The Church as Contributor to Social Injustice

I am going to continue my previous post on the evangelical statement put forth by John MacArthur as a number of issues have come to my attention in my subsequent interactions with evangelicals online. Some clarifications need to be made.

First, as I have pointed out in my previous post, much of this is about jockeying for control of evangelicalism itself. This battle is not new, but began in earnest within the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) three decades ago. Southern Baptists comprise the majority of evangelicalism with many “hidden” branches posing as “unaffiliated” or “nondenominational.” Moderates were forced out of the denomination over a period of two decades back in the 80’s and 90’s. There was a concerted effort to replace moderates with fundamentalists in their educational system. Since then the denomination has doubled down on the efforts to squelch any attempts at reform. MacArthur is a product of that wing of evangelicalism.

Secondly, although both fundamentalist Christians and Progressive Christians present Social Justice as either, a. irrelevant or b. central to the Gospel, the truth of the matter is more complex. By quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus began his ministry with a reference to social justice, but his message was never about reforming the Roman government. It was directed at social injustice and religious hypocrisy WITHIN RELIGION. This is what initially got Jesus in trouble. It was his prophetic indictment of the Jewish religious authorities using their power to exploit others. This is why many evangelicals will point out (correctly) that Jesus never tried to change the government or shame the government into social programs that benefited the poor, etc..

So here is where it gets awkward for the fundamentalist wing of evangelicalism. Historically they have been one of the prime perpetrators of social injustice in America. For the past 150 years, white fundamentalism has been a major hurdle and has systematically targeted people of color as well as Catholics, Jews, women, Gays, and a host of others. Bolstered with Bible verses and the assurance of an inerrant Bible, preachers in the South convinced their parishioners that God was behind their cause. Much like MacArthur and his dismissal of social justice, these pastors were convinced the “modern secular” abolitionist goals of the North were a threat to the Gospel and contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.

As the government pushed for social justice for poor Blacks, fundamentalist Christians pushed back hard against those reforms, preferring to exploit others based on race for their own financial gain. It is almost as if the Pharisees were lifted out of first century Palestine and resurrected in the 19th century as Southern Christians. In the end Southern Christians were willing to go to war, claiming states rights. The American Civil War killed over 700,000 people. Sadly, losing the war for cessation did not change their hatred and oppression of Blacks. Instead, they sought all sorts of work-arounds to circumvent laws for Black equality. The next 100 years was spent trying to segregate and marginalize Blacks (and Hispanics) as much as possible and deny them quality of life.

Thirdly, this is not “ancient history.” One of the comments I heard over and over in the 90’s from White conservatives was how sick and tired they were of hearing about “200 years of oppression.” A popular bumper sticker read, “If I’d known it would be this much trouble, I’d have picked my own damn cotton!” In other words, they didn’t believe Black claims of oppression had validity. Tragically, this opinion still affects, to one degree or another, about 70% of White evangelicalism. It has expanded to include more than just people of color. Basically anyone other than White fundamentalists is fair game.

So it is no wonder that MacArthur and 7000 other signers of the Statement on Social Justice feel the struggle for Social Justice is a distraction from the Gospel. They don’t believe the struggle is valid in the first place. They uphold a narrative about race and the place of women that is founded in White male privilege. The use of Scripture is used to validate their own presuppositions and biases.

I would add as a fourth point, that the Gospel, as understood by fundamentalists, is really not the matter of concern here. In the early 20th century, fundamentalists eschewed involvement in politics and war. They were accused of being “unpatriotic.” Subsequently, they have bent over backwards to appear super-patriotic. The American Constitution has become almost as sacrosanct as the Bible itself. The argument about Social Justice has become more of an argument about the role of government in society, and how much intervention is acceptable, than a Biblical discussion on social responsibility. This is why the majority of conservative Christians I talk to say they are unabashedly, Libertarians. 

Because of this willful ignorance of past church failures in the area of social justice that evangelical Christianity has stalled. Meaningful repentance needs to take place before the church can be a “witness to the gospel” in society. The church needs to clean house.

