Franklin Graham: The Bible Is Silent About Welcoming Sojourners and Refugees

Here’s Graham to the Huffington Post on how he can square his and Trump’s literal, political xenophobia (literally, stoking fear of outsiders) carried out in Trump’s executive order to ban immigrants and refugees from several Muslim-dominated countries with his Christianity:

It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue. We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.

Contrary to the Culture Warrior Christian’s idiotic statement, it’s not only a biblical command for Christians, it’s a biblical command for nations. Recall that the Bible wasn’t written to individuals, but to communities, from the Israelites to the early Church.

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

This idea is repeated in Deuteronomy 10:19 and Exodus 22:21: Do not oppress a foreigner, for you yourselves were mistreated foreigners in Egypt.

Throughout the Jewish scriptures, the idea is reiterated time and again as both a national story and as a decree, not only should the immigrant (or stranger or refugee) be welcomed, but treated, befriended, and loved as any other member of the community. Deuteronomy 27, in fact, curses those who mistreat the stranger. The effect is one of continual remembrance; the act of welcoming the stranger is one of communal redemption.

Welcoming sojourners is seen as a definite sign of following God’s commandments. Job, for instance, refers to his good deeds of hospitality toward strangers (in chapters 29 and 31).

Throughout the Older Testament scriptures*, the idea that the Hebrews were aliens, were stuck in a foreign land, and were strange to their own God is reiterated so that the people could empathize with the traveler – those who are forced out of their own land and into a new land, as was Abraham and the people under Moses and Joshua. The Lost. This is a prominent story of Israel, that of a people who were oppressed foreigners and travelers who found a home among God and remember this story through their own hospitality toward foreigners and travelers.

And then there’s Jesus and the New Testament, expanding this national story into Jesus himself (who Matthew recounts as a refugee fleeing the genocidal Herod into Egypt) and then his disciples and Christians themselves (Jesus tells his first followers to go town to town as strangers and accept hospitality, which is expanded in the Great Commission [Go out into all the world and make disciples]; Paul recalls the story before Mars Hill in Acts through an elaborate evangelistic call; Peter does so explaining the new order of Christ-followers on the multilingual Pentecost). The story of strangers being accepted by the community and the parents becomes the story of Christianity, spread throughout the Pauline letters and other epistles as well as through the Gospels themselves.

In Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear that those who welcome and are hospitable to  the stranger are welcoming him; that those who reject the stranger reject him.

The Newer Testament book of Hebrews again retells the national story of Israel, God’s people, as being aliens and strangers and then closes to remind the expanded people of God (according to Christian theology) to:

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Chapter 13. NRSV)

[Oh, now there’s that pesky commandment about torture and imprisonment, both of which Franklin Graham is silent about as his presidential preference is promising to increase.]

In short, we see that while White Evangelicalism promises to be exclusively biblical in following Christ, it is fundamentally cultural, which is to say it is foundationally a linguistic and political theology that establishes and reinforces Whiteness. Franklin Graham is emblematic of this approach, this sin, this heresy of White Theology.

Not that I’m working on a book about this or anything… **


*For instance, Genesis 15:13; 23:4; Psalm 39:12; 105:12; 119:19; I Chronicles 16:19; 29:15; Leviticus 25:23, 35

** I am working on a book about this. Really, two books. Please subscribe to the newsletter for updates.

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Martin Luther King and King Falwell

As I’ve said several times and will say many times to come, Martin Luther King, Jr. is known by most for one line in one speech and wearing suits when he protested*. It’s this sheer veneer of a hagiography of King that allows Liberty University to welcome #DonaldNaziTrump to give the MLK address. Which is weird because presidential candidate Donald Trump is basically running as a national Sheriff Bull Connor. But the higher-ups at the conservative Evangelical Liberty U, despite having many students of color, feel the xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, jingoistic Trump is an appropriate speaker for a retrospective on Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We chose that day so that Mr. Trump would have the opportunity to recognize and honor Dr. King on MLK day,” Liberty University President (and son of founder) Jerry Falwell, Jr. told The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

[Falwell] pointed to King’s principle that people should be judged, as King put it ‘not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’
“Liberty stands for that principle and I believe that Mr. Trump does as well,” he said.

Liberty’s Falwell Jr. swears that a crude, racist, violence-loving capitalist class fascist lives by Martin Luther King’s standards. Let’s think about the abundantly evident patterns being made here for a moment.

06falwell-web-master180

Jerry Falwell, Jr. giving a speech at Liberty University

The first being that there is little critical analysis of King’s legacy in the public eye. Just like Jesus, we remake him in personal images because we don’t want to scrutinize the text – and even when we do, we are rarely honest about the presuppositions we carry with us in our readings.

