Freedom vs. Love: When Freedom Prevents Us From Loving

I am reading Bradley Jersak’s “A More Christlike God, A More Beautiful Gospel” (https://www.amazon.com/More-Christlike-God-Beautiful-Gospel/dp/1889973165). In chapter three he contrasts two competing values in Western Culture: “freedom” and “goodness.” He makes the point that of the two, one will always be dominant over the other. Where we have recently seen this most dramatically portrayed in America is in the flack over building a border wall, Muslim immigration and in the so-called attacks on “religious freedom.”

In each of these three cases the safety of our personal freedoms and “rights” is the overriding principal governing protest and the push for legal protections. And in each circumstance someone else’s situation is negatively affected by the insistence on safeguarding our own personal freedoms.

As Jersak puts it, “We live in a culture that so totalizes freedom that anyone who presents an obstacle or becomes a hindrance to what I want is attacking my freedom. I will perceive intrusions on my way of life as the enemy, whether it is a family member, a foreign militant or a government regulator…impositions on my freedom are considered offensive and immoral–attacks–because my personal autonomy (self-rule) comes first.”
…”On the other hand, Christ commands us to love our enemies and to overcome evil with good. He calls us to make love our first allegiance–and his love frees us to do so. Freedom in Christ, ironically, is freedom from the tyranny of our own paranoia-producing self-will and fear-driven self-preservation, which we’ve tragically mislabeled ‘freedom.'” (P. 51)

When self-preservation and personal liberties are promoted by the church as a moral imperative, the result is a Gospel that ceases to be “good-news,” and the church loses it’s “witness” to the Love, Grace and Mercy of God. Extreme examples of this can be seen in the proposal to allow “open carry” on the Liberty University campus and the desire to build a shooting range there. Another sad example can be found in the recent un-Christlike comments of a well-known evangelist towards Muslim refugees fleeing the horrors of war in Syria and the bigoted and false statements made about transgender people by the Right in an attempt to deny safe bathrooms to them.

These are examples of how the church can slip into a self-serving frame of mind and lose sight of serving others first. In most of the recent conversations I have had with conservative Christians they have invariably supported blocking refugees, mass deportations and legislation against Gays on the grounds of preserving our freedoms as Americans and Christians. The argument goes something like this: “the government’s job is to protect us, the church’s job is to minister to others. The government has no business doing the church’s job.” While there may be some truth in that, the church on the Right, unfortunately, has not counteracted with an attitude of selfless love, but has applauded and encouraged self-centered actions by both church and state. In reality, the grasping for “freedom” becomes a bondage that hinders the true freedom we have in Christ to serve others.

Oddly enough, the insistence on my rights taking precedence over other’s rights is almost always couched in terms of “majority” or ‘who’s in control’ rights. Again the over-emphasized concern with majority freedoms at the cost of marginalized individual rights becomes a hallmark of a selfish church. The recent recension of transgender rights by the current administration was hailed as a triumph for the “privacy rights of all of the students who attend their schools” (Kerri Kupec, Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group). As can be seen, the “freedoms” referred to are not truly freedoms for “all” but freedoms for those who are currently in control.

The church then becomes merely a defender of the status quo rather than a defender of the helpless and disadvantaged. Again, an odd development considering the Evangelical insistence to be seen as a disadvantaged minority, at odds with current society. At the center of this victim mentality is a core resistance to be inconvenienced in any way by the needs of others who are “different” than the traditional status quo, seeing it’s own “minority” needs taking precedence over other’s minority needs, all of which underscores the Right’s weaknesses in the areas of empathy and mercy.

While this can be understood from a political standpoint, it is hard to find justification for it among Christians. So what is the practical upshot of all this? As American Christians how do we wish our government to be perceived? Is it to be generous or does America hoard it’s resources, keeping them to ourselves? Do we expect America to only help others only when it is beneficial to her? Does the church “act magnanimous” while expecting the government to do the “dirty work” of discrimination and marginalization? A lot depends on whether we are selfish or selfless Christians and whether we see America as self-serving or not.

How can the church do it’s job of defending the helpless and those on the outskirts? For one, the church can step back from it’s current support for political actions that marginalize women, minorities and immigrants, remembering that it was once a persecuted minority and in areas of the world it still is. Political action should never simply be in terms of status quo or what makes us feel “comfortable.” Likewise, our fears should not be a primary focus on denying others help when they desperately need it. Ways to adequately meet the needs of the disenfranchised while remaining practical should be sought out. Absolute honest self-assessment needs to take place among America Christians to weed out those attitudes that are based on fear or loss of control.

