• Christine Sequenzia Titus

THE PUBLIC SQUARE’S LINCHPIN: RADICAL RELATIONSHIPS

Updated: Dec 17, 2019


Final Paper

ET703 - The Church in the Public Square

Following 27 years of imprisonment for conspiring to end South African apartheid, Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”[1]As American Christians, often times, we tend to forget that from which we have come. Persecution, unrest, living as the outcast minority in a foreign land and ultimately having a lost soul were once labels that defined our population, and still do in many regions of the world. However, the word of God has called us to live outside of our own capacity, fully intrenching in the loving grace offered us through our salvation in Christ Jesus, in an effort to become ministers of reconciliation no matter the person, land, or creed.

In a world where slander and force grab headlines, Christians are called to build effective political engagement through peacebuilding and freedom-making efforts, all hinged on scripture’s counter-cultural call toward radical relationships. To that end, the term global citizen has been defined as someone who is aware of and understands the wider world and their place in it, takes on an active role in their community, and works with others to make our planet more equal, fair and sustainable.[2]In short, while scripture has given Christians a guidebook for acting in the public square both in practical terms and those more elusive, our diplomatic and political activity in recent times leaves much to be desired. By and large, we have enabled a polarizing political climate and actively worked to alienate entire people groups while shunning our neighbor. The time has come for professing Christ followers to reevaluate their approach to diplomatic relationships in our neighborhoods, states, nations and in the global sphere. To better understand this call, this text will take a top line approach to uncovering the political undercurrents currently dictating our country’s legislative actions, introduce the idea of radical relationships and their potential in leading to a global atmosphere of freedom and reconciliation, deep dive into guidance offered in scripture, and conclude with a section on the peacebuilding possibilities once a healthy political theology is fully intact. These ideals will be wrapped into specific action in a final section regarding my own personal ministry opportunities.

PART I: CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS

Politicizing of the Church

While predictable, one of the most discouraging phenomena throughout history is that of worldly sin overtaking the minds of Christians and infiltrating churches, communities and a global continuity of a band of brothers and sisters capable of turning the world in favor of biblical principles of justice. As believers we are called to live in the world but not of the world, (John 15:19, John 17:14-16) meaning we have been given both the precaution and the knowledge of this type of corruption of the body of Christ, yet throughout the centuries, evidence of evil’s fingerprints on societies can be traced clearer than the light of God’s people. In particular, the American mainstream protestant church has created a subculture of celebrity pastors, sensationalized through digital media and touted by extremist organizations which has proven to bring new generations into the awareness of God’s word. However, a dangerous sin has also been at play as these pastor’s reach celebrity status. Power has plagued leadership since Abram received God’s promise in the late sixth century BCE.[3]Unfortunately, this causes a dilution in God’s word as it disseminates throughout the body of Christ as well as confusion amongst earnest believers as to God’s will for themselves, their actions and those of the larger Christian community. In an effort to maintain power, pastors and politicians alike have given their platforms over to each other. Slaughter and Gutenson consider this correlation a high jacking of the church.[4]The authors state,

As the demographic research reveals the overall shift among white evangelical Protestants has been toward a more conservative ideology and political affiliation. But conservatives are not the only ones inappropriately linking their religion and politics. Christians on both the conservative and liberal ends of the spectrum (with an ever-shrinking moderate middle) can fall victim to the tendency to conflate their theology and political ideology in unhealthy ways that limit civil debate and Christian cohesion.[5]

Essentially, the church has become a pawn in the game of American politics which has infiltrated entire denominations for the gain of a political candidate or party platform. This enmeshment has risen political agendas to the status of scripture and infiltrated the minds and behaviors of Christians in a very tangible way.

Three particular areas of concern rise in consciousness as these statistics are discussed: the rise of the Tea Party and the election of President Trump, gay pride as an identifying marker of the Methodist denomination, and the spread of hate rhetoric leading to vilification of the “other”. The most telling factor in the rise of political rhetoric within the church comes from American National Election Study results spanning over 30 years of electoral data. White Protestant Christians shifted from 68 percent self-identifying as democratic in 1965 to 64 percent of white evangelical Protestants self-identifying as conservative in 2008.[6]This notable alteration gives rise to a significant dynamic at play between church and state. In a Pew Research Center August 2010 poll, 69 percent of registered voters who agreed with the religious right also said they agreed with the Tea Party.[7]In addition, Pew showed white evangelical Protestants are roughly five times as likely to agree with the Tea Party movement as to disagree with it.[8]Clearly, something more than random chance is at play considering the staggering numbers in support of a particular political agenda. More recent election results show 58 percent of Protestant voters siding with Trump in the 2016 election, in addition to 52 percent of Catholic voters electing republican candidates.[9]By contrast, only 39 percent of Protestants chose a democratic ticket followed by Catholics choosing to side with Clinton 45 percent of the time. Again, this data holds importance for believers due to the hate and protectionist speech promoted by Trump’s camp which is in clear defiance of scripture, yet somehow being diffused to particular religious group in mass, seemingly through church platform targeting.

Jacques Ellul calls the aforementioned phenomenon political perversion.[10]He tends to sit on the extremist side of theological views on church and state engagement. Ellul claims, “…the biblical view is not just apolitical but antipolitical in the sense that it refuses to confer any value on political power, or in the sense that it regards political power as idolatrous, inevitably entailing idolatry.”[11]Whereas modern day political circles seek out church platforms and vice versa, Ellul advocates against any duality between church and state. This view presents as more conservative than that of my own scriptural exegesis and that of other political theology scholars. There must be a mutually beneficial arrangement as is expressed in previously referenced scripture calling Christians to live in the world not of the world. However, Jacques Ellul does highlight the mass perversion of the church for political gain. Further, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard writes, “the Christianity of Christendom…takes away from Christianity the offense, the paradox, etc., and … transforms New Testament, yea, into exactly the opposite; … (and) has become something like the child’s hobby-horse and trumpet.”[12]In an effort to influence the game of American politics, the church has formed its own non-governmental organizations and policy think tanks. For example, The Family Leader is a DC based political advocacy group formed by the ultra-conservative right group, Focus on the Family, to impact elections and influence policy.[13]Hence, both the church and political camps have and continue to exploit each other to promote their own agendas. However, the question at play is whether or not the church should permit itself to be used as a political proving ground or propaganda for a particular political posture.

Of primary concern, is how each institution will affect the other in the wake of such deep intertwining. As Christians, scripture does ask us to guard our hearts when dealing with worldly influences so that we might remain steadfast in the word not conform to the influence of a fallen world rather be fervent in our faith so that we might have a transformational effect on their value systems. (Joshua 23:6-8) An example of a clear corruption of scripture can be found in the modern-day United Methodist Church, known for their support of openly gay clergy and loosely in support of gay marriage. Scripture is clear on homosexuality. (Leviticus 20) This is not up for debate amongst majority Christians, the conversation however has been around how to engage with the LGBTQ community and how deeply to involve them in service of the church, should they wish to become involved.[14]Somehow, this distinction warped into being so openly inclusive of the unashamed sinner that they took over or infiltrated communities with one central doctrine, the Holy Bible. In effect, the world took over the community and threw out scripture rendering the community a group with a central doctrine of the world rather than a community ascribing to one particular value system found in scripture. In other words, the political agendas of interest groups have fully infiltrated the church, at least in this particular denomination and worked contrair to the intent and blatant command of scripture. It behooves me here to acknowledge the new United Methodist doctrine gained some scriptural perspective by placing limitations on ordained Methodist ministers performing gay marriage. However, as Christians build toward a radical relationship, a tender balance must be defined between loving the sinner and condoning the sin.

Hate Rhetoric Progression and Dissemination

Post-modernity’s media advancements and interconnectedness, otherwise known as globalization, have cohesively worked to enhance message dissemination both outside the church and inside its walls. Crawford and Olson point out,

Political activism by clergy, especially during a presidential election year, may also be influenced by the mobilization efforts of political parties, candidate organizations, religious interest groups, denominational officials, and perhaps even laity. Similarly, the information sources on which clergy rely, especially evangelical television and radio programs laden with political content. Might make a difference in clergy involvement.[15]

Crawford goes on to note the high percentage of particularly Baptist clergy that seem to join policy interest groups easily. According to her research, a total of 20 percent of all Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) clergy report membership in at least one conservative organization.[16]More notable, 80 percent of SBC clergy said they “feel close to” particular groups but have not taken the step to complete membership.[17] These statistics are of particular importance as it relates to hate rhetoric due to the sheer volume of influence one interest group can provide.