Take this consideration in combination with the fact that Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a crude, racist, violence-loving capitalist theocrat, like his father Jerry Falwell, Sr. before him. And that he interprets others in binary models in this framework. If they are good, they think like him and are like him. If they are bad  they may or may not think like him, but are on the receiving end of his actions – for example, those Muslims that he told Liberty students to “end” and should be “taught a lesson”.

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Justin Sullivan – Getty Images North America

Contrary to King’s most famous mode of organizing, Falwell, Jr. told his Christian students that they should arm themselves. In their school. Never mind the implications of intimate violence in an environment rife with hyper-masculine theology and ecclesiology. While King advocated nonviolence as a means of organizing protest, it was as a critique of violence located within White Supremacist democracy. We can’t talk about nonviolent agitation without acknowledging that it is an organized resistance to the locus of violence: White Supremacist Empire.

King, it should be noted, was not strictly opposed to gun ownership for black families in terms of protecting their homes from direct white violence (cf Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge). Malcolm and the Panthers preached that this personal method of protection should be extended to organizational efforts against the threat of White violence. In the end, Dr. King and the Black Panthers fell to White violence and intentional disruption (and Malcolm would have likely have done so too if his life wasn’t cut short by an internal power play).

If Falwell, Jr. is to be believed and White Christians are under violent siege from Muslims, then and only then can his call to arms be taken seriously.

But

we

aren’t.

Muslims in the US and abroad are exponentially more likely to be harmed and killed by White American Christian violence than white Christians are by Extremist Muslim violence. In this scenario, Falwell represents the Klan, mob violence, and lynchings that King and his contemporaries were under threat from and (sometimes) armed themselves against.

This centering and outpouring of White violence coupled with the economic terror known as capitalism is central to how Jr. envisions Jesus and Martin Luther King. So of course Trump – another crude White Supremacist capitalist – speaking at an event honoring the pacifist, anti-racist, class-consciousness King is perfectly acceptable.

Trump, Falwell Jr. tells us, reminds him of his father.

President Ronald Reagan and Rev. Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell, Sr., by the way conspired with FBI Director J Edgar Hoover to spread propaganda about King and elevated American capitalism over and above the health of Black Americans. In the 1960’s, he preached that racial segregation was ordained by God. And…

In a 1964 sermon, “Ministers and Marchers,” Falwell attacked King as a Communist subversive. After questioning “the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations,” Falwell declared, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.”

Falwell concluded, “Preachers are not called to be politicians, but soul winners.”

Then, for a time, Falwell appeared to follow his own advice. He retreated from massive resistance and founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy, an institution described by the Lynchburg News in 1966 as “a private school for white students.”

Note: Many progressives tend to overplay Falwell’s post-Brown V. Board explicit racism as the genesis and centrality of Liberty University and his Moral Majority. Falwell Sr would later repudiate and even destroy remaining copies of sermons such as “Ministers and Marchers” and “Segregation or Integration: Which?” – arguably for political and numerical reasons, to further his reach and base among those who did not care for such explicit racism. The concern here is this false thinking that racism, like misogyny, is only real and harmful when it’s explicit rather than structural. The Moral Majority and Falwell both endorsed policies and practices which were functionally racist and sexist, but not out of a desire to be racist or sexist.

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For God and the Empire – via Wiki

In the contemporary West, the White Supremacist Empire is located in the relation that the state and its arms (the police and the military) have with corporations and banks. This was true during King’s era as seen in Jim Crow and Vietnam, and it is true in its current manifestations of the War on Crime and the War on Terror. On the rare, exaggerated, and misattributed occasion that peaceful protests get out hand and start burning or looting, White media and masses tend to focus on that rather than the White violence that is the we fail to recognize actual violence.

The actual violence is that people, and especially black and brown people, are commodified and perceived as property in the first place. We see how this happens in both practice (privatization of black and brown schools; overpolicing) and in memory (King as nice-&-eloquent black man who asked whites to free his people).

———————

*For more, check out Austin Channing Brown’s “What Would MLK Do?

 

5th Column and the Way to Peace: A #CheapPeace Synchroblog

Note: This is my second of two additions in the second edition of the #NewPacifism Synchroblog hosted by Rod at Political Jesus. This edition is called Cheap Peace.

