During his imprisonment by the Nazis during World War II Dietrich Bonhoeffer agonized over the dilemma he found himself in. A proud German from a noted and aristocratic family and at the same time a profoundly committed Christian, Bonhoeffer wondered if it had come to the point where he must pray for, and even work for, the defeat and destruction of his beloved country for the sake of the rest of the world and for the sake of the gospel. He finally decided this was just what he must do.
I feel that dilemma as well when I ponder what the crisis my country, America, is in at present might mean for me, and for the church, for the US. I cannot bring myself to hope for an economic recovery based on a system requiring our continuous and ever-increasing consumption of our already unfair share of the world’s resources. “Growth” of that sort is, I am quite sure, idolatrous, destructive, and fundamentally antithetical to what God wants from and for us.
Now I am as much a part of this system as anyone else. Withdrawing from it does not seem possible in a world increasingly integrated around global capitalism. There’s nowhere to go even I wanted to. I can and have made some small efforts to reduce my “carbon footprint” and the resources I use up. And I know there are groups of Christians and other concerned citizens seeking to live as communities in less consumeristic and creation-friendly kinds of ways. May God increase their number!
Yet even with exponential growth of such communities in the coming years, I find it difficult to believe they will transform our national attitudes and policies about growth and consumption. I hope and pray I am wrong about this. If we continue on the path of never-ending, unlimited consumption, the destructive shape and tragedy-wreaking power of our system will continue its death-dealing work. That it is so easy and so compelling to identify us with the Great Harlot of Revelation 17-18 should give us reason for serious reflection and prayer.
So I am left with the dilemma of working and living for the kingdom of God and hoping and even praying for the demise of my country for the people here and in the rest of the world! I have thought this and fought this for some time now. I fell I can no longer fight it. I know I’ll be dismissed (perhaps even reviled) by most for this horrendous idea. Yet I cannot escape its force. And I suspect that unless the church in our land can gain some clarity and maybe even some consensus on this matter, all the rest we do is window-dressing. Though I freely admit I could be wrong about this, I believe it is “the” issue for the church in North America in our time.