On Being a "Faithful Presence"

Francis Collins, left, with Barbara Streisand and Anthony Fauci

This Tweet thread captured my attention the other week:

Then, a few days ago, Grant Castlebury posted an article on a related topic--Serving Hostile Authorities. This is something I’ve thought about a lot, given that I work in such a field.

Grant’s article was good. Biblical. I regularly appreciate Grant’s thoughts and bold voice, and have ever since he was a pastor at my current church. I did find his advice wise. I want to advance the conversation. Grant got a lot right, but I want to fill in the gaps a tad. Though parts of what follows are somewhat sharp, we are on the same team at the end of the day, and I appreciate his reminders of some general principles. My issues are three: 1) The problem I ponder more directly in my next post--when to resist, and how--gets only a passing mention at the very end of the article, yet that seems to me to be where the heat is at the moment. It is at the forefront of Christians’ minds currently, precisely because so many of us find ourselves in that exact place. For many who aren’t currently in the thick of things, they see the storm clouds growing on the horizon sure enough. It is just a matter of time. Many of us don’t just work under a boss or system that is hostile in the sense of simply having a different worldview; we work under a boss or system that is *aggressively* hostile, marshalling its power to twist our arms to compromise in the service of another, very jealous, god. Therefore, we need much practical guidance, which leads me to issue 2) the lack of concrete, practical guidance. The principles were vague. General theological principles are necessary. Our lives must be grounded there. But they are not sufficient, and there are already a plethora of think pieces and sermons exhorting the faithful to virtuous, excellent work. The Bible is sufficient--I’m not denying that. But often, the commentary based on the Bible leaves a lot on the table. That’s the case here. Where are the ‘breaking point’ lines? What does it look like to say “no”? Specifics on questions like that, or at least shepherding that helps us think through those challenges honestly and authentically, would be more helpful than more of the same calls to display virtue at work that we hear and read often enough. Rod Dreher’s book Live Not by Lies is a great book that wrestles deeply with these realities in a meaty, rigorous way. Finally, 3) general exhortations to faithful presence like Grant gives can and are used to justify plenty of mischief. I’m sure Collins, for example, assured himself many times that his “faithful presence” was honoring the Lord through his excellent work. I’m sure he was confident that his work was “God-centered.” True in a way, perhaps, but in the end his hand played an active part in a great evil. I want to be careful at this juncture. Of course, you can’t blame Grant for every time those principles are used as a shield for compromise. People throughout human history have used Jesus Himself as a cloak for their own ends, and we know we can’t lay the blame for those actions at Jesus’ feet. Same here. Yet, it does show the shortcomings of vague theological generalisms: they are like putty. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not asking for an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts that completely covers everything. Afterall, you can’t be all things to all people in every article you write. Still though: what, *really* does it look like to resist, and when, *really* is that called for? Perhaps he was restricted from going deeper by word count, or by the overall purpose of the article. Fair enough. It’s just that I read a lot of these kinds of pieces, and most often I’m pretty much in the same place after reading than I was before.

Sometimes, all the virtue and excellent work in the world will not keep you from drawing the ire of the world. You can display the virtue of the best of saints and produce top notch work always, and even mild resistance to giving a pinch of incense to the secular deities will land you on the curb, or worse. Just ask Brendan Eich, or the Little Sisters of the Poor. The mob doesn’t care one whit about the fruit of the spirit you display or the great work you do, and right now, the mob rules. That doesn’t mean those things are unimportant or optional for Christ followers in the work place. It does mean to not be surprised, and prepare.

In my next piece, I will attempt to put my money where my mouth is at least a little bit by offering some thoughts on the “faithful presence” vocational model that Fischer criticizes in the above tweet thread.

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