The Heresy of a White Supremacist Capitalist God in the heart of White Evangelicalism

Franklin Graham is a heretic.

I’m in the middle of writing a book on the connections between Evangelicalism and economic politics – whether that be Neoliberalism or more recently neofascism – and as such, I’m getting even more familiar with the central characters who loom large in the scope. Guys like D.L. Moody, Bill Bright and of course Billy Graham. As I’ve argued before, I don’t think that Billy’s son/apple Franklin falls far from the tree. If anything, Franklin is a grotesque caricature of his father; maybe the Id to Billy’s Ego. Where Billy cared about respectability and closeness to power, Franklin sees himself as the personification of power and thus dumps all pretext to respectability. He amasses power through politicizing his charities and evangelist stage – both of which he received through the work of being his father’s son (notice the gender. Not daughter).

This may come as a shock to many who follow the second-generation celebrity evangelist on Facebook. He is the figurehead of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, one of the largest and most respected Evangelical organizations in the world, as well as the charity Samaritan’s Purse, after all – two organizations with deep pasts, deeper connections, and even deeper pocketbooks in American Christianity. His father led many souls, as they say, to Christ through his campaigns (crudely called “Crusades” in the early years). And his Facebook feed, while often controversial, is full of seemingly innocuous statements pressing his readers into choosing heaven today while they still have a chance – as if they weren’t already converts. Even such seemingly easy political targets such as the Jill Stein-led voter recount and the death of Fidel Castro are often used for such pretext.

For wit:

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a statement that caught my eye. He said, “Comrade Castro will live forever.” That is true. All of us have a soul that is going to live forever in one of two places—Heaven or Hell. What we do here on earth determines where we will spend eternity. The only way to Heaven is by accepting God’s plan for our salvation—believing in His Son Jesus Christ and following Him as Lord. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). Do you know where you will spend eternity?

This incredibly awkward transition was his father’s special formula: Look for relevant news articles having to do with life and death, redirect and turn it into a soul-winning question. This would be awkward in less capable hands than Billy’s. Make no mistake, Franklin is tremendously less capable than Billy. What’s almost remarkable here is that Graham doesn’t seem to use this opportunity to further his Partisan Hyper-Capitalist White Supremacy Churchianity Yawn.

This time.

Except that he had already talked extensively about the Evils of Castro in ways that seemingly celebrated his death, that exaggerated the hatred of Castro and erase the material positive he’s done, and that incompetently confuse Castro’s policies with those of liberal American politicians—not just self-described “socialist” Bernie Sanders, but also Keith Ellison, Elizabeth Warren, and most surprisingly, Hillary Clinton. None of these choices have ever called for radical redistribution of wealth or for workers to seize the means of production, but truth doesn’t stop Franky anyway.

Fidel Castro has died at age 90. Loved by few, hated by millions, his communist revolution deposed a dictator, but ushered in a socialist police state that drove the entire Cuban nation into complete poverty and oppression. And to think that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Representative Keith Ellison and others wanted socialism as a model for our country today! And why didn’t they win? God—that’s why. The church prayed and came out by the millions and voted. Praise God! And may we all as free Americans give Him glory, great things He has done! This is why it is so important to vote. There’s another election in just two years—Christians need to stay involved and run for office at every level. The socialists are regrouping in great number right now, and they will come back strong, organized, and more determined than ever. This battle isn’t over.

Graham thanks God, the power of prayer, and most importantly White Evangelicals for delivering a White Supremacist White House.

Notice the pattern, though. First Graham has an emotional and irrational outburst about a group of people (Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters) or policy (socialism, liberalism, American military exceptionalism) or even defending himself from charges (ie, xenophobia). Then he alternates with blanket calls to heavenly matters, such as prayers or altar calls reminding people about eternity.

For the Religious Right, talking about heaven and hell and the goodness of God is more than a distraction. It is a totem for all that is good. To talk about heaven and how to get there distinguishes a person as Good, and thus his political and social tastes as Good. Franklin Graham should be trusted because he talks so much about heaven and God; how could he be devious or deceptive?

Additionally, this disembodied heavenly talk is also a placemat for justice. If and when there is injustice for the racial/sexual/gender/economic minority[i], it is nothing compared to the glories of heaven and the tortures of hell. Here, heaven is robbed of embodied meaning and replaced with a hollow hope, specifically vocalized in order to maintain status and stability.

This is how they are heretical. Jesus was explicit about earthly matters of justice in an age and region of imperial and military oppression, colonization, and exploitation. Jesus followed the prophets’ lead in calling on the government to apply justice, to feed, to care for the widows and the fatherless, to welcome the stranger.

The literal products, progenies, and beneficiaries of White Evangelicalism – Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. – are men who believe that God is not only a white American  capitalist, but the Most Capitalist of Capitalists. The most American of Americans. The Most Xenophobe of Xenophobes. The Most White of Whites.

God is a neo-nazi, a fascist, a white supremacist who values property over people and runs a charity collecting worthless trinkets to entice poor people into his version of an unjust, decrepit heaven.

Franklin Graham is the incarnational image of his own God. Franklin sees capitalism, whiteness, and American Christian culture as intrinsically good and worthy to be praised and spread. He uses his charity and pulpit to extol his praises upon it. Praise Whiteness now, for when you die, you will come face to face with Whiteness and what will you have said about it and its son, White Jesus, Capitalist of Heaven and Earth?

Graham’s gospel is bad news for the outcasts Jesus surrounded himself with.

I cannot see the Jesus of the Gospels being enthralled or even making sense of Franklin Graham’s picture of him. Of course, all Christians somewhat make Jesus in their own image—but any image of Jesus that doesn’t start with him hanging out with misfits and oddballs and ends with him criminalized and literally hanging with the wretched of the earth and the rebellious (before a bodily resurrection) is missing key elements.

If Jesus assembled his disciples today in America, I imagine he’d include a black trans teenager, an undocumented Latinx mother, and a repentant financier or credit agent who gave away his ill-gotten wealth. Trump would refuse to give away all that he owned and be turned away. I see Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr, and their colleagues colluding with the state to retain and expand their power by planting evidence on Jesus and betraying him to Death Row.

How did the Son of Humans die? He was too beautiful and brave for the political religious order.

 

 

[i] Not numerically, but in terms of power differentials

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Blocking V Acceptance: Our Imperialist Christian Standards, pt 1

It’s rare to hear a church testimony of how someone fell away from Jesus. But this morning in service, one attendee was giving a testimony of how he had lost interest in and fell away from (though temporarily) Christianity. He mentioned two experiences – two experiences which were all-too-familiar to me because they are practices that were awfully close to those I’ve seen, witnessed, and participated in myself.

Having missed two bible studies in a row previously in college due to studying, he receives a phone call inquiring why he missed these gatherings. He is then informed that following Jesus means following him into perfect church and bible study attendance.

The other incident revolved around a man in an African town who was warning others to not go to the Christian church. When the man became the victim of a fatal car crash, the local missionaries wrote a letter thanking God. This letter was read in his church. And then the sentiments repeated at a bible study the testifier was in.

