The Epitome of Speechlessness: Why Christians Are Willing to Vote for Roy Moore and Those Like Him.

If you’re like me, you’ve been seeing the recent news about Roy Moore down in Alabama and wondering if you’re living in the Upside Down from Stranger Things. Seeing how evangelicals specifically are responding to this has been the epitome of speechlessness. Like seriously? “Look at Joseph and Mary”??? And then the kicker: “At least he’s not a Democrat”?!? What the what?!? As if sexual misconduct is strictly a liberal problem.

How it is that a whole group of Christians can condemn in the strongest sense the sexual misconduct of the left, but seemingly embrace it from the right? How are the actions of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, or Al Franken completely inexcusable, but those of Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ails forgivable? If you don’t know evangelicalism in the Bible Belt South, you don’t know the crisis of belief that is happening. To be sure, they don’t know they are having a crisis of belief, but they are having one nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I do not hold much hope for this group to change. But at least I can recognize the reasons for such blatant hypocrisy, because I used to be one of them. So if you are one who is on the outside looking in, wondering how these evangelicals can be so combatively unChristian, I hope these can help. Perhaps you can use these as talking points if you happen to engage in a dialogue with such folks. But, if nothing more, these points can give you a reason to have pity on them, instead of reacting with hate and vitriol or dismissiveness. You may never be able to change their mind or attitude, but you can change yours. And sometimes the most helpful way to love your enemy is to recognize how they think.

So the following points are ones that I was personally taught by my church leaders and teachers, or their favorite authors or media personalities. I am in no way saying that this is the definitive list on conservative Evangelical hypocrisy. I’m not George Barna. But they are the recurring points that I hear most often.

Christians Vote Republican

I first became a Christian in 1999, right before the 2000 Election season. I was taught by my Youth Pastor, my Sunday School teachers, and just about every Christian in my life that if I was going to call myself a Christian that I must vote Republican. (It might be worth mentioning that I was only 16 at the time!) Or in the least, I had to vote for the Christian candidate to ensure that our laws and policies would be based on the Bible. But, as the circular reasoning goes, Christians could only be Republican, so….yeah. (I remember my Youth Pastor preaching about how he believed that George W. Bush would usher in the Second Coming of Christ! “First, George W. Bush will become President. Then the Antichrist will come to power–most likely from Russia. Then Jesus will come back.” I wish I could say that I did not heartily “Amen” that.)

I literally didn’t hear any other perspective on the matter until the 2008 Election. But even then, I was able to dismiss what I heard because the source was progressive, and progressives “will compromise where they feel they must, if it means attracting more people.”

And what made the Republican Party more godly than Democrats? 1. They believe in the traditional definition of marriage. 2. They are pro-life.

That’s it.

At least with the folks I ran with, these two points were the only points worth considering when it came to determining whether a candidate was godly or not. Nothing else mattered. Not much has changed either.

There’s this story in the Gospels, where Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment. And he responds by saying that all of the Law and the Prophets (a phrase that meant all of Scripture) could be summed up with just two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Basically, whatever command you were reading, it was based on the foundation of loving God, or loving people. Every command in Scripture is based on these two principles. It’s inescapable.

That was so profound, that the guy who asked the question in the first place walked away from the conversation completely dumbfounded. He didn’t like Jesus very much, but that answer sure did warrant some mad props for him.

Now, imagine if Jesus instead replied with, “All the Law and the Prophets can be summed up in these: Are you pro-life? And, do you believe in the traditional definition of marriage?” Doesn’t that miss a whole lot of things about Christianity? Ironically, the only tradition that Jesus presents for marriage is that it is a lifetime commitment, and that you couldn’t just divorce your wife because she burned dinner. Moreover, there are countless examples of heroes of the faith who do not meet the modern evangelical definition of marriage. David, for example, was polygamous, and had multiple mistresses. And yet God called him a man after his own heart. So perhaps one’s marital status or sexuality is not the best gage for what godliness looks like. And perhaps a person can be good and moral, but have a really wonky idea of marriage.

But to say that all of a person’s relationship to God is contingent on how he thinks about abortion or sexuality misses a very key detail of the Christian Faith: Jesus himself. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He didn’t say, “…you will be with your marriage” or “…your theological construct.” Just ME! The most missed point in the Christian faith is Jesus Christ himself! The Christian faith teaches that if you miss everything else, you still get Jesus, and all that that means. You still get a relationship with the God of the universe, and all that that means. Jesus is point number 1.

