Thursday, August 7, 2014

The inspiring Ebola cross

Ann Coulter is a mission field all by herself, judging from this screed against missionaries abroad:

Why did Dr. Brantly have to go to Africa? The very first “risk factor” listed by the Mayo Clinic for Ebola—an incurable disease with a 90 percent fatality rate—is: “Travel to Africa.”

Can’t anyone serve Christ in America anymore?

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If he had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World.

Why filmmakers? Because, Coulter implies, when they convert they would evangelize others with their films. But isn’t there a link higher in the chain, film and art school teachers, who could reach even more people? We could go higher in the chain and minister to film and art school teachers’ parents.

You begin to see the dilemma. There is no way to predict how mission work will influence the future for the better. In a hundred years, filmmaking will be dead, and the grandchild of the African “nobody” whose life Brantly saved could be the leader of the free world.

Furthermore, Coulter discounts the example Brantly sets for other Westerners. Contracting Ebola and becoming world-renowned overnight might just be his greatest work, inspiring others closer to Jesus, as Paul’s imprisonment did.

She continues:

Of course, if Brantly had evangelized in New York City or Los Angeles, the New York Times would get upset and accuse him of anti-Semitism, until he swore—as the pope did—that you don’t have to be a Christian to go to heaven. Evangelize in Liberia, and the Times’ Nicholas Kristof will be totally impressed.

Which explains why American Christians go on “mission trips” to disease-ridden cesspools. They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.

Or, they’re living by the grace God has shown them.

Do people who commit to mission work abroad shy away from denouncing sin? This caricature makes no sense. As Christly love of others increases, so does distaste for sin.

Right there in Texas, near where Dr. Brantly left his wife and children to fly to Liberia and get Ebola, is one of the poorest counties in the nation, Zavala County—where he wouldn’t have risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless.

But serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been “heroic.” We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s “unusual drive to help the less fortunate” or his membership in the “Gold Humanism Honor Society.” Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away—that’s the ticket.

Today’s Christians are aces at sacrifice, amazing at serving others, but strangely timid for people who have been given eternal life. They need to buck up, serve their own country, and remind themselves every day of Christ’s words: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

There may be no reason for panic about the Ebola doctor, but there is reason for annoyance at Christian narcissism.

I suspect Coulter is jealous of Brantly’s popularity. “Where’s my credit?!” she seems to be saying. However flawed a teacher she may be, she fights lies and gets slandered for it. That’s her cross that she chooses to bear. Brantly ministers in Africa, risking his health and safety. The mission field is big enough for both of them. The real question is not should we minister at home or abroad. It’s should we minister at all.

A while back, Pope Francis gave an interview in which he said the Church shouldn’t be “obsessed” with cultural issues like abortion and marriage to the exclusion of serving others. Taking his words at face value, he’s right. But in the context of a Church being pushed around by liberals, it was the worst thing to say.

I realize now he was talking about Coulter:

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

Except explaining those doctrines, as they pertain to the meaning of marriage and protecting life, is ministry in itself to people who understand the opposite as truth.

Further reading: Erick Erickson’s take, and more on Dr. Brantly’s background.

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