Two Gods, at Least

With the coming out this week of the Nashville Statement, my firm belief that we live in a polytheistic society was buttressed.

The God that I learned about in the Bible was a God who loved everyone. My mother and my Sunday School teachers drummed it into me that God is love, that God sent his son, Jesus the Christ, to spread that message and to exhibit the behavior that said “everybody counts, everybody matters.”

The stories of Jesus hanging out with the marginalized were riveting. There he was, talking, sharing and eating with those who society ignored. There he was, touching the “dirty” and the sick, embracing everyone who dared come near him, because it was the way to live life. It was what God wanted.

The God of the Hebrew scriptures deplored the Empire and its determination to turn people away from the One God to the gods they deemed fit and mandatory to honor. I learned, with fascination, that there is honor and power in worshipping the One God, even if it meant being thrown into a fiery furnace or a lion’s den. I learned that the One God would always “be there,” no matter how bad or prolonged our suffering because of life’s challenges or the evil intent of the government.

I learned in the Gospels that God the Father/Mother had a special place for “the least of these;” I resonated with the 25th chapter of Matthew where the stories appeared that said that inasmuch as any of us feed, clothe, give water to and visit those who have been cast away, we do it to God. Those who had ignored them had, in effect, ignored God, too.

God, it seemed, didn’t give a hoot about who was “different,” according to society. God loved all because God was the “father” (parent) of us all. God didn’t discriminate against women and poor people and people with leprosy or those who had developmental disabilities. God held all of us, just like a mother and father love a child of theirs who has been born with a cleft lip or palate or some other devastating condition.

That God didn’t care about any of that; all were important; all mattered, including same gender-loving people.

This obsession with sexuality on the part of people who say they love God, is troubling. It is an obsession which has led “God-loving people” to do heinously hateful things to and against people who love the God I just described. It has caused them to put same gender-loving people out of churches; has forced them to remain quiet about who they are as they have listened to sermons putting them down and convincing them they are going to hell.  Religious people, many of whom are “evangelical” and “Conservative,” have been rather like an abusive spouse, beating and bullying people because they could, using God as their justification. “The least of these,” including same gender-loving people, yes, but also black and brown people, women, people with disabilities and illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, have been beaten down, over and over, by these religious imposters who throw their weight around in a bag full of hurtful and sanctimonious theology which is counter to the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Bible.

These “evangelicals” who wrote, signed and distributed the Nashville Statement must be like an offering which is putrid to the very nostrils of God. More than once, an angry God in the Hebrew scriptures has denounced the “offerings” of the so-called “holy” and religious. He has said that their worship is an abomination to Him/Her. The spirit of evangelical self-righteousness has been around from the beginning of time. Their god and what their god leads them to do  (little “g” intentional) has never been acceptable or pleasing to the One God. I am purposely not lifting any scriptures at this point, because the evangelicals of this ilk love to get into theological debate about them, to prove and bolster their position. Nobody has time for that kind of banter, not now.

In spite of our claiming to be monotheistic in our beliefs, we need to just “fess up” and say we worship two different gods, that Christianity is not characterized by a uniform belief system, but has splintered into a Christianity which believes in excluding people who do not “fit” human definitions of who is worthy to be loved by God and treated with dignity, and a Christianity which has remained stubbornly aligned with the principles taught by the God in the Hebrew Bible and his son, Jesus the Christ.

We have at least two gods in this country and in this world.

The evangelical god, he/she who allows and sanctions homophobia, racism, sexism and all forms of exclusion, is not my god. The evangelical god sees nothing wrong with denigrating the lives and spirits of people whom God created. My God finds that offensive. The evangelical god turns people away from the One God, and toward despair.

The God of Creation finds that despicable.

The Nashville Statement needs to be damned and rejected by all who believe in the One God. Silence is not an option because the God of Creation is a God of love and inclusion. To be silent is to reject the God who made us all.

That is not a good thing.

A candid observation …

 

(Rev. Dr. Susan K Smith is available for doing workshops on this topic, as well as for workshops on having crazy faith and preaching. Please contact her at revsuekim@sbcglobal.net)

Visit YouTube to see her talk on this subject with Bill Moyers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Definition of Strength

It has always seemed to me that the common definition of strength is not what it really is.

Many Americans this morning are celebrating that force is being used in the war-torn Middle East. The missiles fired on Syria were supposedly dropped because the administration, specifically, the president, were horrified by images of people who had been hit with a deadly gas.

Then, the Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB) was dropped in Afghanistan, killing a some members of ISIS.

Many Americans are rejoicing. They are saying that the moves made by the administration show “strength.” People are saying, “we are back in the game again.”

The game? What …game? Is it really a game that we seem to be on the brink of a deadly war?

Diplomacy, I guess, is a punk technique. In the presence of ISIS, the only way to handle this is to “bomb the —- out of them.” The way of the Empire is to engage in war, to force change by killing innocent people and destroying other countries.

