Arise Jonah and Go to California, That Wretched State!

When is it time to get out of California? I just paid over four dollars a gallon for gas. Taxes are out of control. The roadways are falling apart and overcrowded. Homelessness is endemic in Calfornia’s major cities. Worst of all, the politicians have utterly ruined this paradise. If you think I’m exaggerating, Victor David Hanson is now asking if California has become Premodern. It is a most disturbing article describing what is fast becoming a failed state.

Just this week, the LA Times released an article stating that half of California’s population is considering leaving, mostly of the conservative base. Anyone can leave the state and pay well under half of what their California home costs. Why would anyone stay in this mess? From a Christian perspective, it gets worse. Liberal policies in support of LGBT practices are being mandated into the curriculum of public schools. I foresee a day when churches will not just lose their tax-exempt status, but actually be banned from gathering due to what are considered harmful, intolerant views.

As a pastor, I have wrestled with my own desire for departure. Seven years ago I received a pastoral call back to California from Washington State. This was a very hard decision for me. I knew what the state is becoming. Did I want to take my family back into this mess? I wrestled long and hard with why God sends us to live anywhere in this world. I had a thorough reflection on the purpose of Christian witness. But this is not how Christians are thinking today. My concern is that many Christians are adopting the thinking that accompanies our political divide in how they are assessing their time here on earth.

The other day, a popular Christian apologist stated in a public forum that he has no desire to ever go to California due to its corrupt politics. Other leading Christian figures have decried believers who are remaining in California, suggesting it is sin to stay in support of such corruption. Further, many Christians who move here from the outside simply cannot handle it. I know of some believers who moved here from the outside and are on the brink of despair due to culture shock. They are desperately seeking to return to spacious farm life. I don’t blame any of them for these sentiments. It’s far easier to make fires in Idaho than in California. Christians who live here face a unique set of challenges and dangers.

There are certainly legitimate reasons for leaving the Golden State, but that is not what this article is about. The larger question is why the Lord leaves us in this world to begin with.  It was Jesus himself who prayed, ‘I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one (Jn. 17:1).” No one would argue with this until we insert the word “California”, but say it out loud for a moment. “Father, I pray that you do not take them out of ‘California.’” Wait a minute, why would I stay in a state with high taxes and so many problems? That’s a great question. Why are Christians in this world?

Truth be told, much of the exit out of California by Christians has nothing to do with religious freedom. I am a Christian today living in California and I still have the right to homeschool or Christian school my children, I still have the right to gather for worship and preach Jesus. But within me lurks this desire to leave—why?

Most leave today not for religious reasons, but for utopian ones. If someone wants a better way of life, who has a right to question one’s conscience, but when the flight is tied to a rejection of progressive policies for better freedoms, and all that is accomplished is a bigger house, more space, less people, more money, and the ease of being with people who look and act most like me—well, that sounds a lot more like the reasoning Lot went to Sodom, doesn’t it? “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD,” like the land of California—oops, I meant Egypt.

 It is one thing to move somewhere prayerfully and according to one’s conscience, but it is quite another to do it under the guise of freedom when the goal is more material happiness. This is how the world thinks. This is how conservative policy non-believers think. The question is how the Christian is to think in these times.

James Boice argued numerous times that Christians need to stop the flight from the cities and consider their calling in the major population centers to love their neighbor. The truth be told, many Christians have forgotten their calling in this world. God determines our times and boundaries of the believer for a very specific purpose. That purpose has everything to do with the calling he gave to his church and his people to be salt and light in this world.

Jonah tried to test this calling: “Arise, Jonah and go to Nineveh, that ‘wicked city’”—preach the gospel to them!  That wicked city was full of abortion policies, in fact, they actually sacrificed their infants to the gods. That wicked city persecuted the Israelites for years. That wicked city had the worst sort of tax collectors and sinners. California’s governor pales in comparison to the king of Nineveh. Jonah wanted a better way of life, an easier route and, ironically, his route ended him up at the bottom of the ocean.

What we need today are less Christians tied to the enemy warfare of Fox and CNN news. We need less fearful retreat by Christians in their callings in the world. We need less yelling at all the wicked Ninevites from our internet screens. We need bold Christians who are willing to remember why we are here, witness with confidence, and refuse to cower before the enemy. We win them with our message of hope and love, of the gospel of our own salvation. We are left here for the tax collectors and sinners that many Christians want to run from. We don’t make progress by holding tightly to our AR15s, but with confidence in the message that actually has the power to save people. If they silence us, then let them do so. If they run us out, let them do so. Then we may have to flee to the mountains, when there is an actual threat to our lives and more than a mere loss of tax exempt status.