Further:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/keithgiles/2018/09/over-7000-pastors-admit-they-dont-follow-jesus/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Progressive+Christian&utm_content=43

A Changing Religion: The Merger of Church and State

This has been lifted from a Facebook post by Bob Grayson. When the church was offered the “keys” to the Roman state in the fourth century by Emperor Constantine, little did the early church fathers realize what was really happening is that they were offering the keys to the church instead. In effect, the spiritual “principalities and powers” that Paul mentions became intertwined with the very fabric of Christendom.

“A Changing Religion

 Much of what Jesus taught seems to have been followed closely during the first several hundred years after his death and resurrection. As long as Jesus’ followers were on the bottom and the edge of empire, as long as they shared the rejected and betrayed status of Jesus, they could grasp his teaching more readily. Values like non participation in war, simple living, inclusivity, and love of enemies could be more easily understood when Christians were gathering secretly in the catacombs, when their faith was untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise.

Several writings illustrate this early commitment to Jesus’ teachings on simplicity and generosity. For example, the Didache, compiled around 90 CE, says: “Share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more in things which perish!” [1]

The last great formal persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire ended in 311 CE. In 313, Constantine (c. 272-337) legalized Christianity. It became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380. After this structural change, Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning money and war. Morality became individualized and largely focused on sexuality. The church slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point. Texts written in the hundred years preceding 313 show it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army, as the army was killing Christians. By the year 400, the entire army had become Christian, and they were now killing the “pagans.”

Before 313, the church was on the bottom of society, which is the privileged vantage point for understanding the liberating power of Gospel for both the individual and for society. Within the space of a few decades, the church moved from the bottom to the top, literally from the catacombs to the basilicas. The Roman basilicas were large buildings for court and other public assembly, and they became Christian worship spaces.

When the Christian church became the established religion of the empire, it started reading the Gospel from the position of maintaining power and social order instead of experiencing the profound power of powerlessness that Jesus revealed. In a sense, Christianity almost became a different religion!

The failing Roman Empire needed an emperor, and Jesus was used to fill the power gap. In effect, we Christians took Jesus out of the Trinity and made him into God on a throne. An imperial system needs law and order and clear belonging systems more than it wants mercy, meekness, or transformation. Much of Jesus’ teaching about simple living, nonviolence, inclusivity, and love of enemies became incomprehensible. Relationship—the shape of God as Trinity—was no longer as important. Christianity’s view of God changed: the Father became angry and distant, Jesus was reduced to an organizing principle, and for all practical and dynamic purposes, the Holy Spirit was forgotten.”

— Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 48-51; and

Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 100.

 [1] Didache 4:8. See Tony Jones, The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing and Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community (Paraclete Press: 2009), 23. More about the Didache is available at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html.

The Pope, Jeffress and the Death Penalty

“Many times when I stress Jesus clear teaching on loving enemies and non-violence, someone will say, “But what about the Old Testament where God commanded violence?” Particularly people have brought up King David who was called “a man after God’s own heart” and yet participated in much violence against enemies. To that I want to say that we are called Christians, not Davidians. We follow Jesus, not David. It always baffles me when Christians treat the Captain of our faith so trivially and easily dismiss him in favor of Old Testament texts. Do we not believe that God himself came into history? Is it insignificant or does it change everything? How much do we actually “believe in Jesus”? 

But another thing I want to point out is a little passage in 1 Chronicles where David summoned all the officials of Israel for an assembly in Jerusalem including “all the officers over the tribes, the commanders of the divisions in the service of the king, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of all the property and livestock belonging to the king and his sons, together with the palace officials, the mighty men and all the brave warriors.” This is what he said:

“Listen to me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it. But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a man of war and have shed blood.'” (1 Chronicles 28:1-3)

Wait a second, didn’t God command all the bloodshed and violence? Does this not bring that into question? What a shocking and historical statement to make to the entire military of Israel. The “man after God’s own heart” was denied his desire to build God a temple because he was a “man of war” and had shed blood. Perhaps King David was such a man after God’s own heart that even in his time, when violence was seen as the divine way, he was ahead of his time in beginning to see God’s true heart on this matter. This is an Old Testament foreshadow of what was clearly revealed in Christ, and the true hope of God’s kingdom and the building of his temple (us).”