He then said that he left this church, and regular churches altogether, partially because he recognized that Christians’ standards for everybody else were so high while they themselves couldn’t meet them. I want to answer that our standards are the wrong standards, and that they are applied wrongly. Let’s call these the Imperialist Christian Standards, and we’ll get to that imperialist part hopefully later this week. But first, on what the basis of Jesus’ standards look like and the rubric for our own standards as Christians.

Both examples from the testimony are a bit out-there. They are not typical of my experience in Christian churches – conservative Evangelical or otherwise – and may or may not be of yours. But the sentiments in both are very familiar to me. Even though Jesus told us to love and pray for our enemies and those who persecute us, we Christians recognize how hard it is. Whether rightly or wrongly, we feel persecuted, that we are being specifically targeted by enemies. And we often justify the very natural hatred we have of our enemies through some horrid memes:

Love the sinner; hate the sin.

God doesn’t love sinners until they come to saving knowledge of himself.

Or we redefine “love” in an Orwellian fashion.

We love them so much that we cannot let them live a life apart from God.

We must love them into sorrowful (read: shameful) repentance.

I was recently told that Jesus slut-shamed the Samaritan woman at the well to bring her to himself. In fact, often Christians boldly declare that Jesus was not “soft on sin.” Ask for an example of this, and they will usually point to one of two instances. One is Jesus’ public shaming of the Pharisees – and that’s important and yet contrary to what they claim it is,  and we’ll get to that later – and the other is this instance, recorded in John 4.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty. The water I give will become a spring of water gushing up inside that person, giving eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so I will never be thirsty again and will not have to come back here to get more water.”

Jesus told her, “Go get your husband and come back here.”

The woman answered, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You are right to say you have no husband. Really you have had five husbands, and the man you live with now is not your husband. You told the truth.”

The woman said, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that Jerusalem is the place where people must worship.” (New Century Version)

The idea that Jesus was pointing out the woman’s sins is actually a horrible understanding of how marriage and a woman’s role in marriage worked in ancient cultures. But it also shows a remarkable lack of understanding of Jesus’ character – or rather, an understanding of Jesus that would coincide neatly with an intimidating, judgmental and misogynist understanding of faith.

The woman in ancient (and indeed in many traditional) cultures had little rights in the course of their marriage. She was not the one who could divorce or not divorce – and being female with few available financial options open to her, she relied on the male protecting her through the institution of marriage.* Often, the woman’s security was left up to the whims and temperament of the groom – who could divorce her and send her on the street with little provocation (this is the reason Jesus was so rough on divorce). The Samaritan woman in this scenario is not being judged for sleeping around. No. Rather, Jesus feels her sadness and rejection.

mother's day

This is a woman who was not accepted and kicked out of the protection of several men for the simple reason that they could. For whatever reason they had – because she didn’t please them, because she talked out of turn, because they found someone younger, because they died – Jesus doesn’t spend time moralizing about how she is supposed to get and stay married. He doesn’t tell her she’s a bad person. In fact, unless we think that Jesus is being passive-aggressive, he doesn’t even confront her alleged sin.

Instead, he gives her the honor of being one of his apostles, one of his first missionaries.

But where Jesus accepted her in a way not very common for the time and area (he was, after all, a Jewish religious man speaking to the oft-maligned and hated Samaritan. He was a man in the Ancient Near East speaking to a strange woman out in public. He was thirsty but offered her water – the water of spiritual newness and acceptance), we read it not in its original context but as a timeless text with the same meaning now as then. This messes up our reading of the text because, in essence, we imperialize our understandings of the text onto the piece itself. Jesus shames the woman because that’s what we expect him to do. And we expect him to do that because that’s what we’ve been taught is the right thing to do – therefore it’s what we’d do. And since Jesus – the ultimate picture of what is right in Christians’ minds – would slut-shame her, we are assured it’s the right and even holy thing to do.

And we’d be wrong, because we fundamentally misunderstand Jesus’ character.

Jesus didn’t reject people. He didn’t shame them. He told them of a better way, a new way of being human – an everlasting drink, a new road, a kingdom with completely different priorities, different values, different methods. We shan’t exchange an eye for an eye; we find creative ways to dismantle the empire’s tactics; we put away the sword and heal lobbed off ears; we unblock the temple by tossing out the greedy merchants; we cleanse the “unclean” by healing and proclaiming all clean.

The harsh words Jesus had were for those blocking the entrance to the temple in order to sell their wares of sacrifice – after the prophets told them that God desires mercy and compassion and obedience rather than sacrifice. The poor and the physically disabled could not enter through the blockade they set up. Jesus, recognizing this, reminded the people that though the temple has become a den of thieves, it is supposed to be a house of prayer. And prayer is an equality project.

The merchants were not the only ones blocking the house of prayer from the ordinary, common people. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was dismantling the Roman ways, the predominant occupied Jewish ways of resisting the Roman Empire, and the predominate religious Jewish understandings of who is “in” and who is “out.”

You have heard it said… But I say to you…

Christians understand Jesus to be the completion of the Law, but we don’t always have a grasp on what that means. What if Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law isn’t to show how sinful human beings are, but to demonstrate that we need to funnel our understanding of the Law and the Prophets through the gaze of love – and that love is seen through the uncompromised, unflinching gaze of acceptance of Jesus.

The Jesus who loved the woman at the well.

The Jesus who loved the commoners, the peasants, the tax collectors, the fishermen and the rich young ruler and the prostitute and the nice people and the Roman Centurion. To some, he said, “Come, be whole. Be well.” To others, he still offered that choice, but he also said, “Stop blocking justice. Stop blocking my people.”

So, yes, Jesus rejected certain parts of the Law.

This brings us back to the Samaritans. One of Jesus’ most famous parables concerns a Samaritan hero. Whether or not Jesus was trying to shame the religious leaders who asked him, “Whom is my neighbor? Whom am I to love?”, their incapacity to accept the Samaritan as a full human being with a name and with kindness and generosity and the willingness to help his own enemy came into direct conflict with his story and that shamed them.

Jesus here wasn’t just trying to make a point. He wasn’t being passive-aggressive. He wasn’t confronting a hidden sin or whatever. He was confronting the injustice of hatred and apathy, the injustice of inequality and of directly trying to block people from wholeness represented in the temple.

That wholeness by the way, was what Jesus was referring to in his talks with the Samaritan woman at the well and the audience she gathered for him. The temple is in Jerusalem, he agrees. And the temple, he adds, does not grant access for Samaritans. But all of that will change and true believers will worship

in spirit

and in truth.

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*This is traditional marriage, next time someone asks.

Hammers and Nails

I sometimes wonder if bloggers deliberately mess with me. While in the middle of writing a new book on what it means to live together as Christians, I had the idea to do a blog on cussing and abusive language. However, as it wouldn’t fit into the book and I’m trying to hurry up the production of the book and don’t want to half-assedly release a blogpost, I was hesitant.

And then I come down with a cold yesterday and I’m just, Eff this shit!

