This 4th of July, it’s important for Dunker Punks to remember what we mean when we call ourselves “Punks.”
The “Punks” in Dunker Punks refers to Jesus’ call to live lives that are radically transformed in his image. We are Punks because we are counter-cultural. Whenever we see an aspect of our culture that diverges from the message of Jesus, we always choose to follow Jesus instead.
The culture I’m talking about doesn’t have much to do with popular culture. It’s not about wearing different clothing or listening to different music. I think a problem with using the language of culture is that when we hear the word “culture,” our minds immediately jump to Beyonce and Modern Family. Thus, even when Christians accept that they must counter culture, they wage culture wars against Beyonce and Modern Family, and not the substantive aspects of culture in which Christians tend to diverge from the message of Jesus, often doing great harm to their communities in the process.
When I talk about the culture that we must counter, I’m talking about American Culture. I’m talking about the ways that American Christians have ignored or subverted the message of Jesus. And I’m talking about listening to Jesus earnestly and obediently, and choosing his way, rather than the American way.
Here are some aspects of American Culture that American Christians must learn to counter, but usually do not:
Christians proclaim that Jesus is Lord, but we don’t often acknowledge the implication of that statement. If Jesus is Lord, nobody else is Lord. When Jesus called himself Lord during Roman occupation, it was a radical political statement, because the Roman Emperor, or Caesar, was the only person whom Roman society labeled Lord. To say “Jesus is Lord” was to say, “Caesar is not.”
Today, Christians in the United States don’t express allegiance to the country in terms of Lordship, but they tacitly express this type of allegiance to the country on a regular basis. Which should Christians recite: The Pledge of Allegiance or the Lord’s Prayer? To whom do we give our sole allegiance? The Flag? The Country for Which it Stands? Or to Jesus?
When we pray the words “Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven,” we acknowledge, endorse, and should seek to create a world without borders. God’s vision for humanity is a brotherhood and sisterhood of men and women living on the Earth in harmony. A diverse Kingdom joyously united under one Lord. In the Kingdom that is God’s vision for the Earth, there is no room for the American flag. It’s past time that we stop worshiping it, and past time that we consider ourselves citizens of any nation other than God’s kingdom.
Like every other American holiday, the 4th of July has become a time when special reverence is devoted the men and women who serve in the United States military. Nothing is more politically incorrect than speaking an ill word about the military. While I respect the bravery and devotion that it takes to join the military, and while I acknowledge that virtually all who enter the military do so with noble intentions, I am calling this Fourth of July for Christians to accept Christ’s message of nonviolence and mobilize to manifest his desire for peace.
And that means that we must reject an American culture that glorifies the military. We must transform our definition of Heroism to honor those who prevent wars, not those who start them. We must expect from our elected officials the boldness to stay out of global conflict, not engage in it. If we want to call ourselves Christians, we must vote for a budget that reflects Christ’s priorities, including an eventual end to military spending, with those billions of dollars instead going to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, lift up the downtrodden, and promote mercy and justice for all. And of course, in the borderless world of God’s Kingdom, that means extending those measures of grace and dignity to all of God’s people, not just Americans.
No doubt, I will receive criticism for daring to say that Christians should have a radically different attitude towards the military. But when I say, “Jesus is Lord,” that means I’m prepared to say, “the military is not.”
Of course, American culture is far more infatuated with violence than just the violence of the military.
The police patrol the streets decked out in military garb.
In many places, it’s easier to buy a gun than to buy fresh, affordable produce. On top of that, “God and Guns” is somehow a thing.
Most Christians support the death penalty and usually defend it with the “eye for an eye” logic that Jesus rebuked over 2000 years ago.
LGBTQ+ people are the constant victims of hate crimes. Still others feel so oppressed that they resort to suicide.
Our entire justice system is one violent mess, where nonviolent criminals are hardened in jail, where they are subjected to abuse and neglect, and introduced to a life of recidivism.
Unarmed Black people are killed every week by police, then they are blamed for their own deaths by the news media.
