Tag Archives: incarnation

God With Us? The Misuse of God’s Promise by Political Partisans

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It is one of the most amazing stories of salvation history. The Incarnation of God in Jesus the Christ. Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 1 v.24), referring back to the words of Isaiah delivers the message in words which find their way into our culture every Christmas through Georg Friedrich Handel’s Messiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’”

That message, which lays at the heart of the Christian Gospel is really amazing.  It is a message that points to a Gospel meant for all people and not any particular nation, nor any political, racial, or ethnic group that wishes to appropriate it for themselves alone.

It is the message of the humility and grace of God.  It is the message God humbling himself to become incarnate and not only live among his creation, but to suffer and die for the salvation of it. All of it. As Paul wrote so well in his epistle to the Philippians:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-7)

Unfortunately that message is all too often appropriated and twisted into something unrecognizable by those who seek to use it to bolster their particular ideology, nationalism or even racism. In practice, human beings are much more likely to claim this message to bolster their own hatred and intolerance or justify their nation’s desire for conquest. It matters not if the a Christian in any sense of the word or not. One sees the same idea floated by zealots of almost every major religion. The appeal to being on the same side of God trumps all other arguments.

As a historian I have studied this often. In the United States it is encompassed in the idea of Manifest Destiny; but can be seen in the life and history of many nations who in their belief that God was on their side have slaughtered hundreds of millions of people. One does not have to look far to see leaders of nations, political factions, ideologues or other fanatics appropriate God as the trump card of their message. However, it is not just a matter for history. It happens every day, and it is not pretty. Many use it to justify the most reprehensible crimes, persecution, ethnic cleansing and even genocide. They do so all in the name of God, preaching that God is with them, and not those who they despise.

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Today I saw a blog on a service that I use to promote my website. The author of the blog promotes an extremely conservative political ideology with most of his posts being directed with some vehemence, often colored by blatant racism at President Obama and others that he does not agree with. Usually his posts are filled with such hyperbole and nonsense that I simply ignore them. However, today he posted something that as a Christian really bothered me. His post was titled Do Not Fear, God is With Us, and it featured the picture shown above. When I saw it, I felt a chill run down my spine. It was as if I was envisioning the virulent hatred of other races, creeds and nations exhibited by those who have claimed that mantle before. I can see it now, a belt-buckle with a Swastika, ringed in the words “Gott Mit Uns.” 

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The sad thing is that the Christians who claim this mantle misuse scripture and twist it to justify their hatred of all that they disagree with, have lost sight of the Gospel. Instead they have allowed their passionate hatred and prejudice to hijack the message of the Gospel to promote political partisanship, hyper nationalism and xenophobia. This can hardly be called Christian. If such ideas were was limited to the fringe of society it would not be so concerning. However, this blogger represents a significant portion of the American electorate; and his comments are echoed by the very powerful, and allegedly Christian leaders of partisan political organizations, as well as pundits, politicians and preachers. If you do not agree with them you are not a real American.

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Cartoon from the Nazi Der Sturmer linking the Nazi Movement to Christ, with the Jew being the villain 

Instead of seeing the message of God’s grace, love and mercy for all people, we see triumphalist Christians that claim that God is with them. In their zeal they ride roughshod over others, and despise all who disagree with or oppose them. Their opponents are painted as being in league with the Devil, modern Judas Iscariots. In their lives and ideology many Christians follow leaders who espouse brutal doctrines of Social Darwinism and sell their birthright for a pittance. They attempt to use of the police power of government at every level against those that they disapprove, in matters of faith, lifestyle or politics. Likewise they have no compunction about using the military and economic power of the nation to crush weaker nations, all because they believe that they and their country have God on their side.

But do such sentiments have any place in the message of Christians? I think not. As Paul the Apostle notes: if in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Or as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5: 19)

The Gospel is not about God being on the side of any nation or political ideology. Such ideas always end in disaster for those that believe them, and who use God to justify their actions.

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McNoughton’s “One Nation under God”

The picture on the website that triggered this little article is one by a Mormon artist, John McNoughton. McNoughton has frequently blended the image of Jesus with the most banal appeal to American “patriotism” and crude attacks on President Obama. In this picture as well as others the artist has Jesus holding a copy of the Constitution of the United States in his right hand, with his friends on that side, and his foes, including judges, others viewed as liberals and women. In his more crass attacks on the President in other paintings he shows Obama trampling the Constitution while white people are bound in chains. All of these show up with startling frequency on supposedly Christian websites.

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US Political Cartoon from 1896

The sad truth is that McNoughton is not the first to practice this crude form of xenophobic patriotism, which appeals to God in order to vilify the opponents of their ideology. It has been used in this country before, as well as in Europe to vilify Jews, racial minorities and political opponents.

Yes, I do believe that God is with us, however, that is not confused with appeals to my patriotism, which is real and has led me to serve this nation for over 30 years in the military including two combat tours in the Middle East. Nor does it add or detract from my support of our Constitution, why does not mention God once, despite its guarantee of religious freedom for all, not just Christians. It is an amazing document, one that I will die to defend, but it is not handed down by God, and Jesus never referred to it.

Instead, my belief that God is with us flows from the mystery of the Incarnation, that miracle of salvation history.  I believe in the message wonderfully referred to in the liturgy as the “mystery of faith,” that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. My belief flows from the simple message that for God so loved the world… and not that God so established this or any other nation or political ideology as his own.