But then Stuff Christian Culture Likes shows me this blog on cussing. Now, I’m aware of Frank Viola, the author. I’ll say one thing: he’s got no qualms about directly emailing through Google +, but yet he’s still good at marketing his stuff. I’m admittedly jealous of that. Outside of that, I don’t really know him. He doesn’t show up in my Facebook or blogger radar much at all. But I wonder about his philosophizing if it at all looks like this – even if it is off-the-cuff and one-bit, as he asserts.

Words are powerful. But that’s because language and communication are powerful. And communication is powerful because they help us to establish, define, redefine, venture, end, begin, categorize, and understand relationships. Words have power and are powerful – but not on their own. The words have little power in themselves: how and why and in what context we use them is what matters.

Not the words themselves.

The author asserts that cuss words are seen by the culture (which culture? Idk.) as gross and perhaps even sinful because such words were looked down upon in the schools and some other places.

Yes. This falls under the Rubric of Appropriateness. As I tell my five year old, there are places and times to play, and then there are places and times not to play. Playing isn’t wrong. Heck, talking about our sex lives isn’t wrong. But there are times and places where it is highly inappropriate to do such.

Evangelicals sometimes have a hard time with this, especially those of us raised in a legalistic system, which is what Evangelicalism largely is. We think that language is either good or bad. And that messes up our appreciation for and appropriate responses to language. Which is too bad. Because it also messes up our understanding of abusive language and healing language.

But first with the symptoms of legalism in potty-mouth words:

Frank laments that Christians do all the same things that the worldly do. I know this argument well. That is why many of us Evangelicals weren’t allowed to dance or play face cards or play pool or listen to rock and/or roll, or go to movies – because it would “wreck your witness.” “Wrecking our witness” is what we do when the “world” looks at Christians to see what makes us different and then notes on its checklist that we do all of the same things it does and therefore dismisses us with a, “Why would I want to become a Christian? They do all the same things we do. They’re even gay sometimes. Yuck.”

That scenario is comically outlandish and preposterous. But that didn’t stop Frank Viola from using it here. And then jumping up with a list the likes of which I have not seen since Josh McDowell further complicated my already-overwhelming teen years. One point needs to be transplanted here in full:

Do your spiritual instincts tell you that profanity/vulgarity is wrong? Before you answer that, determine if your conscience is operating or if it’s seared in that area. (A person’s conscience becomes seared when they keep ignoring it when it nudges them about something that’s not in line with the Holy Spirit.) One way to determine this is to ask if it ever bothered you in the past.

Sometimes it’s hard for one to devise between “spiritual instincts” and what would be socialized shame. This is one of those moments. And Viola’s movement here is actually quite harmful. In short, he then replies that if your conscience isn’t bothered by swear words, it may be broken.

You see, these questions aren’t honest. And neither is this game.

Which is kind of upsetting. I thought Frank trusted his readers with some modicum of intelligence.

To wit, Frank relies on the Apostle Paul’s oft-quoted lines on wholesome speech.

Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

How he gets “cuss words” out of “corrupting communication” beats me. Do certain words corrupt? Are we this childish? Hell, children don’t respond like this. What does corrupt children?

Abusive language.

Abusive language towards others, towards themselves, is language that de-humanizes a person or group of people. If someone acts in a repulsive or ignorant way and we call him or her some form of “retarded” to signify that, we are not merely mocking the person we have made that comment to, but those whom the comment originated and is associated with. We equate having cognitive disabilities with acting insociably, inhospitably, even monstrously*.

In nearly every instance, hinting that someone is dumb is far more harmful than saying “Fuck yeah!”

I don’t see why Christians don’t understand this. Let’s close out with a third example:

In saying that marriage should not extended to same-sex couples, conservative Christians are basically telling homosexuals, “Fuck you, shitty assholes!” Yeah. It’s like that.

Healing language sometimes sounds like, “Here,” “Welcome,” “We accept you,” “We travel together,” “I’m sorry,” “Is there a way I can help,” and, yes, “I’m sorry for the shitty words that came out of that person’s mouth. They were wrong and I’m ashamed.”

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* This goes more so for those of us on the Left side of the political fence. Just. Please. Stop. It. It’s not funny to compare Rush Limbaugh with my dear aunt. She is not malicious and purposefully ignorant – nor is she making hundreds of millions off of some purposeful ignorance.

When Your God Hates F*gs

This, this is why I sometimes consider leaving Christianity all together. (The points addressed here are from Jesus Needs New PR, aka Matthew Paul Turner. The responses are from JP Moreland. Both are in response to Chick-fil-A Day of Support organized by professional hater Mike Huckabee)

POINT #2
[Regarding the Chick-fil-A Day] People felt hate and we ignored that. At the end of the day, regardless of whether or not your Christian understanding of scripture harbors hate or not, a large group of people felt hated..  

RESPONSE
Regarding his point about people feeling hate, this is the other side’s issue, not ours, and to be quite honest, they may need to search more deeply within themselves if they, in fact, felt hated.  Very few went to CFA with hate; they were angry about the other side’s hate, but they were not hateful. Matthew confused hate with the hard virtues of confrontation of moral evil and standing for what is right, and he confuses real hate with the feeling of hate.  The feeling of hate was not the protester’s fault; it was a projection of the other side onto the protesters and probably reveals a need to be more discerning about those who disagree with you and not to react emotionally.  Such an emotional reaction is often narcissistic (I and my feelings of acceptance are all that matter; the issue, and people’s right to disagree with me are not the issue)….

Because, Moreland, when marginalized people feel hatred directed at them, there is often some validity to it – whether or not you feel that is the case. It is not the victim’s job to turn off their Abuse Meters just because you say you’re not directing abuse at them.

 How can you even know, love and care for people without truth and knowing “issues (alleged truths) about people and how they think?  One of the most loving things one can do to someone is to stand up against their harmful behavior.

It takes all sorts of mental gymnastics to think that standing against LGBTQ people isn’t standing against LGBTQ people.

We [prove we don’t hate gay people] by warmly inviting them to attend church, to receive love and healing and so forth.

It takes a sort of fortitude to conclude that LGBTQ people or their allies would ever want to step foot in a church that demeans and ridicules them. Or that those same people are supposed to feel loved when their request to be treated as equal human is scoffed at by those who claim to love them.

Or that anybody wants or would benefit from whatever kind of “healing” they’re offering.

My favorite version of this meme, as envisioned by a friend of mine,, Terry R.

I’ll close out the quotes with this right here:

[H]ow about loving the CFA people and all those on their side?  Don’t they need love, mercy and support?  Yes they do, and people chose to express that love and respect
Wednesday.  That was a very Christian thing to do.

Did he mean the employees at CfA? The hourly wage earners? The people who get by with fast-food wages and were constantly told, on that fateful Wednesday, “Thank God. I stand with your company against the gays!” The homosexual ones who were subjected to that kind of “support” all day long. Or the ones who are barely getting by while conservative American Evangelicals like Moreland politically fight any notion of fair wages and accessible health care for the working poor?

