Look What They’ve Done to Christianity

            I wrote before that I get a bad feeling when I hear people say “Christian.” 

The Christianity I was taught in Sunday School is nothing like I have seen Christianity being practiced – now or even in history.

            I have been singing, for some reason, “Look What They’ve Done to my Song.” The words are sticking with me: 

Look what they’ve done to my song, ma
Look at what they’ve done to my song, ma
It was the only thing I could do half right
And it’s turning out all wrong, ma, look
What they’ve done to my song

            Those who have been calling themselves “Christian” have for the longest time been assaulting the religion of the Christ. While they brag about being “Christian,” their actions tell of allegiance to a force that has nothing to do with the lessons of Jesus the Christ.

            We had grown used to it in primarily white, conservative, evangelical denominations and congregations, but now those who call themselves “Christian” nationalists have come front and center stage.

These people have a religion – i.e., they have a set of beliefs to which they adhere – and they believe in and worship a superhuman controlling power, as those who practice religion must do. But their “superhuman controlling powers are money and power. They believe in the power of individuals, not communities. They believe in a militant and muscular God, a God who apparently supports the “isms” of this world, including racism and sexism, militarism and materialism and extremism. They believe in and support the “phobias” so many people relate to – including Islamophobia, Transphobia and homophobia. The nationalists are not devoid of beliefs and it is important to note that, but though many worship in church buildings and are in “Christian” denominations, their beliefs bear little resemblance to the religion I have come to know as “Christianity.”

            To be honest, a study of Christianity shows that it has been far away from the fundamental beliefs taught by Jesus for some time. God the parent and Jesus the son were made to be the proponents of conquest and domination, not liberation, justice, and freedom for all whom God created. The religion of Jesus was about community and relationship building between people who would naturally not communicate with each other, but those values were a minimized component of the religion that evolved from Jesus’ time.

            Central to this alternate view of Christianity is the need for violence; this violence has been central to the foundation of Christianity as we know it for thousands of years. The belief is that Christianity was set up as the army of God, sent by God to conquer nations and peoples. Neither the scope nor the depth of the brutality meted out to people seemed to bother those who aligned themselves with the belief that it was God’s will that they dominate all people and all nations. Walter Wink noted that violence “is the first resort in conflicts.” Ironically, he said, “we learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace.” This violence is good, they believe. It is called “redemptive violence.”

            The ideology of this religion (nationalism) of conquest has been damaging and painful to so many people who have flocked to churches looking for a good, kind, accepting, forgiving God. On the contrary, they have found – in the most devout church-going people – hatred, prejudice, judgment, and a belief in the “rightness” of their tendency to tear people down. In their quest for domination, using violence as a means to get it, they are doing God’s will. All of us have received lessons of the oppressor’s religion; all of us, or maybe many of us, grew up singing, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and have not given those lyrics a second thought. As long as the masses of people have not thought about the theology they’ve been taught and the implications of it as well as its contradiction of what Jesus taught, they have practiced their religion with little difficulty. It did not, or has not, bothered them that their practice of religion has turned many people off and away from God and from church. Those who continued to go to churches that adhered to this kind of bigoted, violence-based religion, suffered and struggled with their questions; those who did not believe as they did simply stayed away.

            But now there’s a move on for there to be “one religion” for this country – that of the religious nationalists. As they work to erode the rights of nearly everyone, there is little pushback against what they are doing. There is a feeling of self-righteousness as they, for example, push for “prayer” in schools – but what they’re not saying is that it is highly unlikely that the “prayers” of any religion other than that of the nationalists will be acceptable. They have said that there needs to be one religion in this country and that religion is nationalism. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/15/politics/michael-flynn-one-religion/index.html)

            The religion of Jesus was one that liberated people, one that taught people that God, their creator, wanted them to be free from laws that were unjust and oppressive and one that taught them that they were loved, regardless of who they were, what they had done, or their social class or race. Jesus’ power was what it was because his religion was one that embraced all people, including “the least of these.” His teachings taught that all whom God created were precious in God’s sight and worthy of being treated as such.

            But the religion of the nationalists, and actually the Christianity that has historically upheld and practiced bigotry, hatred, racism, sexism, and all other forms of judgment against certain people, contradicts what Jesus taught. Nationalists seek power and control, and they worship capitalism more than they honor and respect God. Their greed cancels out their capacity for grace, and their arrogance makes them unable to have “eyes that see” that Jesus said we should all strive to have.

