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Post Easter Thoughts on Christian Right Paranoia

religious-beliefs-350

Easter was weird for me this year. While I rediscovered the joy of celebrating Eucharist thanks to three Lebanese Christian officers who were in our last class at the Staff College, I struggled. I mentioned last week that it wasn’t my post-Iraq agnosticism, but rather a reaction to the power hungry preachers, politicians and pundits of the Christian Right.

These are people who though they hold most of the levers of power in the Republican Party, have a stranglehold on over half of the state legislatures and state houses as well as have the majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate live in a paranoid dream world. It is a cloud-cookoo-land were they honestly continue to spread the lie that they are the only group that it is legal to discriminate against. It is a world where they pass laws to discriminate against groups of people that they hate and then say that they are being discriminated against.

The positively Orwellian attitude, words and actions of these people are responsible for the rapid decline of people who call themselves Christians and the rapid expansion of people who no longer believe. The reason is born out by the polls of the Barna Group, Pew Religion Research and many other polls. They all agree. It is not Jesus that people reject, it is his most ardent followers, who are now described as Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political.

Another Barna poll recorded that young people were leaving the church because “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 and that churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in,” that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and “church is like a country club, only for insiders,” and finally that young people are unable to ask their “most pressing life questions in church,” that they have “significant intellectual doubts about their faith,” and that the church “does not help with depression or other emotional problems.”

Despite these self-inflicted wounds the Christian Right and their allies blame everyone else for the demise of the Christian church in the United States. Instead of making a genuine attempt to witness of the grace, love and mercy of Jesus embodied in the message of reconciliation so wonderfully stated in Second Corinthians chapter five:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 

Note that in this there is no command to judge or take political control over the world, it is a message of reconciliation seldom practiced by Christians now or sadly throughout much of history, especially after the Church became the Imperial Church under Constantine.

The words of the Christian Right and their allies, especially regrading homosexuals have reached such a point of ridiculousness that it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Cries by Mike Huckabee that “It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel, and I’m talking now about the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” 

Others repeatedly invoke the specter of Nazi Germany, persecution of Christians and even concentration camps and martyrdom, even though they are the ones passing the laws and using the government to legislate against homosexuals. But they say that they are the victims of homosexual hatred and liberal intolerance.

To me it is reminiscent of the scare tactics used by the Souther proponents of secession and slavery in the months leading to the Civil War. Henry Benning of Georgia told the Virginia Secession conference:

“I fear that the day is not distant when the Cotton States, as they are called, will be the only slave States. When that time comes, the time will have arrived when the North will have the power to amend the Constitution, and say that slavery shall be abolished, and if the master refuses to yield to this policy, he shall doubtless be hung for his disobedience…we will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth; and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. That is the fate which Abolition will bring upon the white race…But that is not all of the Abolition war. We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks…”

The message of the Christian Right and their allies is laden with similar statements, not about blacks, at least openly, but mostly in regard to Gays and the LGBT community.  None of these words or actions can be in the slightest construed with an authentic Christian message. Robert Henlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

This is what Conservative American Christians of the Christian Right, especially the leaders who subscribe to Christian Dominionism are doing every day. That my friends is why the church in the United States is dying and why people are fleeing it in record numbers, and why non-believers want nothing to do with it. It is why I struggle. 

But there is an antidote to this, a message that wonderfully contradicts everything that the Christian Right and their allies stand for, and that is a message of love.

In his last Bishop Blackie Ryan novel, the late Father Andrew Greeley used the example of a fictional Spanish Cardinal to his people. It is the message that needs to be preached here and now in this country:

“So many of our lay people believe that ours is a Church of rules, that being Catholic consists of keeping rules. They do not find an institution which is like that very appealing. Nor should they.

In fact, we are a Church of love. Our message from the Lord himself even today is the message that God is Love and that we are those who are trying, however badly, to reflect that love in the world. I find that in my own city that notion astonishes many people. How we came to misrepresent that which we should be preaching above all else is perhaps the subject for many doctoral dissertations.

More important for us today, however, is the reaffirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.

