In the late 1940s, the U.S. government commissioned William Gibbs to work with U.S. Lines to construct an 80 MILLION-DOLLAR (in 1940!) troop carrier for the Navy. The purpose was to design a ship that could carry 15,000 troops during war. In 1952, the ship was complete. It was the fastest and most reliable troop-carrier in the world.
The catch is, she never carried troops. The ship was put in standby once during the Cuban missile crises in 1962, but otherwise she was never used in all her capacity by the U.S. Navy.
Instead the SS United States became a luxury liner for presidents, heads of states and a variety of other celebrities who traveled on her during her 17 years of service. As a luxury liner, she couldn't carry 15,000; instead she housed just under 2,000. Those passengers could enjoy the luxuries of 695 staterooms, 4 dining salons, 3 bars, 2 theaters, 5 acres of open deck with a heated pool, 19 elevators and the comfort of the world's first fully air-conditioned passenger ship.
Things look radically different on a luxury liner than they do on a troop carrier. The faces of soldiers preparing for battle and those of patrons enjoying their bonbons are radically different. The conservation of resources on a troop carrier contrasts sharply with the opulence that characterizes the luxury liner. And the pace at which the troop carrier moves is by necessity much faster than that of a luxury liner. after all the troop carrier has an urgent task to accomplish; the luxury liner, on the other hand, is free to casually enjoy the trip.
When I think about the history of the SS United States, I wonder if she has something to teach us about the history of the church. The church, like the SS United States, has been designed for battle. The purpose of the church is to mobilize a people to accomplish a mission. Yet we seem to have turned the church as troop carrier into the church as luxury liner. We seem to have organized ourselves, not to engage in battle for the souls of people around the world, but to indulge ourselves in the peaceful comforts of the world. This makes me wonder what would happen if we looked squarely in the face of the world with 4.5 billion people going to hell and 26,000 children dying every day of starvation and preventable diseases, and we decided it was time to move this ship into battle instead of siting back on the pool deck while we wait for the staff to serve us more hors d' oeuvre.
(excerpt from the book Radical by David Platt)