I understand the fear that drives men like the blogger who posted the article I saw, as well as men like McNoughton. Their fear of the other allows them to use these images to promote their hopelessly confused faith and ideology. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who saw the same fear and hatred present among his fellow Germans, especially German Christians wrote:

“The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother, and requite his hostility with love. His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.”

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What I see from the present political ideologues has nothing to do with love of God or our neighbor, but their efforts to protect their status in society, their political power and subject all others to their will.

God is with us indeed, in the humility of a borrowed manger, on the gibbet of a Roman cross, and in shame of a borrowed tomb. God is really present with us in the the bread and wine, in the word, and in the lives of his people; especially the least, the lost and the lonely. To attempt to crudely use God to buttress any earthy power is heresy. Those that use it in such a manner, though proclaiming their fealty to Christ, or any other God, willingly trample the message of the God who humbled himself, even to death on a cross.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christian Grinch’s: How the Puritans nearly stole Christmas

There are a lot of people now days in the United States that believe that the Christmas Holiday is under attack and to some extent they are right. It seems that lawsuits are as abundant as public displays of Christian themed holiday observance and décor as various individuals and groups attempt to expunge such observances from public life, even some of those erected on “private” property.

Now I am not one to go out and all these people are evil or even anti-Christian as some do from the pulpit and the even more influential “pulpits” of radio talk show hosts. However there are times that I have to admit that it seems that there is Grinchlike element present in our society. The Grinch’s who come in various types are often well meaning and concerned that religious displays of any kind but mostly the Christian kind will either offend people or create an environment where religious and non-religious minorities might be discriminated against by the religious folks. Thus they believe that all religious displays need to go lest someone be offended or discriminated against.

 

Above all it seems that they really don’t like the displays with the kid in the crib surrounded by a temporarily indigent family, smelly animals, even smellier migrant worker type pre-Bedouins and undocumented aliens from realms of glory.  I find the whole notion that is somehow harmful to individuals or society be quite Grinchlike and wonder of these people had their sentimental and fun glands removed at birth or simply got too many lumps of coal in their stockings.

 

Despite this I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even dare I say from those within the faith.  Yes my friends way back in the bad old days a group influential in our early development as a nation the Puritans were big into cancelling Christmas.  Despite the fact that they were Christians they were pretty Grinchlike and in some sense the philosophic predecessors of those that want to banish Christmas from public life today.

 

You see after the Protestant Reformation, the English, who despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World were actually more like unruly football fans in matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors. English Protestants of the non-monarchical reformation type did their best to rid the Church of England of anything Catholic. Of course this often included people who were Catholic or even Anglo-Catholic.  The English of all denominations tended to lop off the heads of, burn at the stake or crush with heavy stones those that deviated from the beliefs whoever was in charge. Of course those that leaned Catholic reciprocated in kind whenever they had power which made the era something like the Premier League “lite.”

 

The English Grinch and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell


However when the Puritans took power they didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas. Of course they did so for noble reasons such as ridding the country of anything that smelled Catholic or did not fit within their rather harsh and purist views of the faith. Thus when they took power they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas which they objected for a number of reasons.

 

So in 1647 the Puritan dominated Parliament backed up by the brute force of the Army and Police led by Oliver Cromwell simply abolished the feast and all that went with it.  Like the Grinch himself they tried to eliminate everything including the Roast Beast. Gone were such nasty pagan ideas as Christmas Trees, feasting, caroling, and decorations. And let’s not forget the favorite target of Grinch’s everywhere, Nativity scenes, which were banned as the worship of idols. Indeed, the Puritans even frowned on the use of the word Christmas because they believed that it was akin to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Wassailing


Not content with inflicting their beliefs on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England they even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing.  Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink called wassail, was a hot spiced wine and not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a equally pungent English wine, thus the need for spices and heat. The result of the wassailing sometimes was an out of control drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously.
Be it known that the Puritans did have their sentimental and fun glands removed on conversion had no sense of fun, or what they viewed as harmful religious practices and wanted to remove them from public life altogether.  Well altogether now: “kill the fun and sentimentality! And if need be those that practice them!” Very good you are honorary Puritans for the day doesn’t that make you feel good? It does me, I just love reenacting history sometimes.
Well this lasted until 1660 when the Lord Protector and head of the Army and Police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket.  The anti-Christmas laws were overturned and the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing and everyone, save those being lopped, crushed or burned was happy.
Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted similar laws which were on the books from 1659 through 1681 when a newly appointed Governor in the employee of the Crown Sir Edmund Andros.  However during the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. Like others in places like Iran and Afghanistan the General Court banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior. Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in another manner. The law read like this:
“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

That sounds lovely doesn’t it? Just kidding. At least they didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing with heavy stones unless you were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch. Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Colonists up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony frowned upon the celebration until the 1820s when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.   By the way the last “State Church” in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts back in 1833, seems that they didn’t appreciate that separation of Church and States stuff thought up by Tom Jefferson and Jim Madison very much.

 

So the next time you hear about those that want to impose their beliefs to quash Christmas realize that this isn’t a new thing at all. Christians have been doing it for centuries and some of the un-fun Fundamentalists that want to re-establish the faith in the way the Puritans had imagined or legislated it to be, would do it again if they ever took control of Congress.  But for now we have to suffer those fun and sentimentality deprived army of Grinch’s that without the religious flair attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas in the name of tolerance.

 

So Merry Christmas my friends,

 

Peace
Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, purely humorous, Religion