watching world will see a peculiar people living under a rule that is foreign and offensive to the empire. A resistance group forsaking personal freedom and the “American Dream” to knit their lives together in Christian love and service.”

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34 Responses to “City & Empire & Church”

  1. vrmzahn said

    Branson’s introduction to Wong’s article was more appealing than the article itself because Branson drew out the key question of living in a church community that critiques the dominant culture without any of the self-congratulatory tone I found off-putting in Wong’s article. I thought it unfair for Wong to draw sweeping conclusions based on San Franciscans’ reactions after 9/11. Having lived in the Bay Area, the pervading ethos there is dissatisfaction with government, and I think the patriotism at that time was more a grasping for unity rather than a sign of complicity with the empire. Wong positions his congregation as being very easily above the superficial patriotism that other churches were prey to in those days. I wonder where they found the Spirit moving, because I find that God usually forms us as congregations through tension and struggle. Wong says later that the Spirit led immigrants to his congregation but frames it by quoting one of them as saying, “You are not like the rest of America,” continuing his superior tone. Wong’s critique of liberals as well as conservatives as being in thrall to the ideal of individual freedom is helpful, however. It is this ethos that has led to the current economic collapse, a condition churches are forced to engage regardless of their political leanings.

    • joelshenk said

      Hi Marianne

      I appreciate and value your response to Wong’s article. It’s good for me to be challenged by other people’s perspective, because I had a very positive reaction to Wong. In fact, there were sections of the article that I was ready devotionally because it spoke so directly to my situation. In many ways, he could have been writing about me and my church. He brought to light several ways in which I personally and my church in general acquiesce to money and power and empire even though we espouse a theology that seeks to distance ourselves from the underbelly of the empire. In that way, his message was one I needed to hear.

    • andysexton said

      I was wondering why Wong might take this tone. Obviously he opposes the alleged American imperial ambition and San Francisco’s historical role in it. However, I detect a cynicism of the politics that he encounters, that may be a reaction to the way his church has been treated. That having been said, his discussion of how to be light in a place where social concern and anti-government sentiment are layered on top of the worship of expresso and a view of the Bay, seems to me to be really pertinent in that context and others, and dare I say it, in my own life. How much of a cut in life-style am I willing to take, in order that my brothers and sisters in Africa, or Central America or South Asia can also have a fridge, or even running water, and a flush toilet? As followers of Jesus we must move way beyond armchair politics and charity, but it is going to be costly.

  2. joelshenk said

    I found Wong’s article helpful for two reasons. First, it illustrated how narratives compete for our allegiance and cooperation. On the one hand is the American narrative of manifest destiny and freedom which lead to paternalistic charity rather than reciprocal relationship and self-serving arrogance rather than loving submission within community. Wong helpfully shows how these narratives compete for our loyalties and make us complicit in the face of empire. Conversely, our baptism calls us to an alternative allegiance, and the narrative of the cross leads us down a path of self-giving, self-sacrificial love and service to others. Churches must be able to discern and distinguish between the narrative of empire and the narrative of the Kingdom of God in order to be agents of God’s transformation in the world.

    Second, I find it to be an excellent example of Craig Van Gelder’s call to read our contexts not just demographically and socially, but also theologically (Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church, pg 63). Wong and his church have discerned important spiritual and theological dynamics at work in their context that challenge the dominant political ideologies in our nation. As a result, they have begun to break free of the corruptive elements of their nation’s and city’s narrative and find ways to be more faithful as God’s spirit-led church. I appreciate Wong’s article as a practical case study of Van Gelder’s theory.

  3. richardmolina said

    The inspiring account of Grace Fellowship Community Church in presenting, teaching and living out the gospel imperatives amidst one of the most liberal, self-serving and anti-imperial cities in America, should serve as a model for churches across America to follow. Its effective method of leading its congregation to a point of repentance by exposing, dismantling, and replacing the allegiance to the “system” of living with scriptural teachings from books like Hosea and Habakkuk is extraordinary. This is evident in the testimony of the Central American woman concerning the care of her children and in the words of the Asian man, “You are not like the rest of America.”