But that doesn’t happen when this faith gets reduced to where we stand on abortion or LGBTQ+ Rights (i.e. a political platform). Instead it takes secondary and tertiary things and makes them primary. And when that happens, you can realistically take Jesus completely out of the equation, and still get the answer you are looking for. And that is not godly in the least. Jesus repeatedly made the point during the Sermon on the Mount that even those without any faith can do that, so “what makes you any different than them”?

Liberals Hate the Truth

If the democratic position on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights is not reason enough to vote Republican, then you really have to vote Republican because liberals don’t believe in the truth. I was always taught that liberals thought the truth is what you wanted it to be. “They don’t care what is right or wrong, just what feels right.”

This is actually an attack on how one assimilates information. Because if you can discredit the source of an argument, you can discredit the argument itself. Ergo, if liberals hate the truth, and only care about what feels right, then liberal sources can’t be trusted to tell the truth. I remember the day I bought the line that only Fox News reported honestly. “You can know that what they report is the truth. Unlike CNN or The New York Times or The Washington Post.”

And I remember the day I was walking through my house, thinking about this, and thinking to myself, “But that makes no sense! I don’t know how a whole group of people (in this case journalists from liberal media sources) can collectively refuse to tell the truth, and yet not contradict each other on one point. And didn’t I just see the same exact story reported exactly the same way by everyone, including Fox?!?”

And that’s where it gets freakishly maniacal. Because then the amount of mental gymnastics needed to hold this position requires…you guessed it…denying truth.

“Well, of course they didn’t lie then, they couldn’t cover it up.”

“Hey! Even a blind hog finds a truffle every now and then.”

“Some things just can’t be denied.”

And if a story by Fox News was found to be wrong: “Hey! They’re only human. But at least they try to tell the truth, unlike MSNBC.”

And how do you know that Fox isn’t lying? “Because they’re conservatives! And conservatives tell the truth.”

Who told you that conservatives tell the truth, while liberals lie? “Conservatives! Hello! Because they don’t lie!”

I don’t know where this idea came from that liberals hate the truth, or think that it’s whatever feels right. I don’t know a single one who would say that. In fact, the liberals I know are deeply concerned about authenticity. If they even sense that you aren’t being honest, they’ll dismiss you. So where did this idea come from that they hate the truth? I have a sneaky suspicion that it stems from the first point. If all of the Christian faith can be boiled down to one’s stance on abortion or LGBTQ+ rights, and that that stance has to be conservative, then any other position is denying the truth. Never mind that the whole premise is faulty.

Liberals Are Atheists With a Godless Agenda

So if the democratic position on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights is not enough, and if it’s not enough that liberals hate the truth, then you must absolutely be turned off by their war against Jesus and all things Christian. This one is a personal favorite of Franklin Graham. This was the message he traveled to all 50 states with during the 2016 Election. If Democrats get the power, he argued, then it’s only a matter of time before we can’t call homosexuality a sin anymore, our pulpits will be controlled by hate speech laws, and sharia law will be imposed because the Muslims will take over. Remember Starbucks’ war on Christmas because their seasonal cups said nothing about Jesus or Christmas? “I told them my name was Merry Christmas, because then they’d be forced to say Merry Christmas!”

(Funny how it’s ok to force others to say Merry Christmas, but it’s a violation of your religious liberties for people who do not share your faith to say Happy Holidays.)

Once again, you can take Jesus completely out of the equation here, and still get the answer you’re looking for. And if that’s the case, you’ve completely missed Jesus. And if you’ve completely missed Jesus, then it’s not really him you’re concerned about. Someone does not have to have any faith in Jesus Christ whatsoever to wish somebody a merry Christmas. You’re not being persecuted if someone says to you happy holidays. Christmas is not the only holiday in winter. It’s not being politically correct to wish somebody happy holidays, it’s just common courtesy. They may not share your faith! So why make them be dishonest?

There’s a Mediterranean restaurant that I like to eat at, and it’s owned by a lovely Muslim couple. It changes nothing about my faith to wish them well during ramadan. The only thing it affects is what time I can go the restaurant during that holiday, because they close early. That’s it! Jesus is still Jesus. I’m still a Christian. They’re still Muslim. I still get to eat great food!