Does such a Church have a future? How could it not?”

Greeley wrote more than fiction, he was a socialist and a historian. He noted something about a time when Christians were actually the subject of real persecution before Constantine:

“People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good — Catholics were so good to one another, and they were so good to pagans, too. High-pressure evangelization strikes me as an attempt to deprive people of their freedom of choice.”

But now the problem is more than high pressure evangelism, it is the high pressure political machine that the Christian Right is an integral part. That my friends is what is destroying the witness of the church, not gay rights or same-sex marriage. It isn’t the liberals, or the media, it is a woefully short-sighted belief that Christians must subdue those who they disagree with and disapprove of and that they must work to use the law of the state to establish their view as law, and enforce that law on others.  Eric Hoffer noted that:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

The Christian Right has found multiple devils to demonize: gays, women, liberals and anyone else they want to make the enemy of their God. As Hoffer said: “religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

I thought about this subject over the past week in the context of my own struggle and the series of articles that I wrote about the Roman Centurion during Holy Week. Despite my own struggle I realize it is better to struggle with faith than to subscribe to the absolute falsehood and heresy of the hatred and judgment used by the Christian Right and their allies.

Anyway, I am tired and need to take a break.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Wrong Train: The Christian Culture War

itw2

Yesterday, I wrote about the scary similarities that I saw in the weekend gathering of Christian Right leaders at the Iowa Freedom Summit, to the prayer meeting in the classic film Inherit the Wind. I find those similarities amazing.  But even more troubling I find the fear, hatred and paranoia they display to all opponents to be reminiscent of church leaders in Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s.  These men, including Protestants and Catholics supported Hitler, because Hitler promised to fight against the things that they hated. Martin Niemöller, a man who now is nearly universally lauded for opposition to Hitler initially supported him. Later Niemöller, regretted that support and wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

The statistics don’t lie. The United States cannot and should not be considered a Christian nation and any sense of the definition. To be blunt that is not the fault of secularists. It is the fault of Christians especially those political partisan pastors and pundits of the Christian Right that for the past 40 years have sold their souls for political power at the expense of the Gospel.

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Freedom Summit 2015

While many people, even a majority describe themselves as Christians the fact is that what is now believed is not a Christianity that is in any sense Biblical, Catholic or Orthodox but rather a packaging of certain “Biblical values” that happen to be great political wedge issues for Christian leaders seeking political and economic power.

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Mike Huckabee: Preacher, Pundit and Politician

Nowhere was this shown more than the brazen flip-flopping of Christian leaders during the last Presidential election who first adamantly opposed the nomination of Mitt Romney. Not on political but on religious grounds,  so long as there was a chance that a non-Mormon had a chance at the Republican nomination. Of course those leaders, even those that opposed Romney on theological grounds rapidly gave him their blessing once he won the nomination. The theological gyrations made by those leaders of the Religious Right in that process were fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck, but fascinating nonetheless.

A recent Barna survey noted that less than one half of one percent of people aged 18-23 hold what would be considered a “Biblical world view.” This is compared to about one of every nine other adults.  Other surveys bear this out.

This should not be surprising to anyone that has watched the growth of what passes as Evangelical Christianity in the Mega-Church age and the retreat of conservative Catholics into the Church culture and theology of the 1400s. It is the same ideology that brought about the Reformation. But then maybe that is not a bad thing.

What has to be said is that the American Church cannot really be considered Evangelical or Catholic. Rather American Christians have subscribed to an Imperial Church model that must throw itself at those that hold power in order to maintain their own political, economic and social power.

While these leaders talk about and rail against things that they believe to be “sinful” such as homosexuality, abortion and birth control they willingly turn a blind eye to the treatment of the poor, advocate wars of aggression and bless cultural and economic norms that go entirely against the Christian tradition as they go about with a Bible in one hand and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the other.

One can have legitimate debates in the Church about what the Bible and Christian tradition define as sin and we should have those debates taking into consideration Scripture, Tradition as well as what we have learned from the Sciences and the Social Sciences. But the fact is that those in the Religious Right are terribly inconsistent in this, much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who he condemned for the same type of hypocrisy.

