If I were to ask you to describe where you lived, what would you tell me? I am sure you would probably start with a description of your home: the color of the paint or siding, how many bedrooms it had, what kind of distinguishing landmarks could be found on your plot of land. You might tell me about some of the landscaping you have done or some unique feature in your home, such as a wrap-around porch or fireplace. Maybe you’d tell me a little bit about your neighborhood. How many neighbors do you have? Are they friendly? There would be a description of parks, stores, and other attractions. If you had children, it would not be outside the realm of possibility that you would tell me about the local school system. Would you also tell me about the wider village, town, or city in which you reside? What makes it special? For some, they might even broaden their description to include some information about their state and nation.
When we stop for a moment to think about where we live, we identify certain factors that affect how we operate on a daily basis. For instance, when I was growing up in those northeast Georgia mountains, it was rare for anyone to lock the doors on their homes or their cars. Does that mean that burglaries never occurred? No, but there was a different culture in that area at that time, one that was more trusting of one’s neighbors. Being rural influenced this; it is just as rare to find someone who lives in a city or suburb leaving their homes unlocked as it was to find someone locking their doors back home. Our environment impacts our decisions as well as our actions, whether we explicitly think about these factors or not.
It should not surprise us, then, to realize the same principle is at play in regards to our spiritual surroundings. In 1630, ships carrying several hundred Puritans left England in order to establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony, led by John Winthrop. As the ships came closer to the New World, Winthrop delivered a sermon that became etched in the American ethos. Drawing from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he shared with his fellow travelers his vision of this Puritan colony becoming as a “city upon a hill,” watched by the entire world. This same language would later be perhaps most famously utilized in the American context by President Ronald Reagan, who held strongly to the concept of American exceptionalism. Despite the attempts of many revisionist historians to suggest otherwise, our nation was founded upon several Christian principles. This foundation, along with the accompanying religious liberty we have enshrined in our Constitution, resulted in many believers seeing themselves as living in what was essentially a modern day “Jerusalem.” Our parents and grandparents (if they were believers) operated accordingly; their environment impacted their decisions and actions.
Today, I would suggest to you that we are no longer living in “Jerusalem,” but rather “Babylon.” Those foundations our nation was built upon have crumbled to the point that identifying as a true Christian in our culture today can be detrimental in terms of respectability, promotion at work, election to public office, and even relationship with family and friends. Saying that life begins at conception or that marriage is between one man and one woman for life is categorized as “hate speech.” While many of us have recognized that our “neighborhood” has changed (and sat by the proverbial waters and wept), not many of us have adapted to our new surroundings. We are still operating as though we lived in a different place. Living in Babylon, though, means our decisions and actions will look different from when we lived in Jerusalem. Over the next few weeks, we’ll think through what that looks like in this space. It will certainly give us plenty to think about…