The media mayhem surrounding now President Trump’s campaign as it relates to the Muslim community and refugees proved to play a pivotal role electing the favored republican candidate. During his campaign, Trump paid special attention to sharing his views on those which belong to a faith currently consuming 1.6 billion of the global population, Islam.[18]CNN reports, “Stoking fear, or hatred, of immigrant and refugee Muslims, many of them fleeing ISIS and civil war in Syria, has been a recurring theme in Trump’s political rhetoric.”[19]Further, BBC reported, “From start to finish, the 2016 presidential election vividly revealed that Islamophobia is alive, and potent and politically resonant as ever. Scapegoating Islam and vilifying Muslims was far more than a mere campaign messaging; for Donald Trump it was a winning strategy.”[20] The polls show the hate language promoted by Trumps campaign was supported by the majority of his base. Specifically, in a Pew report, when asked if the United States Government should subject Muslims to more scrutiny in its efforts to prevent terrorism, 57 percent of Trump supporters agreed, while only 14 percent of Clinton supporters agreed.[21]In addition, when asked if the government’s anti-terrorism policies have not gone far enough, 69 percent of Trump supporters agreed while only 41 percent of Clinton supporters agreed.[22]Finally, when asked whether the ability of terrorists to launch a major attack in the United States is greater now than during 9/11, 66 percent of Trump supporters agreed, while 24 percent of Clinton supporters agreed.[23]Trump himself was elected by conservative Christians. PEW reports 81 percent of Evangelical Christians, 58 percent Protestant, and 52 percent Catholics voted for Trump in the 2016 election.[24]In addition to these statistics, conservative interest groups took similar positions on the Muslim community, sending their constituencies press releases and issue fact sheets encouraging, “Yes, secure our alliance with the nation of Israel and send a clear and uncompromising message of freedom to militant Islam and others who seek to destroy Israel and to expunge liberty’s entire DNA.”[25]More concerning are comments made by Vander Plaats in a video produced to share praises of president Trump with their constituency for statements made which aligned all of Islam with “evil.”[26]This sort of rhetoric hurts the Christian faith and damages Christ’s message of peacebuilding in an effort to transform hearts to Christ’s will. The rapid dissemination of hate language therefore accounted for the election of President Trump in the United States, whose platform against inclusive language rather promoting exclusivity stands in stark contrast to the United States’ multi-ethnic, multi-cultural outgoing president. It is hard to know whether Trump himself stood against inclusiveness or he became a pawn in the ultra-conservative Christian movement, who sought protectionism over rescue, propaganda over scripture, and fear over trust in their savior.

Of course, hate language and vilification of the other is not a new paradox for humankind. William Shakespeare composed two separate plays in the early 16thcentury, highlighting the difficulties plaguing a community, as he uncovers the difficult relationships of a Jewish moneylender and Muslim Army Captain with his penmanship of the Merchant of Venice[27]and Othello: The Moor of Venice[28]. Shakespeare writes, “It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.”[29]Hence, while the tension was labeled, and God’s will and teaching proclaimed the difficulty of handling differences remained as Shakespeare concluded the scene with the Jew needing to be sentenced according to the law of the land.[30]Clearly, centuries have passed since Shakespeare and other global atrocities have come to fruition, yet, the question still remains as to how to adequately handle our differences in light of scripture. Unfortunately, the mere influx of information available in today’s post-modern culture has sought to mobilize the masses, particularly those who take issue with open boarder, interfaith relationships, and respecting those who ascribe to creeds and values different from one’s own.

Fear of People Groups Leading to Community Isolation and Disconnection

Taking these ideals one step further to a practical level, one will inevitably notice the overwhelming nature of disconnected and isolated communities. When fear of the other sets in, humankind throughout history has determined a social construct of retreating to the known, or worse mandating it through policy, force, confinement and death. Christians, however, have been called to react to fear in a fashion entirely counter to cultural norms in this case. Americans’ level of satisfaction varies widely according to how attached they feel to their community and strength of their social connections.[31]What once was a space where tribes were relatively free to form their own community rules and boundaries has now dissipated into a vast melting pot of diversity in many global cities of power.[32]This along with the ease of global transportation has pressed the need for multicultural tolerance in a way never before seen in history. Peter Sedgwick highlights this point in Blackwell’s Companion to Political Theology,

It is no longer the view of international theorists that globalization is a single process. Rather, several changes have taken place. First, there is a return to the pre-1914 situation of global trade, capital mobility, and immigration. It is not exactly the same, but the trends point to a rough similarity. In particular the mobility of capital is now very great, as it was before 1914, but on a much vaster scale. Second, there is a series of processes, including flows of information, capital, etc., which exacerbate many local political, social, cultural, and economic tendencies to breaking point.[33]

The globalization described here has created a total transformation of our local communities. According to Pew Research Center, four-in-ten Americans say they don’t feel attached to their community.[34]Former cultural, religious and economic boarders have been replaced by a unique tapestry resembling a global community. Unlike centuries of old whereby a specific people group sought to overtake another, local communities world-wide have a fresh opportunity to determine how to engage our new diverse local community in a healthy way. All too often, evil, hate, and self-segregation prevail in these instances, as was the case in 2015 as more than half of state governing bodies signed a letter banning Syrian refugees.[35]The overarching sentiment amongst locals was fear of the unknown and complete misconception of entering Muslim refugees. Unawareness lead local governments to assume all Syrian refugees were terrorists, when in fact many of these Syrians were seeking refuge because they had been terrorized themselves by Islamic militants or persecuted at the hands of oppressive governmental systems.

In 2008, the Pew Research Center reported, Americans say they like diverse communities, however election and census trends suggest otherwise. In the report, 63 percent of all polled said they would prefer to live within a mix of political views, racial diversity and economic class.[36]Studies conducted by Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing, authors of “The Big Sort,” show broadly speaking, public attitudes about political diversity in a community line up closely with attitudes about racial, religious and socioeconomic diversity.[37]The same study revealed over half of the respondents gave pro-diversity reposes to at least 4 of 5 questions.[38]However, findings also showed, “when the subject is community diversity, Americans talk one way but behave another.[39]In short, 24 of the United States’ metropolitan areas reported over 62 percent black segregation, in addition to 21 metropolitan areas reporting at least 50 percent Hispanic segregation.[40]Sadly, this self-segregation of the United States population comes over 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, for which numerous lives perished in a fight for freedom of a racial minority group.[41]These daunting realities press the need for radical relationships with others who are different from ourselves in a myriad of ways.

The question remains: In the long-awaited wake of a hard-fought battle being won in favor of freedom for all, why are groups intentionally segregating in some of the most developed and economically rich cities in the United States? As found in Dr. Henriques’ psychology work in the area of relational value and social influence, I propose this is largely due to human desire to feel safe, loved, accepted, and known.[42]Despite freedom, self-segregation and religious intolerance are at the forefront of many of the hate crimes, fears leading to legislative action and political polarization of today.

Interestingly, Christians have been some of the main proponents of such apartheid and discrimination in the name of homeland security, yet our holy book calls us to an entirely different life.[43]Scripture has empowered us to create safe places of expression of faith and culture whereby Christians provide a deep and meaningful example of healthy community and love – a place where the gospel can be openly shared and knowledge of it flourishes. Miroslav Volf speaks to the changing local scene in the western culture and presents the theory that living in community with others well might have a significant political impact.

An important social shift is underfoot in Western societies in regard to religion. Until recently, Western societies were relatively religiously homogenous. … Although Christianity is still by far the predominant religion here, others have a significant presence too. In addition to about 5.2 million Jews and about 31.6 million nonreligious people, there are about 2.5 million Muslims, perhaps 2.1 million Buddhists, and 1.2 million Hindus…And these numbers aren’t significant only as indicators of the vitality of religions. They’re also indicators of their potential political influence.[44]

Volf is correct in pointing out the recent influx of diversity in communities, but more importantly he is ahead of his time in stating the correlation between healthy cross-cultural relationships and political influence. Rather than living in a world of fear and isolation communities now have the opportunity to discover commonalties that exist between their various backgrounds and value systems to make possibly the greatest global impact in history. Rather than peacemakers being confined to one global location in an area of economic prosperity, globalization has now diversified communities to include a culturally varied mix of both the economically oppressed and those who are in a position of either providing aid or acting as advocates and bridgebuilders. The possibilities of collaboration are endless as one considers how relationships at the local level could affect the world as a whole.

Yet, newly diverse communities seem to be at a loss for how to work together to identify and rally behind common goals, preferring instead to remain in homogeneous comfortable circles. Jack Dennison claims, “The Church must minister salve to the open sores while challenging and changing the factors that caused them.”[45]Pains within the community could very well have been caused by members of the Christian church, which spurs the need for deep spiritual evaluation.