Going back to what Jesus said about the Law and the Prophets. With the way certain Christians act during the holiday season, you’d think Jesus said, “All of the Law and the Prophets come down to this: You must say Merry Christmas.” You’d think Jesus’ last words before ascending into Heaven were, “Go throughout the world, and make disciples of all people. AND FOR MY SAKE, THEY BETTER SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS, OR ELSE THIS WHOLE DYING AND RISING AGAIN THING WAS FOR NOTHING.”

C’MON Y’ALL!!!!

You mean to tell me that the God of the universe, who made everything out of nothing just by speaking it, who knows even the tiniest atom, and holds all this together, wants to have a relationship with you, but you’re concerned with what a cashier, someone you probably don’t even care about, says to you during Christmas?

Ultimately, when you make Christianity into something it is not, you lose Jesus. And when you lose Jesus, your lord and savior can be anything. Who needs Jesus if the Republican Party is the godly Party because of their platforms on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, if they’re the only ones who believe the truth, if they have a godly agenda? As long as my godly representatives have the power, and are calling the shots, and there are laws limiting these two abominable sins, what need have I of God?

The Crisis

The crisis facing these evangelicals is that they are quickly becoming the very thing they hate. Godliness is a matter of partisanship for them. And if the only two things I value with my faith are antiabortion and anti-LGBTQ+ rights, then morality is only confined to being a heterosexual. And when that happens, the only thing that qualifies as sexual misconduct is what “those perverts and baby killers do.”

So a presidential candidate can claim to be a Christian for the first time in his 70 years, get caught saying that because he’s famous he can do anything to women he wants, including grabbing them by the pussy, can be forgiven because “he’s a baby Christian,” and “at least he’s not Bill Clinton, right?”.

And a man can have a 10 point lead in the polls despite growing allegations that he dated teenagers while in his thirties–because he had their parents permission–and it is brushed aside because “at least he’s not a democrat,” “the Washington Post broke the story because they want a democrat to win,” and “remember that Bill Clinton was a sexual predator in the White House.” And let’s not overlook that it was a liberal judge who dismissed Judge Moore because he wouldn’t take down the 10 Commandments, and that’s proof that Roy Moore is a godly man. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but what does it matter as long as a Republican wins?

There’s Really No Fighting It.

So what are sensible people supposed to do when confronted with this? The hope is that the person opposite you is a kind, caring person, who is at least willing to hear you out. But the most likely scenario is that they won’t. There’s no debating them. Trust me, I’ve tried. I just ended up on the prayer list.

You’re dealing with people who have so married their politics to their faith, that they cannot separate the two. So if you’re trying to draw them away from the absurdities of the current Republican Party, you might as well be trying to lure them away from Jesus. I still have moments when I accidentally catch a clip of Fox News, and realize, “Wow! That is a complete misperception and oversimplification of liberals.”

The only thing to do is just be the bigger person. Think about it: At the end of it all, which of you will be walking away from the conversation still supporting a man alleged to have dated 14-year olds? So you can at least know that much. But then you’ll need to go home and cry, because at the end it all, that person supports a man who is alleged to have dated 14-year olds.

I work in mental health. I have worked with people who have delusions. And it’s so tricky how to navigate a conversation with a person speaking from that delusion. Because to those folks, that delusion is absolutely real. But to deny them outright or to directly confront it (“I’m looking at the roof, there’s no one on the roof, you don’t have to worry about people being on the roof.”) will often cause the person to hold onto it tighter. Because to admit that that’s a delusion is also to admit there’s a problem. The movie A Beautiful Mind captures the struggle perfectly. Russell Crowe’s character experiences visual hallucinations, and must come to terms with that. There’s even a scene at the end, where he does reality checking, just to make sure that the person he is speaking to is actually there. So he turns to someone he knows is there, to ask if she can see the same thing. But for a good portion of the movie, he thinks his doctors are all just trying to lock him up for no reason. Because in his mind, he was an undercover agent breaking Russian codes for his country.