Or does he mean, by “CFA people,” the family owners of the company? Because that’s who the CfA Day people were supporting. With a few, outlying exceptions (the wad who started yelling at employees, or the people who spray painted a franchise were being ignorant and hurtful. But they were roundly denounced by most LGBTQ activists anyway…) the employees were not being targeted by protesters and boycotters – at least not directly. The family company was. Was it really “a very Christian thing to do” to support the corporation? Did they need to know that they were getting Christian love that day? Was that what Jesus meant by comforting those who mourn?

It makes sense that Moreland is a “distinguished” professor of philosophy in that he doesn’t have to make his profession relevant to the real world – just make up a system, a different world that makes sense within its own cloistered system, and apply it on top of this one. In his ontological world, God is a hateful monster, but He can be a monster and yet love those He’s being monstrous to. Those the Monster God hates can and should (must!) accept the fact that Monster God is a loving God because the Monster God is the true arbiter of love and truth.Therefore, what Monster God – as represented by Moreland and his co-priests – says is Real and True and Good.

And if you can’t accept that Monster God and his Monster Priests absolutely love you while they’re telling you what a horrible person you are for being different and wanting to be respected as a human being, well, that’s your problem.

All these accolades, however, don’t, in the least, mean that Moreland is a distinguished person, or even a distinguished scholar or teacher, really. Nor a distinguished follower of Christ. But the fact that he has so much pull and claims a mantle at Christian schools like Biola or Liberty and even a fellowship at something called the Wiberforce Forum* says that there is serious, fundamental problem with Christian scholarship.

That a man like this has any influence over today’s pastors, that he is part of their training process, that what he does in any sense passes for real-world scholarship is a fundamental problem and speaks to a fundamental disorder within the American Christian church. I can testify with story after story after story about how, exactly, pastors who follow the Monster God that Moreland speaks on behalf of are the real threat to the traditional family.

Or any other family.

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*William Wilberforce. Yes. THE William Wilberforce. While most American Evangelicals were busy arguing that slavery is a good force from God and that Africans were designed to be subservient to white male leadership, Wilberforce was a leader in a movement to shame the English into abolishing slavery in their territories. Contemporary conservative Evangelicals like to claim Wilberforce’s legacy, though he was every bit the radical that, say, Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were for their times, but without the colorful language that could condemn much of what conservative Evangelicals like Moreland stand for…

Dump That God Already!

You fathers–if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead?
Luke 11:11 (NLT)

John Piper, a prominent Calvinist pastor and author and one of the heads of the Neo-Reformed movement of Christians that includes luminous pastor-leaders as Mark Driscoll seems to believe in and speak for a misogynistic, bullying, monstrous God that if the Christian Church is his bride, as the bible says, we would need to divorce and put out a restraining order on. Being battered, bruised and subject to abuse is no way to live in a relationship. And it’s hardly a way to live at all...

I’ve already written about Piper’s excuses for a physically abusive spouse here, and plenty of prominent Christian scholar/writers (including Tony Jones, Rachel Held Evans, and Scot McKnight) have written about the problems of Piper’s all-controlling, male-dominant god/supervillain before. And then this morning I saw that Peter Enns delved head-first into the swarm. And I’m thankful for that. Because this is the sociopath that Piper describes as God based on his reading of the genocides of the book of Joshua:

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs….
If I were to drop dead right now, or a suicide bomber downstairs were to blow this building up and I were blown into smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. He does no wrong to anybody when he takes their life, whether at 2 weeks or at age 92.
God is not beholden to us at all. He doesn’t owe us anything.

This, courtesy of Heath March at marchingonandon



This is what we’re supposed to believe about the Hebrew/Christian God. We are supposed to accept the image of (and cower before and accept the fate of) the God of Conquering, Genocidal Joshua over and above the God of Humble, Healing Jesus. I can’t. I refuse to. I’ve seen enough abuse in my clients, in my friends, in my co-congregants, in the churches I’ve attended and been around, in my community, in my own life. I refuse to bow before a God who demands I love Him*.

via

I used to sing songs like this, in church, to this destructive, manipulative, abusive God. I used to pray to Him and try to find some solace among all the destruction and death surrounding me that He supposedly allowed and even willed. I used to sing lyrics about how He is greater and stronger and able to beat your god into a pulp.

Why?

Is this the kind of God that Jesus presents?

  • The kind of God that has to force you to love Him?
  • The kind of person that wants us to accept how beautiful He is, but tells you you’re contemptible and ugly?
  • The kind of lover who treats you like garbage and will only accept you when you realize that you are worthless without Him?
  • The kind of husband who forces you to receive and accept His seed? (Does that sound like rape? Because, despite the counter-claims by the authors, it is)
  • The kind of man who believes that His emotional needs are supposed to be first and, if there is any left over, you must give that to your other leaders?
  • The kind of spouse who gives ultimatums and threats?
  • The kind of lover who can only accept you as worthy of His presence when He hides you behind someone else’s (His own?) image?

Is this the God of Jesus, or the God of our theology based on a man-centric, cold and cruel world? This kind of God/lover can’t be trusted. He is abusive.

Or is Jesus and his God known as a wooer? As the ultimate in Truth. As a healer? Loving all? Creating all? Asking that we love our neighbors AS we love ourselves, and our wives as Christ loved the Church?


What kind of God do we believe in?


Any father who gives His children snakes when they’re hungry needs to have His children removed, brought to a safe place far away from Him, and counseled and treasured.

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*I normally do not use gender-specific pronouns to describe God. But this is a different God, a patriarchialistic God, and so needs to be identified as such.

Devil’s Children: Originally Sinning?

“We know that people are basically evil and sinful because, look, you even notice it with little babies. Sometimes they cry not because they need something, but just out of selfishness. They’re being sinful.”

I came home with my own daughter to hear this statement in my living room, which had been converted for use from a mixed utility extra bedroom and den into a bible study area. I wish I could say I was shocked by this theological axiom. A bit flustered and a bit disgusted, sure, but it was not a new concept to me. I remember agreeing with the idea that children – as people – are fundamentally sinful creatures and even saying some variation of that adage myself well before I had my own. And it wasn’t just bachelor and bachelorette laity repeating this theological miscue, either.  Pastors and parents in Christian America are so sure of children’s innate evil that they advocate various forms of violence in order to exorcise those demons out of the child’s ass. Presumably through coughing, I suppose.

Spare not the rod, they repeat. As if a rod is a metal pipe and not a shepherd’s gentle directing device to keep the sheep from going into the path of predators. What kind of twisted logic must we place onto the Good Shepherd poem to believe that brutalizing with a rod and a staff are supposed to be comforting? Who, ever, feels safe and secure when beaten? Someone who desperately needs counseling.

Child Crying in the Shadows
First, if you’re going to prove that humans are naturally sinful, you probably shouldn’t blame babies for being dependent and not fully cognizant of the world. Babies are selfish – but they’re supposed to be. Do you think they are able to care for you, or any of a million suffering people in the world? They can’t. They have physical, psychological, social, and biological needs. They are dependent mammals. That is how they are. That is how God created them to be.

Those moments when we think that infants don’t need anything but they’re crying nonetheless? They need to be stimulated and played with and held and they need to know their boundaries and they need sleep. They may have gas. Or they may feel a little bit of discomfort and, being new to the world outside of a fluid sack and new to sights and sounds and touch  – catch this – they just don’t know what to do with themselves just yet.