Think about it: The Barna Group in another survey of people 18-29 years old asked what phrases best described Christians: The top five answers “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers.

This hypocrisy was again demonstrated this week. Many of these politically corrupted religious leaders turned a blind eye to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 by the Supreme Court, or cheered that decision despite the fact that many of not most of those adversely affected by that decision are African American Christians. The next day after cheering this result they lambasted the same justices for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and refusing to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, dealing with the Federal recognition of Gay marriage. The histrionics exhibited would be comical if the men and women ranting away were not so vehemently hateful towards their opponents. The tragedy of their behavior is that even more people will turn away from even reasonable Christians.

The fact is that young people are leaving the church in unheard of numbers and it is very evident to me why they are doing so. The Church has embraced the culture wars over preaching the Gospel, which if I recall correctly is based on loving people, even ones enemies.  Jesus said it so well: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NRSV.

The leaders of the Christian Right were able to bring enough culture warriors to hold their majority in the House of Representatives and gain the majority in the Senate. Admittedly it was an election where less than 40% of eligible voters voted and most of the contested seats were in areas where they dominate, which magnified their strength. However, in the coming 2016 Presidential election the demographics among voters will go against them, and even though these leaders know this, most continue on and with greater zeal wage the culture war.

But at what cost? Here I am not even dealing with the politics, as one can debate the merits of the Obama administration as well as its decisions and policies, even many progressives criticize the President on a wide number 0f issues, so that is not the point.

But the question is can Christians be an authentic witness in the political arena by simply being the religious appendage of a political movement whose leaders hold the Church and religious people in general in distain? It is amazing to watch as people mobilize Christians to support policies that are in the long term detrimental to those who claim the name of Jesus, and which are against many supposedly Christian or Biblical values. It is likewise astounding to see conservatives, including conservative Roman Catholics condemn Pope Francis  for having the gall to take issue with them.

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In the 1920s and 1930s the Churches of Germany and many parts of Europe did the same thing. They felt that their values were under attack by Communists, Socialists, Jews and yes, even Homosexuals. In order to maintain their influence and power they willingly allied themselves with the Nazis. When they spoke up against the Nazis it was seldom because they were defending anyone but their own ecclesiastical power and place in society.  When the war was over and young people began to question the actions of those that led the Church in Germany it began a process that has led to the de-Christianization of that country.

The current leadership of the Christian Right, especially those with yearnings to be the next President, are doing the same thing as their German brothers did in the 1920s and 1930s. The constant hate filled attacks of Christian leaders on those that are not Christians will come back to bite them. This is not fantasy, it is reality. One only has to look at the history of the Church to see it played out time after time. But then, unless we decide to re-write history like the fraudulent pseudo-historian David Barton does so well, why bother reading it?

The actions of many Christian leaders are dangerous to the faith as a whole, but it seems that they are willing to throw that away in order to gain political power, and as Gary North said “. The political opportunism is short sighted and ultimately will hasten the decline and fall of what we know as Christianity in America.

Perhaps Christian leaders who have sold their souls for such paltry political gains should be asking these questions: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul and what does it profit the Church to wield political power but lose its soul?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” 

It is something to consider and they are questions that have to be asked.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Whoever Exalts Himself: The Snare of Ideological Christians

self-righteousness

“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.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Price to Be Paid: Politically Motivated Christian Leaders Destroy the Faith

martin_niemoller_magazine_article

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” Martin Niemöller

The statistics don’t lie. The United States cannot and should not be considered a Christian nation and any sense of the definition. To be blunt that is not the fault of secularists. It is the fault of Christians especially those political partisan pastors and pundits of the christian Right that for the past 40 years have sold their souls for political power at the expense of the Gospel.

While many people, even a majority describe themselves as Christians the fact is that what is now believed is not a Christianity that is in any sense Biblical, Catholic or Orthodox but rather a packaging of certain “Biblical values” that happen to be great political wedge issues for Christian leaders seeking political and economic power.