Likewise, these Christians believe they are doing the right thing. They have been taught their whole Christian life that this is what Christians do. Politics is a way to bring godly change to the country, and make us a Christian nation that honors God, and you don’t want to dishonor God, do you? This is why they’ll say things like, “If you can’t trust the man, trust the party.” To them, having a bad representative of the party is better then the alternative, because they have been taught that the alternative is a godless pagan, who only wants to lie to them, and force them to deny Christ. One bad representative can be held accountable by the rest. It certainly can’t be that the party itself is just as bad as the one, or that to ask us to trust the party is to ask us to trust a party that is endorsing the man. But to ask them to deny all this, is to ask them to admit that not only are they wrong, but their beloved preachers and teachers are wrong as well. It calls their whole basic grasp on reality into question. It’s not just asking them to put aside the notion that Santa is a real person, you’re asking them to put aside their understanding of God. That is terrifying.

So put yourself in their shoes. How could someone challenge your thinking, without challenging what you believe to be the core of your faith? How would you say, “your God is not the problem, your politics are,” knowing that these two are inseparable to you? How much patience, kindness, and care would you require from others as you unlearn all this? As you so love yourself, love your Christian Republican neighbor.

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Remembering, Yet Not Holding Against: Why Forgiveness is Not Forgetting (But Sorta Kinda Is)

You’re blessed when you show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. (Matthew 5:9 The Message) 

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana)

Before I say anything, let me just confess that everything I am about to say, I suck at. So, I say it from within the belly of the beast, so to say. 

You’re, no doubt, familiar with the phrase, “Forgive and forget.” It’s used by wellmeaning people to simply say, “Let’s not hold our grievances against each other, and move on.” It’s also one of those phrases that gets used by certain Christians as a misinterpretation of Psalm 103. “As far as the east is from the west, that’s how far the Lord has forgiven our sins! What that means, dear friend, is that if you’ve been forgiven, God no longer remembers the sin you committed.” I’m not denying the Lord’s grace here, but the same book that contains Psalm 103, also contains the scene in John where Jesus shows Thomas the scars in His hands, feet, and side. In other words, it’s a safe bet that Jesus does not have divine amnesia when he looks at his wrists, so that when he sees the scars that bare the evidence of what he did to redeem the world, he asks, “Where did those come from?!?!” It’s a much safer bet that Jesus, being all knowing, remembers even the most insignificant sins that he has forgiven. Instead of forgetting them, he is not holding them against us. 

WHAT’S THAT MEAN FOR US? 

Since I dare say that it is impossible for an all knowing God to forget, it’s equally impossible for us mere mortals to forget whatever was done (or not done) to us. Trying to forget is like asking your brain not to function as it was intended. Asking a wounded person to forget what was done is like asking a quadriplegic to forget their paralysis. But in a sense, it is easier to understand the physically wounded more than the emotionally or mentally wounded; however, all three are wounds nonetheless. And some wounds cannot be forgotten. In fact, I’ll go a step further, and say, some wounds need to remembered!!! 

And that can throw some people for a loop. Whatta ya mean remember? That’s not forgiveness! And that’s when it’s wise to remind such commentators that forgetting is not forgiving. And if forgetting is forgiving, then what does that say about the slogan “9/11…Never Forget!”? 

The hardest thing to grasp about forgiveness, is that it does not distinguish between the easy to forgive and the difficult. Regardless of the wound, forgiveness asks the same thing: Don’t hold the wound over the person’s head. To be sure, it does not deny the severity of the wound, it doesn’t make the wound suddenly moral or ethical, and it certainly doesn’t change what has happened. It is admitting that justice is not necessarily what we think it should be. From experience, I can tell you with certainty, if you are looking for a specific kind of justice, in a specific time frame, you will be looking for a very long time for something that may never come. And you may actually risk becoming the very person who wounded you. 

Hence why we must never forget. 

THE PARADOX OF REMEMBERING 

To give credit where it is due, everything I’m about to say comes from Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace. I’ve written about this before. Volf saw his country torn apart by a civil war rooted in religious superiority (My God is better than yours, so you deserve to die!) Words cannot describe the atrocities done during that time — in the name of God, no less. And he warns: Be careful that we do not make the oppressed into oppressers themselves, in the name of getting justice against their oppressors. 

