Whoever Exalts Himself: The Snare of Ideological Christians


“Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.  The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18: 9-14

Pope Francis astounded the catholic, and much of the conservative Christian world last week when he commented in a homily that Christians who had allowed their faith to become ideology had a “serious illness.”

The Pope’s comments would not have been so remarkable had so many Christians not have surrendered faith in Jesus for barren ideologies.

Pope Francis is no stranger to this. In Argentina where he served as a Priest, Bishop and Cardinal he saw this type of faith from ideologues of both the political left and political right. The conservatives were those who saw faith as something to buttress their standing and place in society condoning the heavy handed methods of torture, intimidation and murder used by military dictatorships. On the left he saw theologians and pastors who had embraced Liberation Theology who went beyond all the good things brought out by that theology and joined hard lined Marxists in a political struggle. Both sides in Argentina’s culture wars had a part in politicizing and turning the Gospel into ideologies which only used Jesus as to buttress their agendas.

Because of this he is probably a bit more understanding of the havoc that ideologues claiming to be Christians can do to the redemptive message of the Gospel. In the passage from Luke I cannot help but see so many of the ideologues that masquerade as ministers in our American society as the Pharisee.

Since many have not read or hear what the Pope had to say I am copying some of that homily here:

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

… “The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances  the Church from the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh? Already the Apostle John, in his first Letter, spoke of this. Christians who lose the faith and prefer the ideologies. His attitude is: be rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness. This can be the question, no? But why is it that a Christian can become like this? Just one thing: this Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door.”

“The key that opens the door to the faith,” the Pope added, “is prayer.” The Holy Father warned: “When a Christian does not pray, this happens. And his witness is an arrogant witness.” He who does not pray is “arrogant, is proud, is sure of himself. He is not humble. He seeks his own advancement.” Instead, he said, “when a Christian prays, he is not far from the faith; he speaks with Jesus.”

Today’s Gospel lesson from the lectionary was the passage from Luke quoted at the beginning of this article. It really is a remarkable passage. It is so  because Luke notes that Jesus is talking to people who “were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” 

This is the mark of an ideologue and zealot regardless of their ideology. The sad thing is that when those people claim to be Christians that it does great damage to the faith, the Gospel and the witness of the people of God. One of the major reasons noted by a Barna Group survey in 2011 as to why young people were fleeing the church was that “Christians demonize everything outside of the church,” that “God seems missing from my experience of church” that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and that they cannot “ask my most pressing life questions in church.”

Others have noted that many outside the church feel that Christians are selfish and not interested in those outside the church, are self centered and judgmental, and are unwilling to develop true friendships with non-Christians.

It is amazing when you think of it. I for one remember my days in Evangelical Churches where if you talked about someone that was not a member of the church that people would ask “are they saved?” That always bothered me because I had a lot of friends that were Christians but not Evangelicals, from mainline, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. likewise I had friends outside the church, people who were non-believers, agnostics, atheists or members of other religions. I saw them as friends and people, but inside the sheltered and isolated cloisters of Evangelicalism they were less than fully human.

The words of Jesus to those he addressed in this passage from Luke are much like so many of us who claim to be Christians.

I have to admit that I still struggle many times with faith and that I get nervous when I see Christians appear to have no regard for others. Maybe it is because I was treated rather shamefully by Conservative Christians who I thought cared about me who when I experienced a faith crisis abandoned or even worse attacked me. Likewise when I was 12 years old and my dad was serving in Vietnam I had a Sunday School teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer.”

So I have experienced the Christian ideologue attack from the left and the right. Neither time did I like it and I hate to say that I have little tolerance when I see it.  Thus I try very hard, despite my own theological, philosophical and political leanings to treat people as I would want to be treated. Thus I have friends that range across the entire political and religious spectrum. I also probably have some enemies across the spectrum too, but it is not because I want to be.

I have become enamored with Pope Francis. I do not agree with everything that he says, but that being said I find him to be authentic and human, a man who I can not only respect as a religious leader, but as a human being. I would never want his job or for that matter to be anything more than a Priest, Chaplain and academic and in doing so care for the people that I serve as a Priest, Chaplain and teacher, as well as those who I meet in the places that many Christians would never enter.

I do hope that doesn’t sound arrogant because I certainly don’t mean it to be. I guess it is just because I have seen so much wrong done in the name of Jesus that I want to call attention to it without being an ass or being harsh.

So tomorrow begins a new work week. School continues as does the World Series and my Joint forces Staff College Softball league. This coming weekend I will be heading up to Gettysburg as part of a staff ride.

Have a great week and don’t forget the Gospel and the people that Jesus seems to care about.


Padre Steve+


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Filed under christian life, faith, ministry, Political Commentary, Religion

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