People have been absolutely incensed with former President Obama for not engaging in war. It made him and the United States look weak, they say.

But this new president – this is the Popeye against the Brutus called terrorism. He really believes he can destroy ISIS with bombs.

Meanwhile, he is hurting his own people by proposing budget cuts that affect programs that help the poor, the elderly, and children.

It doesn’t matter, though. He does not see the irony of him and his administration being outraged about Syrians treated badly by their government while his own government is treating his own people badly, under the sanction of the law.

All that matters is that he is showing “strength” in a conflict which seemingly has no end. Americans will run to participate in a war against an idea, and in a war which has such deep roots that not even the strongest nuclear weapon would be effective.

Is it arrogance or hubris that makes a nation “strong?” That seems to be the message. In a world in which so many people profess to believe in Christianity, which touts the formation and preservation of community, the basic Christian message seems to be disposable.

Refraining from force is perceived as being weak. The strong do all they can to maintain power, a mindset which inevitably causes the less fortunate (or “weak”) to be trampled upon. The deployment of force is held more dear than is the exercise of compassion and restraint.

So, this American president is standing on a platform, beating his chest, bragging about his strength. He is Popeye; his “spinach” is the belief that using force means or defines that very strength.

Meanwhile, the huddled masses, here and around the world, will be trounced upon, and nobody seems to care.

So much for strength.

A candid observation …

Growing Up Christian

Whenever someone says to me, “I am a Christian,” or when I hear that “there is a war against Christians,” I shiver.

In spite of having Jesus as the master teacher and role model, giving people instructions on how to live as God would want, Christians, unfortunately, have too often fallen short, and they do not seem to care.

I have been stunned as I have read how Christians kept black people out of their churches, how white churches adopted “whites only” membership policies, and how so many Christians meted out horrific violence against black people in this country. Christian pastors have endorsed and sanctioned racism and sexism, pointing to the Bible as justification, a sacred text which has been manipulated for literally centuries to fit certain political ideologies.

I have been hurt and bothered as I have seen Christians treat people with HIV/AIDS like pariahs, keeping them out of their churches, away from a place that is supposed to be a place of healing, warmth and love.

Christians have engaged in shaping and adopting the most vile and discriminatory public policies that make life miserable and unfair for the masses. Christians have blamed horrific storms that devastate the lives of innocent people on the LGBTQ community.

While touting the God of love, Christians have openly and unabashedly hated others who are different – different races, different ethnicities, or who have different views.

In the current political race, Christians on both the right and the left have engaged in name-calling of those with whom they disagree.

I remember when the HIV/AIDS crisis really hit, and visiting a young man in the congregation I served who had full blown AIDS. Nobody from the church had been to visit him. He was terrified of dying because he was afraid he was going to hell. He was gay…

When I went to the hospital to visit him, he seemed genuinely terrified. He had been visited by Christians already. They had told him he was wrong and bad, and that his condition was the result of his “sin.” He was dying thinking he was part of the very scum of the earth. When I touched him, he drew back. When I told him God loved him, tears welled up in his eyes. Nobody had told him that. Christians had told him God was punishing him.

I was angry and hurt for this young man. I was angry at Christians.

The hateful rhetoric that comes too often from Christians doesn’t quit; the tendency to resort to that kind of hateful language does not abate or decrease with the passage of time. Franklin Graham, the son of the Rev. Billy Graham, is a case in point. Nowhere in his language do I see the presence or the evidence of Jesus the Christ. He pushes hatred and intolerance, following a long line of Christian clerics who have done the same. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/franklin-grahams-turn-toward-intolerance/398924/.

Christians in leadership positions in churches everywhere initiate and perpetuate horrible “messes” in church, spreading lies and discontent because they want their way. So many Christian pastors end up walking away from their pulpits because they cannot take it. Too many commit suicide. (https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2014/06/25/why-half-of-all-pastors-want-to-quit-their-jobs/32683)

What Sunday School lessons are we being taught? Clearly there is a disconnect between what Jesus says to do and what our Sunday School teachers teach us. And it’s not enough to be a “missionary,” going to lands which white supremacists have labeled “barbaric” to minister to the “savages.” That doesn’t cut the reality of the hate-filled Christians here in the United States.

What would Jesus say, really?

In this political season, Evangelical Christians, those who purport to be closest to Jesus have embraced a man who seems as far away from the Christian ideal as humanly possible. They seem not to care that their candidate comes off as racist, misogynistic, Xenophobic and sexist. Even fellow Evangelicals are confused by the enormous support Evangelicals are giving the GOP nominee for president. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/philip-yancey-donald-trump_us_57e95557e4b08d73b8328566)

Growing up Christian should produce a crop of people who understand the difficulty, yet the power, of being Christian, of paying the cost of discipleship and risking whatever must be risked in order to be within what the Christian Bible says is the will of God.

