Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump

In spite of all of the bad news – morally, economically, and politically – which has come out about Donald Trump from the moment he announced his intention to run for the presidency, nothing has been bad enough for his “base,” – which includes a wide swath of white evangelicals- to desert him. Continue reading “Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump”

Deciphering the Meaning of Christianity

Following the announcement that his wife would be working at a school which bans homosexual teachers and students, Vice President Mike Pence said that the found the resulting criticism “deeply offensive.”

In an interview which aired on NBC, the vice president said: “…to see major networks attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us.” ( https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/mike-pence-calls-criticism-wife-s-job-anti-lgbtq-school-n960091) He continued, saying, “this attack on Christian education should stop.”

Pence’s remarks are a reminder that there apparently is no standard definition of what Christianity is and what Christians should do. While Christians throw around the words “love” and “mercy,” claiming them as the nucleus of what Jesus the Christ taught, in reality, many Christians practice neither – at least not in an undiscriminating manner.

Some of the most devout Christians are also the most rabid racists, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes. In spite of there being one Bible, in which the Gospels are fairly clear about the requirement that those who follow Jesus the Christ treat all people with dignity and love them as siblings, many Christians ignore that requirement and defend their right to do so.

In her book Mississippi Praying, author Carolyn Renee Dupont concludes that “the racial crisis precipitated conflict of the meaning of Christianity.” As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King noted over 50 years ago that the “most segregated hour of the week” happens on Sunday mornings, Christians are known to exclude people of different races, colors, and ethnicities.

In Mississippi and all over the South during the 60s, activists sought to integrate worship services at white churches, only to be turned away at the doors. Mahatma Gandhi tells the story of how he was once carried down the stairs of a Christian church he tried to enter. (https://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article18756585.html)  “Were it not for Christians,” he is reported to have said, “I might have become Christian.”

Racism sparked bitter debate about what Christians should do and how they should act, with Christian ministers preaching the “rightness” of racism from their pulpits. The records of what they preached are troubling; one pastor preached that “Liberals delight in talk about making God relevant for our day and his idea of making the Gospel relevant is finding in it the social messages for the issues of the day.”

It is clear that people read the same words read by “Christians” are read in entirely different ways, depending on one’s race, culture and political proclivity. To some, a Christian teaching in a school which openly discriminates on the basis of one’s sexuality is a bold obfuscation of the meaning of Christianity. Some believe Jesus said to love everyone; others believe that the Gospel gives Christians the right to practice bigotry. There is still, as Dupont noted, “a crisis in the meaning of Christianity.”

There is likewise no agreement about the meaning of the cross. For many black people, the cross is the symbol of victory over death and injustice, but for many whites, including members of the Ku Klux Klan the cross is a symbol of hatred.

Methodist Minister Joseph Simmons initiated the practice of burning crosses in this country in 1915 on Stone Mountain, Ga. The Ku Klux Klan would wear white as a sign of purity and would burn crosses to signify the “Light of Christ.” They would also use the Bible as a weapon to justify and support the practice of white supremacy. (https://www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2018/04/10/revisiting-the-preacher-who-used-christianity-to-revive-the-ku-klux-klan/)

Clearly, those who have been oppressed by the white supremacist system would not, have not and did not view the Christ in the same way. To them, Jesus the Christ was and is the sign of hope, one who urged love, respect and service to and for “the least of these.” Jesus was the one who showed us how to live, according to those who are oppressed, and that “way” is not the way that Pence and his wife – and countless others – have chosen to practice Christianity.

The crisis was precipitated by racism but has been fed by the other phobias which exist in human society. Jesus loved and talked to the misfits – from women who had committed adultery to lepers. It was his unconditional love for all that helped Christianity become the world religion that it has become, but those who practice bigotry in the name of Jesus would challenge this argument vociferously.