In the last blog I argued in a footnote that while the Christian Pacifist class may do a good job of critiquing the Security State abroad, there is no workable critique of the Security State in the domestic level. I propose this is for a variety of reasons. First, Evangelicals overwhelmingly voted in George W Bush and his culture of war, and re-established him even after he and his neocon buddies showed the true face of their “compassionate” Christianity and just what kind of “democracy” they were exporting (and thus importing back into the US as well). So the Christian Pacifist focus on the War on Terror is an important critique. And because this critique was so little heard in the very White and thus Republican Evangelical churches, it caught on with a largely younger generation. In effect, taking on this message became profitable and popular. But it was also easier than critiquing the very essence of the White middle class existence.

This White Middle Class existence is built upon Black enslavement, Indigenous extermination, Brown deportation, racial-economic segregation and gentrification. The largest motivator for these actions is fear. Fear of a Black planet; fear of a Brown county. We readily see fear in not just conservative but liberal and progressive utterances in regards to People of Color. Hives. Muslim Terrorists. Crack babies. Thugs. Infestation. All terms dehumanizing POC. Even the idea of the “Model Minority” puts unrealistic and inhuman expectations on East Asians – using them as objects and props in the neverending socio-psychological war against Black people and other, less-desirable minority groups.

So the disconnect is so wide between the White World created on the energy of fear and the Black and Brown worlds controlled and to a degree defined by that same energy that it’s easy to see why White Christian Pacifists will not tackle domestic racism – it’s alien because they are a part of White Supremacist system and because Cheap Peace comes easy. In the American consumer culture, peace is merely another product that can be – under the right people – wished and spoken into existence. So the cries for Peace, Peace they cried upon Ferguson in the wake of the non-verdict were not cynical, but sincere and genuine. And that is the problem. They seem to actually believe that peace can be achieved abroad or domestically without tearing down the very systems that benefit them in the process. They actually believe that peace is merely a state of mind, and that they – being predominantly white and male – can institute that state of mind. It’s a colonial state of mind.

Riot Police in the Field, Peace - Banksy

Riot Police in the Field, Peace – Banksy

Even Banksy tends to have this neoliberal view.

And as Fanon points out, decolonization is an act of violence because colonization is an act of violence. This is why those who speak for the recognition of the humanity of black people in the framework of White Supremacist America are viewed as “race-baiters” and “racial instigators”. Notice that within this work I – as an identifiably white male – am never referred to as an animal (that distinction would go to my grandmother, friends and neighbors, I suppose), but merely as a trouble-maker. Christian pacifists do not like trouble because it makes things harder for them. Their work is in the speech acts and speech acts need Searlian contexts in order to be effective. The speech acts must be presented at the right time, in the right place, with the right set of words (or their acceptable approximates), and be agreed upon by all acting participants. For someone to reject the call of peace means that the peace-keeper has failed and must go it again. But the lack of peace isn’t due to the fact that the peace-speaker wasn’t working – it’s a result of uncooperative people (usually people of color, of course).

This is of course the essence of Cheap Peace. When Bonhoeffer critiqued Cheap Grace, he was speaking on such matters – grace given as a proximate, as a speech act when none was appropriate. Grace was given by the church over a murderous, genocidal, nationalistic state. His Lutheran church sanctified the Third Reich just as the White American Churches sanctify the White Supremacist code. To reject such is to reject peace. Is to stir up trouble.

This last week I was called a “racial instigator and 5th Column Marxist” by an ex-FBFriend. I joked – as one does – about adding these titles to my CV. I’ve already been long convinced that what the White Church needs is more racial instigation, as its complacency and silence breeds violence just as the Lutheran church’s did in the 1930’s and 40’s. In looking up what a ‘fifth column’ is, however, I was rather stoked. It is this idea of sabotage, of taking down a city or fortress from inside its own walls. I will gladly do that to capitalism, if I could. I will spread the very real news that capitalism is a great evil that is capitulated on the value of private property over the value of human lives. If that is not a fundamentally Christian morality, the one Jesus spoke of to the Rich Young Ruler, I do not know what is. Isn’t radicalism fundamentally instigation and sabotage? To work within the city of corruption and death and destruction to bring it to collapse? If the White American Church runs on a capitalist model (and it does) that benefits White Americans while silencing the voices of those on the margins, it needs to be brought down. It needs to be invaded. Perhaps the word closest to mind would be infested.

But even if the White Pacifist Christians speak out against injustice in and of their communities and silence their own hushing techniques, are they willing to uproot the systems that cause sustained, traumatic violence at home? Are they willing to strike simultaneously against not just the Military Industrial Complex, but against Heteropatriachy1? Not just against the Prison Industrial Complex, but capitalism? Not just that #BlackLivesMatter as a slogan in the same way that the professional anti-abortion industry co-opts the message that all lives are precious to God, but in a theologically robust and comprehensive way that the likes of James Falwell, Chuck Colson, and Operation Rescue never ever comprehended?