That isn’t the case, though. Growing up Christian seems more to have produced a crop of self-righteous people who see nothing wrong with being racist, sexist, hateful, people, causing more angst than comfort amongst “the least of these,” who are many. It was that group of people, the masses, that Jesus the Christ admonished us to care for, and you can’t care for people you hate and/or disrespect.

What would happen if Christians rose up, as a group, against the economic, political, racial and sexual injustice in this country? Would America look different?

I think so, but I don’t think we’ll see it, because growing up Christian has not resulted in the creation (in general) of kind and compassionate “soldiers” for justice and righteousness. We Christians are sorely deficient in the ways of God – as taught and outlined in the Christian Bible.

A candid observation …

American Politics Immoral and in Opposition to the Will of God

American politics is an immoral endeavor, a reality which uses money to protect the rights and interests of the few over the many. But if ever there was and is a time for “we the people” to speak up and make our voices heard, it is now.

Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz …are all saying obnoxious things. Trump’s statement about Mexican immigrants ended up being widely criticized, but didn’t stop his rise in the polls. Mexico, he said, is not sending their best. Said Trump:  “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.” In spite of offending Mexicans, Trump has refused to apologize.

Mike Huckabee said that President Obama is basically leading Israelis “to the door of the oven,” as he criticized the pending “deal” with Iran. He, like Trump, has refused to apologize to any Jewish people whom he might have offended.

The offensive remarks will continue as the wide field of GOP presidential hopefuls gears up for the fight that will be necessary to win the Republican nomination. That’s politics.

But there are two facts that are infuriating. One, I would bet that not one of these guys will seriously deal with the crisis in America that has been growing in scope since the murder of Trayvon Martin. Across the nation, the Black Lives Matter movement has been loud and vocal, protesting the deaths of black people at the hands of police, mostly white. A huge swath of American people, African-American men, women and youth – have been crying out for justice as the police officers who have killed unarmed black people have done what they’ve done with no accountability. The latest claims by police that Sandra Bland and Kendra Chapman died by hanging themselves by hanging while in police custody have only added fuel to the fire. One more black woman, Ralkina Jones, died while in police custody as well. All three women died while in police custody within the span of a month – and yet not one of these political candidates have addressed the issue. That is a problem.

The second fact that is infuriating is that all of these candidates are spending literally billions of dollars on their campaigns. Billions. There are children in this nation who are homeless and hungry and these guys are spending billions of dollars. There are people who once had jobs and lost them, their homes, their livelihood and their hope …and these guys are spending billions of dollars on …what? Television ads which will spew their negative rhetoric against each other, working to manipulate American citizens and get them to vote for them …while masses of American citizens languish in poverty, despair and injustice.

We will hear a lot in this campaign about the Iran deal, how it’s wrong. We will hear about same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, and how those laws need to be repealed. We will hear about how there will be a wall built between America and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out.

But I would bet we will hear little to next to nothing about a justice system which is not just, but which appears to be a tool for the system to put African-Americans away. I would bet that we will hear little to next to nothing about how American policies and practices have created the cradle to prison pipeline; we will hear little to next to nothing about police malpractice, and about a system which allows police to do basically what they want with whom they want with no fear of having to answer for it.

We will not hear about how something must be done to stop the slaughter of unarmed black people by police. We will hear nothing about the substandard schools in America’s cities and in its rural areas. We will hear nothing from those who say they are pro-life about how they ignore the issue of life once a fetus becomes a baby with needs. We will hear nothing about how poverty in this, the land of the free and home of the brave causes millions of children to go hungry in the summer when there is no school.

It is disgusting, the way these candidates ignore the cries of “the least of these,” and basically blame them for their plight, and it is troubling that they will not feel obligated to address America’s very real problems which are based on and come from, racism and class differences.

The only way they will address these issues – and they should be made to address them, is if “we the people” force the issue. I heard somewhere that change comes when the masses demand it. We all know that Frederick Douglas said “power concedes nothing without a demand.” Well, if ever there was a time for a demand, it is now. The young people in the Black Lives Matter movement have begun the process, but they cannot do it alone. We are in a time that is every bit as critical as was the time in the 60s when the masses gathered to demand the right to vote and to go to any restaurant or public facility they wanted. This is not the time to be quiet or to sit still.

As society has changed, the cry “We want our country back” has grown louder and louder. What is that country that they cry for? It is a country based on racism, exclusion, sexism, homophobia, militarism and materialism, for starters. It is a country where white people have been in control of everything. The cry is to go back to that America …but we cannot let that be the case. This upcoming presidential election is an opportunity for “we the people” to bust some walls down, to demand to be heard, to make the candidates address the needs, the hearts and the concerns of “the least of these.” Now is not the time to be quiet, still, or complacent.

No person should be president of this nation unless he or she is genuinely concerned about the masses of people. In order to make sure they understand that fact, the masses should demand to be heard. American politics is immoral because it ignores the dictates of the Bible so many politicians claim to love: We are to take care of “the least of these,” according to Jesus the Christ. If we cannot and will not do that, we do not deserve to call ourselves a Christian nation.

A candid observation