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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Racism is a Sin

It has always been puzzling to me how any person could be a Christian and be racist. Actually, my puzzlement has extended as I have watched Christians be not only racist but sexist, homophobic and antagonistic toward the poor.

If one considers the Doctrine of Sin, and consider that the most commonly used word for sin is “hamartia,” which means “missing the mark,” and juxtaposes that definition against the “Great Commandment,” which is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind,” it is clear there is a disconnect in what we say believe and how we act. As Jesus gives the first and greatest commandment, he adds  on yet another piece of what is required of us:  ” …Love your neighbor as yourself”  If we consider these commands, and as Christians consider that we are bound to obey them, it becomes clear that racism, spawned by white supremacy, is a sin.

The existence of racism amongst Christians is puzzling to me because there is but one Bible, and one set of words and directions that Jesus gave, unless there is a secret text that I have not seen. When I was a child and saw what white people were doing to black people in Alabama, my mother quickly told me that no matter what I felt about what was going on, that I was to love “even the bad people.” (I said that the white people who were setting dogs on black people were bad.) My mother was adamant: to be a Christian meant you had to be willing to do the hard work of being a Christian, and loving “the bad people” was one of those tasks.

Yet, it has seemed that many white Christians have had no problem in hating black people – for no other reason than they (we) are black. And, while Jesus forthrightly commanded us to take care of “the least of these,” many white Christians seem to turn as far away from the poor and dispossessed as possible; they have no umbrage in charging them more money for lesser quality goods; they are pro-life except that their definition of :”life” seems to end once a fetus is born; the despair of poor children, especially those who are black and brown, is not an issue for them. They seem comfortable and indeed appear self-righteous as they put down African-Americans with abandon. Some of the most rabid racists in our nation have been devout Christians.

I am confused – about how people can be like that.

But I am not confused about my belief that racism is a sin because those who adhere to it are clearly “missing the mark” that God gives in the Hebrew scriptures, and then Jesus repeats in the New Testament: we who call ourselves Christian are to love God with everything we’ve got …and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

It is not happening.

In a nation which calls itself “Christian,” it is not happening.

In addition to the formal doctrine of sin quoted above, I also learned that sin is anything that separates us from God. Surely, the mistreatment of human beings, all of whom God created, does that. We are not only separated from God, but we are rebelling against the way we were created. All of God’s people were created, are wired, to love and to have compassion. I know that because when catastrophes happen, that part which is in all of us kicks in and we move to help people in despair. We are wired to take care of each other. But we rebel against our natural inclinations and the result is that we have the audacity to hate and to oppress those whom God created.

To add insult to injury, those whom God made human …we dehumanize. It helps us stay in our sin. Too many white people have dehumanized black people. The dehumanization was written into our founding documents, and we have built on that. The only reason, the only way a police officer could jump out of a car and within seconds shoot a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun down is because that officer – or officers – did not see that child as a human being. He was just a black object, and in our society, white supremacy teaches us that black objects have no value.

Some would say, “Wait! I’m not racist!” But racism is a part of the American normal. Racism is deeper than mere bigotry and/or prejudice. Racism carries with it the power to oppress people and control them, and that power rests, most often, in economics. It is racism, not bigotry, which is keeping black and brown people in economic servitude and forcing them to live in despair. White supremacists have the money and the position to keep people where they want them. They want black people in prison; it is a form of social control. That is at least one of the reasons that so many black people are in prison for non-violent drug offenses, while white people who have done the same or worse than those incarcerated continue to run free.

The arrogance with which racists move, act and think has to be a barrier between them and God. If there is but one God, and that God demands that we love each other…and racists/white supremacists refuse to do so …then there is between them and God a barrier …which means they are separated from God …which means they are in sin.

If racism is a sin, which I believe it is, then America is living in a state of sin. America’s racism exists on the mainland but has been one of the components of American exceptionalism as well, making white Americans think they have the right to oppress and overtake people of other races in other countries as well. Racism is a sin and it is a disease which spreads; American racism has left spores of contamination all over the world.

If we as Christians believe that Jesus is coming back, that there will be a rapture, and that some of us will be “left behind” while others are allowed into heaven, what kind of “Second Coming” should we expect? Will God forgive the racists, the homophobes, the sexists? Do white racists rejoice on Resurrection Sunday because they are happy Jesus died to save us and that even those who practice the most horrific racism …will ultimately be saved?

Rev. C.T. Vivian, one of the icons of the Civil Rights Movement, said in an interview I had with him (I am writing his biography) that the ministers of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) worked to “redeem America’s soul.” It was a powerful statement that still gives me pause.

I don’t think America’s soul is yet saved. Racism is still too potent, too much front and center, carried on by Christians.

Something is very wrong with this picture.

A candid observation ….

When Things Fall Apart

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clearly, for a large number of Americans, things either have fallen or are falling apart in this nation.