— Jacob M. Wright

What I think we have here is an example of the ancient practice of claiming God is on your side to justify violence, and then David’s growing realization that killing another human could not possibly be a loving God’s desire. A recent example of this was the Pope’s condemnation of capitol punishment as being counter to the teachings of Christ. A telling rebuff was President Trump’s evangelical advisory panel member, Robert Jeffress: 

“When an individual takes a life, the Bible calls it ‘murder.’ When the government takes a life, the Bible calls it ‘justice.'” …“I’m sure Pope Francis is a good man who is sincere in his belief. But the Pope is sincerely wrong on this. Popes, pastors, and churches may change their opinions, but God’s Word never changes. ‘Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven’ (Psalm 119:89).” *

It is here we can clearly see the problem inherent to evangelical theology… “God’s Word never changes.” The assumption is that there is no progression of thought about God and ethics in scripture, and that the Bible sprung fully formed from God’s mind like Athena from Zeus’ forehead. It totally discounts the humanity of scripture, and in practice places cherry-picked violent passages as more authoritative than Jesus’ own teachings. It is a slippery slope that has historically allowed the church to justify very un-Christlike behaviors. Like King David of old, evangelicals end up creating a god in their own image. A god that satisfies their own violent and selfish appetites for revenge. Rather than allowing scripture to show progress in understanding God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, it is forced into a theological box of man’s own creation.

The ironic thing about treating scripture in this manner, is, that despite the claim that they are “honoring” scripture in this way, a finished, inerrant, propositional scripture allows quite a bit of wiggle room and unethical behavior. It is quite easily twisted, as it has been reformed in man’s own understanding of how a propositional rule book would look.

I have quite a few run ins with both atheists and fundamentalist Christians over the violence in scripture. As a progressive I get hit from both sides. Atheists almost universally seem to understand the Bible as fundamentalists do, inerrant and spoken by God. It is a straw man argument that they can easily attack. My dear evangelical brethren, on the other hand, insist on defending scripture as accurately depicting God’s violence (justice). Both sides feel this is the only way to interpret scripture: literally, and neither will admit to their presuppositions. …Very frustrating.

The truth of the matter is that scripture is the word of God, small letter “w.” As John tells us, Jesus is the Word of God, big letter “W.” This worshipping of the Bible creates a false idol of something that should be cherished but subservient to Jesus, not lord over him. Let’s get our priorities straight.

* http://www.firstdallas.org/news/pastor-robert-jeffress-pope-is-dead-wrong-about-capital-punishment/

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Rome

Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding of the church over the centuries has been related to how the church is to manifest the Kingdom of God in society. One of the main purposes of my blog and indeed, why, a half dozen years ago I decided to “deconstruct” my evangelical assumptions, can be summed up in a desire to better manifest the Kingdom of God. The gospel message is about the Kingdom of God and not, as in evangelicalism, about what you must do to avoid hell and “go to heaven when you die.”

When Jesus was asked by Pilate if he was the “king of the Jews,” his reply of “my kingdom is not of this world,” seems to have never fully registered with his followers in the centuries that followed. Looking at the social milieu in the first century we see a Palestine under Roman control. Israel has faced a number of centuries being conquered and reconquered by foreign powers. In other words, a theocratic state conquered and ruled by secular states. In order to survive and maintain some degree of power, the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Pharisees compromised with the Roman government. In doing so, they took on the methods of Rome: quest for power, control, wealth, in other words, their own self-interests. The common person was largely left out of the equation and reaped little benefit form the merger of church and state. In fact, they suffered because of it. 

In a blatant rebuff of an earthly theocratic rulership, Jesus declares the Kingdom of God is not “of this world.” This is something he conveyed over and over in his parables and is the central theme of the Sermon on the Mount: the Kingdom of God is not like early kingdoms. It is worth pondering for a moment. If God’s Kingdom is not of this world, was a theocratic state, i.e., Israel, ever really a “final plan” of God’s, or was it a misunderstanding, a tribalistic anachronism of Moses and Aaron’s? Certainly, the tribalistic, warrior God of early Israel seems at odds with the Heavenly Father Jesus portrays.

In large part, Jesus’ clashes with the religious leadership was over collusion. When religion merges with the state, it is religion that suffers or is diminished. So how is it that the Kingdom of God is to flourish among men (and women)? The key to understanding is scattered throughout his teaching via parable. Parables were a popular teaching method in the first century and allowed Jesus to be subversive to the Jewish leadership in a way that the common folk could understand and agree with, but not give legal reason for his arrest. It bought him time to get his message out before his inevitable arrest and murder by the state.