In conclusion, it would be helpful to remember that Christ did not put his needs above others but calls us to a life where we “lay down our lives” for the benefit of others, family, friends, neighbors and even enemies (1 John 3:16, Mark 12:31, Matt. 5:44). The church cannot fail when it follows the example of Christ, the head of the church.

The Women’s March on Washington, Part 2: When Men Think It’s All About Them

This interesting Patriarchal Complementarianist interpretation of the women’s march on Washington was posted recently by Dale Partridge explaining why the women’s march was really about men and that our “dormancy” (insert dominance for what he really means) has required women to step up and take the dominant role (becoming men).

“Men, we cannot ignore last weekend’s women’s march. It was a complex moment fueled by historical wounds, ungodly political agendas, and broken desires. But at the root, it was a reaction to the absence of Godly men. A reaction to generations of fathers who never loved, husbands who never cherished, and brothers who never valued. It was wives, sisters, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers screaming the songs of oppression, of belittlement, and of confusion. Men, the women of our world are hurting for the truth. Their protests are also pleas to us for more love, for more value, and for more leadership. Men, it’s time we recognize the reservoir of wisdom that sits within our women. It’s time we see the value Christ placed on our counterpart. And it’s time to grow up, know up, and show up to the roles God has placed before us. Remember, when men become boys, women become men. And when women become men, our ladies carry our weight at the cost of their femininity. In turn, our dormancy is robbing what makes them so beautiful and distinctive in the first place. God has given men and women different roles. However, He has not given us different value. Men, it is time for us to turn to the women in our life, to pick up our heart, to stand in our responsibilities, and to remind them of God’s word on women, on the unborn, and on intrinsic value. The world will never thrive without their inclusion. Let’s make sure they feel this truth this upcoming year. Please share.” #DaleyWisdom (1)

This is a typical take on male-female relations that I heard time and time again growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. When men give up control, women take over, with dire consequences! The “Truth” Mr. Partridge of course referring to is not that in Christ Jesus we are one, that there is no male or female in God’s eyes (Gal 3:28), but that man was created to rule over the woman (Gen 3:16). In the 50’s the Religious Right concentrated their ire on communism. When JFK ran for President in the 60’s the attention switched to keeping a Catholic out of the White House at all costs. When that failed the Right was shut out of political control and needed a new boogieman to attack. That ended up being secularism and the Cultural Wars began in earnest. (2) Ladies and gentlemen, its all about control. The stuff about showing women more love, gently guiding them into their proper God-given roles, etc., all a smokescreen. When men stop treating women as inferior, as simple children that need to be led by “Godly men,” then and only then, will men get to know women as the way God intended, equal in every way.

I can do no better than this woman’s answer to Mr. Partridge:

Amanda: “Ungodly political agendas? Like equal pay?, access to life saving medical treatments like cancer screenings?, believing all people regardless of color or religion deserve equal treatment under the law? (Remember Jesus was a brown man from the Middle East and basically a refugee)
A reaction to the absence of Godly men? No it was a reaction to the presence of a very ungodly man.
My father loved me just fine thanks.
My brother also values me, thanks again.
Confusion? No I think you are the one who is confused.
Lose our femininity? Because we can take care of ourselves? Not even close.

I guess to sum it up, we marched against men like you telling us how we should feel or why we act the way we do. You are NOT my voice. You clearly have zero clue why we were there. And for you to put out some huge statement talking for the women who were there, stating the reasons, you think, we marched is patriarchy at its finest. Get a clue.”

(1) https://www.facebook.com/DaleJPartridge/?hc_location=ufi

(2) See Daniel K. Williams, “God’s Own Party, The Making of the Christian Right,” Oxford University Press, 2010.