    This, tragically, is unlike the majority of churches that I have attended in the past in which I have found present, in both the pulpit sermon messages and the church’s stance on community outreach programs, a spirit of compromise which seeks to exalt the God of Mammon (which promises wealth, prosperity and comfort) alongside the Lordship of Christ (which seeks servanthood, sacrifice and social justice for the poor and marginalized).

    Maybe if the other churches, like GFCC were to begin preaching biblical messages from books like Habakkuk and Hosea that focus on the dangers of following false Gods like Mammon, then they would not only become generous in their monetary contributions to the those in need within their communities, but also to the establishment of community outreach programs that seek to present love, hope and compassion, which is the true face of God.

    • andysexton said

      It reminds me of the process that Padilla and his fellow church leaders followed to turn their church around explained in chapter 11 of Y&P. In both cases as the Scripture was taught, the congregation was softened through the Spirit moving.

  4. scottandrewwilliams said

    I really appreciated this article by Craig Wong. There were several ideas that really stuck out to me. The first, though not said explicitly, is that we are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God. In fact, that should not only be our primary allegiance, but our only one. This citizenship should shape our entire lives.

    Secondly, I was struck by his thought that, “we become pre-occupied with fixing people rather than befriending them.” Our modernist temptation is to find a solution for every problem and this deeply shapes much of our ministry today. We want to fix the problems around us: hunger, poverty, emotional pain, sickness, etc. We so often get caught up in this that we miss out on the relational aspect of ministry. We forget that Christ was a friend of those with problems. How do we rid ourselves of this tendency toward problem-solving ministry?

    Finally, I was glad to see that Wong concluded with the idea of embodying an alternative. Sometimes, in our efforts to be different from our culture we move towards being a counter-culture instead of an alternative culture. In doing so, we deny that there is good in culture and create an escapist attitude. An alternative culture, however, lives an alternative story within culture. This very much follows the example of Christ who was incarnated into a specific time and culture and who lived out a different way of being in his first century culture.

    • louisvuittondawn said

      Scott,

      Liked your thoughts on Wong’s article. I have some thoughts on your question of trying to rid ourselves of the problem solving tendency in ministry?

      I think perhaps Wong’s article is asking us to sit back and consider why we do things. Now we don’t have to try and sit back and solve the problem of problem solving, that would be redundant. I would suggest that we examine and consider the pro’s/con’s of problem solving. Weighing the option and understanding that sometimes problem solving is necessary, but other times call for patience, process, sitting and just being with the problem, not apart of it.

      It is pretty difficult to just strip ourselves of our way of thinking, rather examine the way we think and consider what are the implications for how we think and its effects on things, ie. people, church structure and so on.

      Just thinking on stuff, thanks for the thoughts.

    • richardmolina said

      Hello Scott,
      I agree with your second idea but at the same time I cannot neglect the first. Is there a relationship?
      In order to effectively answer your question concerning the problem-solving ministry, allow me to first ask you two questions:
      1. When should we draw the line when faced with un-repentant individuals?”
      2. Was Jesus also a friend to the Pharisees?

    • joelshenk said

      Hi Scott,

      I like that you mention citizenship. Though it wasn’t explicit, I agree that it was definitely implicit. Our baptism must trump our citizenship (or anything else that we might give our allegiance to for that matter).

      • andysexton said

        This is an interesting thought and feeds into one of the main European concerns about the rise of Islam there. Does allegiance to Islam supercede national interest? Should sharia law be introduced as part of the laws of each country with a significant Moslem presence? Where is the line?

  5. iamjeffbaker said

    Wong’s topic of Christian allegiance in America strikes at my core. Growing up in the Midwest patriotism runs very strong and deep. As I have continued in my journey as a follower of Christ I have begun to see errors in my patterns of thought. Bush had deemed our country the “Christians” and the “heroes” after 9/11 and imperial military action forcing free will ideals was a solution to produce Christian moralities which produce better government structures. I think Wong’s rebuttal citing Colossians 2:8 must be a verse all Christians should wrestle with first. However, I am not sure if I agree with all his ideologies about life in San Francisco.
    Wong mentioned what it meant to be a Christian in a city filled with economic success. I agree there are problems with people charitably giving in order to avoid physical participation in church life and separating themselves into cultures which settle in the good areas of a city, but at the same time does that mean everyone should give up success? Couldn’t person choose to be a business owner help change the lives of those migrating to this church’s area? Owners can provide jobs, skill sets, credibility, other valuable resources improving the lives of those in need. If I was given an option to lament or help a person I would choose both. I would not consider this problem solving but engaging in the life of human around me.