Nowhere was this shown more than the brazen flip-flopping of Christian leaders during the last election who adamantly opposed the nomination of Mitt Romney on the basis of their understanding of Christianity and Mormonism so long as there was a chance that a non-Mormon had a chance at the Republican nomination. Of course those leaders, even those that opposed Romney on theological grounds rapidly gave him their blessing once he won the nomination. The theological gyrations made by those leaders of the Religious Right in that process were fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck, but fascinating nonetheless.

A recent Barna survey noted that less than one half of one percent of people aged 18-23 hold what would be considered a “Biblical world view.” This is compared to about one of every nine other adults.  Other surveys bear this out.

This should not be surprising to anyone that has watched the growth of what passes as Evangelical Christianity in the Mega-Church age and the retreat of conservative Catholics into the Church culture and theology of the 1400s. It is the same ideology that brought about the Reformation. But then maybe that is not a bad thing.

What has to be said is that the American Church cannot really be considered Evangelical or Catholic. Rather American Christians have subscribed to an Imperial Church model that must throw itself at those that hold power in order to maintain their own political, economic and social power.

While these leaders talk about and rail against things that they believe to be “sinful” such as homosexuality, abortion and birth control they willingly turn a blind eye to the treatment of the poor, advocate wars of aggression and bless cultural and economic norms that go entirely against the Christian tradition as they go about with a Bible in one hand and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the other.

One can have legitimate debates in the Church about what the Bible and Christian tradition define as sin and we should have those debates taking into consideration Scripture, Tradition as well as what we have learned from the Sciences and the Social Sciences. But the fact is that those in the Religious Right are terribly inconsistent in this, much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who he condemned for the same type of hypocrisy.

Think about it: The Barna Group in another survey of people 18-29 years old asked what phrases best described Christians: The top five answers “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers.

This hypocrisy was again demonstrated this week. Many of these politically corrupted religious leaders turned a blind eye to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 by the Supreme Court, or cheered that decision despite the fact that many of not most of those adversely affected by that decision are African American Christians. The next day after cheering this result they lambasted the same justices for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and refusing to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, dealing with the Federal recognition of Gay marriage. The histrionics exhibited would be comical if the men and women ranting away were not so vehemently hateful towards their opponents. The tragedy of their behavior is that even more people will turn away from even reasonable Christians.

The fact is that young people are leaving the church in unheard of numbers and it is very evident to me why they are doing so. The Church has embraced the culture wars over preaching the Gospel, which if I recall correctly is based on loving people, even ones enemies.  Jesus said it so well: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NRSV.

The leaders of the Christian Right may hope able to bring out enough culture warriors to win or at least hold their majority in the House of Representatives in the next mid-term election for the Republican Party, but at what cost? One can debate the merits of the Obama administration and its decisions and policies. But to be authentic Christian witnesses we cannot simply become the religious appendage of a political movement whose leaders hold the Church and religious people in general in distain even as they mobilize them to support policies that are in the long term detrimental to those who claim the name of Jesus.

In the 1920s and 1930s the Churches of Germany and many parts of Europe did the same thing. They felt that their values were under attack by Communists, Socialists, Jews and yes, even Homosexuals. In order to maintain their influence and power they willingly allied themselves with the Nazis. When they spoke up against the Nazis it was seldom because they were defending anyone but their own ecclesiastical power and place in society.  When the war was over and young people began to question the actions of those that led the Church in Germany it began a process that has led to the de-Christianization of that country.

The constant hate filled attacks of Christian leaders on those that are not Christians will come back to bite them. This is not fantasy, it is reality. One only has to look at the history of the Church to see it played out time after time. But then, unless we decide to re-write history like David Barton does so well why bother reading it?

I will be writing more about this in the coming months in what will be a number of very well researched and documented articles.  But figured that I would kick open the door today. The actions of many Christian leaders are dangerous to the faith as a whole. The political opportunism is short sighted and ultimately will hasten the decline and fall of what we know as Christianity in America.