Reconciliation is so desperately sought in the local community.[46]The same research will expose the church as lacking its rightful place in many cases as a home of restoration for so many, whether the afflicted claim Christianity or not.[47]Ferguson, Miami, Dallas, and countless other words have taken on entirely new connotations in the wake of hate crimes and violence.[48]Radical relationships hold the key to reconciliation. Sider points to this in his chapter on embracing social action – from relief to public policy, “…a strong relational component helps your ministry adapt to the complexity of people’s lives.”[49]He goes on to describe the impersonal nature of many of the church’s outreach activities which points to the void between how the church reads the call of scripture and God’s intended purpose for humankind to live in community and through that community, sharing the gospel.[50]

Disconnection within the Christian Church Dilutes Gospel

In a recent article, American Christian frontrunner, Francis Chan wrote,

Real love, unity and blessing were supposed to be found in the church. Many are having a hard time finding that, so they’re setting off on their own. Jesus said that the world would see the supernatural unity and love we share in the church and believe in Him through that. But we’re not experiencing it. We’ve given up on it. We no longer believe it’s possible.[51]

In a follow up text, Greg Gordon, suggests, “perhaps we can start to change our minds and start looking towards others with seeing their good and not bad, speaking blessings over others and not curses.”[52]According to PEW’s Global Religious Landscape Study, about 2.2 billion (about 32 percent) of the global population identify as Christians, which is about one-in-three people worldwide.[53]Half of these are of the Catholic tradition with an estimated 37 percent belonging to the Protestant tradition, broadly defined to include Anglicans, independent and non-denominational churches, while Orthodox Communion make up 2 percent.[54]These numbers tell a disheartening story of division in spite of one central text inspired by one God. While there are thirteen predominate Christian denomination categories, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary lists 41,000 different Christian denominations worldwide.[55]

Division within the church body is the work of the enemy to divide and disperse the power of God and the impact God’s people could make as a joined force rallying against hate and oppression.[56]The Apostle Paul warns Christians against such division several times in the New Testament, in particular 1 Corinthians 1:10-13. The church at its best will overwhelm those outside the church with a true interpretation of scripture that takes respect for others and seemingly mandatory service projects from afar to true love of thy neighbor. Operating on a united front is referred to as ecumenism. In today’s climate, the Christian church is compelled to develop an ecumenical social justice theology to include peacemaking, service to the oppressed, and global justice systems transformation. Cavanaugh continues, “Politics and theology are therefore two essentially distinct activities, one to do with public authority, and the other to do in the first place with religious experience and the semiprivate associations of religious believers.”[57]In this case, common themes in scripture will expose how the Church is to interact with itself and engage the local community.

At the heart of the application of Cavanaugh’s point is how exactly the church is to interact in the public. Thankfully, Christ left, for his followers, simple themes that can be executed no matter the place, time, or station of Christians globally. Tim Keller, author of Center Church, says, “Perhaps the best reason for hope in a balanced Christ and culture model is the example of individuals whose thought and practice defy being contained within a single model.”[58]Keller lists several of today’s theologians in an attempt to classify their view of Cultural engagement.[59]Namely, Jim Wallis, who could be defined as a counter culturalist in his support of Shane Claiborne’s manifesto, but a relevantist in his support of national political engagement.[60]More importantly, Keller defines the landscape of Christian cultural engagement in four distinct categories: Two kingdoms, counter-culturalist, relevance, and transformationalist.[61]These categories contain every possible form of Christianity from orthodoxy to liberal non-denominational Christian congregations. Still, all are bound by scripture, whether they consider it inerrant or not. Over time, humankind, monarchies, well-meaning democracies and everything in-between, have complicated what has clearly been left by Christ as a guidebook for our activity on earth. It seems Keller’s cure for this is a balanced approach, one which sits squarely on scripture - a unified theology to provide reconciliation and hope to a divided world.

Divided Global Powers Leading to Continuum of Religious Persecution

Discussing the current state of affairs would be incomplete were global powers to be omitted. It is no secret that unjust government systems have led to oppression of entire people groups throughout history. Specifically, for the purposes of this text, recent persecution of religious groups will be uncovered. Several concerning instances are currently at play in various corners of the world.

Possibly the largest ongoing concern is that of militant Islamic fundamentalists committing jihad against Christians and in many cases their own Muslim brethren.[62]The Shia vs. Sunni rivalry accounted for 22 percent of the refugees entering the U.S. in 2016, while 61 percent were Christians under persecution in various regions of the world.[63]According to the United Nations data, 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2018 – double the number from 20 years ago.[64]These numbers should cause one to consider the impetus for increasingly high rates. I propose globalization and information sharing as the main sources of displaced persons. Recent governmental overthrows have added significantly to the refugee population. Again, this harkens back to media and the spread of information discussed in the media slander campaigns present in United States election cycles. Democracy and free speech are gaining notoriety and no longer are oppressed civilians willing to stand for corrupt government systems.

Additional notable offenses against human rights include Communist Chinese Muslim concentration camps[65], Myanmar Rohingya Baptist persecution[66]and of course the reciprocal violence present between Israel and Palestine.[67]Each of the aforementioned conflicts center around religious conflict. It seems while media and globalization are being used to share ideas of freedom and justice, they are also being used to equip those who wish harm on various groups. This is possibly the most leading area where a unified Christian church could make a long-term lasting impact globally. This idea will be fleshed out in a following section on possibilities with peacebuilding political theology.

PART II: RADICAL RELATIONSHIPS DEFINED - CONTRAIR TO STATUS QUO

Seeing God’s Image in Everyone

Fiercely engaging in radical relationships is the public square’s lynchpin. The previous section provided an overarching view of the current state of affairs globally. The common denominator infiltrating oppressive regimes and global atrocities is unhealthy relationships that would otherwise provide value and contain the ability to transform global reports into an entirely different set of circumstances. Christ, God on earth, dwelled amongst the people to prove this type of restorative relationship was not only possible but expected of his followers. Reverting to worldly value sets and handling grievances, misunderstandings or others in one’s on will inevitably proves erroneous. Yet, the pages of history read like a perpetually repeating marathon of such macabre mindsets.

In her text, Kathryn Tanner introduces the idea of seeing God’s image in everyone. She says,

Human beings, in virtue of their creaturehood, are valuable. To break this down further in keeping with the fact that human beings, like all other beings, are the creatures of God in all that they are and do and become, human beings are valuable in so far as their existence is the object of God’s concern as creator, in so far as their activities are the object of God’s concern as providential ordered, and in so far as what they are finally to become is the object of God’s concern as redeemer of the world.[68]

Dr. Tanner has become known for being a lengthy wordsmith although in this case she has eloquently stated the value of the human both in body and in sprit. Simply, Tanner is saying here that all humans matter to God and all have been created in his image (imago dei), deserving of as much adoration, love and respect as God himself has deemed appropriate through scripture. A major point of note here, as we become more politically aware, is the image of God is also found in our adversaries, enemies, those with whom we do not agree and those we feel have wronged us personally or threatened our value systems. Christ is also aiming to reach these, many times through their direct actions with believers, and our willingness to engage them and discuss their personhood with loving kindness and respect could be the very tipping point to their lending an ear to Christ’s cause.

Ironically, Judaism,[69]Islam[70] and Christianity (Genesis 1:27) all have references to humankind being made in the image of God. Islam is a slight outlier here in that the reference is not included in the main holy book, Qur’an. However, it is mentioned in the Sunni Sunnah Muslim Hadith, widely recognized by the majority Muslim world as one of the most authentic collections of the traditions or laws of the prophet Muhammad. In this case the reference omits women, and only mentions Adam being made in the image of God.[71]Albeit, while imago deiis a widely accepted concept, at least within the Abrahamic faiths, the notion is not understood or applied, as evidenced by the previous section on the current state of affairs. The dissipation of an imago dei which resonates with 74 percent[72]of the worldwide population could potentially hold the key to global peace while creating inroads for sharing the gospel.

Education: Eradicate Fear of Those Other Than Oneself

A radical relationship entails interactions conducted in a fashion counter to human intuition of self-preservation, protectionism, and self-interest. In short, it is Christ’s example while on earth. Christ taught the value of everyone beyond their current belief system or life station (Matthew 9:9-13), he asked his followers to intimately know and love those in their hearing (John 13:1-17) and to go beyond boarders to share the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). Many of these concepts are undisputed amongst Christians, no matter the creed. Now, where we tend to falter is in the application aspect while continuing to maintain cultural semblance, or outward appearance within our own cultural context. I would personally submit, the culture of American Christians has become safe, inward focused and attached itself to the global worldview of safeguarding one’s self which has essentially allowed Christians to back themselves into a corner. This sort of mentality has also been pervasive during various regimes and dynasties throughout history and again is contradictory to Christ’s example.

Evil has used American comforts against the population, who is now so safe culturally that they have become unwilling to step out in faith. American Christians fear death, poverty, loss of material possession, and anyone who appears as if they may harm us or not specifically ascribe to our particular brand of Christianity. Christ’s example gave American Christians the power to carry out radical relationships with a sound mind, absent of fear, fully relying on the spirt of God to provide wisdom, discernment and meet any arisen needs.

Once again, Dr. Tanner provides insight,

Where such diversity exists, it may outrun one’s expectations or plans. It may disturb one’s self-understanding, particularly the perception of one’s own truth or rectitude that is presumed when one is intolerant. In respecting others enough to understand them, one may not return to a comfortable self-identity, as Hegelians might have it, in which others are reconciled to oneself. …The other has the potential to stop one cold, to turn one’s self-understanding and one’s projects upside down, by revealing, for example, a fundamental moral fault one has hidden from oneself, or the truth of praise, of which one would otherwise have believed oneself unworthy.[73]

In essence, Tanner proposes the radical relationship is one in which our hearts will be more transformed to that of God’s rather than that which we fear most, being harmed or possibly corrupted by association. Tanner also raises possibly the most important tool in seeking radical relationships, understanding. Without knowledge of others, we have no basis by which to engage. Therefore, the second defining principle of a radical relationship is educating oneself on the values, cultures and traditions of those who are outside of ourselves. Practically, this can appear in the form of interfaith conferences, taking time to read and engage with peoples from other culture and creeds with the sole purpose of learning about their background- leaving hidden agendas aside, independent study on world religions and cultures, official coursework on said topic and creating community events of mutual understanding and most importantly engaging in conversations.