The Security State is in place to protect White Middle Class American fears. Is it not the job of Christian theology – and certainly any pacifist view based on that theology – to erase fear with hope and love? And if love in action is the work of justice (I argue it is), and if we recognize that peace does not exist outside of justice, instigate. Instigate!

It is cheap to maintain the status quo at home while demanding change abroad.

This is Cheap Peace. The fact that lives are cheap and that all we need to do is say some words about how lives are treated over there by our government. But very little critique is here, at home. Peace is cheap and shouldn’t cost us some businesses, right?

———–

1Patriachy is the logic that naturalizes social hierarchy. Just as men are supposed to dominate women on the basis of “natural” biology, so too should the social elites of a society naturally rule everyone else through a nation-state form of governance that is constructed through domination, violence and control. Patriarchy, in turn, is presumed a heteronormative gender binary system. Thus, as Ann Burlen argues in Lift High the Cross, it may be a mistake that the goal of Christian Right politics is to create a theocracy in the United States. Rather, CRp work through private family (which is coded as white, patriarchal, and middle class) to create a “Christian America.” She notes that the investment in the private family serves to make it more difficult for people to invest in more public forms of social connection. In addition, investment in the suburban private family serves to mask the general disinvestment in urban areas that makes the suburban lifestyle possible. The social decay in urban areas that results from this disinvestment is then construed as the result of deviance from the white, Christian family ideal rather than as the result of political and economic forces.

  • Andrea Smith, “Dismantling the Master’s Tools with the Master’s House: Native Feminist Liberation Theologies.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (22:2), Fall 2006, p 96.

Prophets of a Misanthropic God – a #fleshYgod post

 The memorable words of T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets come to mind — “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” This goes particularly for toney producers of reality shows, who are unaccustomed to having one of the swamp people emerge from the fens to inform them, denizens of a sophisticated and urbane cosmopolis as they are, that the human body was given just one sex organ and the poochute is not it.

– Douglas Wilson.

Perhaps you remember Wilson for rape apologism, writing two books about how awesome slavery was (including for black people – you know, like how pre-Civil Rights Jim Crow was also great for black people according to Duck Commander)  and then tells black people and women that they need to listen to him on sexuality and racial issues. That he would defend a man who compared homosexuality to bestiality and said that black people were happy during Jim Crow but are entitled now should come as no surprise at all.

As my friend h00die_R of Political Jesus says clearly, the kind of God that Wilson, Robertson, and all their defenders worship is a White Supremacist.

That critique needs to stand on its own. After all, while imagining a rape scenario to critique (read: scare) Sarah Moon’s critique of his Rape Apologism, he also imagines rapists should suffer lynchings – more racist dogwhistling keying into the White Supremacist myth that white women need protection primarily from black, virile men in order to keep the races pure.

John Piper recently hosted Wilson and let him blarb for over an hour about how he’s so clearly not racist and how discussions of racism need to be two ways. Douglas Wilson, according to Douglas Wilson, has a lot to teach black people and they need to listen to him. Piper and his The Gospel Coalition still unabashedly support Wilson. And millions of White Christians organize to support Phil Robertson, before and after his racist crap.

It’s probably telling that so many conservative Christians were supporting Duck Dynasty and its “Soft Patriarchy” Christianity since the beginning. The show centers on men doing things that men do – leading, being outdoors, hunting, goofing around. Women, on the other hand, as domesticated backdrops provide an impetus for humor through what is understood to the viewers as nagging.

This is in keeping with the complementarian views of conservative Christianity featuring a Misogynistic God who does not permit women to lead over men, who relegates females to strict supportive (and often silent) roles.

In light of these ways of limiting the role and function of people that are not male, are not straight, are not white, the Robertson family rushes to defend their patros:

[Phil Robertson’s] beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.

I wonder what neighbors the Robertson clan have and how they claim to love them if they are gay, black or female – let alone any other intersectionality. This Misanthrope God doesn’t accept people outside his tribe, his people.

Oh My God!

But, rather, I seek to serve an embodied God who became flesh and dwelt among and became the oppressed, the occupied. A God who became a subject of the Roman Empire, who was poor, an ethnic minority who could have sided with the oppressors like the religious and civic leaders in Jerusalem but instead decided to rid the temple of its exclusivist wares and widened the call to serve and love the oppressed and persecuted and hated.

