Practicing What We Preach
"My people are determined to turn from me…[I] will by no means exalt them…My heart is changed within me, all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger." (Hosea 11: 7-9)
We are currently in the midst of a painful and paradoxical period in our country's engagement of the world. On the one hand, we have historically seen our nation as a beacon for the rule of law and as the home of justice. On the other hand, today we are perceived abroad as perpetrators of injustice through our country's policies and actions that fall outside of the rule of law.
Our political leaders seemingly have more time to point the finger at each other than work hand-in-hand to ensure that we are indeed a country of just laws ù laws that we take great care to follow at home and abroad. Meanwhile, many American Christians do not appear to be particularly worried about their nation's dangerously eroding global reputation. Instead, they are exercised over the alleged "attack" on Christmas, as if this commercialized feeding frenzy, or the manner of its "defense," even vaguely resembles the purpose of the Christ-child who was born to die for each of us.
We should want to be a people that practices what it preaches. American Christians, especially, should hold their leaders and themselves to the same transparent standard of behavior, remembering that it is only the grace of God that prevents the full, just punishment for hypocrisy.
We know that hypocrisy is natural to the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9) because "the evil [we] do not want to do à [we] keep on doing" (Romans 7:19). Still, we also know that God does not give up hope on our harlot nature. In the book of Hosea, God reveals the tension between his justice and his mercy. As a literal and figurative demonstration of his patience for an Israel that deserves punishment, God has Hosea marry Gomer the prostitute. Through the personal and painful experiences of Hosea, God makes real his own feelings for his creation, as well as Hosea's prophesies for a wayward Israel. In the process, God considers the idea not to exalt his creation. Yet, thankfully, he rejects this notion, instead choosing mercy over justice.
No matter our politics or perspective regarding the "attack" on Christmas, or the possibility that the United States has violated the principles it purports to defend, one thing is clear: we need to dispense more grace, even as we have received it, in our relationships ù we need to practice what we preach. If we made the concerted effort to realize that our disappointment in others is nothing compared to God's disappointment in us, then I think we just might be in a position to contribute to the solution … instead of perpetrating the problem.
If you are a person of faith, especially of the Abrahamic tradition, chances are that you believe each person is made in the image of God. If this is so, then you should regard each individual interaction as an opportunity to exalt God. We love God by loving those around us, even those with whom we disagree.
For those of us who call ourselves Christian while pursuing professional careers in international relations ù serving in Congress, the State Department, the Justice Department, the Department of Defense, the intelligence agencies, the humanitarian relief and development community, etc. ù showing this kind of love on a daily basis can seem difficult because of professional and political pressures. But if we try to see it from God's perspective, it is the nonnegotiable foundation of every endeavor.
Put simply, Christian leaders in global affairs should start the year with the following resolution: Global engagement starts at home by exalting God through our personal and professional relationships. If we can't practice what we preach at home, then we have no business working abroad.