    • andysexton said

      One of the challenges with the current system is that publicly traded companies are driven by the need to make more and more profits, year after year. They are shareholder driven. There is a move to develop companies with three bottom-lines: money, people and environment. This is much easier when a company is privately owned but it is hard to scale in order to make significant social impact, unless all businesses were operated this way, which would mean a radical change in the current economic system.

  6. Andre Lundsett said

    Last fall I took the class ”Church in American Culture” with Ryan Bolger at Fuller. There we dissected myths in American culture from a Biblical perspective, and considered how the Church can and should engage both culture and politics. I am familiar with many of the points Wong makes from that class, but he pointed out one important thing that the authors I read there did not deal with: submission to community.

    Underlying left-wing as well as right-wing ideologies is the importance of individual freedom. I think that the vast majority of Evangelicals in America would also see the importance of individual freedom as a “self-evident,” and perhaps also biblical, truth. Freedom is certainly a great value in the Bible, but there the focus seems to be on freedom for a people or a group, not for every person to pursue their dreams.

    I believe it is a huge challenge to grow healthy and strong church communities in a culture where there is such resistance to being accountable and submissive to others. But in the huge challenge there are great opportunities for the church living out such community to transform its context and be a hope to the world.

    • jonesdan said

      Andre,

      I liked how you picked up on the theme of freedom in the article. I think its odd our individualistic our understanding of freedom is, especially when freedom, as presented in the Bible, is displayed in community. Also, submission is such a loaded word, we don’t like (sadly). Perhaps too many people have been abused for people in todays age to be OK with the idea of submission. I wonder how we can help people in our churches better understand the beauty of submission, something we are all called to (especially us “elites”).

  7. louisvuittondawn said

    Craig Wong’s article does raise interesting questions as to what it means to be a church and a church within a certain geographical area, and larger context of a country. I have often wondered what it would be like to approach the idea that some churches just support ideologies or perpetuate them in their church structure. To some Christians that I have dialogued with, its almost heretical to consider that America could be keeping us from a proper or more biblical understanding of what it means to be a church. Being American and being a Christian have in some circles become synonymous with not only being Christian, but also being a good Christian. American ideologies, such as working hard, paying your way, a can do attitude, corporate structures, individual freedoms and so on, seem to have pervaded even the walls of some church’s. Wong does a great job of finding the balance of approaching the idea that America could itself be an Empire or institution that extols ideologies of power and control that are just a façade. I appreciate Wong’s essay because it helps us to analyze and consider where we are at not only contextually, but also ideologically.

    • bradleyrekers said

      I agree, I think we fall into a think that if we are paying our dues and doing what is considered “christian” then we are being a christian. I don’t think Wong is trying to say that at all. I feel that he is trying to stretch us to try to think outside the book of what it actually means to be a christian not just what is expected of us.

  8. epbigoness said

    Craig Wong’s article was a poignant piece, filled with great perspective and challenging truths. Wong speaks to many areas that I am fairly ignorant about—San Francisco’s culture, America’s history of Manifest Destiny, and America’s empire thinking. From my preliminary reading it appears that Wong is a careful and accurate exegete of his culture. It is easy to be politically correct in every area—being green, saving fuel, promoting freedom, standing by the poor—while completely missing the gospel. A complicity with nationalism, an avoidance of personal responsibility in regards to use of wealth, infectious individualism and the pursuit of the “American dream” are all areas the gospel must address as well.

    Wong gives the reader a good picture of what a healthy Christian and church looks like in this situation. He noted the examples of people forgoing raises and even homes for the gospel. He cited examples of others who are deeply touched by his church’s work for the Kingdom of God. With his warnings for San Francisco and the examples he gave, I was left wondering about how these two entities should interact. What types of things should the church be doing to change the empire? Should it only be an example? I wonder if the church has a role in bringing change to government and the power structures. Is it called to confront? To offer an alternative? To do more?

    • epbigoness said

      Or maybe Wong is not a careful exegete of culture. I am no resident of San Francisco. (I think vrmzahn, above, has a good critique of Wong on this.)

