Coming to Grips with Christian Nationalism

The scriptures say that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. Specifically, Ephesians 6:12 says, (in the King James Version KJV) of the Bible): For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

It never occurred to me that different groups of people who call themselves Christian interpret not only this verse differently, but words in the entire Bible. What some groups of Christians call “truth,” another totally dismisses as being against the will of God.

As I grew up, I came to realize that not everyone who reads the words of Jesus interprets them in the way I was taught. I was stunned, still, though, when I read that the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), questioned about his belief in the Bible, and in the words of Jesus the Christ, said upon being asked if he understood the story of the Good Samaritan, and the “Great Commandment,” that says we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves” said, “Of course I know the scriptures! But nowhere do the scriptures say that we do not get to choose our neighbor!”

That interview stunned me. I grew up believing the words of Jesus, found in the Gospels, could only be interpreted one way. In fact, I grew up believing that the Bible could likewise be interpreted only one way. The words ..were the words, not at all difficult to read and understand. In my way of thinking, there was no question as to how they should be interpreted.

But there is and there have been vastly different ways of interpreting words which have given life to oppressed people. In her book, The Power Worshippers, Katherine Stewart notes that Christian Nationalists have a very different worldview – based on their interpretation of the Bible. First of all, many believe that the New International Version (NIV) Bible is sacrilege – that it “perverts Jesus Christ into Lucifer.” She also notes that this group of people believe that “scripture opposes public assistance for the poor unless it passes through church coffers, that it votes against environmentalism, that it opposes gun regulations, favors privatization of schools through vouchers, and tells us that same-sex relationships are an abomination and emphatically does not want women to have access to comprehensive, twenty-first-century reproductive medical care.” (pp.16-17)

This group also believes that “true Christians” are supposed to exercise dominion over the “seven mountains” of culture: government, business, education, the media, arts and entertainment, family, and religion.”(p. 25)

This is a movement that is not dying but instead is growing and has been for some time. It is a group that would have approved of the late Bob Jones, founder, and president of the Bob Jones University, who said in an Easter Sunday morning broadcast in 1960 that “God is the author of segregation.”

These ways of looking at the Bible are totally anathema to me, and I suppose to many others, but the truth is, those Christians who are not a part of the Christian Nationalist movement need to be aware and actively engaged to making sure a different interpretation of scripture is being taught. The Bible’s directives to believe in justice, to take care of those who are hungry and thirsty and naked and lost seem clear to me, as does the meaning of the Great Commandment, but what is clear to me is almost considered blasphemous to members of the Christian Nationalist movement.

In my work studying how black and white people see God, I already determined that there are two different gods for each ethnic group. I am not the first person to decide this; white theologians in history decided the same thing, some deciding that their God could not possibly have created black people. But the fact that “the Bible” can be and is the object of such disparate interpretations is rattling, to say the least.

Stewart notes in her book that many Christian nationalists feel persecuted; that feeling is behind their cry for “religious freedom.” Progressive Christians, she says, have been way behind in getting their message out. She says “progressive religious voices have figured out only how to grab a headline here or there for the benefit of sympathetic audiences. They do not know how to seize the reins of political power.”

It seems that if ever there was a time for “progressive religious voices” to make themselves heard, it is now, because the Christian nationalists are on a mission to seize political power by using their version of the meaning of God, Jesus, and the Bible.” Living in denial of what we are facing seems not only troubling but an indication of a lack of awareness of what is going on. People tend not to believe that “the worst” can happen to them: not in their neighborhoods, their schools, their country …and in their religion. That is a way of thinking which always proves to be wrong.

In this time of transition, those who disagree with the Christian nationalists need to step up and speak out …or be forever forced to hold their peace.

A candid observation …

On Pseudo-Christianity

I have long said that if a person cannot, will not, or does not follow the words of Jesus, then that person cannot call oneself a Christian. As Christians, we are called to imitate the way Jesus lived and to follow his words. Short of doing that, a “religious” person who attends a Christian church cannot claim to be a Christian. At best, he or she is a church-goer.

The president this week “disagreed” with Jesus’ lesson to us to “love our enemies,” and he doubted the faith of those who say they pray for their enemies. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-politicization-of-the-national-prayer-breakfast-is-unholy-and-immoral/2020/02/06/529518e4-4931-11ea-bdbf-1dfb23249293_story.html) Jesus said for us to do that, most starkly in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, the president rejected the words and teaching of Jesus as his “enemies” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Mitt Romney listened,

It has been interesting to listen to people marvel at African Americans voice forgiveness for the persons who have killed their loved ones. The most recent example of a black person forgiving someone was Brandt Jean, who publicly forgave the white police officer who shot and killed his brother as he sat in his own apartment. (https://www.npr.org/2019/10/03/766866875/brandt-jeans-act-of-grace-toward-his-brother-s-killer-sparks-a-debate-over-forgi) His act did not endear him to many; in fact, many Christians – black especially but others as well – have scoffed at Jesus’ directives to forgive, to “turn the other cheek,” and to treat enemies with respect.

But if the truth be told, had not the words of Jesus been pounded into the psyches of black people, we as a people would have been long gone. We did not have any support for our lives and our rights – not from white people, not from the system, including Congress and the US Supreme Court, and we did not have the same access to weapons as did white people. Nonviolence saved protesters on the street; struggling to “do” the words of Jesus saved the souls and spirits of protesters as they continued to fight their enemies on a daily basis.

In a book I wrote some years ago, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command, I examined this directive given to us by Jesus. It is as distasteful as it is difficult. It makes one feel weak because the natural human inclination is to fight stones with stones, and yet when the playing field is so uneven, it is a given that the powerful have more stones they can access, and therefore to wipe out their opposition.

The power of Jesus’ words is their ability to empower and strengthen people, who show a weird love – the love of God – and stand in front of their oppressors in spite of their pain and anger. It is doubtful that anyone “forgives” his or her enemies right away; that seems humanly impossible, but the words of Jesus become seeds in bruised souls and begin to sprout even as the victim of evil works to breathe through their pain. The act of forgiving first helps the one who has suffered an attack or affront from any number of sources. It is the highest, most supreme show of strength one can exhibit.

Those who do not, cannot, or will not forgive display what hatred and anger and resentment does to one’s spirit. The president is an example. He only wants revenge; the desire is eating at him, so intense that even in a “prayer breakfast,” where supposedly devout Christians have gathered to honor God, he cannot hold his pain within him, and he openly disavowed the words of Jesus the Christ.

And the Christians-in-name-only applauded him and laughed, which says at least to me that something is awry in their souls as well.

There is much confusion about forgiveness. Forgiving doesn’t mean you become best friends with the one who hurt you (no need to set up a time for “tea and crumpets), but it does mean that you lose the visceral reaction you experience when you even think of what the person has done to you. It frees you even as your abuser drowns in bitterness and anger.

What we have seen this week in this president and in the religious nationalists is a love of power, not of Jesus. We have heard – and will continue to hear and see – his words of anger and contempt for those who he deems as being his enemies, and he will spew his venom all over this country and everything he touches.

He and others might claim to be “Christian,” but they cannot be. They adhere to something that can only be called “pseudo Christianity,” something which has no foundation and teaches nothing about how to be one’s best self in the face of abject evil and attacks.

Those who fight with fists claim that they are strong. Dictators, who cannot stand to be criticized or challenged, and who kill and/or destroy anyone who does either, also claim to be strong,  But their quest for absolute power, and their willingness to put God and the instructions for life given by Jesus the Christ on the periphery of their lives, makes them the weakest people of all.

A  candid observation.

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 …