Jesus knew, no doubt, that his “good news” was good news to the poor, the sick, those rejected by the religious powers, but would be a threat to those who colluded with Rome. The growth and distribution of the Kingdom of God was not to follow an earthly blueprint. Like a tiny mustard seed it would start small and eventually snowball into something huge. But not by coercion or manipulation. Not by putting the Ten Commandments back in courtrooms, not by putting Bibles in classrooms, not by having compulsory prayer in our schools, not by passing legislation to deny women, minorities and foreigners equal rights, but by the selflessness of people sharing the love of God to others. For almost 300 years this was the paradigm of the early church, in stark contrast to the Jewish-Roman collusion, which did not end well for the Jews.

But, then, in the early 4th century, the emperor Constantine, a ruthless violent man, “converted,” i.e., saw the advantage of merging the growing Christian church with his secular power regime. The early church fathers, tired of the relentless persecution, did exactly what the Jews had done in the first century, they colluded with the enemy of the Kingdom of God. To some, this was seen as a godsend, the opportunity to spread the gospel unhindered by persecution. In retrospect it allowed a perverted and unhealthy church to grow in power, wealth and influence. In time holding the “keys to the Kingdom” meant the religious controlling majority could not only declare heresy, or anathematize “false teachers,” but arrest and execute those who did not toe the line.

History had repeated itself. The lesson that collusion with the state does not end well, as with the Jews, was a lesson not learned. The entire Middle Ages was squandered by the Church of Rome consolidating its stranglehold on Europe. And again, with the Reformation and it’s break with Catholicism, the same mistake of collusion was made. Some finer points of theology had shifted but the Reformers policies were straight out of the Catholic playbook.

Fast forward to the 18th century. Christianity in Europe had become, state religions. Dying institutions propped up by the secular governments as a way of morally legitimizing their harsh governments. Ah, the great American democratic experiment. Unfortunately, again a major misunderstanding of how the Kingdom of God operates. The cries of religious freedom were then, as they are now, primarily not about freedom for all, but freedom to practice particular forms of religion at the exclusion of others. Slavery, the seizure of tribal lands and subsequent displacement of First Nation peoples and the various persecutions of Catholics, Jews, Chinese, Mormons, etc., all an outgrowth of a nation who fancied herself, “Christian.” Yep, collusion again.

Someone once said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again, expecting a different result. This is what the American church is guilty of, colluding with the state and eventually expecting it to result in the Kingdom of God. The evangelical church over a two century period, enjoyed a tremendous growth, not only in numbers, but in power and prestige. It identified completely with the nationalist interests of the American government. The government, as conceived by the fathers of our nation, became an object of worship, in its romanticized form by the conservative church.

Any hint of change to the chummy relationship the church had developed with civil government was seen as an attack on “Christian values.” This is the tragedy of Trump Christianity: the Right has so thoroughly mixed partisan right wing conservatism with Christian ideals, that the Gospel of the Kingdom has been pushed out. Now, with the major shift in American ideology away from conservatism and towards equal rights  and inclusivity, the Religious Right is majorly threatened. It would mean the death of “church as usual.”

This is an observation I made a few posts back, that society is advancing morally faster than the Religious Right is. Society as a whole, is acting more Christlike than the church. The goal or methodology of the church, in its endeavor to bring the Kingdom to earth, is not to impose legal sanctions and laws against what it determines to be “sin,” but to simply love others, regardless, and seek justice, mercy and grace for all mankind. This is not meek pacifism, but a call to action. Actions that will have an effect on society for the better.

Libertarian or Socialist: What’s a Christian to do?

Faith in action is, by nature, political. In other words, Christians and those of other faiths, when acting out their beliefs publicly, will, inevitably have political consequences. While I tend towards Anabaptist theology and world views, I tend towards political action, hopefully in a bipartisan fashion, rather than eschew political involvement. I do respect many within the Anabaptist fold’s decision to be “above the fray,” but personally feel a responsibility to vote and hold political leaders accountable. To be fair, Anabaptist’s teach that voting is a personal choice, and not a binding rule.