The Temples Must Be Cleared

According to New Testament scholar NT Wright, the elite social-religious ruling class of Jesus’ Palestine, the Sanhedrin, were in their purity laws trying to both maintain their own bourgeois-like status they had within the Jewish community and yet throw off non-native, foreign, godless influences. They felt that by being pure enough, the Delivering God of Moses and Isaiah would come down, slay their enemies and deliver them into the Promised Land*.

In this, there is striking confluence between American churches – particularly but not at all exclusively the Religious Right – and the Sanhedrin. The reign and rule that Christian churches and the old Sanhedrin want to establish is of a preferred culture, is Middle Class, is whole and well and apparently without blemish – it is “pure” according to whatever definition they establish and regulate within their community. All others must either meet up to the standards and be more holy than the Pharisees or get the hell out, as Jesus acknowledged in (and is widely misunderstood by Evangelicals in) Matthew 5.

Somebody's Little Girl

Of all the major incidents in Jesus’ life/ministry, the most pertinent to the divide between this culture of Holy Purity and Jesus’ working definition of purity is also one of the least talked about. And maybe that’s because it is ultimately rebelling against how church and society are run.  Even when the Christian Left illustrates the issue (with a cartoon of Jesus driving out Wall St types), though it may touch on an important aspect of what being a prophetic Christian should be about and in keeping with the ministry and teaching of Jesus, the prophets, apostles and Church fathers/mothers (and we try to touch on that as well at Commie Pinkos Wrote My Bible), it really doesn’t get to the heart of this centralized illustration of Jesus clearing out the Temple Courts.

The story, in fact, is so integral to the Christian witness it is repeated in all four of the Gospels and with little, but yet significant, variation. We’ll begin by encountering John’s version of it, which comes, interestingly enough, early on in his declaration of the goodness in the life of Jesus.

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

This is the common reading told by John in the second chapter – confusing those who read the bible as being linear (whereas the others arrange the accounts more-or-less chronologically and therefore place this setting towards the end – right near his crucifixion).

Usually, when there are variations, scholars will point out that each of the writers have a particular perspective to pull out of the narrative. However, I like to think here that a combined reading pulls in pieces of a bigger picture: A Jesus who infuriates the social leaders  by denying their rules. A Jesus who sees worship of God without denied people as being sacrilegious.

Matthew 21 says that after the clearing, people with blindness and physical disabilities were able to come into the temple. They came to find and receive healing.

Luke 19 says that Jesus took over the temple, teaching from it, for the next several days. He and his crowd cleared the temple of the restrictive market forces to occupy the temple for its intended purpose: So the people can gather to be a part of and enact in the Kingdom of God.

Luke and Mark 11 record that the chief priests, the religious powers, thus enraged were condemning him to death and plotting to murder him. Jesus was challenging their livelihood. He was upsetting the power balance. He was disturbing the peace. He was rousing the rabble. It is for reasons like this that Jesus suffered the rebel’s capital punishment.

In each one of these accounts, the radicalism of this action of temple-clearing is front and center. The religious-political-economic powers are frustrated and turned on their heads, so they fight back in the ways they know how. They question Jesus’ authority. In a shaming and patriarchal society, that normally works. But here, Jesus outsmarts them. They find the crowds loving Jesus and his rebellion.

He is labeled a rebel – a threat. And he is. They are not mistaken. Jesus prominently featured a God welcoming all to her breast like a mother hen protecting her chicks as the barn burns down. The ruling classes would have none of that; it disturbs the status quo of their dead God. Jesus had upset the order carefully placed by the ruling classes and would continue to do so.

Christianity in the 21st century

Jesus and his fellow broken humans were occupying the temple in the name of The Father who welcomes all to her presence. This theme would be further explored and pushed to the most obscene level at the crucifixion the leaders were planning. It is there where the veil separating the presence of the Most Holy God would be ripped, allowing the scoundrels, the riffraff, the gangbanger, the Samaritan, the mute, the paralyzed, the bipolar. These people the Pharisees labeled unclean, demon possessed, beggars, them, that person. In Jesus’ stories they are the heroes, they are moved from the silent margins and into the middle of the action.

These are not the people the church wants to make protagonists of.  That would privilege people who can do no good for business. And the contemporary American church operates as a business. Churches have not just “lead” and “teaching” pastors, but “executive” pastors who peddle books for ministers molded on the same forms and types of executives that run Boeing, Apple, and Citigroup – companies that prey on, extract from, shoot down, or otherwise exclude the marginalized, poor, people of color. This reinforces the idea that the Christian church is primarily concerned about convenience, about the wealthy, able-bodied, developmentally abled, psychologically stable. Those who fit in the mold with ease. Those without blemish are allowed to participate fully, without shame.