It is disappointing that the wife of the vice president is willing to participate in bigotry based on sexual orientation and gender; it makes one think that both she and her husband probably practice bigotry in other areas as well, comforted by the way they believe in Jesus the Christ and what he stood for.

If Christian education promotes bigotry, something is deeply wrong – but one feels that way if one reads the Bible with a certain set of eyes. Apparently, the Pence’s eyes and my own are as far apart as the east is from the west.

A candid observation…

Dealing with the Butchery of our Consciences

There is too much going on to allow any of us to feel comfortable or safe for more than a few minutes.

There is this ridiculous fight going on in the federal government over funding for a wall on the southern border of the United States. While the fight feels like nothing more or less than a political stunt, it is troubling on many levels, but one of those levels particularly troubling to me is there is no such passion for working to allocate billions of dollars to help Americans who are living in poverty or near poverty.

It is ironic that so many Christians tout the name of Jesus, claiming him and the religious he spawned, as their own. It is as though they have remade him in their image; that, or what we have all read and studied our whole lives is incorrect. They have made him – and therefore Christianity – into a well-to-do white male, the manger story of his birth notwithstanding. Jesus’ family was homeless; he was born into poverty. He was a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, which thus makes the anti-Semitism of so many Christians so difficult to understand. Were Jesus alive today, he and his family would be in danger of being attacked by angry white “Christian” men.

He was poor and was an advocate for the poor, leading and encouraging the poor to speak up for themselves to demand justice. He practiced free speech, so he believed in it which would have set him up for criticism today. He challenged the system – again something which would have drawn criticism today. I don’t really know what “Conservative” means, but from my reading of the Christian Bible, it does not seem that he identified as the same. He was targeted by law enforcement, scorned because he challenged their authority. He was scorned by members of his own family, which means they probably didn’t have peaceful family gatherings during the Jewish holy days.

He was accused of doing wrong, had what amounted to as a mock trial with a biased judge, was sentenced to death and executed – which means that the person whose birth we celebrate was a convicted felon, someone who would not have been eligible to enter the United States under the current immigration laws and policies.

The irony of the fact that, were he alive today, Jesus would most probably be rejected by the very ones who profess to be Christian is not lost to me. He would not be welcomed or respected by the Congress or by many evangelicals. Wrong religion. Wrong ethnicity. Wrong socio-economic class. And wrong political belief system. He might be called a socialist because of his work for the poor. He would be rejected by most of today’s devout Christians, I am fairly certain.

And yet, modern-day Christians, people who believe in and practice racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia and more – brag about their religious affiliation. People who think nothing of ignoring the poor, or of murdering members of the gay community or the Jewish community or the African American community – brag about following one who advocated that we should build community with each other, not walls between us.

Is it possible to proclaim/profess of being a Christian and yet be so unaligned with what the Jesus of the Christian Bible taught? Does it represent a particularly heinous type of hypocrisy to claim a man who taught what many of us are unwilling to do?

In 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was making its way out of the womb of Congress, there was much resistance – by Christians as well as by other religious groups. Christians participated in much of the violence perpetrated against African Americans who wanted to register to vote and then …vote; their hatred was leveled against white allies as well. At one point, as the violence reached a tragic peak in Selma, Alabama as would-be voters tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then attorney-general Nicholas Katzenbach tried to get Dr. Martin Luther King to cancel a second planned march. Dr. King responded, “I would rather die on the highways of Alabama than to make a butchery of my own conscience.”

With the blatant hypocrisy that exists between the practice of identity politics and Christianity, I wonder if there are many people who see the chasm between what Jesus taught and what they/we practice, and if so if their consciences are bothered, “butchered,” as Dr. King phrased it? Is anyone sitting in remorse and shame for treating people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, religions as objects and not as human beings worthy of being treated with dignity?

Somehow, I don’t think there is much of that; the religion of the “newborn king” has been bastardized by many – of all ethnicities. That being the case, what is our celebration of Christmas really about?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 …