Perhaps Christian leaders who have sold their souls for such paltry political gains should be asking these questions: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul and what does it profit the Church to wield political power but lose its soul?

Bonhoeffer-194x300

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” 

It is something to consider.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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We Don’t Want No Losers: The Church of Closed Doors

Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you

Back in 1976 a Christian rock group called Daniel Amos from Calvary Chapel released a little song called Losers and Winners http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J520qyIUHME which when you come to think of it is one of the most amazingly theologically correct songs ever written. Back then I had the album that it came on both on LP and 8 Track. Thankfully I was able to get a CD of it a few years ago.

The song has come back to me in a big way during the past few weeks as I have watched Christian leaders, especially those of the more conservative Evangelical, Charismatic, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic churches go into political overdrive in support of the rich, the powerful and the privileged and support a worldview more based in the crass materialism and atheism of Ayn Rand than the words of Jesus.

Of course back then the song went pretty much unnoticed outside of the few that really liked the less than conventional message of this group, which coincidently is still around.

The song really is amazing because the song is more true to the Gospel so much of what is called “Christian” now, especially some of the “praise” songs that preach the militant and often hateful theology of Dominionism.

I spend many years in churches and unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for me I have never really been in the “in crowd.” Now that I am older I really don’t want to be in the “in crowd” if it means being less than Christian in the way that I get there.

For me church is not a place to enhance my social status, nor is it a place simply to network or a place that I can use to enhance my political or social agendas. It is simple a place where believers gather to worship as well as share the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a place of refuge for all people, but especially for the wounded, the outcast and the broken.  Likewise it is a place that even unbelievers can come and be welcomed without prejudice. Didn’t Jesus say “come to me you who are weary and bear heavy burdens and I will give you rest?”

To me the church is not about being the political platform of any party or political leader, but being the redemptive voice of Jesus the Christ to a broken world.

Unfortunately now the church is viewed more for what it is against and who it rejects rather than the one who calls the broken, who will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a flickering flame.

Do you give the highest place
To someone ’cause you like his face
And turn aside those you deem less than yourself?
Well, love that is natural
Can be less than satisfactual
For we all are one, no less than anyone else

As a result people are fleeing the church or if they were not a part of the church simply turning their back on it. The “Nones” or those with no religious preference are the fastest growing segment of American faith and religion.

The message that the church is actually teaching is a diametric opposite of the early church. It is obsessed with its own power, privileges and pre-eminence.  It is as if our message is something like this: We welcome you to church…If you look like us, if you hold similar political views, if you have money, if you are attractive, if your presence will benefit us… Our doors are open to you if you fit the criteria that we decide and unless you are like us, agree with us or are not of a group of people that we have determined cannot enter heaven you are welcome.

Another verse of Losers and Winners says:

Do you hail the gifted ones
And the others do you shun?
Do you speak to only those you chose?
Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
Has no ups, and it has no downs
Goes out to those who win and to those who lose

That is not just me talking but it is what polls published by the Evangelical Christian Barna Group attest. The terms used to describe Christianity are: Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. Another Barna study dealing with why young people are leaving the church included that nearly 25% of young people said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.”  That survey was of young people of Christian backgrounds.

The fact is that our obnoxious, arrogant, materialistic political and theologically insipid version of Christianity is causing great harm both inside and outside the church. It is not redemptive it is selfish and power hungry. It is not open, it is closed. We are losing our young people and those outside the church don’t want any part of us. Can you blame them? I don’t.

The funny thing is the long haired, Jesus people musicians of Daniel Amos figured this out close to 40 years ago. But then maybe they read and took seriously the message of Jesus. Maybe we should as well.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I Like Jesus Very much, but He no Help with Militant Angry Christians

Did you ever have one of those days where a militantly religious person attacks you ceaselessly because they are offended at something you said and continues to attack no matter how many times you try to let it go? It has been one of those days for me. On days like this I get weary of militant, angry and all too often ignorant Christians.  They make me tired but even still I will serve to ensure that they have their religious liberty.