The boards of the typical Evangelical church are comprised of white businessmen. Because they obvs know how to run a business, the thought goes, they deserve first-preference to run the church.

Even the poor who flood megachurches are wanted only for their change which helps to keep the church running and the pastors eating well while the congregants delay their pressing worries for another day. The songs, the greetings, the preaching, the vocabulary, the overall messages of the church delay the hopes and dollars of struggling, suffering, sacrificingcongregants into a tomorrow that is promised but can never arrive. Though they are ostensibly welcomed into the prosperity gospel-preaching church, their beings are not, their concerns are daily being rebuffed. The message is clear: To be poor or physically, mentally, sexually, socially, emotionally “unclean” is to doubt God’s work through that church and teacher.

In the established Temple Marketplace, God cannot work, cannot deliver, without the socio-religious elites’ purity being enforced throughout. The minds, bodies, concerns, and beings of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized are not allowed into the temple area.  The business of the holy is business; therefore, the sacraments are not accessible, the price is too steep – doves cannot be offered when doves cannot be bought. Tithes cannot be offered when the family can’t make rent.

This is in terrible contradiction to the Jesus who disturbed the temple business and reclaimed the House of Prayer. To paraphrase the Methodist blessing: The Temple of the Lord for the People of the Lord.

When the order of the church’s day is business, profit, and maintaining the purity status quo – whether stated or not, whether in an Evangelical, prosperity gospel, neo-reformed, Catholic, Orthodox, or mainline church – then the marginalized are restricted access to the full glory of God as witnessed in the teachings and restorative healing actions of Jesus. And when the marginalized are restricted, God is not welcome. For God sides with the oppressed.

_______________________________________________

*While evoking Moses, Jesus also evoked Jonah’s God and Jeremiah among others not so easy to hear.

Towards A Cage Behind Theology

After mulling over the significance of the new Nic Cageful Left Behind movie (bound to be a seven film series. Because, completion of perfection!) for several months, I’ve realized that, like all good puzzles that transcend space, time, sense and good taste, I must learn to think outside bsurdity and allow absurdity to roam amok, with a mullet, and naked, and stuff. I’ve decided that the only way to solve the mystery of this supernova upon earth’s media empire set to implode upon our intellectual space and suck away at both our souls and our braenzes is to predict what this movie will look like. If, like much Western Theology, we can figure out what something is, God will save us from the wages of sin (aka, Nic Cage series).

So here’s my take:

The new Left Behind series will be a threequel to the National Treasure treasure of this nation – the Holy Third member of the Holy Trinity of NT. But here, the mystery being unlocked is what happened to all the nice, middle class white people and the cartoonish people of color and why is everybody else that’s left a vile flirt, drinker of spirits, and/or a pool-and-cards player? Why, Nic Cage’s character must ask in raspy and world-weary overhanded voice-over, are all the Left Behinders having so much obviously incomplete with such an obvious God-shaped hole in their hearts?

Image

What Cage shall find is that the answer is hidden in an ancient American treasure. Not the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, but that OTHER national treasure: Jefferson’s Bible. But not the one made up after-the -fact by by teh revisionist libruls where the pages about miracles were ripped out because libruls hate the bible and our founders, but the one that was really kept by Thomas Jefferson (who, also, we are reminded, really loved his slaves and even married one) and is filled with copious underlinings, notes in the margins, and colorful highlighted text – just like Eschatology Scholar Tim LaHaye’s bible!

Nic Cage – and some chick – must cross heaven and earth (as long as it’s in continental, continual United States) to find Thomas Jefferson’s Bible before we are all left behind.

Also, when they find it, only they’ll be saved…

Continue reading

Instead of a Show

“You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed.
You treat the righteous like dirt”

I’d like to see this song played in churches. And then take it where it needs to go. Dismantling the production of the Sunday Morning Worship Industrial Complex in order to do and be the work of God’s hands and body in an unjust and cruel world.

Jon Foreman, the lead songwriter, singer and guitarist for the pop-rock band Switchfoot, has deep roots in the Contemporary Christian Music industry (their first records were produced by Charlie Peacock and mostly available via Christian bookstores). But unlike most – and with a few notable exceptions – they also have deep roots in the justice arm of Christianity. In addition to this solo song based on Amos 5, also check out “The Sound: John Perkins’ Blues” from Switchfoot’s Hello Hurricane.