Something I have noted in the past year or so, is that there is a growing margin to the far left and far right politically. On the left in we have Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialists of America. On the right we have Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and an increasing amount of Christians who distrust “Big Government” on social issues. Republican politicians relish the socialist swing in the Democratic Party, as they can equate it to communism and its failures. On the other hand, Democrats can point to the callousness of libertarian ideals and its social Darwinism. Although libertarianism was on the upswing among conservatives before the Trump fiasco, aspects of it still find favor among evangelicals.

Simply put, evangelicals find the libertarian resistance to big government appealing when it comes to social issues like states rights, abortion, gay marriage, and freedom of religion, but reject its aversion to military spending. Also shared is the evangelical general belief that taxes are too high. It is an odd combination of smaller government, support for big business, a rejection of government mandating social reforms at the expense of personal liberties, combined with a willingness for the government to limit the personal freedoms of those who don’t share their evangelical worldview.

While I am not a fan of Ayn Rand’s survival of the fittest, I understand the appeal of “individual freedom through lower taxes and reducing the size and scope of government,” which a few years ago, was the view of 40% of Republicans polled. (1) No one likes to be told they have support financially, things they don’t believe in. However, as a Christian who is concerned about society, there are things that spiritually just don’t line up.

Conflicts invariably arise when Americans define the role of government. Although not strictly libertarian, evangelicals have remained fairly consistent in their criticism that the government spends far too much on social issues that would best be left to churches and private charities. The fact that those non profit organizations cannot possibly meet the needs of so many needy is of little consequence to them. I often hear “those that don’t work, don’t eat,” and the belief that the homeless and those on welfare are lazy and are part of a systemic jobless environment. In other words, only those they deem worthy should receive charity.

On the other hand, the lean towards socialism amongst Democrats raises fears among the Religious Right that they will be forced to tolerate or even support groups of people they mistrust or are in disagreement with. It is no secret that the reforms of the last 100 years are not viewed favorably among evangelicals, who see them as proof that America is sliding towards perdition. And socialism directly affects the pocketbook of Americans.

One should not discount the strong appeal that finances have on the libertarian impulse among evangelicals. It is costly to run social programs and subsidize non profits, especially if one does not agree with the aims of those programs. Hence the appeal of trickle down economics among evangelicals, which, ironically, has had little effect over the long haul on the typical American pocketbook, favoring mainly the upper 1% (2), or for community services like Planned Parenthood. The result of the evangelical love affair with a libertarian small government is an evangelicalism that sides with the wealthiest 1% and eschews government social reforms for some of the neediest and most marginalized in our society. This is totally backwards to the Kingdom principals put forth by the Messiah they are supposed to be following.

While quick to describe what they feel is NOT the role of government, they are eager to give power to the government to enact laws favorable towards evangelicals and unfavorable to non-evangelicals. This is where things get scary, and I think departs furthest from libertarianism. True libertarianism wishes to limit, as much as possible governmental control over the individual citizen. Evangelicals wish this for THEMSELVES but not for others. Pure and simple, this is a longing for a return to Christendom, a time when western governments supported and promulgated a form of Christianity that merged with government. A period that covered most of church history, both Catholic and Protestant.

While I am in support of the teachings of Jesus underlying our laws in principal, I am not in support of the church as institution validating our government. This has been an abject failure historically for society. Repeating the same mistakes of the past expecting a different result this time, is insanity.

So what about socialism? Well, despite the fact that it more closely aligns with Kingdom principals of “doing unto the least of these,” it promotes almost everything evangelicalism has rejected. The problem is that the Religious Right aligns more with a totalitarian, authoritarian view of the Kingdom, than a merciful one. Law and order (affecting non-whites mainly) and the freedom to discriminate freely against those who are “others,” has replaced tolerance and caring for one’s neighbor. The Religious Right has opted for a Kingdom that only they will feel at home in.

A few closing thoughts. We have, I believe, entered an ugly time in America. The conservative church has basically shot itself in the foot with its obvious callousness, selfishness and disregard for the needs of the “others” in society. There are and will be consequences. Civility in discourse, especially in disagreements, has died. While not the reason for the mess, Trump feeds off of and encourages the discord. He has tapped into a very ugly side of America, and the church has done little to dissuade him, and in most instances, sided with him. Where will evangelicalism be a decade from now? It will be far smaller for sure. It will be reforming and repenting, as the current leaders die off, are accused of sexual misconduct or are replaced by younger more inclusive individuals. But Christianity will never be the same again in America. And that, I believe, is a good thing.