Guard Against Repetitious Historical Events

Furthermore, due diligence here also begs to discern what a radical relationship is not. history is drowned in episodes of global injustice in the name of understanding. In other words, an unacceptable way to handle information one does gather on another people group or culture is to condemn and vilify those who are either entangled in evil according to scripture or who are sitting outside the glory of God in some way shape or form. God’s example would lead a Christian to compassion, camaraderie, creating pathways to commonalities and seeking salvation for the lost, built upon the foundation of peace. Leithart’s Between Bethel and Beast sheds light on the nature of the American spirit in the political sense,

In economic policy as well as in our political and military dealings with lesser powers, we do not consistently promote democracy or free trade. … Americanism fools us into thinking that we are acting for high-minded ideals rather than for grubby national advantage. Worse, Americanism mythologizes and sanctifies our not uncommon big-country-on-the-planet bullying and hypocrisy. …When we violently impose our will on the world, we are acting against the better angels of our nature.[74]

Outside of this clear abuse of power, global atrocities have proven the sinful nature of humankind even in the name of the living God. Hitler himself used scripture to commit mass genocide and ethnic cleansing in the name of God. The best estimated death toll according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum contains 6 million Jews, 7 million Soviet civilians, 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 1.8 million non-Jewish polish civilians, 312,000 Serb civilians, 250,000 people with disabilities, 200,000 gypsies, 2,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 70,000 repeat criminal offenders, and hundreds of homosexuals.[75]In his 1925 manifesto entitled Mein Kämpf, Hitler states,

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord. … His [the Jewish person's] life is only of this world, and his spirit is inwardly as alien to true Christianity as his nature two thousand years previous was to the great founder of the new doctrine. Of course, the latter made no secret of his attitude toward the Jewish people, and when necessary he even took to the whip to drive from the temple of the Lord this adversary of all humanity, who then as always saw in religion nothing but an instrument for his business existence. In return, Christ was nailed to the cross, while our present-day party Christians debase themselves to begging for Jewish votes at elections and later try to arrange political swindles with atheistic Jewish parties — and this against their own nation.[76]

Suffice it to say, Hitler’s personal exegesis of scripture was warped into one of the largest horrors of history in the name of doing the will of God. While this fact is largely accepted and global institutions have been formed to prevent said activities, Christians should pay caution to this sort of mentality slowly infiltrating the mindset of the Christ follower in today’s world. American history is no stranger to distorted exegesis leading to the oppression abuse, and death of humankind. Enslavement of a particular race, condemnation of a particular gender and now heavily scrutinizing those of Islamic faith are major stains on the tapestry of the United States. In short, Christ taught a better way. John 13:15 says, I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Christ did not murder those with whom he did not agree nor did he enact severe oppression or violence on any particular group because of a disagreement or discrepancy in view. Rather, quite the opposite. Our impetus against, recommitting historical stains is to not fall victim to that which has plagued humankind for centuries, acting in our own will. Christ taught us to pray saying, “Your (God’s) kingdom come, your (God’s) will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) Again, education is crucial to preventing these sorts of events. As one reviews the events of history in comparison with God’s divine word to believers, clear contradictions will appear if in fact, the reader is truly submitted to the will of God.

Building Trust

Creating safe environments for others to feel welcome and vulnerable is key to building trust. The radical relationship’s success or failure depends on the trust one feels as they enter any sort of interaction with another person, whether as a part of a friendship centered on chats over coffee, leading interfaith outreach programs or discussing the plight of refugees across the country ascribing to opposing faith backgrounds. Trust is built when one feels seen, known, and understood. The first step in allowing this to happen is to witness entire congregations making a shift toward a missional mentality that would allow them to begin to focus less on their selves and more on their maker. Allowing ourselves to step outside of what the church can do for me and into what one can do for God through the church, brings about a mentality that leads the saved toward the lost in an intentional fashion. Bringing in curriculum to education lay leaders and congregants on different pillars of faith, in-dept cultural studies of people groups within the city, and being purposeful to create a church of diversity are a few areas that will lead to relationships that can feel safe.

As churches expand their knowledge of those within the community, they can begin to look outside the town walls to the world and build a knowledge base of these cultures as well. This provides a foundation for conversation to begin. Augustine spoke to the Christian’s need to invest in knowledge of other mindsets, cultures, and faith backgrounds, in addition to proper use of this wisdom. Augustine said,

The existence of the world is a matter of observation, the existence of God a matter of belief’ (DCD11.4) So hope must find a way to bring to expression this currently obscure but theologically foundational fact. We must find an ontology that can bear the weight of our hope – a language through which we can see the world as broken but still significant, albeit significant in ways that will be made fully clear only in the eschaton.[77]

Charles Mathews provides clarity,

Augustine’s use-paradigm is a way of affirming the value of the world, and second that this paradigm should eventuate in practices of using that are all forms of stewardship of creation… (The use-paradigm) attempts to show how we can affirm the goodness of the created order as created, without treating it as an ultimate good.[78]

In essence, he proposes entering a conversation from a basis of awareness that allows mutual camaraderie while not being complacent in the worldview of others but bringing hope by utilizing their platform as a building block for expounding on the Christian worldview. Practical next steps for engaging in radical relationships will be covered in a forthcoming section on possibilities, however, these should include examples at the global, national, community and personal level.

PART III: SCRIPTURE AS THE FOUNDATION OF LOVE

Purpose in Adversity

Prior to expressing the intricacies of practically building a radical relationship, Christians first must maintain a posture of continuous inundation with scripture through committed spiritual discipline. Meditating on God’s word allows Christians to gain a full understanding of Christ’s heart for befriending the lost and exactly how he chose to address those with whom he did not agree, in addition to those whom held positions of power which could be beneficial in bringing heaven to earth. (Matthew 6:10) As one intrenches themselves in Christ’s example of radical relationships, as it relates to the public square, ten critical biblical principles should rise to consciousness.

The first theme followers of Christ should put to memory is divine purpose in adversity. As mere mortals we tend to try and distance ourselves from situations which are controversial, difficult or test our patience. Christ, as part of the trinity on earth, fully God and fully man - God incarnate, was also all-knowing or omniscient. This being true, reveals the fact, that he knew Judas would betray him prior to the action. We also read this in scripture. (Mark 13:10-21) However, many times the connection between how Jesus chose to treat Judas in the days leading up to the betrayal and initially choosing him as one of the few disciples is missed. Christ knew of Judas’ ultimate sin, yet he gave Judas the opportunity to become enlightened by the spirit through the miracles and work of Jesus so that Judas might chose a different path, all the while knowing Judas would choose selfish gain over eternal salvation. The point here lays amongst Christ stepping out, placing faith in his Father God, that through the radical relationship Judas would follow a path of righteousness and change his fate. The lesson for Christians is the purpose in adversity. Christ chose to love Judas in spite of his ultimate grave betrayal because Christ was called by God specifically to save the lost, not only to enlighten those who easily chose to believe. There is purpose in our faithfulness which will only be understood on the other side of heaven. Whether to show faithfulness to calling, willingness to perish for our faith or ability to walk alongside the lost, we are not given insight into the final outcome of particular relationships or events. Those matters are left to God’s discretion. Rather, we are merely asked to love others and share our lives with them so that they might be exposed more fully to the light of Christ.

God Requests Our Action

God can do all things (Job 42:2). Yet, he has chosen to include us in his divine plan and requests our action both for our own salvation (John 3:16) and for the healing of others. The gospel of John draws attention to an invalid who had been waiting just outside a pool of healing. (John 5:1-17) This man had been afflicted with his particular condition for a total of thirty-eight years. Christ had completed a total of eighteen miracles by the time he reached the healing pool, called Bethesda. Scripture tells readers Jesus knew the man had been there a while, and still his first words were, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6) It was clear to the invalid, onlookers, the disciples and Christ himself that Christ was fully capable of instantly healing the man.

However, the Son of Man chose to require the participation of the ailing man because there is also purpose in our action. Again, the purpose will likely not be clear until the day we meet God himself but we are called to recognize our place in his world order and obey. As the story continues, the man responds with an excuse and places blame on others for his continued sickness. Interestingly, Christ chose to avoid the man’s wallow altogether and simply responds, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (John 5:8) The lesson here might be multi-fold. First, whining and blame holds no value in the kingdom. Rather we are required to focus on our purpose according to God and take actions necessary to undo our poor circumstances so that we might get on with true kingdom work. In saying, “take up your bed,” Christ essentially tells the man to cease laying complacent in his own circumstance. Further, Jesus says, “sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14) This takes the aforementioned lesson to another level, connecting the man’s complacency and blame to sin. In an effort to truly fulfill our cause according to God, we have been called to take action. Gutenson calls attention to this fact in his text, Christians and the Common Good, “First, we tend to put too much trust in the political process for making the world a better place. … it is obvious that I think the public policies and institutions can serve a kingdom agenda. The concern I express here relates to putting too much confidence in them.”[79]The connection between Gutenson’s observation and the story of Bethesda is simple, God has given us the tools we need to affect change in favor of the kingdom, and asks us to take personal ownership in being missional whether that be through the use of our voice in political arenas or creating opportunities for radical relationships.