            I cannot see where the Jesus of the Bible would condone the hatred and violence, and the elevation of the former president to the status of a god, more important than the lives of the masses of people in this country and their well-being. They should stop using “Christian” to describe their religion, because in principle and by Jesus’ own tenets, their religion is not what Jesus came to earth to bring.

            Better that we are honest and call nationalism what it is: a religion that has as its core beliefs violence, domination, and control. That is not the religion of Jesus the Christ.

© Susan K Smith

Why Hearing the Word “Christian” Makes Me Sick

            Let me begin this piece by saying I love the story of Jesus the Christ. I love what the Jesus of the Gospels stands for. I love it that Jesus reached out to and accepted everyone – from disgraced women to diseased Gentiles. It was Jesus’ capacity to love and accept people, not judge and exclude them that made me love what Jesus stood for, even as a child.

            I grew up believing that we were supposed to love everyone because Jesus did. We didn’t have to like them, but we were obligated to love them. I grew up being taught that we were also to forgive everyone. It was a tough lesson, leading me to write one of my earliest books, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command. Jesus’ capacity to say he forgave the people who lied on him and to him, who subjected him to a mock trial and ultimately sentenced him to death, was remarkable to me.

            I grew up believing that I would not be completely successful in trying to do what Jesus said to do – or maybe would not even come close – but I grew up committed to trying. It was my belief in what Jesus taught that made me understand that forgiving even the racists that worked to keep non-white people in spiritual, economic, and social bondage was necessary. And I believe that carrying that mandate within me helped me from becoming bitter about the things that certainly seem unchangeable in American society.

            But I learned that not all people learned the way of Jesus like I did. I learned that pastors in churches taught and preached from the pulpit the “rightness” of segregation and bigotry. I learned that people who said they believed in Jesus would stand in the doorways of their churches to keep non-white people from coming in. Gandhi experienced that and said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He made this statement after being prohibited from entering a Christian church in Calcutta by ushers who, as he tried to enter, told him he was not welcome because the church was just for high-caste Indians and white people. He was too brown and too poor.

            How in the world could anyone who professed to love Jesus do anything like that? And yet, it was common practice. Many who call themselves Christian believe that it is God’s will for them to discriminate against people of color. Many fought and still disbelieve in the concept of the necessity for all people to have civil and human rights. 

            I still shake my head when I think of the testimony of the late Sam Bowers, convicted in the murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman and also for the murder of  Vernon Dahmer, a Black man who dared register people to vote. Bowers, who became the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, shared that he had been told by God, in a Damascus Road experience (his words) to “save white supremacy.” Whose god is that?

            There are preachers who teach that attention to social justice – i.e., liberty and justice for all – is anti-Biblical, in spite of words in the text that say the opposite. They teach versions of the Great Commandment – that we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls, and our neighbors as ourselves that make their students believe that loving and caring for each other is not required by God. I heard one preacher teach that the common understanding of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is wrong, that the lesson is about salvation, about getting right with Jesus, not extending love and assistance to someone, including and especially one whom you might not like or approve of.

            I am no longer puzzled but angry and offended at and by people who call themselves “Christian” but who use the name of the Christ to push and practice bigotry, exclusion, and hatred. I am angry that they are using the word “Christian” to describe actions that are clearly anti-Biblical and in violation of the very spirit of the Christ.

            Louis Gohmert made a statement that the mass shootings would stop if prayer was again required in public schools. (https://africa.businessinsider.com/politics/texas-rep-louie-gohmert-says-more-prayers-could-stop-mass-shootings-as-the-house/jy3bced) I disagree, but my observation is that Gohmert and others believe that the nationalist god and their religion – not Christianity at all – is the god to whom all should pay obeisance, a god who apparently does not care that so many people are suffering at the hands of people who say they despise big government but are advocating huge government to keep everyone under their control.

            My skin crawls when I hear the word “Christian” applied to people who believe in and practice exclusion and bigotry of any sort. I have a violent physical, emotional, and spiritual reaction to those who use the name of the Christ even as they make policies that would take freedom and dignity away from so many people. 