Volf describes the paradox of forgiveness. It is both forgetting and remembering. We “forget” so that we no longer hold a person’s sins against them. But we also remember so that such sins do not happen again. For example, it can be said that a sex offender registry is actually an act of mercy for both the offender and the neighborhood. The ultimate goal is to say to both the neighborhood and the offender, “Remember what this person is capable of. Neighbors, be mindful. Offender, keep yourself in check.” Because forgiveness is also not a guarantee that the forgiven will not then do exactly what they’ve been forgiven of, again. Keeping one’s guard up until trust is earned is not being unforgiving, it’s merciful protection. 

Volf does not use the term “forget” in the same sense as those who would say, “Forgive and forget.” Instead, he is saying, “No, no. What they did actually happened, and is reprehensible. But you may not be the best person to pursue a justice that is also just. Hence why Christians, of all people, can only defer to God for perfect justice. It’s an act of divine mercy, and a trust in that divine mercy to say, “Vengence is thine!”

 (Just for the sake of argument, think about the last thing for which you demanded justice. What was the “crime” committed? And what was your desired solution? For me, the crime was a person driving too slow. And my desired solution was to see the car and its occupants blow up in a raging inferno. So I think it’s safe to say that I am not the best person to decide the fate of the one who has wronged me. And how many times have we seen that even the criminal justice system is incapable of a just justice?) 

It takes much more than a simple blog to get into the nitty gritty of this. Someone will always have a worse wound. There will always be the mystery of how to get there. (This is why I’m thankful for God’s mercy, and that his acceptance is not based on our record. Because, as I said before, I don’t do so well with this. And if he accepted me based on my ability to forgive, he wouldn’t!) 

I honestly cannot tell you how to get from Point A to Point Whatever when it comes to forgiveness. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a step by step process for forgiveness. It’s more like the concept of time in Doctor Who (it’s not linear, but squiggly!) But I can tell you that setting your sights on a specific justice, at a specific time is an absolutely fruitless endeavor. It won’t be enough justice. And it won’t be fast enough. To that end, forgiveness is all up to you, while trusting in God’s mercy. I’ve experienced this first hand. 

A few year ago, a pastor and his elders spiritually and mentally abused me. They attacked my wife and marriage, my reputation, and by the end of it all, my sanity and sense of reality. (Check out the term Gas Lighting.) To this day, they don’t think they did anything wrong, so they have not made any attempt at an apology. To this day, they think I am bitter and angry, and am holding a grudge. (One of them even asked a year later why I was having such a bad year — face, meet palm.) What I want to happen has not happened, and probably never will. So what am I supposed to do? I can sit around, and hope that today will be the day, and shake my fists at the heavens its delay (something I have done). Or I can release myself from the responsibility of getting justice. So I have forgiven them. But I will not forget, because I do not want to be their victim (nobody likes using that term, btw) again. “Forgetting”, yet remembering. 

LAST WORDS

I know how hard forgiveness is. I know the tedious redundancy of having to forgive the same person again, because the scars are all too eager to remind you of the damage done. And as I said way back at the beginning, I suck at it. 

But I have also seen way too many people seeking vengeance this year. I have seen way too much tit for tat retaliation. I have seen way too many people berate a person’s character simply because that person called a leader a “disrespectful” name. I have seen way too many people justify their retaliatory actions, because the offender is “stupid.” It’s not easy. But it is well worth the effort. If for no other reason than the health of your soul. Let’s be peacemakers, instead of retaliators. 

Don’t Just Read, Interpret! 

“Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up, he was hungry. The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: ‘Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to really live.’ For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, ‘They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole world.’ Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: ‘Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.’ For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, ‘If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that “he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t do much as stub your toe on a stone”?’ ‘Yes,’ said Jesus, ‘and it’s also written, “Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.”‘ That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.”                                           Luke 4:1-13 (The Message)

Familiarity is often one of the greatest enemies to faith. It has a habit of lulling folks into a spiritual innocuation that all but dismantles any need for faith, in the name of “I know that!” Like those folks who can ace a test, but have no actual grasp of the course content, faith-based familiarity can leave one with a tragically false sense of intimacy with the Divine.  I myself have been a Christian since 1999, and have a B.A. in Christian Studies, and an M.Div with a concentration in Apologetics, so that familiarity sticks to me like tar and feathers. And it’s usually not until life happens that I (once again) come to the realization that I lack the convictions of my courage. 

The wilderness temptation of Jesus is one of those things that suffers from that familiarity. The passage was one of the readings in my morning prayers recently. I almost didn’t even read it because I already knew what happened. “Yeah, yeah. Satan tempts Jesus. Jesus resists. Got it!”