  9. andysexton said

    Enduring Powers of Empire demonstrates a close analysis of the San Francisco historical and current context, and the locale in which Wong’s church is based. It is an interesting critique of the San Francisco community as being liberal and critical of capitalism on the one hand (and full of community-based non-profit organizations), while basking in the benefits of capitalism on the other, to the exclusion of the poor. I particularly liked the questions that he posed in terms of how the church should engage in, and with, this community? Wong then gave examples of how members of Grace Fellowship Community Church were being counter-cultural in their attitudes to money, as well being inclusive to the immigrant communities in the Mission District, maintaining that “refusing to play by the world’s rules, the Church is free to become that place where peace reigns, unity is demonstrated, and no-one is in need or want.”
    I was impressed by this expression of church, that I feel is a powerful reflection of Christ’s message of the Kingdom, tailored to a particular context. However, I would say that it does not go far enough. To refuse to play by the world’s rules without offering an alternative to the controlling system, is rebellious, but not constructive. Where was the prophetic Christian voice before the current economic meltdown, calling people to think before they bought property they couldn’t afford, and exposing an unsustainable global financial model? Alternatives are out there. A land value tax such as was implemented in Hong Kong under British rule offers a third way between capitalism and communism. My point is that local engagement is essential to transform lives and communities, but systemic issues also need to be addressed otherwise we are only treating the symptoms.

  10. tjfinca said

    After reading the article and reflecting upon my own journey of faith, I am struck by the last line of being faithful to the gospel resulting in the “watching world” seeing a people “living under a rule that is hostile and foreign to empire.” The phrase “living under a rule” brought to mind the monastic orders of the medieval period. These orders objected to the way Christianity had too easily been mingled with empire as well, and withdrew to a significant extent in protest. They often succeeded in being a “resistance group”, calling out the warmongering and self-aggrandizing soveriegns of their day, but often failed as well, either by completely withdrawing from the world or becoming simply another player in medieval power struggles. In many ways, the American Protestant church could draw on monasticism in order to build communities which subvert modern individualism as well as offer an embodied message of truth to power.

    I was provoked to think about what Wong means by “using the gospel to exegete the American empire”. Wong exegetes both the Left and Right and finds that they draw from the same well of “autonomous individualism”, and goes on to analyze how San Francisco as a whole is actually unable to stand up to “private and corporate developers” because of its effects. I think his “exegesis” is solid, but only because I agree with his unstated assumption: that a communitarian political critique of America resonates with the most gospel themes. It is not merely the “gospel” which allows Wong to critique as he does, but the significant sociological, political, and philosophical work that has been done as well in thinking about American society from a “communitarian” perspective. And of course, this isn’t in itself a problem. One part of theological discernment means using the “resources of your culture to understand influences and consequences”, according to Professor Branson. Wong shows that he is in touch with the sociological resources of his culture, and, on my reading, does an able job of using them in the service of the gospel to critique that same culture.

    What this boils down to is whether or not Wong has escaped “captivity to philosophy and empty deceit” at the hands of the traditional Left and Right only to be taken captive at the hands of another political ideology, in communitarianism. What would vindicate Wong, and which perhaps would have been included if more space had been available, is an admission that his critique does not come from the stance of a context-independent “gospel” but from within a particular political tradition, namely, a communitarian perspective, which Wong attempts to use towards Kingdom ends. This distinction is important because it would prevent Wong’s analysis from possibly being equated with the gospel. Equating the gospel with human political and social arrangements is what got America into trouble in the first place, after all. On my understanding, the gospel will continue to call every human ideology to account, embracing and redeeming some elements and rejecting and judging other elements until God’s kingdom comes in full.

  11. jilkim said

    This is a compelling article combining many different elements: social, political, spiritual, and historic. Having studied international relations in college, I was very impressed by the wide spectrum of facts Wong draws from to formulate his thesis. In the 21st century, imperialism and nationalism plays a reprisal role in the U.S. and I agree; this attitude has a tendency to pervade the Church. After 9/11, Americans actively sought revenge and forgiveness was out of the question for the majority of the nation. Wong’s church however actively incorporated use of biblical passages to remind itself of how to process the situation-at hand, avoiding hysteria and attempting to recall the promises of God and allow for a time of self-inspection. I believe that this is a good approach that all Christians should adopt in times of large-scale struggle.