Entertaining Angels

[During the lost decade of the 1980s], more than 140,000 died in Guatemala, 70,000 in El Salvador, 60,000 in Nicaragua–unimaginable devastation for a region that has fewer inhabitants than the state of Texas.
– Juan Gonzalez, Harvest of Empire

You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.
– Exodus 23:9

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
– Hebrews 13:2

A Sad Story in Derbyshire - Penelope Asleep Inside the Church in Ashbourne

Mary don’t you weep

Mary’s Magnificat is a thing of true beauty. I have trouble, as does Vinith here, with this false duality that Christianity is either about social justice or glorifying God. Last time I checked, the two were intricately connected. As I mentioned before (and long before me, many, many others including the writer of I John), if you can’t work on loving your neighbors, you can’t truly love God. And loving one’s neighbors means looking out for their best, despite the cost to ourselves. Despite the fact that we have been taught that they may be lazy, no good, criminals, murderers. Despite the fact that they may be. Despite the fact that we may be. Loving the God of creation means loving the creation of God as well. Loving the God in whose image we are made means to love those who were made in his image. Praising God means uplifting spirits, and uplifting spirits cannot be separated from uplifting their bodies. This would include, say, feeding them throughout the year, not just in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas (but more on that later). This may include making sure that they get access to adequate health care, affordable viable housing, and living wages.

Mary responded,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”

Passage from Luke 1:46-55, New Living Translation

One more point: It’s for reasons like this that I call myself a Christian rather than just a Christ-follower. As a Christ-follower, as I see it, I’m ONLY following in Jesus’ footsteps. But that’s impossible. I need others. We all do. That’s the point. Mary is one of the (stunningly) beautiful figures in the Gospels that is inspiring. She didn’t operate conventionally. She held her head up high in the midst of scandal. She dared to love the man who would leave her. She dared to love and obey God.

But I have this feeling that she was also very, very human. That she may have hurt mightily amongst the accusations. That she didn’t quite understand God’s plans through her, let alone fully understand the mission or nature of her son. A great crux between humanity’s frailties and God’s grace, which made her a great incubator for the God child – so to speak.

Hey, Man, Leave Those Atheists Alone…

To be honest, I find the New Atheist movement flippin’ annoying. It’s like dealing with hyper-fundamentalists all over again – very reactionary, very ideological, very little grounding in fact. Much yelling, screaming, flying accusations and dishes… It reminds me too much of home…

But enough about me. What I do understand about the NAM is that — on the occasions when they are flying off the handle — they are reacting to something that is very threatening. Take for instance the reaction to the ads going up countrywide, as reported in the New York Times.

A clash of beliefs has rattled this city ever since atheists bought ad space on four city buses to reach out to nonbelievers who might feel isolated during the Christmas season. After all, Fort Worth is a place where residents commonly ask people they have just met where they worship and many encounters end with, “Have a blessed day.”

“We want to tell people they are not alone,” said Terry McDonald, the chairman of Metroplex Atheists, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, which paid for the atheist ads. “People don’t realize there are other atheists. All you hear around here is, ‘Where do you go to church?’ ”

But the reaction from believers has been harsher than anyone in the nonbeliever’s club expected. Some ministers organized a boycott of the buses, with limited success. Other clergy members are pressing the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to ban all religious advertising on public buses. And a group of local businessmen paid for the van with the Christian message to follow the atheist-messaged buses around town.

The Christians’ response (not to be confused with the Christian response) would make sense if perhaps the ads were being belligerent (like the ones in New York declaring Christmas to be a myth. Which, in a sense, it can be described of as in a fairly accurate way. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here). The pastors who sponsored the bus answer that they’re just trying to tell people that God loves them.

But that’s the problem with much of contemporary Christianity. We talk a whole lot about love, but we don’t seem to know how to practice it with people who are different from us. In fact, our love is pretty shallow, at least collectively. I’m sure some people are genuinely loving toward atheists, gays, and Muslims in person, but if you ask the typical non-Christian how they feel about Christians’ response to them, you (if you were a Christian who thought the world loves Christians, that is) may be surprised. Well, it’s because we’re not very nice people. We’re that annoying couple who come first, jabber in everybody’s ear about our precious children and show dogs and jobs, and leaves hours after everybody else, and then thinks we were the life of the party. We’re the muscle-necked kid in middle school who forces everybody else to be our friend, but then wonders why nobody signs our yearbook pics, or comes to hang out during the weekends or summer.

Those visuals are incorrect, though. They imply that we should be making friends. That’s not a Christian’s job, according to Jesus.

A Christian’s job, according to the Bible and Jesus himself, can be summed up in three, interconnected parts: Love God; Love Others; Make Disciples. By being the majority bullies that we are – by not allowing others to disagree or think differently in peace – we’re ignoring that second creed (ironically by saying that we’re doing the second creed). Additionally, if we don’t love others, we can’t truly love God. And if we can’t convince people that there is anything lovely about the Gospels (yet there is. We’ve lost that in much of our practices), what is there to attract them to it? Most of new converts would be just more fake friends, faking their way through their co-dependency, trading in one broken life for another, more dependent one. And that does nobody any good.