The Women’s March on Washington: When Inclusivity Does Not Mean Everybody

The day after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration thousands of women have marched in Washington seeking to have their voices heard for women’s rights. The march has been promoted as an inclusive event attempting to bring together a diverse group of organizations:

“The marches’ many partners represent a range of causes, including the environment and criminal justice among them. Organizers represent all 50 states, and groups including the ACLU, Amnesty International, EMILY’s List, Muslim Women’s Alliance, Planned Parenthood, and United We Dream.” (1)

For a march that claims to support women’s concerns it is odd and a bit disturbing that 40% of American women have purposely been excluded. Women, who have moral objections to abortion were not included. This is unfortunate as these women share many of the same concerns as feminists do, even when they find the term “feminist” does not adequately describe them. With a president that is so blatantly sexist and abusive towards women, it seems counter-productive to weaken women’s causes by 40%.

“Though the pro-life New Wave Feminists still plan to attend, many women of faith were disappointed in the decision to remove their official designation. Christians spanning from Life Action founder Lila Rose to LGBT advocate Julie Rodgers spoke out on Twitter on behalf of pro-life feminists.” (2)

I suspect part of the problem is historical in nature. The 1970’s saw harsh criticism from Evangelical women such as Phyllis Schlafly against the women’s movement and feminism. Old wounds heal slowly. But things are different today. Conservative women of faith may be wary of their more secular sisters, but also feel a need to stand up against sexism, violence against women and inequality. Unlike their male counterparts, conservative women are much more likely to have empathy for women who choose to have abortions, and to see the issue as more complex and in need of compassionate solutions rather than punishing women such as the president has suggested.

Politically, the Left’s failure to encompass Evangelical and Catholic women was a disastrous decision that may have cost them an election. ““Progressives have a chance to build a broader coalition here, and they are blowing it,” tweeted author Rachel Held Evans.” (3) The “Painful irony of pro-choice stance of Women’s March is that abortion was likely THE issue to tip scales for evangelical women to vote Trump,” said Hannah Anderson, who writes and podcasts about gender and theology for Christ and Pop Culture. “If Dems could have entertained possibility of a pro-life women’s vote, they’d have won.” (4)

Unfortunately today’s feminist movement has taken a decidedly non-inclusive turn, largely due to the Pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring events like this. While these groups do offer legitimate benefits for women, they have a underlying financial agenda, which raises concerns about a conflict of interest here. The end result is that the women’s movement has been largely co-opted by the abortion industry. “It further proves that this is what the abortion industry does,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life. “They have taken over any talk of feminism in the country to point out that if you are antiabortion, you are accused of being anti-woman.” (5)

Indeed, the new voices within the feminist movement have decided that a Pro-life stance is inconsistent with the goals of the movement as it is now described: “Elizabeth Velez, a professor of women and gender studies at Georgetown University, said that feminism is a political term and that the idea that women should be able to choose what they do with their bodies is fundamental to feminism…Feminism is more than finding personal satisfactions in your life; it’s a political movement, and if you are not part of the political movement, you can’t be a feminist,” Velez said. “If you are pro-life, you are certainly not looking at the struggles across all of us.” (6)

So what the feminist movement is now doing is splitting up women rather than bring them together. It is weakening the cause and marginalizing women who have legitimate concerns, many of which mirror their own concerns. Rather than offer a voice of healing it further polarizes and divides women who, especially with this presidency, should be uniting.

Footnotes:

1. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/21/womens-march-aims-start-movement-trump-inauguration/96864158/

2. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/january/womens-march-sets-out-to-exclude-40-percent-of-american-wom.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=17445998&utm_content=490529671&utm_campaign=email

3. https://mobile.twitter.com/rachelheldevans/status/821217133476675584

4. https://mobile.twitter.com/sometimesalight/status/821157188722970628

5 & 6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/is-there-a-place-for-anti-abortion-women-at-the-womens-march-on-washington/2017/01/17/2e6a2da8-dcbd-11e6-acdf-14da832ae861_story.html?utm_term=.64765b4a28bb

The Gospel of Coercion

In a recent Christianity Today article: CT, Evangelical leadership rejected any form of compromise with the LGBTQ community regarding “any legal efforts to protect sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).” While Mormons were able to work out a compromise, leading Evangelicals were not. This not only does not bode well for sexual minorities but will also hurt Evangelicals in the long run.

