Sunday, March 30, 2014
First Cup—Evangelicals, Bullies, and Swirlies…
Why might I do this? Well, some of the reasons:
• The continuing confusion between faith and politics. I grew up relatively apolitical; my church was never sure how to be involved in politics. It was, I think, for us more personal and less political—we voted our conscience. We thought politics a necessary evil, at best, because it tended to subvert the gospel, tending to create division rather than unity. Now, apparently, Christians think it is the primary forum for communicating the Good News.
• The continuing confusion about how what matters to us gets turned into what matters to Jesus and not the other way around. In the lectionary this week, the Gospel reading shows Jesus criticized for working (aka healing) on the Sabbath. He cannot be from God because he broke the Sabbath by forming dirt into mud and giving sight to a blind man. All Christians are more or less guilty of proof texting—that is, reading texts from our own perspective—and we tend to think that the way I read the text is, in fact, the biblically correct one. I’m honest enough to confess that I struggle with this. Yet, this biblically based certainty about so many things that Jesus is silent about—and our apparent inability to consider our lives in the world in the context of how Jesus lived in the world, reducing it to, well, what follows...
• The continuing confusion that insists that the USA is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, by Christian founding fathers. I’ll not say more here except, well, only if one puts a fairly broadly Enlightenment spin on the label Christian.
• The continuing confusion about replacing serious theological discourse with sloganeering and jingoism and blame. Intelligent, thoughtful discourse (the kind we see throughout the Christian scriptures) about what matters is very nearly a lost art.
• The continuing and confusing ways we make decisions that protect us while damaging and disrupting others—even society in general. One has only to consider the vast exodus of Christians from public schools over the last decades for one (not so) pretty devastating example of this.
For the record, Judy and I are not contributors to World Vision; we do support Children of Promise, the child sponsorship program of the Church of God (Anderson, IN), our denomination. But I think the decision that the first WV made was reasonable and thoughtful and clearly in keeping with their mission. I wonder how many people read the carefully reasoned statement about why they were doing this—as an expression of their mission and their historical relationship with a variety of denominations and communions. I think the decision to take money away from children in the name of Jesus is, well, simply wrong. Jesus said something about hurting children, millstones, and drowning. (And I do hope that those now offended, angry, or saddened about its reversal will not choose to behave in the same ways that its attackers did.)
And, now, we’re going viral about a movie—Noah!
If I remember correctly Christians were first named Christian by the people who watched them (Acts 11:26); apparently their behavior was such that others associated their compassionate and generous behavior with Jesus.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43-47 NRSV)
In this narrative, Christian is not a political label, and I don’t think it was meant to be derisive. I think it was a response to how these followers of Jesus lived: "These people are apparently not going away; what shall we call them?" In that spirit, therefore, I choose to label the current crop of “evangelicals” (which, last time I checked, has something to do with Good News) “bullyvangelicals” in keeping with their behavior, which I see as bullying, threatening, intimidating, crass, and finger pointing—the ecclesiastical equivalent of “swirlies.” Somewhere the Good News is lost in favor of some new kind of religio-political correctness.
This leaves me with a problem, however: What will I call myself? I’m not sure. Some now like to say, “I’m a follower of Jesus.” I think I understand why they say that, and I’d like to say that, but it seems presumptuous. I’ve said that; I want to be that but am not sure that I have the ethos to do so. I’ve always thought of myself as a pilgrim, trying to live on a journey of discovery open to the call of God in Christ in my life—waiting for way to close and way to open. Perhaps that’s it—pilgrim. But I guess it finally doesn’t matter what I call myself; it is about what others see in me and my living and loving (a scary proposition), and, finally, God’s grace.