Unwavering Faith

Matthew sheds light on yet another principle Jesus condoned in how to love thy neighbor. In chapter nine, Matthew tells the story of the woman with the issue of blood. As the story goes, she had suffered from her condition for a total of twelve years at the time her path crossed with that of Christ. She was not advocated for by her friends and family. She did not bring an entourage to intercede on her behalf. Rather, she ruthlessly sought Christ. She was not given audience with him, rather was convinced by the Spirit of God that Christ was the ultimate healer and became fearlessly determined through her faith to seek this savior and simply did not stop until she reached him. (Matthew 9:16-26)

Scripture tells us she approached Christ from behind and simply touched the fringe of his garment. As she did so, she thought, “if only I touched his garment, I will be made well.” (Matthew 9:21) Instantly Christ healed her. Of course, he could choose to heal anyone from any ailment, relational issue, financial trouble, career backslide or medical condition but he chose to heal the woman with the issue of blood because of her strong faith. He said, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.” (Matthew 9:22) In this case, Christ performed a miracle on behalf a person so wholly committed to their belief in Jesus as messiah that she settled for touching the fringe of his garment just to have a chance at healing.

Our lesson in reference to radically loving the globally lost in an effort to create inroads in the public square that might seek to bring those far from God into his fold, is that of unwavering faith. As we seek to develop counter-cultural friendships our faith will be tested and tried. Evil will use every attempt to sway and distract our goal and to uproot our faith in a way that will shake our very foundation. In these times, believers must recall their calling, purpose and remain ruthlessly committed to the faith which initially drew them into the cause.

Reject Superiority Mindsets

Americanism can lead Christians into mindsets of superiority. Tim Keller cautions ministers as they seek to reject superiority mindsets in favor of contextualization. Keller argues intentional contextualization does not mean “giving people what they want to hear, rather it is giving people the Bible’s answers which they may not at all want to hear…”[80]It is important to balance our desire to deliver a relevant message while displaying the gospel as the one true means of eternal salvation, yet being careful to not view or present ourselves as righteous beyond another soul. John brings us into the story of a woman caught in adultery. (John 7:53-8:11) This is the classic story of Christ reminding those in his hearing that they would also be red with the stain of sin were it not for the cleansing salvation of Father God. As American Christians become introduced to the heart of Jesus globally, we will need to be intentional about our mindsets as we enter these interactions and that which is pervasive in our minds as we engage in diplomatic and missional relationships.

The American spirit has infiltrated the minds of Christians in the way that we tend to enter outreach opportunities and relationships with others as if we are superior or God’s chosen. The truth is that we are God’s chosen. However, we are not and will never be superior. Harkening back to Genesis 1:27 and the aforementioned section on seeing God’s image in all of humankind, we are not privy to who will join us in heaven, only that it is our privilege as a part of the body of Christ to share his message with the lost. This is our calling only because he first saved us. In the story, it was the super religious amongst the crowd that wanted to highlight the sins of the adulterous. Christ’s response was merely to highlight the shortcomings of the scribes and Pharisees outside of the mercy of God. Similarly, when loving others in the way of Christ, remain steadfast in the awareness that one’s only platform with the lost is that of personal redemption and nothing through one’s own will other than a fervently placed faith in the cleansing blood of Christ.

Meeting Practical Needs is Evangelism

Those within the Christian faith who find themselves already on mission for God in the way of evangelism and gospel sharing should recall how Christ walked with those around him. Countless scriptures exist speaking directly to how to love one’s neighbor and how to walk in faith. Yet, many of the actions of Christ while he was on his own mission from his Father God seem to get lost. Christ’s neighbors practically were the crowds, those which followed him and his teaching. Matthew 6:30-44 tells the well-known story of the feeding of the five thousand. The miracle clearly is the replication of the boy’s little lunch, enough to feed the five thousand. Upon deeper inspection, preachers bring their congregations into the enlightenment that this miracle only occurred after the small blessing was raised to heaven. “And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” (Luke 9:16) Of course this principle applies to loving others well in that blessing and miracle occurs after submitting to God the need and the minimal gifts one has to offer. Furthermore, the story show’s Christ’s compassion for meeting the physical needs of those in his hearing. The text tells of the crowds following Jesus in to a desolate land. As the disciples suggested the crowds be dismissed, Christ considered it worthwhile to meet their physical needs as a part of introducing them to glory of God. I submit this point as a means of expressing still another means by which to share the gospel through radical relationships. While it is imperative to keep in the forefront of one’s mind the ultimate goal of sharing the gospel with those who are far from God, it is equally as important, at least according to Christ, to meet the physical needs as well. In this case, Christ chose to meet both their spiritual needs and their eternal needs. This might just be Christ’s outline for bringing the lost into the kingdom.

Love Despite Current Position

As Jesus walked the earth and began to build his ministry stories containing his radical love are pervasive throughout scripture. For great positions, he did not choose those who already knew he was the messiah, nor those of high moral standing. He merely offered those far from God an opportunity to see the glory of God and as they chose righteousness over evil, he welcomed them into the fold with loving arms. The lesson is to not count others out because their stage in life or their openness to hear the message. These might be the very individuals for which God has transformative roles in the kingdom.

We see this playing out in the story of Matthew the tax collector. Matthew meets Jesus as he sat collecting funds to be used and abused by Roman dictators. (Matthew 9:9-13) Jesus calls and Matthew answers. Yet another lesson along the same lines immediately follows, “Why does your teacher eat with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11) To which Christ replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous but the sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13) Here Christ clearly defines those with whom we should spend our time. Not those who look like us, think like us, believe in the same value systems we do. Rather, we are to align ourselves with scripture and go out, with the full power of God the Father who has the power to save every last soul, and conduct relationships so radical that they cannot help but to recognize a mercy so foreign that the truth resonates beyond that which we might be able to contrive in our own power. Of course, the principle of not counting a person lost due to their current belief system or behavior is also seen in the story of the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13) and the in the calling of the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-31).

Interfaith Outreach

To that end, conducting simultaneous outreach alongside other unbelievers could also be a transformational tool in the lives of both those with whom Christians are serving but also to those in receipt of the gift. A radical example of interfaith outreach is found in the twelfth chapter of Exodus. Here we see a quick but powerful example of those from different faith backgrounds working alongside each other for the common good of others. In this particular case, the outreach was not only a mission to the Israelites but also to the Egyptians, their former oppressors. This is a commonly told story and again one which is normally annotated painting Egypt in a dark light as the oppressor. However, upon closer inspection, God chose not to murder the Egyptians to free his chosen people but to let the Egyptians choose the path of righteousness on their own timing. The Lord God made life for the Egyptians exceedingly difficult until they had no other option but to believe the God of Moses was authentic. Albeit, the straw freeing the Israelites (before God closed the parted seas) is a story of interfaith outreach on behalf of the lost.

Exodus 12:33, 35-36 says, “The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus, they plundered the Egyptians.” Here we see Moses, a Hebrew devoted to God and the Egyptians working together to free the Israelites from oppression. Although under imminent pressure, Pharaoh and his people determined to join Moses and Aaron in their plight of eradicating oppression in their land.

Similarly, God makes clear, in his timing, the need of the oppressed to those of various faith backgrounds. At the time they are ready to become engaged in the mission of God, it is our responsibility as Christians to not close the door but to hold it wide open so that they might be able to witness the loving kindness and light coming from our souls as we serve. It is important to note in today’s relative, “all roads lead to heaven” culture, while we can evangelize and share our values, it is ultimately up to the person so accept the light of God they experience and not a measure of our success in being willing to work alongside the lost.

Commitment to Cause

Accepting a calling which one believes to be an honor or in line with their giftings is often times met with great joy and enthusiasm. However, as God calls one into a long process of dealing with dysfunction, many times on a global scale so far outside our own will, eagerness can turn into bitterness. Acts 2 ushers believers into the type of full-out ministry requested by Father God,

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42, 45, 47)

In this case, followers determined to sell all of their possessions in favor of their calling. An example of such a calling would be biblical justice. Casework types Christians may be called into can become so physically, emotionally and mentally stressful that the power of God must be the sole sustainer of mission. Overwhelming but necessary biblical justice opportunities can include radical relationships built with perpetrators and pimps while providing medical services to the very women they are oppressing, helping to acculturate and accommodate a steady stream of refugees brutalized in the name of Allah, providing counseling care to women in domestic violence situations, and working alongside those addicted to substances which render them incapacitated to live a functional life as a part of society. Christians living on mission can face burnout, disenchantment and become disheartened if they do not intentionally participate in sabbath and recall their divine assignment. The truth is, we will have no idea the impact of our efforts when we take up the cross of Christ and lay down earthly possessions until the other side of heaven. Yet we are called to unwavering commitment.