There is a scene in the movie Major League where the Cuban defector Pedro Cerrano played by Dennis Haysbert, who has an altar to his God Jobu in his locker to help him hit the curveball. One of the other players ask him about Jesus and Cerrano says “Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.” Well for me Jesus is no help with militantly angry Christians.

I have written over 1200 articles on this site some of which attract criticism and so long as the critic is polite and sticks to facts I deal with it pretty well. However I find that the nastiest of my critics are supposedly Christian. I cannot believe the hateful, rude and uncivil manner displayed by these people and on rare occasion I have responded with blunt criticism of their behavior. In fact in posts where I have been critical of any faith it is Christians who are the most vicious in their attacks. Even Moslems that have written when I have criticized either the actions of Moslem extremists or aspects of their religion are more decent than these Christians.

The funny thing is that I never get attacked for big stuff, but rather having the nerve to criticize their favorite preacher or suggest that Christian leaders that they idolize may have feet of clay. Even people that disagree with me on doctrine or divisive social and political topics, including those espoused by Christians generally try to stick to some kind of ground rules when they comment. They stick to the issues and don’t for the most part make it personal.

However, there is a type of religious personality that cannot abide any criticism of their leaders. You name the religion and you will find people that are militantly aggressive and even violent to those that criticize their current earthly leader or some previous leader. It as if you criticize them you are criticizing God even when it is well deserved criticism completely backed up with facts. But then to such people facts don’t matter.

Likewise the viciousness levied by such Christians against “sinners” is appalling, especially homosexuals and people of non-Christian religions. Jeremy Affeldt, an Evangelical Christian and pitcher for the San Francisco Giants commented on his blog recently:

“It’s getting harder all the time to say, “I’m a Christian.” I’m not afraid to say I’m a Christian. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to say it! I’m embarrassed by how people view Christianity, as a judging faith. The way people view Christianity is not the way that sinners viewed Jesus. Sinners loved Jesus! They knew He loved them! And as much as it is possible, I want to be viewed like Jesus was viewed, as someone who loves people.”

I stand in total agreement with him. I deal with a lot of people who have been for a large number of diverse reasons been treated badly by the church as an institution or by some of the people who act as if they are the final arbiter of truth or God’s judgement.

I find it little wonder that people are leaving Christian churches of all denominations in droves. For most of these people it is not about God or Jesus, or even the Bible. It is due to the lack of love, care, compassion exhibited by Christians and the institutional corruption, lack of transparency, double standards and political machinations of churches over people that are not of their faith or under their institutional control. The surveys conducted by Christian pollsters like George Barna bear this out. When asked what words or phrases “best describe Christianity” the top response of 16-29 years olds was “anti-homosexual” while 91% of all non-Christians surveyed said this was the first word as it was for 80% of Christians in the survey. Here are those words that describe Christians. Personally I don’t like them but it is what it is.

Hypocritical: Christians live lives that don’t match their stated beliefs;
Antihomosexual: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians – “hating the sin and the sinner” as one respondent put it
Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts
Sheltered: Christians are anti-intellectual, boring, and out of touch with reality.
Too political: Christians are primarily motivated by a right-wing political agenda

The sad thing is that we are not simply alienating non-Christians we are losing young Christians in this cesspool of Christless Christianity. I wrote about this about a year ago in an article entitled Reaching the Lost Christian Generation.I wrote another article when novelist Anne Rice announced that she was leaving the Catholic Church called Anne Rice and the Exodus. Both articles deal with reality that many conservative Christian leaders refuse to recognize. The fact is that in many western countries Christians and the institutional church behave as if they are both entitled to being at the top of the heap and play the victim when they don’t get their way or when someone dares to criticize them or their leaders.

Jesus told his disciples that people would know they were his disciples by their love for one another. It was a sentiment that even the Roman persecutors of the early Church echoed.

I just hope that despite my own faults that people who come to me in person, or on this site see me as someone that loves people hopefully as Jesus would. What grieves me about some of those that attack and attack and attack is that they try every nerve that I have, and the sad thing as most of them don’t take the time to actually find out anything about me or what I believe before they launch their attacks. I can in a small way understand Jesus’ frustration with the religious leaders of his time.