You know that scene in Home Alone where Kevin just keeps walking around the house, “I made my family disappear,” and then he stops: “I made my family disappear!”?  I had that moment with this passage. “Satan tempted Jesus using Scripture…Satan tempted Jesus using Scripture!!!” 

This made me think: If Satan tempted Jesus himself with Scripture, why do we not think of this when listening to preachers, teachers, and politicians? It’s like certain Christians don’t even want to try to engage the Scriptures prayerfully. All that matters is that one merely quote the Bible. 

Jesus shows here that merely quoting the Bible does not mean that what is being proposed is godly. (Oddly enough, I had always been warned that “even Satan knows the Bible! So be on your guard!” But those same folks seem to fall for anything when it has been sprinkled with Christianisms.) Notice that Satan quoted Scripture, but Jesus interpreted it. Satan wanted Jesus to focus on a line or two taken out of context, like a bumper sticker. Jesus brought attention to other parts of Scripture that needed to be taken into account. And this begs the question, If Jesus interprets Scripture, shouldn’t we?

Now, I know that hearing that word brings much fear and trepidation to some. “You mean I have to become master of interpretation??? That’s hard!” But if I may counter that, we are masters of interpretation for matters far less important. We learn not to take things at face value for the silliest things. “That speed limit sign says 65, but I’m allowed to go up to four miles over.” “My friend said ________, but what they meant was _______.” “That’s his game face. He’s actually quite humble off the field.” We learn to interpret other things, why not the Scriptures? Why do we turn our interpretive skills off when it comes to someone quoting the Bible? Is it because we think it means more than it does? 

Jesus himself, in a dialogue with a lawyer (an expert in the Mosaic Law), asked, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you read it?” In other words, based on all you know of Scripture, how do you make sense of this part here? 

A good way to think about it is to consider book series. Think of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Outlander, or Game of Thrones. You can read any one book in those series, and follow along well enough. But unless you read the previous books, or the books that follow, you will be left in the dark. If you stopped reading Harry Potter at Half Blood Prince, for example, Snape is the worst kind of traitor. But if you read on, you know that he is a great hero. 

Certain literary characters are complicated, and are developed over time. And unless you consider the fully developed character, you will not see them as they are. The same is true with Scripture. 

Jesus showed Satan (and us) that merely quoting a passage did not make the temptation godly. In a world of competing ideologies, and swirling notions of what it means to be biblical, we need to do the same. 

Embracing Our Enemies

“You’re blessed when you show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”             Matthew 5:9 (The Message)

“As the morning casts off the darkness, Lord, help us to cast aside any feelings of ill will we might harbor against those who have hurt us. Soften our hearts to work toward their conversion and ours. Amen.”                                             (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

Making Peace is Frickin Hard!

Peacemaking is not the easiest of tasks. It involves taking two sides (maybe more) who are estranged, and making it so reconciliation can take place. It is not, as Miroslov Volf points out in his book Exclusion and Embrace, merely moving the oppressed out from under their oppressor, and exacting justice on those oppressors. This, he warns, very often leads to the oppressed becoming oppressors themselves, which means that oppression has been allowed to continue, just in a different name. Such “peacemaking” is better understood as retaliation. “They did it to us, so we will do it to them.” This is also called warfare.

Volf, being Croatian, does not write about reconciliation and peacemaking from inside a bubble, as I would. I can point to history books, and documentaries, all while living comfortably in my little rural town in North Carolina. Volf saw his country torn apart by civil war. He saw two sides gather in the name of God, and pillage, rape, and kill each other with genocidal viger. The things I saw on tv as a teenager, happened in his backyard, so to speak. So whenever he speaks about reconciling enemies, he doesn’t mean two sides that just don’t get along,  he means enemies.

Enemies Are Relative

Of course, if we’re talking about peacemaking and embracing our enemies, it’s helpful to know who our enemies are. I’d also venture that it’s helpful to know if they are an actual enemy, or nothing more than a perceived enemy. For instance, in my younger, more brash days, any Christian who didn’t share my specific beliefs — within an undefined perameter, mind you — I considered a heretic! (Sorry, Rob Bell.) To borrow from On Distant Shores by Five Iron Frenzy, “And off of the blocks, I was headstrong and proud. At the front of the line of the card carrying high brows. With both eyes fastened tight, yet unscarred from the fight. Running at full tilt, my sword pulled from its hilt…Casting first stones, killing my own.”

