Honorable conduct: living as exiles in the 21st Century

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From the moment we walked in the gates, and until we left, no one spoke more than a few words – there was nothing anyone could say. Touring through Austria in 1994, we had taken a day as a group to visit Mauthausen Concentration camp just outside of Linz, and not far from the Dachau camp.  Just being at that place elicited a whole array of responses, from rage to overwhelming sadness, as I considered the number of people who had taken their last breath within those terrible fences – it was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

While there were certainly many who suffered under the boot of the Third Reich in WWII, most would agree, none suffered so specifically and horrifically as the Jews; a people who – from the 1933 occupation of Germany onward – became progressively and systematically exiled in their own countries and homes.

But if you follow the history, the Nazi regime did not just start loading up Jewish people into trains and sending them off to death camps on day one.  They began, instead, with a propaganda campaign to demonize and dehumanize the Jews in the minds and culture of the German population over time, so that when they did begin carting those same people off in train cars, it would feel less like genocide, and more like deliverance to the deceived minds of the German people.  The campaign was devastatingly successful for the most part.

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(poster reads, “Behind the enemy powers: the Jew”)

There are heroic stories however, amongst the many sad ones, of German people who did not accept the propaganda and – rather than turning in their Jewish neighbours – protected and hid them instead.  The Frank family of Amsterdam (made famous by Anne Frank’s famous diary) is one of those stories.

And one big question that intrigues me from their story is:

What made those German people – surrounded by a culture and a ruling government that was telling them to fear and hate the Jews – see the Frank family differently and act in the exact opposite way towards them?

One answer that seems plausible is that perhaps the Frank family – by simply knowing and living amongst their neighbours in honourable, kind and dependable ways – made the claims of the Nazi propaganda campaign look as ridiculous and mis-informed to them as they do to us today.  The conduct of these exiled Jewish people in the context they lived in, ultimately, made the Nazi propaganda appear implausible and incoherent.

In the book of 1 Peter 2:12,15 we read these words:

“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation … For it is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorant talk of foolish people (ESV).”

I don’t mean in any way to suggest either that the Frank family (or any practicing Jewish person) knew and followed this New Testament principle, or that the suffering of Jewish people under the Nazi regime is at all comparable to the plight of 21st Century conservative Evangelicalism; I don’t believe either of those things to be true.  I simply wonder if we can’t extract from the story of the Frank family – living under a country-wide propaganda campaign intended to misrepresent and demonize them – something of the truths that the apostle Peter lays out in 1 Peter 2:12,15 for our own lives today?

For in the Western world, there is also a growing, pervasive propaganda campaign against conservative Evangelicalism.  Its intent is to exile, demonize and misrepresent both the biblical sexual ethic and the people who hold it; to put us forward as a bigoted, closed-minded, homophobic, gay-hating mob chasing down all LBGQT people like the pitch-fork/torch wielding mobs chasing down “witches” in 17th Century Salem.

Now, perhaps we scoff at such a representation and view it as unfair and fantastical.  But I would ask you (and indeed, you must ask yourself): does the way you live your life with your neighbours and within your city, make the claims of this propaganda campaign look implausible to those who know you?

Narrow the question even further: would those within the LGBQT community, who know where you stand on homosexual practice, still find it hard to reconcile the propaganda they hear with what they know of you?  Would they be at all confused and  say to themselves, “Wow!  I know everyone’s telling me that people who say that the bible condemns homosexual practice hate me and want me to go away … but, I don’t see how that could be right because I know my neighbour holds to a biblical view of homosexuality, yet his family were the only ones in the building to help me and my partner move in.  His family has had me into their home for dinner. Our kids play in the park together.  I don’t hate him and it definitely doesn’t seem like he hates me at all either!“?

If not, we have to ask ourselves if the insulating of ourselves against the LBGQT community and our lack of real, true Christ-like engagement with them – all in the name of protecting our children and stewarding the truth – is not actually supporting and solidifying the very propaganda claims we say are unfair and fantastical?

If you really think that the way that Christians who hold to a biblical sexual ethic are portrayed today is foolish, then we are told in God’s word,

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (Ibid.).”

It’s not the whole of what it means to live as an exile in the 21st Century, but it is a very real part of building the context for a faithful presentation of the hope of the gospel.

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