Here is to hoping that things will get better.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Chicken Jihad: Chick-Fil-A and the Culture War

“We are famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.” David Kinnamon President Barna Polling

I seldom eat at Chick-Fil-A. Just never have been a fan.Not because of anything in particular, it’s just that I don’t eat much fast food to begin with. The fact that Chick-Fil-A isn’t open on Sundays means that they have one less day a week to get my business and that they don’t serve beer puts them low on Padre Steve’s food chain regardless of their religious or political leanings.  I do get a kick out of the Chick-Fil-A cows but that doesn’t get me in the door or drive thru. t have close friends on both sides of the culture war and try to be respectful of their opinions even if I don’t fully agree or disagree with them. However there are times when I think that culture warriors do more damage to their causes than necessary. But as a Christian I have to agree with Mark Twain who said: “If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a christian.”

I am generally apolitical when it comes to my appetite. I like what I like, I appreciate good food and good service and I try not to ask the politics of the restaurants that I frequent.  I am not a food crusader, nor am I a fan of the huger fast food chains that dominate our landscape regardless of their political or social leanings. To some on the extreme right and extreme left that would mean that I am somehow immoral. But I like what the Lord said to Peter when Cornelius the Centurion offered him a really good meat, cheese and pasta dish that was not Kosher. “He Pete, dude, don’t be uncool, it’s not freaky, if I made it’s good to eat brother, eat up.” (Acts 10:15 Rick James Version)

Now I can understand why my gay friends are upset with the remarks of Dan Cathy the Owner, President and Dictator of the Chick-Fil-A enterprise.  While I think that he has a right to his opinion, his religions beliefs and who he gives his political contributions his comments said as they were make him and those who rally around him look like intolerant boobs.  However, having a kiss in and public boycott as has been promised for today by LGBT groups just throws gasoline on the fire of intolerance. My advice, is to ignore him and don’t patronize his restaurant unless you actually like the food, service and the people at the local store that you know as people.  My goodness there are gays that work at Chick-Fil-A and they are the ones caught in the middle between Talibanesque religious leaders and LGBT activists.  They make their livings there.  I want to put the human face on this and and I think that they are the real victims of this jihad.

All that being said I think that American Christians, Evangelicals and Conservative Roman Catholics for the most part are making themselves look like idiots every time they decide to boycott a business every time that they disagree with that corporation.  Christian groups and ministries have been doing this for decades now. The fact that their opposites on the political left are now doing it to their favorite organizations and businesses is a bad Karma.

A recent Barna poll revealed what the new generation thinks of Christianity and the Christians does not paint a pretty picture: When asked to describe Christianity and Christians the findings said that Christians were viewed as “Hypocritical: Christians live lives that don’t match their stated beliefs;  Antihomosexual: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians – “hating the sin and the sinner” as one respondent put it; Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts; Sheltered: Christians are anti-intellectual, boring, and out of touch with reality. Too political: Christians are primarily motivated by a right-wing political agenda.” 

I am a historian and have done a lot of study of Church history. The funny thing is that when Christians and the Church get to this point in any society it generally means that their institutional structures and beliefs are less about Jesus and the Gospel and more about maintaining their political, social and economic power and prominence.

But I am not surprised that we have reached this point. It shows that church leaders are decidedly ignorant when it comes to church history. I remember back in my seminary days how my fellow students did as much as the could to take the minimum amount of church history, systematic theology or philosophy. You see those things were not important and I would dare say are less important to church leaders than at any time in recent memory.

It has been said that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The cultural jihad will only serve to drive people away from God and the Church and instead of reaching the culture for Jesus, they are doing exactly the opposite. It will result in hastening the decline in influence of Christians in society and continue to drive people away from Jesus.

The Chicken Jihad has become another ring in the cultural circus.

Eat hardy and stay thirsty. I’m going to get a burger and a beer and then go to a ball game tonight.  I just say to my friends and readers on both sides of this issue: Don’t have a cow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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