Is that evil? Is that sinful that they have yet to develop the cognitive capacity for sympathy or empathy when they don’t know how to feed themselves or lift their heads up? Is it evil that they wake parents up and put us through all sorts of insecurities and frights and worries and sleepless nights? Are we supposed to believe that they’re merely being selfish? Is this why some Christians have an adversarial position with science? Because if they find out basic child development patterns their entire theology goes down the diaper?

As children grow, they still cry for various reasons. But not because they’re necessarily evil. They just don’t know any better. My daughter whines when she’s angry, sad, tired, hungry, hurt, or feeling neglected. Combine any two of those and she’s liable to cry for what – at first glance – I would deem to be selfish. Well, she’s four. Four whole years old. We’re still in process of training her. She’s still in the process of connecting neurons which will build up her empathy and sympathy connectors. She’s got smaller legs than I do and she can’t fit as much food (ergo, energy) down her tubes, so she needs to snack if she’s going to exert energy. Lord, she hasn’t learned a task as complex as tying her shoes yet.

Children aren’t naturally wicked. They’re just naturally natural. It’s okay that children are like that. On the other hand, it’s not okay when adults are selfish. It is not okay when grown-ups use our own temperaments as barometers for how children are expected to behave at any given moment. It’s not okay that parents are so selfish that we have to react to our children in ultimately harmful and destructive means.

Crying child

But let’s get to the second point, shall we? My father, though he wasn’t a Calvinist*, learned from his father that children were supposed to be whooped in order to make them obedient. Obedience is kind of a funny concept in its own right, of course. It’s quite a different concept than discipline. Discipline means we have training that teaches us to do the right thing as necessary. So I teach my daughter to take her medicine every night, do her treatments when she wakes and before she goes to bed. We have nighttime routines and morning routines that we try to adhere to despite the fact that we’re tired or grumpy. And these disciplines get us through the days and are good for us in the short and long run. I wish that my father disciplined me into brushing my teeth regularly. They wouldn’t be so messed up now. Punishment is something different. Punishment is usually arbitrary and can come at any time and for nearly any infraction. It’s goal may be to make us better people, but usually through the process of strict obedience** – so there is no true foundation. Only fear.

I didn’t lie or tell stories to my dad, or smart off to him, etc, not primarily because I loved him or respected him, but because I feared him. Fear was the name of the game. My dad would pull down my pants, lean me over his knee while he sat on the edge of the tub and strike down fiercely onto my naked butt-flesh with his bony hands until I screamed bloody murder. And then he’d strike a few more times. It was profoundly disturbing. And embarrassing – especially the time that my friends were at my house. But I hated him for it. I hated him for the inconsistency and for the violence and for the shame. It was and is still a process I’m going through to relieve myself of that pain. The bitterness is gone. I have forgiven him. I love my dad. I know he tried to do right. But I don’t want my daughter to go through those same emotions. She can hate me for different reasons (I’m sure there will be many more reasons to hate me when she becomes a teen), but I don’t want to shame or humiliate her or lose her trust. That would not be the basis of a healthy relationship. And since the relationship between family members is the primary one that a human being has, that sets the stage for all other relationships, why would I want to jeopardize her entire life?

Is that what Christian parenting should be? If so, I want no part of that.

Fortunately, it’s not.

*Now, my father was raised Catholic, and Original Sin was an Augustinian concept before it was plundered and exaggerated by John Calvin and his acolytes. 


** One thing I’m learning: We have more than enough obedience. That is how we justify doing horrible things. Nuremberg was fundamentally about obedience. War is fundamentally about blind obedience. Torture and slavery and suffering is fundamentally about blind obedience. Jesus questioned the authorities, as did Paul and Peter and even the Syro-Phoenician woman.

Richard Land, the Southern Baptists, Lynchings and the Abortion Juke

The Southern Baptist Convention was birthed in racial violence. Over a hundred and fifty years ago, when the American Baptist Convention decided that slavery is a sin and that slave-holders were sinning (in keeping with a central Baptist tenant, that of shared equality between all – something which may surprise those casually aware of contemporary renowned Baptists and Baptist orgs), Southern state congregations decided it was time to split.

After the Civil War the SBC lost what few black congregants they had, because they were no longer forced to go. During Reconstruction and during the 1920’s and onward, a loosely-affiliated White-Supremacist terrorist organization calling itself the Ku Klux Klan flew through the South, intimidating and murdering Black, Catholic, and Jewish citizens – largely with tacit approval from the denomination’s pastors and leaders, and with no outcry from the SBC itself. In the Civil Rights era, the denomination – the largest non-Catholic one in the US – was, at best, silent while many of its preachers and lay people were preaching the virtues of segregation and racial superiority.

However, things started changing in the 1980s as the denomination started reaching out specifically to non-whites and building churches for mixed-race as well as people of color. And, in the 1990’s the denomination did something the United States has yet to do. They offered a formal apology for their role in slavery. More recently, Richard Land, the head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religion dept (and as such, a prominent leader and spokesperson for the denom), joined more liberal Evangelical groups like the Christian Community Development Association and Sojourners in calling for complete and comprehensive immigration reform.

It seemed that, at least in terms of domestic race, the Southern Baptist Conference was beginning to turn over a new leaf. Not, mind you, in terms of gender (its main seminary no longer allows women to study to become pastors and offers, in its stead, glorified home ec courses), and not that they were actually all that progressive, generally-speaking. In recent years, the leadership changed from a progressive/conservative mix (wherein Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton felt as much home as Billy Graham) to a conservative rule.

So it’s in this light, with its slave-holder origins and the KKK-endorsements, the cross-burnings, lynchings, and slave-whippings sponsored by the Southern Baptist Conference, that its most prominent spokesperson, Land, argues that those who bring attention to the murder of a black male teen in Florida as the result of racial profiling and a senseless pro-violence gun law are the real trouble-makers.

There is going to be violence. When there is violence it’s going to be Jesse Jackson’s fault. It’s going to be Al Sharpton’s fault. It’s going to be Louis Farrakhan’s fault, and to a certain degree it’s going to be President Obama’s fault.

I would not doubt that vigilante “justice” called by the likeness of Farrakhan is irresponsible and may lead to further violence, to say the least. It’s borne of frustration with the White-controlled American justice system, so it’s important to note that and give it some due attention – but that’s not to excuse it. What’s troubling is how Land can associate that with the role of Jackson or Sharp ton, which is to call national attention to a travesty of justice. Or, worse, to President Obama for expressing empathy for the family. Something Land, in his partisan role as spokesperson for the Republican Party-Evangelical alliance, clearly does not share.

But let’s also consider another historical context to throw into further light. Richard Land blasted this announcement on his radio show last week – during Lent. Lent, which in the Western church culminates today, God Friday, is a period for Christians throughout the world to recognize our sins that need to be confronted – our sins that led to Christ’s death that we would like to submit to Jesus.