    It is easy for the Church to become arrogant, but ministry needs to be humble. Wong calls for community, seeking to implement a salvific dimension in the ministry. He sees a commonality in the suffering of his fellow congregants in San Francisco due to economic woes. Many immigrants intended to escape the physical threat in their mother countries, where love of wealth (“mammon”) were often the root cause of acts of violence being committed against them, only to find that in America they came face to face with hardships of other manifestations. He emphasizes that politicians often get caught up in criticizing and infighting rather than leading, leaving the poor and powerless to be the ones ignored at the end of the day. Conversely, the Church must be the place where the weak are defended and a community of love is formed.

    Repentance, humility, and an earnest quest for truth against the self-focused nature of imperialism should become the primary goals for the Church. Only then can it be free to become a place where peace reigns, unity is demonstrated, and no one is in need or want. I praise God that we can find solace in the knowledge that Christ and not empire, has the final victory.

    Jillee Kim

  12. bradleyrekers said

    Wong brought up a lot of good ideas that continually centered on being the body of Christ and continually being embedded in God’s word. It was encouraging to hear the leadership in his church stepped up like they did to see what the bible says about situations similar to what America was going though after 9/11. Wong’s church allowed the congregation to take their own stance on the decisions made by the government and continually focused on what God has to say about the situation. They also focused on what we as the church body need to do in situations like these.

    It was also good to hear Wong’s church, through the midst of national chaos, took a strong hold and was not going to let the body fall apart. They used the situation that we were put in to further the kingdom through opportunities like bible studies. Like Wong states in the article the church became a “gospel-transformed community.” He says that if we live as we are apart of God’s community, because we have allegiance to God first, then we will put the things first that need to be first. I feel that Wong is very spirit driven like Van Gelder in his beliefs. He believes in the Spirits role in the church community affects the thoughts and actions of the community itself and will in turn show where the communities’ allegiance lies.

  13. jonesdan said

    It has often been a fear of mine that American Christians, especially evangelicals, associate America as God’s saving agent to the world, as if America is the world’s last hope. As the Wong article discussed, many American’s, with manifest destiny built into their DNA, see themselves as set apart and chosen. I do not wish to excuse America with its abundant resources from the call to social justice, rather I wish to agree with Wong in that Jesus and his kingdom is the last great hope for the world, not America. Due to this arrogant understanding that we (Americans) are the good guys and everyone else are bad guy’s (or at least inferior); our economic, social, and political systems is harming many underprivileged countries. Our imperialistic ways must be reevaluated so that our motives and our actions can be corrected.

    I think this article raises serious questions between the relationship between church and state. How does a church that reaps the benefits of freedom and privilege provided by this country, respond to calls of collective patriotism and nationalism? If our true allegiance is with Gods kingdom, how “American” can we be? In the midst of confusion in this question, the church needs to live in such a way that is alternate to society, just as many faithful Christians did under the Roman Empire, as depicted in the book of Revelation.

    • mmorsan37 said

      Great point, the question of church and state being separate I think is some degree part of the problem. I am not suggesting that the two should merge, it is however indicative of the times: signs of the times. There is a lack of spiritual accountability that is in operation here. It is fascinating that Christian folks and Americans in general demonized those who did not make a stand for the war on terror. Also your comments that faith (trust and belief) in government, produced an arrogance and a lack of discernment (checks and balances) as to what were appropriate responses. Thank you for your post!

  14. Brian Kiley said

    There is much in Wong’s article that I found to be worthy of comment. I was fascinated by his allusions to the secular culture in San Francisco and how it managed to stand against the imperialist/nationalist ideology put forth by our government while doing so in a way that was not gospel-oriented. Whether or not this was his objective, I believe he illustrated the depravity of gospel ideals without the gospel. There is still a need to “(expose) lies, (defend) the weak and (speak) the truth to power” (p. 24) in the name of the gospel, even (or perhaps especially), in a city that already thinks it is doing that.

    Similarly I thought his indictment of the idol of freedom was spot on. Liberals tends to worship freedom of lifestyle whereas conservatives worship economic freedom, while Americans of all stripes sing the praises of individual freedom, and all are idolatrous. The challenge the church has of steering its people away from these idols is immense, to be sure.