            There is no way I would or could pray to their god. It is not the same God that I worship and follow.

            This betrayal of the Gospel and the slander of Jesus’ name is not new; it has been a part of the American political and religious landscape since the time of this nation’s inception. I agree with Frederick Douglass, who said that Christian ministers …” strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throng of religion for the oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that pure and undefiled religion that is from above

            I don’t want any part of their god or their bible, both of which they have compromised to fit their racist, sexist, political, and ethnoreligious ideologies. They might be religious, but they are not Christian. At best they are religionists who have grabbed hold of the word “Christian” because they realize that Jesus the Christ did spread a message of empowerment that encouraged and strengthened all those who were left behind and left out. Their religion is based on dominating others and has done too much damage to too many people to allow it to be called Christianity or for them to call themselves Christian.

            They are imposters of the great religion and they defile the name and the work of the Christ.

            Jesus deserves better.

A candid observation …

In the Name of Biblical Principles

           There was a lot that was wrong and immoral about the state of Wisconsin refusing to postpone in-person voting yesterday, forcing people out of their homes while the nation is under a “shelter in place” order due to the coronavirus.

The sight of the people standing in those incredibly long lines, where they remained for hours, wearing masks and gloves and standing some distance apart so as to honor the social distancing requirement was troubling because what we have learned about this virus is that it is vicious, tenacious, and is no respecter of persons. I wondered how many people would get sick and/or die because the government forced them to make a choice between their right to vote and their health. They chose the former.

It was and is admirable that the Wisconsinites want to honor their right to vote; it was and is admirable that they decided that they weren’t going to let “nobody turn them around” when it came to taking charge of their lives.

But it was a slap in the face of Christianity, a religion which many claim but others basically ignore even as they lift up their belief in “Biblical principles.” As I looked at the images of those people, who, I later learned, stood in line even as heavy rain and hail pelted them, I suspected that it was Christian Nationalists who were responsible for their being there,  and not who I will call “traditional Christians” I wondered which “Biblical principles,”  according to Christian nationalism, were being respected or honored.

I especially wondered as the speaker of the Wisconsin General Assembly, in full protective gear, said that voting on that day, in those spaces was “perfectly safe.” (https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/07/politics/wisconsin-robin-vos-protective-gear/index.html) If it was so safe, I wondered again, why was he completely covered?

Obviously, the insistence of the government that the primary election not be postponed was a decision made without conferring with God, right? Probably not. It is safe to assume that the Republicans – many of whom might be evangelical Conservatives, did confer with God, did pray and decided that they had heard God say “go ahead.” The god of the Christian Nationalist movement believes, supports, and pushes those issues which they believe will “return” America to her greatness; they have, according to author Katherine Stewart in her book The Power Worshippers, a “biblical worldview” which “also happens to serve the interests of its plutocratic funders and allied political leaders,” she says.

“The fear of Christian nationalists is that this country has strayed from the truths that made it great,” Stewart notes. Part of the truths was that everyone had his or her place – blacks, women, Native Americans, immigrants – but over time that established order has been destroyed, and one of the group’s goals is to restore America to her mythical “greatness” by concentrating the power in the hands of those who best know how to run a government.

So, yes, those who ordered that the election – the in-person voting – go on as scheduled probably felt fairly confident that they were doing the will of God. They would probably say that they were merely following a “Biblical principle,” because they believe that “legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage,” says Stewart.

When people or groups do things in the name of God – be the group American Christianity, Christian Nationalism, Islam, Judaism or Zionism – it is nearly impossible for them to consider that they may, in fact, be wrong. Neither the Wisconsin General Assembly, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, nor the United States Supreme Court saw anything wrong with exposing large numbers of people to a virus that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. So entrenched are they in their ideology – which they call religion – that they seemingly did not even have the capacity yesterday to worry or care about the people whose lives they put in danger. Christian nationalism, says Stewart, is not a religious creed, but …a political ideology. What they want is power – at the expense of anyone who is in the way, and by any means necessary.

The Biblical principle they leaned on yesterday was probably the one that says the people are to follow the directions of their elected leaders, something Paul, in the Christian Bible, did advise people to do – but somehow I don’t think the God of us all – including the Christian Nationalists – would have approved of putting all those people in physical harm for the sake of attaining a political goal.

A candid observation…

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 …