Land may or may not practice Lent. But he, being a typical example of White American Evangelicalism, does not recognize institutional sins such as – and especially – racism*. Itrarely recognizes war as an institutional sin. The one unforgivable institutional sin, however, is abortion. And it is through the Abortion Juke – the ability of Evangelical leaders to say, “This isn’t a real travesty. The REAL travesty is Abortion!” during grown-up talk – that Land will be able to deflect blame for his White Supremacist rants.

Juke Move

The Abortion Juke – and more on this next week – is another way to tell when the anti-abortion forces aren’t really concerned about life, but only abortion. And often only as a way of controlling the political game and talking points. Racism or misogyny or poverty, after all, they say, can’t be nearly as bad as millions of aborted babies.

And in so saying this, they fail to acknowledge the connections, the ways in which racism, misogyny and poverty connect with abortions.

—————

*It’s here I have to recognize the boldness of John Piper – someone whom I disagree much with on many issues, but all someone who has long called for White Evangelical churches to repent for their sins of complicit or implicit racism. It’s part of the reason why the Gospel Coalition has such a strong headway among younger African Americans.

Self-imposed interview for Shout It from the Rooftops

In recognition of Left Cheek’s first e-book, Shout It from the Rooftops (now on sale from Amazon for $1.99 until Good Friday), we decided to do an impromptu guerilla-style interview with ourself. Enjoy. We hope you find it illuminating.

First off, I’d like to thank you for being so gracious to allow me to interview me.

I’m welcome.

You’re even more hot in person – and remarkably taller than I was led to believe.

Well, I’m 6′ 3″ (ed. not, that’s less than two metres for those unfamiliar with Americanese), and I’m not sure, you being me, who told you otherwise.

(Silence. Nodding. Followed by more silence.)

But I do have a remarkable amount of animal magnetism.

Meeow.

Yes.

Down to the book. You have a new e-book out called Shout It from the Rooftops: Finding the Message of the Bible in a New Era . What was the impetus for this tome?

It originated with an ongoing series of articles I was doing on my blog, Left Cheek, on American Evangelicals, what they believe and how that affects their view of the world and how that affects those around them.

And it affects….?

Pretty negatively. I’ve come to believe that the bible – if we read it as God’s word to us – is, to cop from Donald Miller, story. And if it is, it moves in certain order. I don’t want to fit this whole Ancient Near East text written over a several hundred year span and tackling many different eras and from the perspective of many different authors and superimpose a modern and Western meta or mode of talking about narrative over it, but to me it seems to be talking about relationship, loss, and then redemption. I don’t know how universal that is, though…

Is this gonna be a long answer?

Don’t interrupt me.

Sorry.

As I was saying… One thing I’ve come to find while working and developing the blog, from reading biblical scholars and reading about early Christian history is that American Evangelical Christians tend to have an outlook on society that contradicts what Jesus, the prophets and the early Christians had. And that this contradiction is actually very harmful to the Christian witness, to the name of Jesus, and to society at large.

When you say “harmful”…

I mean actually, physically, spiritually, and violently harmful to other people also made in God’s own image. Sometimes those other people live next door, sometimes they live remotely, sometimes our own family – but always our neighbors. Like stuff you don’t expect the Good Samaritan to do. Stuff that’s hurtful, that may or may not be intentional. I actually don’t think it is intentional. But I believe that Christians need to be above the defense of, “But I meant well.”

So, this is part of a series, then?

Right. This book is the first volume of what I see now as being perhaps three or maybe more. I also see this as being a type of progression – I want my brothers and sisters to see that what we are doing to our neighbors is harmful and anti-Christ. But in order to do that, in order to actually become involved in a discussion of “What happens next?” we have to get rid of the elephant in the room. And in order to do that, we have to recognize that we just may be in the wrong room.

You like mixing metaphors, don’t you?

I do. It adds to the disorienting effect that I think is essential to the work of an artist.

But you’re an educator. How does disorienting help to disseminate information when you want to be as clear as possible?

Kafka talked about the necessity of art being like a pick-axe, breaking through the ice of our hearts and intellect. There are studies out there showing that the more educated one is, the less likely she or he will see a need to change his or her opinions – no matter how wrong we are. So just presenting facts doesn’t work for most people; and in fact, it may present more damage over the long-run. It can give scientific garb to the most ridiculous and obscene untruths.

For instance?

Remember when they “disproved” man-made global warming as some sort of “hoax”? People who don’t know how to read scientifically were convinced that scientists were trying to cover up their “lies” when in fact they were discussing hoe to best graph their findings. This was the result of the work of people who are not experts in climatology or related sciences who had much to gain or lose trying to convince the world that the actual experts in the field – who didn’t have much to gain or lose and who obviously were not being bribed because there’s no real money in environmental regulation (it just mean we consume much less) – are not trustworthy. THAT was the big scam. In this case those with much to gain and lose (industrialists, oil companies, refineries, etc.) were buying off those who did know better to present as “plain facts” that which was neither plain nor facts.

Are you mixing metaphors?

Horribly, I am.

In all, though, you’re suggesting that we are looking to highly compromised non-experts to answer questions that are best left to the experts?

Yes. And, ironically, I’m no expert.

I caught that. But you’re a bit of an artist.

I’m also arguing in the book and here that we need a foundational way of reading the Bible in a take-away approach that we can use some two thousand years, several languages, multitudes of scientific discoveries, reigns of empires, and thousands upon thousands of miles removed from the text itself.

That is the way of finding the message of the Bible in this new era?

Yes, that is love. Love as both the means and the end of our biblical exegesis so to say.

Evangelicals and the Great Mission

“Go and make disciples of all the peoples. Teaching them everything I have taught you. I am with you to the end of the world.”
– Jesus (Matthew 28)

Evangelicals live by this, the Great Commission. It’s where our movement gets its name from. It’s why we are not a denomination, but a movement that encompasses and passes through and above and away from denominational lines. A denomination is fixed in boundaries, yet we’ve decided to move beyond such limitations.

This is where we get our energy from, and a part of the reason I still consider myself Evangelical.

I’m confident, though, that we are doing great injustice to the Great Commission and our own status as Evangelicals (Messengers of the Good News). I was thinking about this as I was reading Skye Jethani’s article in the Huffington Post this morning. Jethani, senior editor for Christianity Today’s pastor-centric periodical Leadership Journal, shares a story in which he gave a talk to a church youth group shortly after 9/11 and the pastor, finding that Skye had studied Islam in college, urged him to defraud Islam as a religion of hate. Jethani refused and insisted that 1) that’s an inaccurate lie and 2) the beauty of Christ is compelling enough on its own.

The pastor, however, countered that his cabal of youth were surrounded by doubts and needed some assurance that they were on the right path.

I can sympathize with those doubts, yet, if these young men and women were to continue to follow the insecure faith of their pastor, they’d be better off with doubt. Although he’s trying, in his own way, to fulfill the GC, he’s acting counter to it. As is much of Evangelicalism.

The Great Commission is sadly misunderstood in two important and related dynamics. And those two dynamics are integral to how Evangelicalism has been failing the GC that we feel is core to our identity and that we cherish*.