In an election year where White Evangelicals were seen as self-serving, homophobic, Islamophobic, mysogenistic and isolationist, this could not possibly help their cause. The reticence to agree to afford basic rights to sexual minorities stems from the belief that

“SOGI policies attempt to impose, by force of law, a system of orthodoxy with respect to human sexuality: the belief that marriage is merely a union of consenting adults, regardless of biology, and that one can be male, female, none, or both, again, regardless of biology. SOGI laws impose this orthodoxy by punishing dissent, and by treating as irrational the beliefs that men and women are biologically rooted and made for each other in marriage.” (Heritage Foundation research fellow Ryan T. Anderson and Princeton University professor Robert P. George)

“The Colson Center’s statement shares their position:
We have seen in particular how these laws are used by the government in an attempt to compel citizens to sacrifice their deepest convictions on marriage and what it means to be male and female, people who serve everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, but who cannot promote messages, engage in expression, or participate in events that contradict their beliefs or their organization’s guiding values.”

The irony of this belief is that Christianity has a long history of attempting to “impose, by force of law, a system of orthodoxy on Americans. I just read through the section on Prohibition in America in Stephen Prothero’s “Why Liberals Win The Culture Wars” https://www.amazon.com/Liberals-Culture-Wars-Even-Elections/dp/0061571296 You would think Evangelical Christians would have learned by now, forcing compliance to conservative Evangelical beliefs is not how you spread the “Good News.”

To define the issue as “religious freedom” is misleading. The Religious Right has become so thoroughly enmeshed in Conservatism as a philosophy it becomes increasingly difficult to detect the “Christianity” in it. There are many other sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle agendas going on in the Evangelical mind. I know, I was for many years an Evangelical.

First off, there is a dogged determination among White Evangelicals to regain a mythical past when America was Great (meaning White and Protestant). It is hazy when exactly there was a time when it was “great” for everyone concerned. Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Blacks, women, Native Americans, Atheists, Asians, all have been targets at one time or another of conservative Christianity. So there is a fear that America is losing the “White edge” we’ve had in the past.

Secondly, and this is a biggie, Evangelical theology dehumanizes people. Evangelicals may talk about salvation by Grace, but in practice grace leaves via the back door when doctrinal certitude takes precedence. I see this over and over in the forums and on Facebook. Evangelicals talk about how we are all sinners, but have very little ability to walk in another’s shoes. It is what happens when dogma collides with love. Case in point, Beth Moore stated the following when speaking to a large gathering of 18 to 25-year-olds in Atlanta during the 2017 Passion Conference:

“You will watch a generation of Christians — OF CHRISTIANS — set the Bible aside in an attempt to become more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be perhaps the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice TRUTH for LOVE’s sake. And you will rise or fall based upon whether you will sacrifice one for the other. Will you have the courage to live in the tension of both TRUTH and LOVE?” https://serendipitydodah.wordpress.com/2017/01/12/moms-of-lgbtq-kids-respond-to-beth-moore/

Did you catch that? Doctrine trumps love! You end up not seeing people or their pain, you withhold unconditional love and administer correction instead. If this sounds like legalism to you, guess what, it is. Oh, and guess who gets to decide how to interpret and administer those rules? Yep, right again! White Evangelicals like Beth Moore.

It boggles my mind that a Christian could even say that in light of the sacrifice Christ made, not because we deserved it, but because he loved us in spite of ourselves.

Thirdly, nativism and bigotry disguised as patriotism. Sticking an American eagle clutching an American flag on the window of your pickup truck and posting “Like” if you support our troops on Facebook does not make you patriotic. Supporting individual rights, supporting more freedoms rather than refusing them, allowing others to have a say in Democracy, these make you patriotic. The Religious Right has always, always historically been about removing the rights of others. Freedom among conservatives, including Evangelicals, is far narrower than the concept among Liberals.

Which brings me to my final point. Liberty in America faces a far greater danger from the Right than from the Left. It is far easier to imagine a populist rightist movement promoting a sort of Christian fascism taking control of government than the Atheistic communism that Billy Graham warned us about. The ease by which Evangelicals came to support Trump is frightening. Not only did it reveal the hypocrisy of much of the Religious Right, but completely destroyed the credibility of the claim that Liberals adhere to situational ethics and the “ends justifies the means” while Evangelicals hold to a higher standard. What a bunch of BS!

In conclusion, I would like to state that even though my post might seem a bit harsh or bleak, the future of Evangelicalism is a big unknown at this time. There are small glimmers of hope here and there. A new generation of millennials, that identify as Evangelical, are coming up that are much more inclusive and skeptical. It is my hope they won’t listen to the likes of Beth Moore or Jerry Falwell, Jr., but think for themselves with their hearts as well as their minds.