1 https://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/poll-republicans-libertarian-096576

2 https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/04/warren-buffett-on-the-failure-of-trickle-down-economics.html

God Asks Jesus into His Heart

“God repents of Old Testament days, asks Jesus into his heart”

“It’s reported that God, who has been known to go by Jehovah, has recently decided to follow Jesus. God recently released a statement that sending his Son into the world made him rethink some of the old ways he use to deal with people. “Perhaps wrathfully raining down fire on cities and drowning millions of people wasn’t the best or most Christlike way to go about things,” God reportedly said. God especially felt bad about commanding his people to commit wholesale genocide against the Canaanites and the Amalekites, including their women, children, babies, and pets. “I’d rather not talk about that stuff. It’s in my past. I was still new at this whole human race thing. As God, I’ve decided to give a Christlike example for my creatures to look up to. Jesus has taught me a lot.”

After hearing Jesus teach against wrath and hate, and commanding people to love their enemies and be peacemakers because this is what their Heavenly Father is like, God said that Jesus’ words really had an impact on him and made him think. “I really liked the way Jesus portrayed me. I think I can live up to that,” said God. “When my Son even forgave his own murderers, that kind of sealed the deal for me. It’s really had a powerful affect on people’s lives too. I want to be more like Jesus.” 

God said that since becoming a disciple of Jesus, he no longer plans to torture the majority of mankind forever in fire, and is taking a new course of direction. “A different approach to this whole thing is really needed,” God said. God promises that his change of heart is real, and that he promises to practice the fruit of the Spirit in the future.”

Jacob M. Wright*

This post from Jacob Wright appeared on Facebook. Although tongue in cheek, it expresses a very real problem with church doctrine, post-reformation, and especially in American theology’s Puritan roots: the Jonathan Edwards “sinners in the hands of an angry God” approach so common in much of today’s evangelical theology. Numerous assumptions have been made historically in Western Theology, that have more in common with Medieval views of justice and administration of laws than the Heavenly Father Jesus introduces us to in the Gospels. Instead, with post-Reformation teachers and theologians like John Piper, God’s actions are assumed to be just, even when they seem immoral.

Evangelicalism seems at times, unaware of the contradiction of the ancient Hebrew understanding of natural disasters, plagues and a Yahweh who was their tribal warrior god, and the Heavenly Father Jesus introduces us to. In fact, some evangelicals have attempted to interpret current events as God’s anger with mankind, hence hurricanes to punish America for “the sins of homosexuality,” or for America just being to darn liberal in general. It is interesting to see how this plays out in social media, as conservatives will claim that when calamity befalls those they see as outside the fold, it is God’s judgement. On the other hand, when bad things happens to them, it is either a trial to bring forth spiritual growth, or it’s the result of general wickedness from those outside the fold. It’s a primitive and self-serving technique that, not surprisingly, always puts them on the right side of things. On a side note, is Trump God’s “anointed one” or, conversely God’s punishment on a hypocritical conservative Christianity? Depends a lot on one’s point of view!

In large part, this is the result of refusing to admit the ancient understanding of God was different than Jesus’ understanding of God. The assumption being that Jesus accepted the writings of the Law and Prophets uncritically. This is simply not true. The Jewish understanding of God by the first century had evolved quite a bit since the early days of human sacrifice and a methodology of questioning scripture, its meaning and application had arisen called Midrash, a Jewish scholarly commentary that by the second century was annotating the the Biblical texts. Although conservatives oft quote Jesus’ saying he came to “fulfill the Law,” (the Greek means to complete, to perfect (telios), and therefore he unquestioningly accepted the Bible as true, it is a bit more complex than that. It is more accurate to think of Jesus as explaining the Bible than vis-versa. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” John 5:38-40. Note, it is not the scriptures themselves that give eternal (aeon) life, but belief in Christ himself. This is a profound statement coming from a Jew raised in a culture that taught that observance of the Law as presented in the Tanakh and Masoretic Text was a corporate responsibility tied not to an individual savior, but to the writings themselves.