First, we make disciples not by forcing or manipulating others to believe as we do, but by demonstrating. Jesus’s words give comfort, not traditional triumphalism. It is not through war or emotional trickery, nor telling others how awful they are that we are able to demonstrate the wonderfulness of Jesus. We make disciples by focusing on the teachings of Jesus.

Secondly, we confuse the teachings of Jesus with the teachings of our religion. The teachings of Jesus are pretty simple: Love. That’s the gist of it. Love. Share one another’s burdens. When someone asked Jesus who is going to heaven just a few chapters before his Great Commission, he answered that those who practice love to the “least of these” – by visiting the imprisoned and feeding the hungry and comforting the afflicted – will be welcomed. Those who DON’T will be turned away. It is they, not Muslims or atheists or Catholics, who will be shunned at the door, who are called “workers of iniquity.”

Jesus’ teachings aren’t on specific doctrines, nor how other religions suck (in point of fact, he said we should “take the log out of your own eyes before considering his or her splinter”). They certainly aren’t centered on Capitalism or Marxism (although he made many, many fine points about the evils of wealth that American churches would do well to not navigate around- if we want to see heaven, that is.). Neither did he teach to be politically partisan.

In fact, Jesus taught extensively about loving our enemiesparticularly those who we’ve been trained to hate.

It would do American Evangelical pastors some good to follow Jesus’ teachings more often. After all, they’ve got congregants filled with doubt.

———————————
* In saying this, I want to stress that the GC is, IMO, a great thing and should be followed. But not in the way it is/has been misapplied, misunderstood, and abused.

Evangelicals and Authoritarianism

Recently some very prominent Evangelicals endorsed presidential candidate and whorish monster Newt Gingrich. These particular leaders have made some tremendous blunders before, yet they are still seen as figureheads and representative of large swaths of not just older Evangelicals, but of a leading Baptist school as well.

The same Newt Gingrich who consistently spreads false rumors about the president, the same one full of inexhaustible arrogance, the same man who calls union workers and black families lazy, the same one who advocates child labor, the same one who cheated on two wives while they were terminally sick, the same one who pocketed millions from an “advisory role” with Fannie and Freddie, the same one who blames poor people for their own problems, the same man who says there are no positive role models in the barrios or hoods, the same man who likes to spout off ridiculous ideas like colonizing and mining the moon (does he think there’s coal or oil there?) and proffers these ideas and obscure/irrelevant historical trivia as some sort of proof of his immense intelligence (and he has the nerve to question anybody else?).

This is who Evangelical institutions like Liberty University want to gather around? This is their Great White Hope?

I think I may know why. Mr. Newt speaks as if he has a lot of authority. He carries himself around as if he were a genius of sorts, a man with the ingenuitive know-how, moral compunction (now that he’s a reformed Catholic) and expertise to rescue us from the Great Demon (whether that be Black Protestant Barack Obama or Mormon Mitt Romney).

'giant OBEY giant' photo (c) 2009, Joey - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Gingrich carries himself with authority. And he represents a particular brand of cultural politics that conservative Christians have recognized as their own as well. Not that that particular brand of politics is in any way actually biblical or Christ-like (it isn’t), but it is authoritative to the core. And Evangelicals love authority.

Which helps to explain why “Pastor” Mark Driscoll is still so popular. After all, he’s been known to act less than pastorly. This man likes to brag about how he yells at the men in his church. He asks Facebook friends to point out “anatomically male” worship leaders. Goes on interviews mocking the interviewee’s wife for being a pastor. Equates masturbation with homosexuality. Constantly belittles homosexuals – and any person who doesn’t live up to his confused standards of what it means to be a man or a woman. Tells story after story about how he sexes up his sexy wife (does the man know no shame?). Is fixated almost exclusively on sex, church “growth”, and money – one thing Jesus was decidedly not concerned about and two that were done absolutely opposite during his ministry.

But he speaks with such authority. Not because he actually knows anything. In fact, like many Evangelical and Fundamentalist leaders, he is celebrated explicitly because he doesn’t know better. His pride is that he only listens to his interpretation of God’s Word. Which is a self-centered and individualized method of reading a holy text meant to be read and understood in community.

Evangelicals like to talk about community. But we tend to practice authoritarianism. Community is when a group of people collaborate in life and, in the process, identify truth and what it means to act out love. What we Evangelicals tend to do is take the words of a few, select (White, Euro-American-centric) men as to what truth is, and as to how we must operate. It’s just so much easier to get our marching orders from on high. So much more reassuring, convenient, and safer, right?

The Nuremberg Answer, “I was only following orders,” is a pretty neat escape clause.

I can’t help but think that we see our leaders in this light because this is also how we view God. I find that a bit scary. As if God doesn’t collaborate. As if God doesn’t or can’t change. As if God doesn’t listen to our cries, our petitions, our prayers.

As if God is about the rules. As if man were made for the Sabbath. As if God’s actions were those of a man unsure of himself, who needs constant affirmation and seeks it by belittling those who are different.

As if God were petty like us.

But rather, God invites us in. God walks with us and shares with us. God has and continues to break bread with us and weep with us when there is not enough bread. I can’t help but think that God weeps for us when we allow these malcontents to rule over us (“like the pagans do,” Jesus warned).

In this corner: Justice! And in this corner: Love!

Justice Vs Love
Round 1
Let’s Go!

I’m not sure which theologian or pastor came up with the concept of a God who has to balance his dual natures.* See, God is both Loving and Just, the argument begins; those two characteristics are essential to understanding God’s character. This I find very agreeable. Completely.

The argument follows, however, that you should not overemphasize God’s love, because then you’ll miss out on his justice. The argument continues to assert that we should not rely too heavily on God’s Love, because that would make God out to be a wussy hippie. And if you emphasize too much of God’s Justice, you make him out to be a pathological warmonger. Justice and Love, in this view, are teetering on the scales of God, constantly keeping each other in balance lest God gets carried away by either extreme.

Brian-Uppercutphoto © 2007 Todd Anderson | more info (via: Wylio)Honestly, I’d like to know who gave us this perspective of the dueling natures of God. I’ll bet it was before Calvin. Was it Anselm? I smell Anselm on this…

This Justice Battles Love view is destructive. It undermines God (again with the gnostic dualism creeping into much of Christendom. You’d think Western Christianity is a really simple but busted computer with all of its binary structures). It undermines Justice. And it undermines Love.

Love isn’t the opposite of Justice. Love is the tree of which Justice is an essential branch.

This view of God as Blind Justitia, balancing his two essences on a commerce scale is based on a misunderstanding of justice as much as a misunderstanding of love. I’ve talked quite a bit about love before – and I’ll say it again, love is not soft. It may be tender when it needs to be, but it can also be ferocious.

