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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.