Questioning Evangelicals: Corporate Sin

“Corporations and nations don’t kill people. Individual bad persons kill people. Individually. Sometimes with guns.”

That line of logic is prevalent in my own Evangelical movement. Evangelicals do not recognize corporate sin, this concept that a group of people can be responsible for the sins of the entire group, even if they did not individually sin. Which is odd, to say the least.

First, Western Christians (under which Evangelicals fall) believe that all of humanity is cursed with the consequences of sin because of the follies of a couple representative members (Adam & Eve). Second, Christians believe that when sin entered the world, it ruined not just A&E and their offspring, but the whole world. Which includes not just nature, not just hurricanes and tsunamais and earthquakes and other “Acts of God.” But every social interaction, every attempt at brotherhood (see Cain and Abel) and community (see Babel) is tainted beyond simple matters of ‘me’ and ‘you’.

But let’s look at an example, shall we?

“You shall not murder.”
“If someone strikes you on the one cheek, offer him your other cheek.”

How are these rather straight-forward Biblical imperatives reconciled in the minds of Evangelical Christians in the light of our constant drumming of war triumphalism? How does a Christian live a moral life and participate as a soldier – if the primary function (not necessarily purpose) of a soldier is to kill?*

A friend tried to help with this disconnect once, using common logic from the EC fray:

“Suppose you’re called to the military by your country. You operate in obedience to your country. You fight because you have to. You shoot because you have to. That other person on the other side may, just like you, have a family – kids and a wife. But it’s your duty to shoot, to defend your country. You can rest assured that you are not personally responsible for that person’s death. The responsibility for the death is on the government’s head.”

At this juncture, it seems important to note that there are a few meteoritic holes in this argument (like, How come many of the same people who say we have to obey our government in times of war will openly disavow obeying the government in something so paltry as paying taxes? Or, Is it more important to be obedient to my government or to my conscience?), but let’s take this example at face value, shall we? What we are told to do here is remove individual guilt and place it on a corporate entity.**

Which is one of the few periods when Evangelicals recognize any sort of corporate sin in any form. Evangelicals are so centered on individual sins (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life as committed by each person) that the idea that companies, corporations, local governments, nations (or at least non-Axis-of-Evil ones), industries, markets and their directors and/or members can be held guilty for their actions is foreign to them. The meltdown at Enron, for example, can be blamed on a few reckless people – not a reckless corporate atmosphere of rapid growth and immense competition that precluded false financial reports meant to buff up their image yet accomplishing a wide-scale gang-raping of jobs and safety.

However, if one were to point out the evils rampant in, say, the police force, she will be told that it is the work of a few bad apples.
Likewise, the housing collapse was the work of individual predatory lenders (or, for the less compassionate, individual poor people who should have known better).
The related banking collapse.
Classism.
Homelessness.
Sexism.
Racism.
Homophobia.
The sex slave trade.

These are all the works of isolated individuals, not systemic problems. They just need some Jesus and those problems will be taken care of. Right?

And then there’s more massive problems, not so easily deflected to individuals:
Global poverty.
Slavery in general (which is bigger than ever).
Terrorism.

Often looking into the abyss of these problems, many fellow Evangelicals would rather not face the ‘Why’ of these dilemmas (or if they do they turn to overly-simplistic or even racist answers). Instead, they work on trying to serve the people caught in the problems (or, in the “Axis of Evil” example, advocate for war. Again…). Which is beneficial to a point, but severely limited. It only allows us to rescue a few hand-picked individuals and only for a short period of time. Further, the good vibes associated with the rescuing allow us a reprieve from the guilt associated with our comfortable life and all the riches; they allow us to continue to feed into the machines that entrap people. Rather than tearing down the prisons and allowing the prisoners to go free, we’re content with sending in a check every once in a while. Rather than confronting our luxurious and wasteful nation. Rather than challenging banking and insurance policies and practices that are clearly unethical. Rather than calling the gods of war and their connections to account for the blood they shed. Rather than picking up our cross daily for the sins of our generation.

We’ll just continue to blame individual sin and find a scapegoat here and there. As long as we don’t have to be personally responsible for others’ sins…

* I do not indict soldiers in this argument. I am merely bringing in a moral argument.
**Except, for many on the Evangelical Right, the sins of the government in declaring war on “our enemies” (currently, Brown People and Muslims) are absolved.