When a Christian apologist writes today, “I have no desire to go to California because it is so corrupt”, I  try to imagine Jesus saying that. Imagine it. “I have no desire to go down to that politically corrupt world, I’m staying away.” All would be lost. Aren’t we to look and sound like Jesus: I came to seek and save that which is lost? This is why we are left here.

Don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting Christians should flee to the worst of places. I am saying Christians should reevaluate how they are content and fulfilling their callings right where God has them. Then they will show to the world a love that genuinely cares for them instead of sending a message that we hate them and desire to flee from them.

Maybe we need to look at Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, or Donald Trump himself a bit differently, precisely as Jesus did to that wretched tax collector Zacchaeus. Then maybe one of us will go down to their house today, and through that loving witness, “they” will begin to restore fourfold—beginning by closing the abortion clinic. Maybe the true issue here is that, like Jonah, we struggle to believe that God “can” actually do what we secretly don’t want him to do–show these wicked Ninevite-Californians…mercy.

Christopher J Gordon, Escondido, CA

 

6 comments

  1. One more thing: I’m noticing California’s problems in many other states. Maybe it doesn’t matter where you flee at this point – the problems will catch up. The ironic thing for Jonah was that despite his flight, he still had to bear witness anyway. God used him whether he wanted to be used or not.

  2. Rev. Gordon,

    I’m also a third generation Californian and my wife and I have struggled with this immensely. This was a breath of fresh air to almost every California Christian. We’re definitely not hindered in any way from assembling for worship here. Most of the reasons I hear for moving out-of-state boil down to consumerism: you get 5000 sq feet in another state for 2000 sq feet here but our grandparents survived on 1700 square feet and raised twice as many children.

    That said, the church in this state is definitely at a crossroads. The children of believers all leave the state which creates this huge fellowship hole for the remaining young adults and young families. If you have young children, you often wonder where the young families are until you talk to the elderly in the congregation and they mention that their children live in some other state.

    There are a lot of good NAPARC churches in California but they are often small and suffer from the problems above. We have a bunker mentality not only with the outside world but also each other leading Christians to feel isolated. Then there are the cost-of-living issues: you have to pay a lot for a house and pay for Christian school or homeschool now. The Agenda is really pushing most Christians out of the schools. It is legitimately hard to make it here without an upper middle class income which is taxed progressively.

    We have to decide we’re going to stop being Jonah and start being salt and light and start loving one-another or the church here is going to be dead in a generation.

  3. Dear Randall,
    1. Yes, true. But God’s word to Jonah is an application intended for every believer: “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jon. 4:1 ESV). Christian are left here to be Christ’s witnesses, so the application is true as we are now all prophets, priests, and kings in the general sense.
    2. I’d caution use of Matt, 24 here, that was intended spefically for the destruction of Jerusalem by fire. I would encourage the use of Jesus’ admonition to the disciples, “you know not what spirit you are of,” when they asked to bring fire on God’s enemies. We are not forced tot he hills right now, someday maybe.
    4?. applications can be made, some not
    5. not sure how that applies. Texas is not the promised land.
    As I’ve said these are wisdom questions and there are times to leave. But the larger issue is that I still have the freedoms to not put my kids in the public School, the very point I made. The larger point is also the fact that God left us in this world for a purpose, and that is not to run to like minded people and huddle up in red states with our AR 15s. It is to be his witnesses. If you take your positions, all martyrs should have fled and never been persecuted. But many of them God called to this, common folk, not Jonahs. We have to be willing to face this as Christians, we are a martyr people, and that is what vindicates God’s righteous judgment to come. We signed up for this when we became Christians, not retreat. Truth be told, we have just had it so good in this country, most Christians view suffering as a removal of tax exempt status. But if you must run, why and where? I remind you Beto is from Texas. Chris

  4. Interesting perspective. I would encourage you to expand on this: 1) Jonah was a prophet, so his call was unique and not for laity; 2) the little-d disciples left Jerusalem for the world to validly avoid the prophesied destruction of 70AD; 4) Elimelech & Naomi seem to fit your thesis for common folk – leaving for ‘greener pastures’ but punished and returned empty handed (I don’t support this exegesis, but it’s the common view) – is this normative and to heeded as a warning, or evidence only of their special status as precursors to messiah? and lastly, 5) Joseph warned to leave the promised land, for of all places, Egypt. This is overt disobedience were it not from God, yet it was God’s providence and prudence at work. I think more pastoral thinking is due with this topic, and I would like to see your expounding it further. Unfortunately it feels a bit like the argument to leave your kids in public school in order to ‘witness’, ignoring the threat this places them under. It seems to pit Calling against Prudence. I am still of the ‘leave California while you still can’ camp. But I think it is a really important point to consider.

  5. Thank you Rev. Gordon. I have become more negative about the world since moving to California three months ago and really needed this reminder.

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