    I was also fascinated by his statement that, “It is much easier to be charitable than submissive.” How true that is! This church found themselves located within the midst of a wildly charitable culture where they could not hope to distinguish themselves with simple acts of charity. Exposing the arrogance and vanity of the unaccountable, charitable life is another unique challenge.

    I also found the summary of San Francisco’s history to be profoundly ironic given its current culture.

    Overall I thought this article was terrific, and I very much enjoyed hearing Wong’s story.

    • mmorsan37 said

      yes, thank you. I too was struck with the political sameness between the right and the left political parties, whereby money and individualism were valued by both. Throwing money at something or someone to exercise charity does not promote a charitable spirit in the same way that someone who shares a meal with someone who is downtrodden. Likewise setting aside the pursuit of money to instead pursue relationships with others, and relationships with others whom we may not necessarily want to have a relationship with since there is no tangible benefit for us. Thank you for your insightful post!

  15. mmorsan37 said

    My second attempt to post, lost my entire last response. Article was interesting, it was lengthy and had many layers that could easily be a basis for several teaching series on many different topics of imperialism, poverty & oppression, the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, history repeats itself, justified war, false patriotism, the misuse of power, who’s my neighbor, etc. I found it to raise difficult questions and haunting correlations between the past and the present errors of our country. I found it most interesting that the observations made in the church were comments of surprise that the experiences of the poor within the community had no basis for relating to the experiences of the wealthy. There was a real desire between them, yet a greater disconnect and an inability or unwillingness to see and take responsibility for what was happening. I saw the concern that was described for the poor, and yet no recognition that the wealthier congregants had any responsibility in the condition that the poorer working families were experiencing. Historically the article recaps on many meaningful historical events that I am not abreast to, and I appreciated learning about them. I appreciate that this church was diligent to call out what they saw as problematic, and that they made real efforts to educate and promote change.

  16. Lincoln Skinner said

    Lincoln Skinner
    Journal response to Craig Wong’s “Enduring Powers of Empire”

    I found the testimonies of the immigrants in Wong’s church to be a refreshing and honest perspective towards American life. Our fight for personal freedom has left us with a hatred for authority, which is an essential component to being a part of a healthy community. It was fascinating to see how bewildered and confused these foreigners were when they looked at the wealth, education, and opportunity that Americans have and yet also saw the loneliness and apathy we possess.

    As I read this essay, I reflected about how, barely 100 years ago, insurance didn’t exist in the form of a company or organization. Your insurance was your neighbor, your church, and your community around you. If your house burned down, people chipped in and helped you build a new one. Why? Because the community needed you and wanted you. People took care of each other because that was how they survived, it was built into their economic system. Today, acts of kindness are received with caution or even refused because of the risk of “liability”. How can we rework our societal systems so that it promotes community? I believe that the church can provide a model for this, but perhaps it needs to go further than small groups. Maybe churches should look into developing their own insurance programs by providing investment opportunities, medical programs, etc. I don’t think worshipping and reading the Bible together is doing enough to build a healthy community. I feel that there needs to be a sense of dependency among the people.

    • richardmolina said

      Hi Lincoln,

      Great Point. Maybe those extravagant Crystal Cathedrals and Gothic Worship Complexes that line and overlook the other side of the many boulevards and train tracks where the ghettos are located should be turned into Christian Crisis Centers with open crosswalks and bridges that connect both sides.

  17. Craig Wong’s article has strength and weaknesses that are hard to miss. His article is bold in its critical look of greed, arrogance and self centeredness, but it is weak in its self congratulatory stance of how his church is so much better than others. As a neutral observer, I like some of the ecclesiological insights that Wong shared about how his church does ministry by using scriptures for self examination and repentance from the norm of seeing life through the eyes of the status quo. I also like the way that his church is reaching out to the immigrant community and the disenfranchised. I wish his paper would have developed more on this train of thought than to have become deeply ingrained the rights and wrongs of the “empire”. Most neutral observers already know the ills and shortcomings of the culture and government, and therefore one more article on this topic does not really grant new insights on the subject.

    Although Wong makes a lot of valid points on the shortcomings of American culture and government, he oversimplifies everything without giving the spiritual insights that give light to the fact that these same ills are in every single culture and nation because we live in a fallen world.