Justice, however… The image of Justice needs to be rescued as well. Because when Evangelicals talk about justice they think of two things:

  1. Watered-down “Social Justice” – a fad.**
  2. Blood and torment for evil-doers.

The weird part is that the first is closer to the truth of Justice and its biblical base. Justice is recognizing that the world is out of sorts – that we not only no longer live in Eden, but rather we’re killing our brothers in the wheat fields – and that these injustices can be made right. Justice is a work of redemption and protection. It’s making sure slumlords take care of their tenants and keep the rats at bay. It’s bringing war criminals (including those from the United States) to trial for their crimes. It’s working for health care coverage for the most vulnerable. It’s digging holes and constructing wells for those without access to clean, drinkable water. It’s collaborating on an equitable society that gives the same rights and respects and power to women and non-whites as white males have but refuse to acknowledge their power. It’s an end to arms-trading. It’s taking care of slave-wagers in India, Vietnam, China, and Singapore. It’s releasing and redeeming sex-slaves around your corner.

The prophet Micah looked around at the injustice – at the brutalities against the poor and the exploited – in the nations around him as well as his and declared that justice needed to flow down like a mighty stream and righteousness like the rolling rivers. Isaiah mourned Jerusalem’s loss of justice and the subsequent murder and victimizing, leaving their children starving, in the first chapter. But then he envisioned a new order in the latter chapters. One where the swords will be beaten into plowshares. One where creation will dance and trees will clap their hands.

Cornel West takes a page from the prophets and puts in the palm of a tweet:

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public”

Justice is an arm of Love. Not the opposing force.

Since I’m up way too late, I’ll just close with a couple comments I left a friend of mine on Facebook:

Justice is what I hope for and long for. I’m trying to answer this in as many ways as possible because whoever came up with the whole ‘redemptive violence’ thing really did a number on the western church – and particularly Americans.

But justice means making the wrongs right. it means to correct the wrongs and see wrong-doing banished. though there is punishment for wrong-doers, that’s not the focus of justice – certainly not the long-view focus. the focus – as in the focus of discipline and correction in the church correction passages in the letters to the Corinthians – is to reconcile, to restore, to right, to wipe away every tear, to wash the shores clean of pollution, to raise every valley and lower every mountain so that all may see the glory of the Lord (metaphorically speaking, of course. heaven’d be pretty boring if it were flat).

————–
*I’m sure I’ll get some comments about how it’s not really the case, about how this is just an easy way to describe the complex nature of God. But it’s an extremely inadequate way of doing so.

**I honestly think that the idea of ‘social justice’ came about because of the violent-and-retributive reputation that justice has gotten in since the medieval period. It’s a PR attempt to redeem justice in the Christian churches that have largely abandoned it during much of the 20th Century.

When Evangelicals Aren’t Evangelicals



Much is being said right now about a poll taken by the Pew Research Center and featured in Christianity Today, the stalwart of American evangelicalism (and sometimes its better conscience). A quick glance over said results boiled my already-feverish blood. In it, we see a contrast between those who consider themselves Evangelical Christians and those who do not consider themselves EC’s in relation to how to fix the budget ‘crisis’ in the United States.

So you can see that Evangelicals, who are supposed to take the bible seriously, favor by a margin near 2-to-1:

  • Reducing aid to the unemployed
  • Reducing funds for the environment protection
  • Increasing moneys to the military

In the following areas, they lead non-Evangelicals in support of decreasing:

  • Aid to the world’s poor
  • Money for health care
  • Funds for education (financial aid for higher education, public schools)
Fewer are in favor of increasing funds for the following areas than their non-Evangelical counterparts:
  • Veteran’s Aid
  • The environment
  • Infrastructure
  • Education (2-to-1 margins)
  • Unemployment
  • Aid to the World’s Poor
  • Scientific research (nearly 2-to-1 margins)
A typical nuclear bomb being testedphoto © 2009 Blatant News | more info (via: Wylio)In short, self-described American Evangelicals favor bombs and bullets over books and bread.
After a quick perusal, I questioned on Facebook whether or not we even deserve the title “Evangelical” anymore. But I didn’t explain what I meant by that, of course, and so I got my chops busted. So, allow me to explain.
Evangelical means, basically, A messenger who delivers the Good News.
The term ‘good news’ (or ‘gospel’) at the time of the New Testament writings was derived from the language of Caesar, the head leader of the known world at the time, and it was about Caesar. The gospel was declared in every city, town, and area under Roman rule that the new heir to throne was either born or ascended to the throne.
The Good News of Christ is that the King of the Universe was born among us and, through his death, burial, and resurrection, is taking his place at the right hand of God.
American Evangelicals are so stuck in being American that we are less about delivering the Good News than about being American. The Good News is that the same God who created the universe was born, walked, sang, laughed, and suffered with us, as a poor man on the fringes of civilization in an oppressed nation. He was a healer, a teacher, a lover, a burden-carrier. God was fragile and was killed in the cruelest way – hence making a mockery of the system of oppression of the prince of the air (the ‘Adversary’, Satan).
And then he rose again and began the process of redemption and renewal of all of creation.
Essentially, the Good News is about God’s work of redemptive love through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
That, above, is one way to tell the story. Sometimes it comes through loud and clear, as if through a bull-horn (yet sometimes that way obfuscates that same Good News). Other times, it’s much more subtle. As the great St. Francis of Assisi insisted, “Preach the Good News at all times. If necessary, use words.”
What I worry about is that by holding these lines, that by denying access to food and health care to the poorest of the poor on some weird grounds that they don’t deserve it, or that there isn’t enough to go around (and yet ignoring the excesses of the super-rich, or even just wealthy Americans), that we’ve failed to deliver giving any good news. We are, in effect, giving them Bad News.
God loves you, and so do I, but you have to work harder with what you have in order to get the things that many of us have had as a birthright…

God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. No, not right. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for you AFTER you die…
But no, the Bible is full of Good News, and that good news has a lot to do with the poor, the downcast, those with handicaps, the widows and orphans, the neglected. Much of it is also filled with scary things for the rich.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
– Luke 1:52-3

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,a]”>[a]
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

– Matthew 5

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come
– Luke 4:18-9

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
– James 1:27

Speaking of James:

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.
1:9-11

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.
– 2:2-9

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Luke 18: 21-25

And then there’s the Final Judgment, the parable of the sheep and the goats. And there is no mistake whom God favors there.

Homemade Panettone with bread machine - IMG_8388photo © 2010 Nicola | more info (via: Wylio)

We have favored, however, bombs and bullets over bread and books.

And yet, American Evangelicals tend to protect the rich from the poor. We pretend that if we do good by the wealthy, they will shower us with their favors. And then maybe we, by our abundance of wealth, can take care of the poor.

But that’s never really been the case. The Evangelicals of the 19th century worked hand-in-hand with the poorest of the poor and knew that blind charity would just not be enough to take care of those who were generationally poor, or those who had fallen on hard times. Or those who were sick and not wealthy. Or those who were so far on the verge of poverty that all they needed was to fall back just a teeny tiny bit and they would end up homeless and rejected, despised by all (sound familiar?).

And when they realized that charity was not enough, they implored the government to step in, do its duty, and protect its citizens.

Modern-day Evangelicals tend to want to protect the rich – who have more than they can possibly imagine what to do with – from the poor – who cannot imagine what it means to have more than they could possibly imagine what to do with.

Maybe it’s high time that Evangelicals started charging the imagination up, and helping the wealthy to find ways to help the poor, both at home and abroad.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
-Phil 2:1-4