A white supremacist walks into a historic Black church and kills nine people, and a dozen Black churches burn down in the following two weeks, and people respond by holding a pro-Confederate flag rally outside the state Capital building.
Somehow, Christians in the United States, among the main perpetrators of all this violence, have completely lost sight of the Jesus who they claim is Lord. The gentle Lord who taught us to turn the other cheek and who healed the ear of his attacker rather than benefit from the violence of the sword. This Fourth of July, instead of celebrating the bombs bursting in air, what if we resolved to turn away from the wide path of violence in America, and instead chose to walk the narrow path of peace, justice, and nonviolence, where we find Jesus’ footprints?
While we worship a Lord who taught the rich man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor, many middle-class Americans spend more each week than one of the world’s poor makes in a year. Jesus taught us not to horde possessions, but instead to live and love generously, taking stock not in what we own, but in the fruits of God’s spirit.
Countering America’s culture of consumerism is not just Biblical in its own right, but it is necessary to live up to the principles of Christian nonviolence.
When we satisfy our thirst for low-cost goods, we support big-box institutions that pay starvation wages to their own workers and seek to skirt as many worker protections as possible. Of course, the labor conditions of a Walmart employee in the United States are downright kingly compared to the labor conditions of the workers in Bangladesh and Taiwan and China and Vietnam and Guatemala etc. who make the products we consume.
In consumerist America, we benefit from the labor of a child worker working twelve hour days to make our clothing and electronics, or a sweatshop worker making a dollar a day with no breaks, or a plantation worker harvesting cocoa or coffee beans in what can only be called slavery unless we squint really hard. Nonviolence doesn’t just mean being not violent directly. It means using our political, economic, social, and spiritual power to transform the world to look more like the just, joyous, and peaceful Kingdom.
This is to say nothing about the way consumer culture fuels global climate change, which is the greatest moral crisis of the twenty-first century. Thousands of people die every year from climate change already, and by the end of the century, the number will be millions every year. As sea levels rise, low-lying countries like Bangladesh, one of the most populous in the world, and island nations will completely vanish, killing or displacing all of their residents. As temperatures rise, droughts and heat waves like the one that just killed thousands in India will become commonplace. So will catastrophic weather events like hurricanes and floods.
While we Christians in the United States are as much to blame for the continuing momentum of Climate Change as any other group of people, the harshest impacts of Climate Change will fall unrelentingly on the world’s poor who lack the political and economic power to prepare for its effects, adapt to its conditions, or rebuild in its wakes.
We’ve drifted far from the Lord who taught us to live compassion for the poor. The problem of Climate Change demands more than just recycling. We need to substantially alter the way we live our lives to consume less resources, and we need structural, societal changes to shift our eery supply from fossil fuel to renewables. We need to stop worshiping the idol of Industry, and begin to worship Jesus. Only by following God’s commands to live simply and love justice can we hope to mitigate and reverse global climate change.
This post isn’t intended to be written from a place of judgement, but from a place of meekness and confession. I am guilty of following American culture rather than Jesus. I visit Walmart to take advantage of their low-prices, without regard to the victims of my purchases. I’m typing this post on an overpriced Apple computer, built in part by sweat shop labor. How appropriate that it would be brandished with the forbidden fruit. While writing this post, I consumed gas by driving to not one but two Fourth of July celebrations. I don’t always remember to recycle, and I frequently catch myself being less generous than I should be. I constantly fall short of mobilizing for the radical transformation of the Earth that Jesus desires.
But this Fourth of July, it’s time for us to ask God to transform ourselves to better reflect his vision, rather than our own. It’s time we stop celebrating our nationality, and time we start celebrating the joyous Kingdom that we can have a hand in building. It’s time we refuse to grow complacent in our lives of power, stability, and privilege, and time we embrace the radical implications of declaring that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.
Emmett Eldred is a junior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter@DunkerPunks and on Facebook.
Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email Emmett at firstname.lastname@example.org.