    I think Wong’s deconstruction of freedom between the two political extremes of the right and left oversimplifies the role of freedom in everyday society. I am of the persuasion that individual freedom is a good thing even when I do not agree with the choices that people make. Freedom is a biblical principle found in Genesis 2 when God gives humanity a choice between good and evil. Instead of taking a critical look at freedom from political spectrums, I would suggest a closer examination of how a person that is reborn receives freedom from the bondage of sin and death. Although this article reads as advertised, I would have appreciated to learn more about how Wong’s church lives out the great commission in a post modern age where relativism rules and absolute truth is considered archaic.

    As I mentioned at the very start of this critique, Wong gets some things right but he also misses the mark in the oversimplification in his arguments. But after all is said and done, there is one place in his article that is simple but yet more profound than all his arguments put together. It is when he states that his church exploration of the scriptures (Colossians) taught them of the “the supremacy of Christ over all things, the existence of fallen powers that hold men captive, and the Church’s call to live in light of Christ’s victory over these powers.”

  18. erikhulbert said

    For some reason I have a pretty visceral reaction to reading Craig Wong’s article, both positively and negatively One aspect that I responded very positively toward was his as assessment of the how the church and the nation should relate with one another. When Wong spoke of the interfaith service with the US flag uniting the different faith flags, it reminded me of services that I attended growing up. In the church of my youth, we would have 4th of July services complete with US Flags everywhere and the singing of patriotic songs next to biblical hymns. That type of service didn’t sit well with me then and still doesn’t now. This confusion of patriotism and worship seems to confuse who or what we are worshipping.

    One of the aspects that I didn’t agree with Wong was in his post 9/11 assessment of the country and the swell of nationalism and patriotism that came along. Many people were also running to churches right after the attacks. Wong’s church seemed to disregard or even distain the growing sentiment around them. I think that there was a great deal of unity in our country at that time. Whether Wong liked the reason for that unity or not, I think that the church could have seen people coming to their doors and tried to direct that sense of unity in a more godly and less nationalistic direction without showing distain for the people’s sense of patriotism

  19. nevillehong said

    Craig Wong, in his article, strikes a solid balance between the ideologies of the church and understanding the community of San Francisco. Grace Fellowship Church takes on and embodies a strong presence and responsibility in this respect. They, through actions and example, have demonstrated a wonderful example of how the body of the church is to work. Even in the most difficult and challenging situations, this body has remained intact. The key aspect supporting this is indeed their emphasis on the important and function of the body of the church. They are doing this through example, epitomizing the love, self-sacrifice, and deference from engaging in greed.

    Craig Wong is strong in his criticism of the structure of our country as it is today. He seems to understand that Grace Fellowship Community Church is just one example in one community. I feel he is trying to convey the example of this church so that subsequently all the churches in the country (and world) in effect become one body as well. He stresses that we, as Christians are examples, and as a unified body, we can go forth and be the Christian light. He writes of the many flaws within government and society. It is apparent his wish is not to destroy or undermine this structure in any way, only that the Gospels be applied for the goodness of the entire body (church, community, country).

  20. rayamedina said

    Wong’s indictment on American Imperialism is startling. The ability of the church to critique itself and its context is crucial, as we can find ourselves complicit with the principalities that offer us comfort and security over and above the God we claim to seek refuge in. Wong’s question is immense, how do the powers of empire affect us locally?

    If the church exposes lies by living faithful to the gospel, the question I am left with is, “whose gospel”? Wong identifies situations where ‘good news’ takes on different shades of meaning depending on where one sits. His indictment on the middle and upper class implied that their priorities were by nature counter-gospel. The El Salvadorian mom has a story that needs to be heard and healed, but so do the stories that appear less tragic. Who the system works for is not the point, rather, how the Spirit is at work inside and outside the system is. The priorities of ‘bible study and prayer’ can coexist with the priority of education, for example. Mammon need not be the end all of the latter.

    I would say that the missing ingredient to Wong’s “alternative hope” is an articulation of an engagement with the Spirit. His community seemed to have a working ‘gospel lens’ given their prophetic indictment of and humble repentance from their own system. However, the church’s interpretation of ‘gospel’ must be informed by her engagement with the Spirit. How does the Spirit lead us to deconstruct our own worldviews, exegete Scripture, and exegete our culture?

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