Scriptural Acumen

Tag teaming a bit on the previous point brings to mind the idea of a sound and deep knowledge of scripture, without which sustainability in one’s calling cannot be possible. The Lord has left for his followers the divine word, his teaching, sound doctrine and way. As Christians embark on radical relationships with those the world views as our adversaries, a firm scriptural foundation must be present if the goal is to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. The world will try to villainize and separate relationships that are catalytic in God’s eyes.God, through Paul’s letter to the Romans, shares his heart in relation to building a firm scriptural foundation. “For whatever is written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

One might pause here and contemplate why Paul thought we might need hope as a part of our spiritual journey alongside Christ. It is clear Paul knew of the burnout and discouragement associated with being on mission for God. Thankfully this phenomenon was predetermined and given instruction. Whether we choose to hold fast to the clear solution to our dismay or let pessimism breed is the choice of the believer. Radical relationships are considered radical because, by default, they bring believers into evil’s playground. Evil will use every possible earthly weapon to shake and uproot our belief system and erode any purpose we might have initially felt. Joshua 1:8, 2 Timothy 3:1-17, and Revelation 1:3 all speak to the importance of devoting oneself to intimacy with God’s word so that when evil threatens our very purpose we are able to stand firm in the strength of God’s might. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Ultimate Goal: To Make Disciples

Particularly important when building relationships with those of various faith backgrounds, one must keep the ultimate goal of making disciples in mind while trusting God’s timing. Now, this requires a certain level of authenticity, finesse and discernment. The gospel of John records the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:1-44) John recounts the sisters of Lazarus sending word to Jesus as their brother fell ill. Christ pointedly reassures the sisters of their brother’s victory over the particular illness and chose to remain in his current locale two more days. Christ tells the disciples of Lazarus’ death and that he will be awoken by the Son of Man. The story goes on to tell of Jesus’ arrival four days after the burial of Lazarus and of the many people who had come to comfort Martha and Mary.

The curiousness of Jesus’ delay might be lost on those without a missional mindset. Christ waited in an effort to bring more unbelievers into salvation as they witnessed nothing short of a miracle. As conversations, friendships, relationships, outreaches commence, believers may begin to doubt God’s ultimate timing or be disheartened by the absence of miraculous change in the lives of those with whom they are serving and developing rapport. However, as believers submit themselves to the divine purpose of God and his ultimate timing, a more complete story will immerge. In the eyes of Lazarus’ sisters, they were experiencing a mortal delay in the miracle that might save their brother. For Christ, rushing the miracle would have limited the number of souls saved through a miracle that he knew had potential to save many.

PART IV: POSSIBILITIES WITH PEACEBUILDING POLITICAL THEOLOGY

Bridge Building Political Theology

At long last, it is time to share a bit more of the practical transformations possible as entire cities, states and nations enact the power of God through engaging in radical relationships. First a brief step back to recover the meaning of political theology. Michael Kirwan stated the obvious in the opening line of his text on the subject, “Christians who take their faith seriously know that it has political implications – the gospel calls us to imagine and work for a transformed world.”[81]Political theology at its root is merely a branch of both political philosophy and theology.[82]That is to say, it is not inherently the connection between Christ and global governing bodies. Rather, political theology could be the intersection of any faith and the powers controlling any territory across the globe. Thankfully, Christian scholars have studied, defined, advised and rallied in favor of a biblical perspective throughout history. The sad truth is faulty exegesis has successfully entangled scripture in some of the world’s most violently abhorrent movements as discussed in previous sections. Should the learned Christian keep silent serving in the trenches or rise above the poor decisions of others to engage global powers in healthy loving relationships as Christ taught, in an effort to share the gospel in a manner so powerful that it has never before witnessed on such a worldwide scale. I would offer the later.

Why is it imperative to understand political theology in conjunction with radical relationships? The matter is simple. Building disciples is a Christian’s charge, following placing faith in Christ Jesus. Here, Kirwan identifies the anguish, “the Bible leaves no blueprint or manifesto for the transformation; only lots of options (some more feasible than others) about what kind of society Christians should be struggling for, and by what means.”[83]Again, I would like to challenge Kirwan’s conclusion and place as evidence the previous section on scripture as the foundation of love. Jesus asked us to place our trust in him and to love others, then left his life as an example. Subsequently, he called us to expand God’s kingdom through making disciples. Christ did not live afraid. Christ engaged with governing bodies and their operatives through teaching. He submitted his cares and fears to his Father then boldly proclaimed the word. He conducted radical relationships, immersing himself with those far from God so that through his labor, teaching and friendship, they might come to know true salvation. It does seem clear to me it was his intention to have his followers take heart in his example and conduct their lives accordingly. Immersing one’s self with those far from God, be they a Shia Ayatollah or a staunch atheist, with the mindset of Christ, allows us to see past their experiences and actions, straight to their soul which according to our willingness might just be placed right alongside ours in eternity.

Beginning these relationships at the neighborhood level and expanding them into the public square and the political arena is in fact Christ’s model for bringing heaven to earth. (Matthew 6:10) Anidjar quotes Shakespeare, “The body is with the king, but the king is not with the body. The king is a thing,”[84]Then goes on to say, “Political theology, the doctrine of a complex relationship-one might say, the community- of sacred and social, divine and human, and of religion and politics, comes together and falls apart under the figure of those two bodies that are one, the two bodies in one king, the two bodies as one thing: The King is a thing.” Meaning, we Christians cannot separate ourselves from the public square, rather we have been asked to function physically in the world in which we live and because of it have every power of God to transform lives through Christ’s model, should be choose to accept the task.

Great Commission

Oliver O’Donovan writes, “Civil religion is a corruption to which the church is liable when it enjoys a close co-operation with the state.”[85]He further defines his criticism by continuing,

They maintain the appearance of political neutrality, while actually suppressing important possibilities for Christian criticism; that the Gospel may raise serious difficulties for an order that conceives itself as democratic, that the Christian population may need to send a message of disapproval not to the governing party but to the political classes at large, and so on.[86]

O’Donovan brings to the forefront the value of separation of church and state, whereby motives are unmistakably clear. At the outset, Americans became leaders in creating checks and balances to disengage the political and the theological, in an effort to create a society whereby one might be able to operate independent of the other. Through this action, the motives of each would be clear. Over the years, United States’ political parties have used the religious beliefs of their base to heavily influence the polls, so much so that particular faiths and denominations have followed political parties fairly consistently, even shifting together as tides turned.[87]O’Donovan cautions, “However, civil religion is only one manifestation of a more general temptation; that of accommodating the demands of the Gospel to the expectations of society.”[88]In many societies it is difficult to determine where governance ends and faith begins. However, in the United States, at least by the constitution, the two are separate and each has the opportunity to choose their own path.

If the goal is to show love and influence policy for Christ, one must keep the true goal in mental permanence. Above all remember the words of Christ, “

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

In the previous section, I argue we, Christians, are now one with the world in which we live and while this is true to the extent that we have an obligation on behalf of our faith to maintain intimate knowledge of the complex systems, both those of faith and those governing society, in which we live, we must remain gracefully unyielding in purpose. That is to say, one must never forget their true mission, to bring others to salvation in Christ Jesus. Of course, antiquity has proven the flounder of this objective. To my earlier point, the need for a separation of church and state is obvious, while it becomes necessary for believers to infiltrate the system at play to advance the goals of the kingdom to some extent. The disengagement of Christian Amish and Mennonite peoples shows a strategy which one hand chose to completely disengage with the world, while some of today’s interfaith peacebuilding strategies appear as if all roads lead to heaven. Albeit, as Kirwan reminds, “The need for a sensitive biblical hermeneutic or guiding principle of understanding begins with the recognition that we are dealing with the sacred text of two (or more) religious traditions.”[89]He continues, suggesting the church has been insensitive in the way it has simply highjacked the sacred traditions of others.[90]The missional Christian, while maintaining a posture of the kind of supernatural grace only offered by Christ, must also be fervent in their purpose for attending and engaging in such activities.

Restoration

Last week, the Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) published a press release in response to the Trump Administrations threat of closing all doors to any type of refugee or asylum seeker in FY2020. The release stated, “this comes despite the worst refugee crisis in history with more than 25 million refugees worldwide in need of safety and 1.4 million in need of resettlement globally.”[91]The message is clear: it appears no one is welcome, no matter how they seek safety, no matter what persecution they face.”[92]To add fury to fire, President Trump himself spoke disrespectfully sending an insulting message via social media in which he essentially asked foreign born Congresswomen critical of his policies to go back home.[93]Trump who enjoys a majority Christian campaign base has become a leader for Christians who feel following a particular political party is encouraged from by their church leaders. Essentially, Trump’s views are seemingly being held in similar regard to faith leaders who have spent years focusing on scripture and listening to the Holy Spirit. Sadly, the phenomenon of both power bases feeding off each other without adequate oversight has become a norm.

The current hate rhetoric and slander displayed as a product of President Trump and his supporters is appalling. However, as one considers the impact movements like this could have were they to represent biblical principles of justice and love, hope begins to rise. According to PEW the United States is nearly 75% Christian.[94]If two-thirds of these marched to the beat of Christlike radical relationships, we would not only see our cities restored, our states, and the nation would become such a notable force for a biblical type of justice and peace that it would be undeniable to the world as a whole. Subsequently, sending out ambassadors, diplomats and church workers to other nations would have such an impact that the world might finally begin to embody the type of grace and adoration worthy of a kingdom created and established by the one true God. As Christians grab hold of the peaceful message so eloquently expressed in scripture and work with other faith groups to identify similar commands in their texts, our great grandchildren will see an entire refashioning of global contexts.