And here is where conservative Christians oft get in trouble. They don’t seem to realize where Christ aligns with Judaism and where he, for good reason, deviates from it. And how that affects his understanding and application of scripture. Numerous times he (and other NT writers) simply ignore the original intent of a Biblical passage when a literal approach would obscure the love of God or a broader theme. Matthew 5 is a good example of this. The main reason for this in the relatively recent systematic theologies, is that they rely on an inerrant text. Because of this presupposition Jesus MUST accept the OT scriptures uncritically or the whole systematic house of cards falls apart.

The problem with removing God from moral responsibility, is that it gives us a capricious God, and the admonition to be holy as God is Holy becomes meaningless. The moral compass is destroyed. John Piper’s God, for example, tells us to do as he says, not as he does. This is not leading by example (Christ’s example is also destroyed in this scenario), but is leading by threat of punishment. We are not allowed to ask “why,” but are simply told “because I say so.” Without a moral compass in the very nature of God himself, we are reduced to rote legalism: following laws for the sake of the rules themselves. This is why Jesus is our example, not scripture itself. Scripture presents us with varied understandings of God, while Jesus presents us with a unified witness to what God the Father is like. He is like Jesus, not Zeus.

But this is exactly not what the standard evangelical teaching of scriptures gives us. History has born witness to the atrocities of the church when it assumes God’s “wrath” is something to appropriate for itself to further the Kingdom of God. 

As I have pointed out elsewhere, the sometimes violent, always coercive God goes back before the Reformation, to the 4th and 5th centuries when the church aligned itself with the state. The threat of eternal punishment and being declared anathema was a fearful threat the church could effectively use to manipulate a largely illiterate body of believers. If that didn’t work, church sponsored murder or torture would. 

Does any of this look like Jesus? I don’t think so. It is time to put down the false allegiances we have and worship the God Jesus introduces us too.

*Jacob Wright is in process of turning many of his Facebook posts into a book. His GoFundMe page is here: https://www.gofundme.com/jacobwright

What do You do When Scripture gets it Wrong?

So I have been dealing this week online with the outpouring of vitriol and jubilation by my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ over the SCOTUS reversal on the Colorado Commission’s decision against the Christian baker. As you know, SCOTUS decided the baker did not receive a fair hearing. BTW, we should stop referring to these people as “Christian bakers” but rather as “Christians who bake.” Different meaning altogether, catch my drift? The SCOTUS decision, unfortunately will embolden more divisive and hateful behavior from the Religious Right who seem more invested in their perceived unjust treatment by society than any concern for the rights of others who have been marginalized and vilified for centuries, much of it stemming from the misapplication of their religion. 

I have waded into the fray and tried to reason with people, tried to bring God’s love into the equation, tried to get them to see what science shows us…but they will have none of it. When you have an inerrant scripture, no amount of facts to the contrary matter. Frankly, I am deeply discouraged. It is like watching a train wreck in slow motion and being helpless to stop it. As a nation we have not seen this level of divisiveness and hatred since the Jim Crow South, which conservative Christians were also deeply complicit in.

To simply say, “I believe the Bible,” reflects an incredible amount of self deception, as no one, no matter how fundamentalist, approaches scripture that way. It is dishonest to claim otherwise. So what do you do when scripture seems to accept slavery as a given in society? Or that killing your enemies or the families of one’s enemies is God-ordained? What do you do when the Bible tells you killing children is a blessed or fortunate event under certain circumstances? What do you do when scripture says sex outside of marriage warrants stoning? Or that when a man lay with a man, they both shall be put to death?

Accepting that slavery was morally wrong was a hard sell to conservatives in the South. The Bible “clearly” supported it. In fact, Southern Christians really didn’t concede defeat in the matter but sought ways to circumvent the abolition of slavery, and felt doing so was upholding scripture. The result was a simmering hatred of Blacks that resulted in 4000 lynchings and a continued animus that still plagues the Southern church. That anti-gay “scholars” such as Robert Gagnon don’t see a connection between the slavery issue and the Gay issue is a tragedy of self deception and spiritual blindness.