Conservatives, bitterly disappointed over the outcome of this week’s presidential election, have resorted to calling for a revolution (Donald Trump) to saying that “America died” (Victoria Jackson), to a musing that America is no longer, “traditional,” the country of our forebears (Bill O’Reilly)  to Karl Rove refusing to acknowledge President Obama’s victory on Fox News. Gov. Romney’s loss has left a bitter, bitter taste in the mouths of too many.

America, for many, is suffering, a suffering that goes to her very soul. Things as they were, comfortable for white males, have changed, and the change is horribly bitter. I am reminded of Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” where he writes:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

For many, anarchy has come to America.

Karen Armstrong said that when things change as radically as they are in America, there is a resurgence of fundamentalism. People run to that which they know, that which seems safe. But it seems that even fundamentalism in this nation, that which the Christian Right has held onto and used to its political advantage, is changing. Younger religious people are pulling away from a religion that is exclusive and, too often, mean-spirited in the name of Jesus.

Things fall apart.

Joan Chittister, in her book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, writes that we are living in an era in need of a spirituality of struggle. Nothing is the same as we knew it, no matter who we are.  With the emergence of a global economy and a global political awareness, everything has changed. We are no longer able, as Americans, to sit content in a cocoon. We are touched by the whole world; the whole world has access to us as never before. We, for a while had access to them. Now, they have access to us. We don’t like it. This new reality is not comfortable.

In our own country, the demographics of a nation clearly in the grip of change has upset everything.  I watched rallies at which Gov. Mitt Romney spoke during the presidential campaign, and was sad. There were so many white faces, and so few black and brown faces. Did he really think he could ignore such a large part of America? Chittister says that “we are people born in a white, Western, Christian culture that we watch become more brown, more Eastern, more polyvalent every day.”

And, she says, “it shakes us to the center of our souls.”

Change for individuals, things falling apart for individuals, is no easier for them than it is for a nation as great as is the United States. We as individuals, many of us, are experiencing change so radical that our souls have been shaken almost to annihilation. We do not like what we are feeling, and we want it to stop. But change, once it begins, seems to have a mind of its own. It continues to its fruition, and all we can do is deal with it.

Chittister says that some of us fall into deep depression as the change in our lives takes its course. She says that “the spiritual question becomes how to go about each dying day without giving in to the death of the soul.” That question, she says, is at the crux of a spirituality of struggle. And how we handle things falling apart will either result in clinical depression or spiritual growth.

It feels like much of Conservative America is headed toward clinical depression. We as a nation are not doing so well with the onslaught of change that is confronting us. We grew comfortable in our complacency. We didn’t want to change. But in spite of our protests, change is marching through our very cores. Things are falling apart.

My prayer is that fewer and fewer individuals are reacting as poorly to the changes and challenges and struggles that are happening in our personal lives. Most of us don’t want the changes that come into our lives, sometimes uninvited and sometimes, invited by our own actions.  We like sitting in our saucers. It’s comfortable there.

But life is about change. Life is about things, as we have always known them, falling apart.

The hope is that even as things fall apart, we will remain intact, and become stronger. That is especially the hope I have for America. Maybe it’s because the re-election of President Obama is still too new, too raw, but right now it doesn’t feel like America is growing stronger. A politician from Texas said something about “divorcing” from America. That would be secession, right?  We as a nation don’t seem to be doing too well with the changes. It feels like we are …falling apart.

A candid observation…

When Grace Strikes us

Every once in a while, we as humans find ourselves in a mess of our own making.

It is easy to cry out to God when one is in a situation caused by someone else, but when you have put yourself in a mess, it feels rather foolhardy to cry out, or even to cry.

In a split second, humans too often make decisions that forever alter the rest of their lives. How many of us have done that, and then said, “Geez. If I had only …” But by then it’s too late. Your mess is made; your life is changed.

Though we feel stupid (or at least I do) calling out to God at those moments, it is at those moments that we experience the merciful presence of God. God shows up while we are writhing in our agony angst. Paul Tillich says that it is at those times that grace shows up; specifically, he says, “grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged.” (from The Courage to Be, second edition, p. xxii).

It is in those moments that we are challenged to accept God’s acceptance of us. That’s a good thing and more: it’s a necessary thing because when we are in messes of our own making, we find it hard to accept ourselves. Moments of despair challenge us and encourage us to reach for and look for this God who accepts us in spite of our bad moves and bad decisions.

If we are unable to feel the grace of God strike us when we are down, we run the danger of turning away from God …who is ever turning toward us. Turning away from God is the worst thing we can do ever, but especially when we are in self-flagellation mode.  We beat ourselves up far worse than God ever has or ever will.

So, while I sit in this mess I have made, I am inclining my face and spirit toward God, and am comforted that God is inclining His/Her ear and spirit toward me. I am not alone. For the first time in three weeks, I am not shaking. I am beginning to eat. Grace, that which has struck me and has stayed with me through this valley, has commanded me to eat – not only food, but the drops of mercy which grace sends. I have found that I need grace to strengthen me.