But  if experience is any kind of teacher, I’ve come to find that “enemy” is a relative term. (Once again, if that enemy is an actual enemy.) We don’t get to choose our enemies. Nor do we know if and when we’ve met one. But they are relative nonetheless. For some, an enemy is someone who simply makes life a little more challenging. These enemies don’t pose a threat to anyone; however, they are just harder to love than most. And frustratingly, folks who have these types of enemies, are the ones who just love to quote Jesus at people. “Well Brother, I hate that that’s happening, but Jesus said to love and pray for our enemies.” (Yeah, easy for you, buddy. The only thing you’re dealing with is hiding your frustration. Meanwhile, I was just abused by my pastor.) I remember posting a status about this once, and a missionary buddy of mine commented, “Yeah, while some people are dealing with bruised egos, I walk passed corrupt local police who are dressed like soldiers, complete with automatic weapons. Loving them is not simple.”

Thankfully, there are people throughout history who have endured far more than said bruised egos. Volf, as I mentioned above, if not personally, saw it in his countrymen. Likewise, there is Corrie ten Boom, who was a Holocaust survivor. She once said, “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.” And lest it be said that that was easy for her to say post concentration camp, she once told a story of meeting one of the officers responsible for her daily nightmares, years later, and with much internal struggle, still managed to forgive.

Why Say All This?

What’s the point? Well isn’t it obvious?!? Particularly in the United States, we are living in a time of absolute lunacy. Forgiveness is a foreign language, and at this point, may even be banned as a threat to the country! But forgive we must! Especially if you claim the Name of the Divine Interupter, who forgave and gave his life for the very people who unjustly arrested and murdered him. On a Roman cross no less!

We are living in a time when all one has to do is say one criticism of their opponent, and that opponent flies off the comment section handle, and projects every form of vitriol they can conjur. Conservatives are more guilty of this than liberals these days; but liberals, you’re guilty all the same.

The Big Idea of Forgiveness

Whether we are conservative or liberal, climate deniers or protectors, Christian or Muslim, we are all human. We are interdependent of one another. Conservatives don’t have all the answers. Liberals don’t have all the answers. Christians (being one myself I can say with utmost certainty) don’t have all the answers. And Muslims are tired of being blamed for every little bump in the night.

Conservatives, you don’t get to call every opponent a liberal snowflake just because they challenged your thinking. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work with liberals to make this world better.

Liberals, you don’t get to write off all conservatives as brainless morons because they deny climate change. Learn to forgive. And see how you can work together.

There really are bigger, badder, more wicked threats out there than bruised egos. And while we’re busy calling each other names on social media (yes, I do it too!), those threats are rolling on. People’s rights are being stolen for no other reason than their sexual orientation, or that their skin color is different than their lawmakers’ (here’s looking at you North Carolina General Assembly!)

There is a scene in the Outlander Series where Jamie Fraser, who earlier on had been brutalized by his enemy Black Jack Randall, and as he (Jamie) is helping his own daughter forgive her enemy, he comes to his own realization, Black Jack is only a man. Yes, he did terrible, terrible things. But he was only a mortal man. Not only that, but forgiveness is not a one time event, but rather many events over time.

Whoever your enemy is, no matter what they’ve done, they are only mortal. Life is worth far more than spending it hunkered down in bitter hatred because someone doesn’t agree with you.

Forgive as if humanity depended on it.

More to come on this very difficult subject later.

Engaging Without Becoming: A Christian Perspective on Politics

One thing that I’ve noticed in my recent posts is the amount of political content in them. Which is actually really funny to me, because I’ve never actually considered myself a political person. Sure, I would cast my vote, and would hope for my candidate to win. But after the election, I would do what I’m sure most do after an election, “Now that that is over with, let’s get back to regular life.” I would disengage until the next election. 