I am afraid the lesson of slavery was not learned by conservatives. Scripture is still being used to diminish the worth of the “others” that are hated and feared for their difference. It is as though the conservative Christian’s self-worth is determined by comparing themselves to the supposed debauchery of Gays. Just as a White male could feel superior by lynching Blacks and controlling them, today’s conservative wants to regain control over Gays via legislation that marginalizes them and allows for discrimination against them.

Southerners gave dozens of reasons, besides scripture, why Blacks were inferior or dangerous, none of which were true or scientifically supportable, but that didn’t stop them from treating them as “truths.” It is the same with the conservative arguments against allowing Gays to be Gays. When the conservative understanding of scripture conflicts with reason, science, psychology and the law of love, their small minded views take precedent over all else. To further bolster their hatred numerous untruths about Gays were presented by conservative leadership to lead the faithful into believing Gays were dangerous and would lead to the destruction of the American family. The SCOTUS decision on same sex marriage reflected the fact that the justices were not convinced of the truthfulness of those claims by the Religious Right.

Unfortunately, conservatives still struggle with how to be Christlike. Rather than seeing the trajectory of scripture leading away from legalism and a judgmental spirit, they cherry-pick scriptures that can be weaponized and used to exclude others from a seat at the table. If you’ve listened to any of Franklin Graham’s pronouncements it is clear that the gospel is, for many evangelicals, more about exclusion than inclusion. All a part of the delusion of the Pharisee that prides himself that he is not like other sinners. While the Colorado baker thought he was upholding God’s laws against same sex relations he was unfortunately breaking the greater commandment to love others, to serve others whether we approve of them or not.

So does scripture get same sex relations wrong? Does scripture get human sexuality wrong in general? It depends on what we are referring to. Many evangelicals seem to think the Bible has all the answers. It does not. The Bible is first and foremost a sort of “diary” of human thoughts and the progression of those thoughts, about God. It is not God talking about himself, but man talking about God, and what man perceives with his limited understanding about God. To assert otherwise misrepresents what scripture is actually. It is not a marriage manual. Many of the sexual mores presented in scripture are simply no longer applicable. They are culturally bound, and sometimes immoral in and of themselves. They’re based on ancient assumptions of male superiority and women as a reflection of man’s authority. They are also based on prescientific assumptions of biology.

Most evangelicals I have talked to and argued with have no interest in educating themselves or of learning empathy. The reliance on authority figures for their directives and a literal use of scripture to the exclusion of outside sources that may temper their views is disturbing. It displays a remarkable laziness in attempting to come to grips with a complex issue: human sexuality. You would think that the adamant declaration that all same sex activity is immoral and the resulting wish to exclude them would warrant a more thoughtful and thorough study. But it has not.

When presented with these objections, conservatives double down and revert to outdated sexual mores designed to keep heterosexual males at the top of the food chain. Let’s be honest. Few conservatives would claim having multiple wives glorifies God. Yet that is supported by an uncritical reading of scripture. Yet many of those same Christians would declare a woman cannot teach a man, and should not work outside the home. While polygamy is almost universally recognized as demeaning to women, Christian men for centuries have sought ways to circumvent this and still control women for their pleasure.

When it comes to scripture, it must be remembered that male dominance is the backstory. When talking about same sex relations it is necessary to keep that in mind. And that the backstory is over 2000 years old, that we cannot take an ancient culture, uproot it, and simply plop it down in the 21st century and expect it to fit unadjusted. Male dominance is still the backstory, some things apparently do not change.

““But let’s just remember it’s not about the cake. It was never about the cake, and it was never about this one case.

The larger takeaway here is that it’s not only PRIDE month … it is PRIDE month in 2018, FFS, and here we are still talking about this. Still in a fight about whether or not people who love each other are allowed to live together and have all the rights that implies; whether or not they are allowed to have cake; whether or not they are allowed to show up at church and have bread at the table. Here we are, Church, still in a squabble about who’s in and who’s out, who Jesus loves more, and who’s allowed to sleep with who.

This is not about the Courts, and it’s not about the cake. It’s about the Body of Christ needing to get its shit together and love people. All the people. 

“Maybe it was never about the cake, but you know what? We’re here for the cake. We’re here for whatever thing you have to fight for today, because we are in this thing with you until you don’t have to fight for it anymore. And also, we’re here for the cake because we just like cake. And we would love to have a piece at your wedding. But more than that, we’d love to have you at our table.” (Erin Wathen)