Exiles in Our Homeland
By Bruce Bugbee
We are increasingly becoming exiles in our homeland. On the surface, this seems to be an oxymoron. But is it?
An exile is someone who has been displaced from her native land, a person banished or separated from her country or home by force of circumstances. Exiles no longer live in a culture that supports or even allows them to live out their faith and relationships with freedom and openness.
In recent decades, a significant shift in our culture has led to a community less tolerant toward Christianity. For instance, some local municipalities have stopped providing a conditional-use permit to churches because the municipalities want the tax income that tax-exempt churches cannot provide.
Fewer people know what the Ten Commandments are. Some people do not even know the basic story of Jesus.
While we have not been taken out of our culture, a changed culture has been moving in around us. We are living as exiles in our homeland. Do we recognize what that means for how we relate our faith and live it out?
Do you and your church understand the nature of living as an exile? Does assuming—or wishing—that things have not really changed create difficulties for you when trying to meaningfully connect to people in the marketplace or people under 35? These sectors understand the new reality very well, and we need to listen more and better.
Exiles tend not to express their faith as freely or as openly as they did in their home culture, where their faith was accepted. That does not mean they have lost their faith, but they are aware of and sensitive to how and when to communicate it in their relationships.
When the Israelites were taken into exile, practicing their faith the way they had before was cause for suffering or death. They had to find new ways to keep their faith rooted and growing. With consequences for unacceptable public expressions, their internal values needed to find different external behaviors.
It may be that becoming exiles in our homeland is not a detriment to the church but will lead to its refining, pruning, and fruitfulness.
For that to happen, though, we must do a few things. We must pray for the church and ourselves. How do we as an increasingly exiled people speak and live out the gospel and our kingdom calling? What does it mean for us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, especially in a culture that appears to be less supportive and receptive?
Light is not needed in the day but in the darkness. It is there that we shine. Salt preserves something that is valued. If there is nothing of value, salt is not needed. God values lost people and tells us to pray for the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).
We also need to have more meaningful conversations with younger generations to better understand their world—which is our world. We need to listen to our brothers and sisters of other cultures and ethnicities to better understand their world—which is our world.
Jesus affirms that we are not of the world but doesn’t ask the Father to take us out of the world. Instead, he asks the Father to keep us from the evil one (John 17:14-15). That world and its darkness are becoming more evident. Stand firm. Put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
Talk about this with your family, small group, ministry team, and church. How are you and those around you understanding how to live as exiles in your homeland?
Bruce Bugbee is regional executive of the Far West Region.