Restoration of communities, the states and global relationships begins with restoration of the church. Cavanaugh argues, the myth of the state as savior. “The modern state is best understood, …as an alternative soteriology to that of the Church. Both soteriologies pursue peace and an end to division by the enactment of a social body; the foundation of the state is based on a widely-accepted myth about the necessity of the state to save Europe (from religious wars). …the state body is a simulacrum, a false copy of the body of Christ.[95]Since the fall, humankind seems enamored with the sin of power, represented in tenured politicos who infiltrate and run church institutions. Rather, the church, when actively seeking radical relationships with others, is first compelled to drive out the schemes of the Antichrist which blind our church leaders to the sin of power rendering them useless to speak truth into political schemes, intrenching them deeply into its subculture of sin.

As for restoration of the church itself, Hauerwas and Willimon put forth in their text, “The church need not feel caught between the false Niebuhrian dilemma of whether to be in or out of the world, politically responsible or introspectively irresponsible. There is no other place for the church to be than here. The church’s only concern is how to be in the world, in what form, for what purpose.”[96]They submit Barth’s Barmean Declaration in response to Hitler’s scriptural misconstruction, in which Barth submits Christ as the one Word of God which we have to hear, trust and obey.[97]The authors go on to say, “The Barmean Declaration’ stands in marked contrast to a church willing to adjust its claims to those of Caesar in service to the world.[98]Seemingly by default, once the church restores itself to the Christ as the Word of God, radical relationships will be the outflow. Communities will be impacted suddenly as conversations once closed are restored and interfaith friendships once feared flourish in the name of Christ. America, the global melting pot, has the divine opportunity to set a radical example of love for the rest of the complicated world that could set a tone, path and way for others buried in thousands of years of religious parting and turmoil. Could this be America’s missed calling – not that of industrialism, global dominance or warfare but a love so radical it educates global generations currently buried in hate?

Today’s Radical Engagements

One may argue whether or not the theory proposed prior is practically possible or simply a lofty goal. Rather than argue the point, those who doubt may turn to the example of Pastor Bob Roberts from a large church in Keller, TX. Pastor Roberts, a Doctor of Ministry graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, has become a trailblazer in the area of interfaith peacemaking from the place of gospel dissemination globally. Pastor Roberts was raised in east Texas as a staunch conservative Christian.[99]As he rose in the ranks and his church grew, the theology embedded at a young age began to unravel. As his church became involved in missions to Vietnam he began to be ostracized from the group he called his own, Evangelical Christians.[100]The political war fought between the United States and Vietnam had left a sour taste in the mouths of conservative, military-backing Evangelicals. While he began to feel disheartened, God used the event to propel Pastor Roberts and his church into radical relationships. No longer did he need or seek the approval of his tribe but of God alone. He followed Christ’s example of outreach to those of different faith backgrounds, building relationships on faith and grace. Suddenly, Bob found himself sitting at the dinner table of Prince Turki al-Faisal in Saudi Arabia being challenged by the Prince to love his literal neighbor.[101]Unbeknownst to Bob, 44 percent of the residents of his hometown were not born in English-speaking nations.[102]The staunchly Muslim Prince, one who the world views as its adversary, taught Pastor Roberts to love his neighbors like Christ. Today, Northwood Church, has pioneered two non-profit organizations to that effect, is regularly invited to represent the United States at the World Economic Forum, United Nations conferences, and on behalf of the United State’s Department of State.[103]His groups have been awarded large sums to create opportunities of multi-faith engagement in United States Department of State Tier 1 unsafe nations and others, like: Uzbekistan, Mongolia, and Pakistan.[104]This all thanks to one man who was willing to follow the Word of God above that of his physical tribe and nation, creating radical relationships with those in his region and beyond.

Radical relationships can include any array of activities so long as they seek to establish the type of love and friendship offed by Christ. As Christians activate themselves toward the full measure of God, cross-cultural community celebrations can occur in harmony, respecting and engaging another’s culture, food choices, dances, clothing options and warmth. Through these types of events, commonalities can be found creating further foundations of trust between those who the world views as enemies. As interfaith activities ensue, leaders may be compelled to invite their new friends to critical faith events like Ramadan, Passover, and Easter celebrations. These radical shows of respect build trust, interest and friendship. Following these types of activities, mutual service projects and outreaches become a great way to better one’s community and build peace. One such organization, Interfaith Outreach Community Partners, which began over 40 years ago in the twin-cities area is responsible for raising and dispersing over $9,160,338 in total contributions and revenue in 2018 alone.[105]The organization meets the physical, emotional, and mental needs of at-risk persons in their target area. Interfaith Outreach’s vision is to build a vibrant community where everyone counts and all sectors and systems work together for the good of all.[106]Their mission is to engage the heart and will of their community to respond to emergency needs and create opportunities for all to thrive.[107]These types of community engagements, in addition to joint political advocacy on relevant issues, like: refugee arrival rates, freedom to express one’s faith openly and global peacebuilding issues, not only set the stage for healthy cross-cultural, multi-faith interactions but also establish good will amongst those of different faith and cultural backgrounds.

The bible does many things but one thing it does not is place limitations on those whom we can show love, mercy and grace just as Christ has done for the believer. Radical relationships involve radical love which can only be shown in relationship with others. As we seek to engage in these types of efforts attention should be paid to the concluding point in Christ’s example, which is to maintain the goal of bringing others to Christ as impetus for such activities. The world has criminalized an ulterior motive and condemned any such associated activity. However, when the matter is of life and death, the motive remains pure – to save souls from eternity away from God, is the most valiant of efforts and should be commended above appearance of mistrust. Again, one should never back away from their faith or their true motive while engaging with others maintaining a posture of friendship, love and true care for one’s soul as primary rational for engagement.

Heaven Come – Global Authority Partnerships

Elizabeth Philips writes,

“Although it has not been a central conviction or lived experience of many modern Christians, the majority voice of the Christian tradition has been that there is an integral relationship between the spiritual and bodily, religious and social redemption…These themes have always been present in political theology from the revelation of YHWH as deliverer of the oppressed and redeemer of the poor.”[108]

Of course, Christ existed on earth to resolve the spiritual poverty which far exceeds any earthly need. However, he made it a point to meet physical needs as a means of attracting one’s soul. The model of engagement on behalf of souls today should mirror Christ’s model of evangelism. New methods need not be determined when dreaming of possible engagement between global authorities on behalf of Christ.

Many of the visions for trailblazers like Pastor Roberts are now in existence. The Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) at the United States Department of State, established in 1998 was founded to promote religious freedom as a foreign policy of the United States.[109]In 2018, the IRF convened the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which held its second ever meeting this month.[110]The Ministerial is the largest religious freedom event of its kind in the world and was established to convene 1,000 civil society and religious leaders, and more than 100 foreign delegations.[111]What better way to build relationships with others than to promote peace through mutual respect of their culture and faith. Events like the Ministerial, prove that radical relationships are possible. Pastor Roberts and others make no excuses for the type of radical love offered as they create foundations of peace in the world.

Heated battle and centuries long conflict have proven futile in the effort to conform the world in favor of respect and love for one’s neighbor but peacebuilding interfaith type events hold true hope. Beyond neighborhood partnerships, multi-faith birthday parties, and outreaches, one must visualize “heaven come.” Were this to become our ultimate goal, what changes would be made today in our actions to engage those who are far from God? Visions of this world include: partnerships between global authorities protecting their citizens while promoting peace and stability, global forums for cross-cultural education to inform general populations of the value in diversity, world history literacy promoting civility in favor of violence as it reviews global atrocities, and mutually funded faith leader conferences whereby true friendship can be established. Many of these events are taking shape on the global stage but have room to grow.[112]As the church becomes mobilized toward the call of radical relationships, the Spirit of God would be accessed in a way never before seen in history. Suddenly, political advocacy once quickly confined to the pages of progressive leftist platforms would be promoted on the global stage, while radical right agendas may be intentionally reworked. Warring nations would be subdued and corrupt leaders’ hearts turned in favor of their people as new global value systems promoted health of a nation over wealth, peace over war, vitality of culture over dominance. Christ’s message says true change comes as Christians activate in favor of biblical justice, love, and peace. (Mark 12:31) It is time.

PART V: PERSONAL MINISTRY CONTEXT

Glocal Net

Personal ministry application in the area of radical relationships is a straightforward task considering my particular passion and interests fit squarely within the confines of this text. Developing radical relationships as a means for transformation in the public square, including the global political arena is a personal calling upon my life. Currently, this goal is taking shape in four major ministry areas, each of which I will attempt to expound upon as a part of this final section. These areas include: Glocal Net and Multi-Faith Neighbors Network, local church missions and education, refugee acclimation programs and advocacy, and interfaith work.

