What’s special about Christians? Sure - we’re right; we’re going to Heaven. In our humble opinion. But we would say that, wouldn’t we? And maybe ‘the world’ can be excused for not being impressed.
What if, though...
What if there was some way of looking dispassionately at Christians and comparing them with, f’rinstance, Moslems - and seeing if there’s anything special.
Surprise, surprise! Jews in Israel have been doing an in-depth study of their Arab citizens, and find the difference between Christian Arabs and Moslem Arabs is stunningly large. Even Israel’s Public Health Service chief has stated: ‘The Christian Arabs have the finest health indicators in Israel - better than the Jews’.
Ponder these statistics. Infant mortality among Christian Arabs is 4.9 per 1000 births; among Moslem Arabs 9.5, among Jews 4.8. University attendance among Christian Arabs is 323 per 1000; among Moslem Arabs and Druze 108; the average for all Israeli citizens is 131.
Amnon Rubenstein, writing in Ha’aretz ponders: ‘How can one explain the differences between Moslem Arabs and Christian Arabs? There is no difference in the [Israeli] government’s treatment of or allocation of resources to the two populations.’
Good question. And the answer has to be that when God does something in a person’s life, the effects aren’t airy-fairy. After all the tears and emotion, after all the hallelujahs and warm fuzzies, the results are there, firmly rooted in reality. Real enough to affect cold statistics in an Israeli public health survey.
(Maybe Christian Arabs are a trifle closer to the Lord in their life-and-death situation than we are in Enzed. What are the chances that Christian Kiwis would show up favourably in an NZ survey?)
But if we start looking at the difference God makes to individuals - then some folk stand out from the crowd.
Remember we wrote about a diplomat called Raoul Wallenberg a few months back? We stumbled across a similar believer on a website that campaigns to have such deeds commemorated on a special US postage stamp.
His name - in typical American fashion - was Hiram Bingham IV. You would suspect that being the fourth in the line of Hiram Binghams put him under pressure to achieve something noteworthy.
But what? His antecedents had set a high standard. Hiram Bingham I had the distinction of taking the first band of missionaries to Hawaii in 1819 to proclaim the gospel. His son, Hiram Bingham II, was also inspired by missionary fervour, and in the Sandwich Islands single-handedly completed the daunting task of translating the Bible into Gilbertese. Grandson Hiram Bingham III was a prototype for Indiana Jones: governor of Connecticut and US senator, he commanded an aviation instruction centre in France during WW1 and taught history at Harvard, Princeton and Yale - but distinguished himself as director of the Yale Peruvian Expedition by discovering the ruins of the fabled Inca city of Machu Picchu and locating Vitcas, the very last Inca capital.
A hard act to follow, you might imagine. Hiram Bingham IV certainly thought so, and settled quietly into the US diplomatic service with a posting, in 1939, to Marseilles, France as the American vice-consul.
God had plans for him.
If you remember your history lessons, America was neutral at the start of WW2. And if you understand the language of diplomacy, ‘neutral’ can have all manner of meanings. (Eire was neutral, a haven for German spies; Switzerland was neutral, its banks methodically laundering vast amounts of Nazi gold.) So, for America, ‘neutral’ meant Bingham was explicitly forbidden to issue US entry visas to Jews.
Let’s hit the pause button right there. We are of the firm opinion that we should keep our noses clean and do a passable imitation of being model citizens...
...unless the powers-that-be step over the line and make an order that goes against God. Sure, that’s subjective. Sure, half the nastier nutters ‘held in forensic detention’ claim God told them to do whatever evil provoked society to quarantine them. We’re not justifying violence of any sort, any time, any place; what we’re saying is we’re not going to let anyone come to harm directly or indirectly by our action or inaction, laws or no laws. When push comes to shove, we’ll non-violently break laws to save lives, especially Jewish lives. Because then those who make the rules have forfeited their right to be obeyed.
And you, dear mild-mannered Christian believer, need to decide now how you will respond then.
Yes, there are all the nice verses about kings and things being ordained of God, and we should pay taxes to whom taxes are due. Some folk love the texts that seem to say don’t be different, don’t rock the boat, bland is beautiful. Yeah, right. Haven’t you read the one that goes ‘I wish you were either hot or cold; lukewarm makes me puke’.
Jesus said that. To the end-time church. That’s us; that’s you.
Get the vintage tape by Brother Andrew, ‘God’s smuggler’, called ‘The ethics of smuggling’. Read Acts; check out the number of times those guys went against the authorities. Decide now where your loyalty lies, where your citizenship really is.
It’ll save a bit of confusion and panic later.
That was a digression. Where were we? Oh yes, with HBIV being forbidden by Harry Truman (his boss, the pressy of the US of A) to give life-saving visas to Jews.
Hiram Bingham IV feared God. That’s wise. ‘Beginning of wisdom’, as the book says. So he issued American entry visas, because Jews couldn’t get permission to leave France without one. And the Nazi extermination machine was methodically reaching further and even further to ingather new communities of Jews for destruction.
Bingham, the quiet father of eleven children, received Truman’s orders, shrugged, and ignored them. Not a good career move, perhaps. But maybe Hiram’s ambitions weren’t confined to this life. So he wrote visas, often delivering them personally in prison camps. He ‘just happened’ to be at Spanish border posts when visa-less Jews were being turned back to certain death, and argued them though to safety. He caused artist Marc Chagall to be released from Nazi arrest and hid him in his own home (along with many others, all at his own personal expense) until the Resistance movement to smuggle him to safety overseas. (Chagall! We have vivid memories of being taken by Israeli army soldiers to Hadassah hospital, Jerusalem, being given the guided tour and the multi-media presentation, then sitting in the hospital’s synagogue to gaze at the vibrant glow of Chagall’s stained glass panels of the Twelve Patriarchs. Later, in the Knesset, we admired the vast Chagall tapestry that adorns the main hall. Go there. Admire. And remember Bingham who rescued him.)
Thousands of lives were saved by Bingham. Many times that number of their descendants are alive because of him. But the American president’s patience was wearing thin. Angered by the quiet disobedience of his vice-consul, eventually a nod to the State Department saw Hiram Bingham IV kicked ignominiously downstairs to a far from desirable posting in Buenos Aires.
Yet even there, Hiram, although unable to rescue Jews, kept his government and others informed of the whereabouts of Nazi war criminals. That was the last straw. Administrations have their methods of easing out those who annoy them.
Bingham found himself out of the diplomatic service. He died virtually penniless.
That - you’d better believe it - is a success story. Until recently, his exploits were as good as forgotten. So what? Now US secretary of state Colin Powell and UN secretary general Kofi Annan are queuing to honour him. So what?
Being a believer made him special in the lives of others. In the eyes of God. In - and this we fervently pray - in the inspiration to you and to us, so that when the chips are down we will give a little shrug, knowing full well where our loyalty lies.
Short-term, that’s not a good career move like we say. But long-term? Hey, even the Bible runs out of adjectives to describe the package that comes with God’s nod of approval. Let’s just say that whatever that package is, it’s personally made, gift-wrapped and delivered by the King of kings Himself.
And in His own handwriting, the card says: ‘with love’.