Trouble …don’t last alway…the old spiritual says, and that is true.  In the midst of trouble there is always a lesson, a vital lesson that we needed to know.  I am not quite sure why some of us have to fall into dark valleys to get the lessons God wants for us, but the up side of down situations is that in the valley, God is there, with a fresh supply of grace.

That’s a real comforting …candid observation.

 

Why the Hatred?

Bible
Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

What I have been trying to figure out for the longest is why there is so much hatred directed at gays and lesbians.

By now, everyone has seen the absolutely horrid “sermon” of Charles Worley, a North Carolina pastor, who preached that if he had his way, he would put gays and lesbians in fenced in electrified pens, and drop food down to them. Sooner or later, he  preached, they’d die off.

He said, “The Bible’s agin (sic) it, God‘s agin it, I’m agin it and if you have any sense you’d be agin it, too!”

He said he’d keep the lesbians, homosexuals and queers in these pens, and sooner or later they’d be gone because they wouldn’t be able to reproduce themselves.

He said that the thought of same-gender loving people (that’s now how he said it) made him puke.

His words made me want to puke.

The hatred directed toward the LGBT community cannot simply be because religious people think that same-gender relationships are a sin. There are a lot of sins and a lot of sinning people, and there is not this hatred, spewed from pulpits, and claiming God’s will is being done in the words of hatred being spoken.

If it’s not because they deem homosexuality to be a sin, then what is it?

Is it ignorance? Arrogance? There’s not so much venomous religious speech when women are abused, sexually and/or physically, by their husbands.  We don’t see it when children are molested, too often by fathers, uncles, brothers or close friends.

There’s not such venomous religious speech when people commit adultery…and that should arouse some passion, shouldn’t it, since opponents of anything LGBT will say that marriage is supposed to be between “one man and one woman.”

There are no such hate-filled outbursts when women are raped, or when innocent people are put to death for crimes they didn’t commit.

There used to be such vitriol when it came to Christians supporting racism. The Rev. Worley said he wouldn’t vote for Mr. Obama because he was a baby-killer and a homosexual-lover. Used to be if one stuck up for the civil rights of African-Americans, he or she would be called a nigger-lover.

So, race and sex, not any sex that is truly immoral, but only homosexual sex – are the only things that arouse this kind of hatred. Why?

Supposedly the hatred against the LGBT community is worse in African-American communities. I’ve been trying to figure that one out, too. I have read the historical context of the opposition of religious African-Americans to homosexuality. I understand how, since African-American males have been historically emasculated by this American society, that anything that further feels like a continuation of that would be objectionable.

But I do not understand how what one man may do with another man can affect the masculinity of a heterosexual man or woman.

It can’t be just that “the Bible says” it’s a sin, that “the word of God” says it’s so…because the Bible and the word of God say that lots of things are wrong, and we just don’t get that uptight about it.

The hatred spewed by Christians against anyone is antithetical to Christian theology, a theology that says that God is love. The “Great Commandment,” found in the Hebrew scriptures and then repeated by Jesus himself, says that we are to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls…and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

I especially do not understand the capacity of African-Americans to hate or discriminate against another group of people, as we have been so discriminated against ourselves.

I do not believe the hatred is supported by “the word of God,” or by “the scriptures.” I think the hatred is a uniquely human reaction to a fear and ignorance about sexuality in general. I think the hatred directed outward is a reflection of the self-hatred many feel as they struggle with their own sexuality. While sex is beautiful as an expression of love between two committed adults, the fact of the matter is that too many people, especially religious people, have treated it as dirty and bad. I have heard some Christian women express remorse when they’ve had good sexual relationships with their husbands, because they’ve been taught that sex is bad.

So, if people have issues with committed heterosexual sex, then it’s not hard to understand that they might struggle with “sexual fantasies” or with any sexual activity they might deem “unnatural,” but which they might really want to try themselves.

Sex is not what makes a loving relationship; it’s the commitment between the people that makes a relationship pleasing to God.  There clearly is a lack of commitment in heterosexual relationships, as evidenced by the ever-increasing rate of divorce in this country.

I would feel less uneasy about the objections to homosexuality spewed by religious people if I felt like it was genuinely rooted in the will and word of God, but God is not hatred, God does not condone hatred, and God does not cause hatred. Rev. Worley, in my opinion, ought to be worried, using the pulpit, a holy space, to spew unholy rhetoric. God would not want anyone to put  “gays, lesbians and queers” in electrified pens, with people, religious people at that, “dropping food” down to them until they died.

That kinds of sounds like something Hitler would advocate. (It is estimated that nearly 200,000 homosexuals were murdered during the Holocaust…)

These words of hatred are, in fact, anti-Biblical, statements of ideology and personal belief which ought to be called such… There is no God and no Jesus in any of what these words convey.

A candid observation …

Wikipedia: queer definition: worthless, counterfeit.