Glocal Net is the brainchild of Pastor Bob Roberts discussed in an earlier section on today’s radical engagement.[113]Pastor Roberts is serving as one of my Fuller Doctoral Community members. We have been in recent conversations regarding creating a new role within the organization which would combine both my political prowess with new theological understanding to engage more strategically with members of the United States Congress and global diplomats. The role is loosely titled Director of Strategic Initiatives and would integrate both interfaith peace building work with worldwide political advocacy to further international religious freedom, eliminate hate language and acts, and build a foundation of peace through which Jesus might speak to the hearts of the lost. Personally, I am more than thrilled about this opportunity and consider it my top ministry priority.

Pastor Roberts and his partner Imam Mohamed Magid are also co-founders of an organization called Multi-Faith Neighbors Network (MFNN).[114]This organization was established to build bridges of mutual trust and respect among Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders through civic engagement, authentic relationship and honest dialogue. Their goal is to see flourishing, resilient and welcoming communities of faith in cities across the United States and the world. Above all MFNN promotes respect beyond tolerance.

Specifically, I will be asked to communicate the work of Glocal Net with government leaders, manage and create messaging, follow religious freedom policy issues and guide Glocal Net and MFNN response, assist in writing and speaking opportunities, create strategic initiatives to drive influence of Glocal Net and meet annual goals, collaborate on funding proposals and travel as needed. After spending the past three years building our family and raising two children under three years old, I feel more than blessed to be coming out of a home bound phase, God willing. My husband and I will face some challenges determining the best approach to travel and childcare but I feel blessed to have his support as the Lord begins to fashion my purpose for the kingdom.

Local Church Missions and Education

In February, my husband and I began attending a new church, One Community Church, OCC.[115]This will be our third church since relocating to Texas three years ago and we pray we have finally found a church home where we might continue to prosper, grow deep in our faith and be used mightily by God. Again, my role within the local church is on the precipice of being defined. In fact, this past week, I spent an hour and a half in the founding pastor’s office discussing radical relationships and their importance not only as a part of a deep political theology but also in the public square. The church is defining new 2020 goals, including a deepened commitment to live missional. Of course, God’s timing is always perfect and it just so happens that my work with the church missions pastor ramped up just in time to gain visibility with the head pastor. We discussed radical relationships and building an awareness of world religions in an effort to educate the congregation on methods of loving their neighbors. The meeting ended with Pastor decidedly agreeing to host an interfaith panel during a sermon in August of 2019 in addition to encouraging me begin a mission to the Middle East, specifically to serve my Christian pastor friends in the tiny Christian neighborhood of Fuhais Jordan.

Clearly, I am overwhelmed with encouragement as the Lord seems to be moving me from a detour to a journey. This step comes after much prayer and petition as I found myself completely outside ministry until recently. In addition to preaching radical relationships from the pulpit and sharing the gospel in Muslim majority countries, OCC also has an equipping center which will prove a critical tool in educating congregants on international peacebuilding work and how best to love one’s neighbor. It is my ongoing prayer that the Lord will use my experiences and other ministry contexts to educate the church on relationship building and effective political advocacy in a way that will activate the over 14,000 to love their neighbors in such a radical way that we see lives transformed in the name of Christ Jesus.[116]

Refugee Acclimation Programs

After a 2015 medical mission to serve Syrian Muslim, Iraqi Christian, and Coptic Christian Refugees in Amman, Jordan, my world changed. God introduced me to the radical relationship. On the ground, we witnessed recently displaced Muslim refugees accepting the gospel and serving new arrivals. This sounds radical enough but matters became more astounding as one realized both of these groups were living essentially homeless outside the protection of the United Nations refugee camps due to overcrowding or interfaith infighting.

It was there God opened my eyes to the plight of the refugee and their readiness to hear the redemptive story of Jesus in an entirely new way. After the birth of our second child, I began serving a local refugee acclimation program doing something I had never done before, teach. Through teaching English to Muslim men and women I was able to build friendships of love and understanding which still stand to this day. Afghani women who had never before been allowed to sit in a classroom were suddenly liberated due to the horrible events which caused them to flee to the United States. The organization is called For The Nations Refugee Outreach (FTNRO) and it is based in Garland, Texas.[117]My volunteer role with FTNRO consists of serving as an in-class facilitator once per week working directly with new arrivals for two hours. In this environment, men and women sit side by side learning English along with other pertinent life skills. Recent arrivals are predominantly Muslim and from Muslim majority nations. It is important to note that men and women are not allowed to sit side by side in Muslim places of worship so learning alongside each other as a part of the English class is radical. During the class, a twenty minute break is taken whereby all are introduced to a new aspect of biblical scripture. Attending this portion of the class is mandatory for all who choose to accept the free English lessons. Relationships built in this environment are radical and allowing the gospel to flourish where it once was barred.

Interfaith Work

Our children are such blessings and we are intentionally raising them with a missional mindset. Our baby girl, Sicilia welcomed guests from Ghana, Sierra Leon, Iraq, Morocco, and the United States to her first birthday party. Just a few weeks later, she was dedicated in the house of God. Attending as our guests were ten Taiwanese Buddhists, a Haitian Jehovah’s Witness, a Mormon family from El Salvador, and American Christian family and friends who also hail from several different global regions. These are friends I had either met in the community while studying at coffee shops or as a part of my interfaith work. In my hometown of North Dallas, a few faithful ladies began a small organization called Daughters of Faith. This organization is a grassroots group consisting of pastors’ wives, female mosque board members, leaders of the Hindu temple along with a female Jewish rabbi. Each leader is allowed to bring guests but the goal of the organization is to remain small. Each month we gather to review a different topic of faith and discuss how our individual places of worship or faith backgrounds handle the topic. We have covered everything from sin and hell to sexual intimacy and the role of women within each person’s faith context. Needless to say, we have become great friends and have enhanced our respective congregations greatly through our relationships with each other. Our community has also grown as a result of our camaraderie.

A local news outlet took note of our group and published an article earlier this year much to my surprise.[118]The report did not gain much notoriety as it was not widely read or distributed.[119]Going forward it would be my goal to work with the founders of the group to gain broader awareness for the organization in an effort to build upon the relationships that have already begun and expand our reach to the surrounding towns and possibly the state on a political advocacy level. To date, the group’s actions consist of monthly meetings and joining each other’s celebrations at our respective places of worship. In my opinion, so much more could be done to leverage the foundation we have built, on a global scale. At this point the founders would like to keep the group intimate and have rejected the few ideas I have placed on the table. However, in the wake of a continuing hostile political environment, I wonder if views might change on further collaboration efforts.

Mainly, I would like to see the group grow into a legally recognized non-profit organization that might begin to impact the community in three areas: education, community outreach and political advocacy. Together there is much that can be done to sway the political landscape and our friendships might be able to provide a strong foundation for that change. Furthermore, the women in this group are trailblazers in their own right, stepping out in faith and their own consciousness to forge new cross-cultural partnerships. Our local region is a quickly growing American city with a booming economy and as such holds a critical key in American advancement. Were we to leverage our grassroots interfaith efforts well, no limits could be placed on the impact of these women.

Conclusion

Radical relationships are at their very core counter to the way of the world. It is to this end we have been called by Christ – to act in a fashion that causes the world to turn toward God in a new way. Our representation of God’s light and freedom should be so counter to anything mirroring humanity’s evil nature that a movement is started by default. Loving others in this way has the potential to turn the public square from a proverbial gun fight stage to a meeting place of radial relationships whereby God’s kingdom is able to flourish through joint, respect, partnership and understanding. History has rendered current tactics futile, miniscule efforts invalid and a divided church useless on the global stage. The time is now for the global Christian church to rise and stand together in a profoundly new way that honors our differences, elevates diversity and holds steadfast to the value of others while staying true to the gospel.

God has firmly given me a new vision for global engagement, one which turns the pages of history on themselves, whereby Christians band together to protect our neighbor, both those literal and those unknown in an effort to radically accelerate the message of hope offered in Christ. As discovered throughout this text, the world is hurting deeply and has for centuries attempted to place salve on its wounds through human means of dominance, violence and division. The Sprit of God is compelling us to a new way – Radical Relationships.

And people’s yearning for a vision beyond the current state of affairs will be best sustained by practices of living together that are undergirded by the hope that God’s kingdom is not far off but is at hand.[120]

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[1] Nelson Mandela, Leadership and the Role of the Churches: An Interview,Die Kerkdode Newspaper (Wellington South Africa: Kerkbode, 1995).

[2] What Is Global Citizenship?: Oxfam Education (Oxford, United Kingdom:Oxfam) Accessed July 08, 2019.

[3] Jean Louis Ska, Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch, (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006) 227-228, 260.

[4] Mike Slaughter, Charles Gutenson with Robert P. Jones, Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2012).

[5]Slaughter, 13.

[6]Slaughter, 6.

[7] Joseph Liu, "The Tea Party and Religion" Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project, (Washington, DC: PEW, May 06, 2013).

[8]IBID.

[9] JessicaMartínez, Gregory A. Smith, Jessica Martínez, and Gregory A. Smith, "How the Faithful Voted: A Preliminary 2016 Analysis," Pew Research Center (Washington: DC, PEW, November 09, 2016).

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© 2019 by CHRISTINE SEQUENZIA TITUS

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