Suggested Reading:

“American Apocalypse” Matthew Avery Suttton
“God’s Own Party” Daniel K. Williams
“Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars” Stephen Prothero

Evangelical Absolution

In the wake of the recent raucous, hateful election we have all watched a divided nation’s reaction to the events. Some jubilation, but quite a bit more sorrow and anger. Of particular note this time was the extent of dissatisfaction with both candidates. As my Evangelical friends were quick to point out, both candidates had serious character flaws. What was telling though was that 80% of White Evangelicals choose to vote for a wicked person. Does that seem to be a harsh assessment of Mr. Trump? Or, lets be honest here, a truthful statement of Mr. Trump’s character?

While it is true that the percentage of Progressive or Liberal Christians who voted for Mrs. Clinton was probably similar to the Conservative Christian vote for Trump, there are glaring differences between the two candidates messages. Clinton’s message of racial equality, care for the poor, protection for minorities, etc., was much easier to align with the message of the Gospel. In contrast, Trump sounded harsh, bombastic and sought to find scapegoats among illegal immigrants, refugees, Muslims and the press. He denigrated women, our military, the handicapped, not a day went by in which he didn’t try to offend someone, yet 80% of Evangelicals voted for him.

Evangelical leaders like Falwell Jr., James Dobson and Franklin Graham bent over backwards to excuse Trump’s behavior, much to the horror of more moderate Evangelicals like Phillip Yancey. The result was that a group of popular Evangelical voices swayed 80% of Evangelicals to vote for a wicked person. How was this possible? How did a group of people so incredibly obsessed with the sins of others, the sins of society and the sins of Liberal Christians manage to overlook their own sin in this matter?

While there has been some short shrift given to economics: the usual tax benefits to the big corporations and the wealthy (a conservative policy that is also hard to square with the Gospel), the most obvious reasons given for their choice revolved around fear: “Make America Great Again” was about the fear that the old ways of privilege were slipping rapidly away. Over 8 million people with brown skins have managed to sneak into our country over the last 30 years. Non-Christian refugees have poured into European countries recently and the fear is that it will be repeated here. The SCOTUS decision to make SSM legal was a shot across the bow of conservative Protestantism’s past attempts to force society’s compliance with the Evangelical view of a “Christian America.” Fear that Evangelicals would not be free to force their own agendas on society but would be forced by our own Constitution and Bill of Rights to treat others fairly.

I will mention abortion briefly, as it is perhaps the only justifiable moral concern mentioned in the Evangelical list of reasons to vote Trump. 600,000 to 700,000 abortions a year in the US I think all would agree, is not a good thing, not cause for celebration. It is not the sign of a healthy nation. The problem for Evangelicals is not the desire to end abortions, but how to go about it. As is often the case with Evangelicals, men like James Dobson call the shots for women and create scapegoats to blame. Women become the guilty ones here and Evangelicals seek to punish them for their decisions to end pregnancies. This is terribly counter-productive and shows a lack of compassion and understanding of the underlying social-economic problems that lead to abortions in the first place.

But the real head-scratcher following the election has been the Evangelical attempts at absolving themselves form moral culpability in their choice of Trump. No sooner had the final results of the Electoral College come in than the Scriptural excuses began to saturate social media.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Rom 13:1

“He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” Dan 2:21

This use of Scriptural “snippets” is nothing new, and reflects a general use Scripture by Evangelicals that seeks to find Scriptures that support their suppositions while ignoring passages that do not. But what is disturbing here is how easily a group of moral individuals could throw their support behind a terribly immoral person. This should be a red flag to all Evangelicals. Yes, I know a lot of Evangelicals claim it was a hard decision, a choice between two evils, blah, blah, blah. Really?!! Come on, the minute Trump opened his mouth the choice became apparent, not this man! He does not reflect our values as Christians! It should have been a no-brainer!

Instead, feeling guilty, Christians try to excuse their actions with verses taken out of context. How sad and frightening. It is easy to see how the spirit of the antichrist could fool, if possible the very elect (Matt 24). 2000 years ago people had little say in who became rulers, who was in power. Today we have an unprecedented influence on the choice of our leaders. Evangelicals, own up to this, take responsibility, don’t make excuses and don’t seek to absolve yourselves for sin. Absolution requires confession and repentance. I am seeing neither.