But one thing that I’ve noticed, looking back, is that I was either a single-issue voter, or I would blindly trust that my candidate of choice would do what they said, even if I was completely ignorant of what they said. So, for example, I wasn’t old enough to vote in the 2000 Election, but I wanted Ole Dubya to win because 1) he was a Christian and 2) he was a pro-life candidate. So when he took office, I paid attention long enough to see him take measures against abortion, and then I just thanked God for a Christian in the White House. Literally the only other things I can say Bush did during his Presidency were start the War on Terror, invade both Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11; fall woefully short in humanitarian aid in the aftermath of Katrina; and build several hundred miles of fence on the Mexican boarder. I can’t tell you a single policy plan, promised or accomplished. 

Due to the fact that so many of my pastors and Christian leaders taught me that the GOP is “God’s Party,” I took this same blind devotion into the ’08 election, despite thinking that John McCain was not really what I was looking for in a candidate. Obviously, Obama won that election. And once again, I paid attention long enough to see him take his own actions with abortion (I use that term very loosely, because I’ve started to learn that saying that being pro-choice means that you’re pro-abortion is to completely oversimplify what it means to be pro-choice), and then I waited for the next election, as usual. But by the time 2012 came around, I had completely disengaged with politics altogether. After all, both parties still take my money, and use it for things that I’ll never condone. 

And then, as I’ve said, the 2016 Election and Donald Trump happened. It still doesn’t seem real! Like at this point, with all that’s gone on, I keep expecting him to say, “This was all just one big prank, folks. Come on out Ashton Kutcher, and tell America they’ve been punked, so we can elect someone who is actually qualified for the job! Electing me is a DISASTER for this country. Very bad hombres voted for me. And they mean for bad things to happen. And they use the bad finger. And they use bad words. And that’s bigly bad. But before I go, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, you’re fired!”  And then our educational system would then set about teaching people logic and reason, and how to do research and fact check. And we would see a reawakening of what our system of government was designed for. And American Utopia would be achieved!

But my political engagement actually started a little before that, with the passing of HB 2 here in North Carolina. What got me engaged was not the politics of it, but the morality of it! Christians (both local and celebrity) came out and said that HB 2 was honorable before God, because God calls homosexuality a sin, and we don’t want men pretending to be transgender so they can sexually assault women and children in public restrooms. It was “common sense.” So I began to speak up, Facebook style! Because, like being pro-choice, being transgender is not “common sense.” Common sense is what you would call catching on fire next to a lake, and jumping in the lake instead of calling the fire department to put you out. To be transgender is a very complex thing. To be transgender does not mean that a man or woman is gay. It means that a man or woman identifies themselves as a woman or a man. (And even that is to oversimplify it!) And to say that this bill was good and right because God says homosexuality is a sin, is to refuse to understand what it means to be transgender. 

Sadly, many Christian friends only focused on the transgender language of the bill, and not its implications. Not only did this bill allow for businesses to descrimate against the transgender community, it also made the transgender community a scapegoat for sexual assault! What was particularly frustrating about this, is that it took me all of 3 minutes to look up the statistics and myths of sexual assault. Myth #1 is that sexual assault is a crime of opportunity, and that it happens in everyday settings “where the people are.” When in fact, according to the CDC, most victims knew their perpetrator (51% reporting that they had a close relationship with that person, 41% reporting that they were at least acquainted, and 12% were family), and the assault took place in a familiar location (the home of either the victim or the perpetrator). In other words, the scary thing about those who commit sexual assault is that they usually know their victim, and they want privacy while they commit their crime. What this means in the case against HB 2, is that a man dressing up as a woman brings uneccessary attention to a would be perp, and a public bathroom provides too much risk of being caught. So the argument that this bill protected women and children against would be rapists and molesters falls flat when compared to the actual data available. Adding to that, the legislators who spearheaded this bill did not provide any evidence to justify their claim, and Governor Pat McCrory always dodged questions pertaining to this lack. This would suggest that it’s a fair assumption that they knew they didn’t have the numbers, and were banking on blind evangelical allegiance to keep this bill in place. 

So what does all that have to do with engaging in politics? Quite a lot, actually! Because like I said before, I have friends and family who ask me with bewilderment, “Shouldn’t we stand with God? Shouldn’t we call sin a sin, as he does? And if our culture embraces sin, shouldn’t we go against the tide?” Yeah! Emphatically so. But here’s the catch: If your stance for Jesus causes you to break the second greatest commandment, then you are also breaking the first; therefore, you are not actually standing for Jesus, like you think you are. Lest we forget, Romans 2 points out that if our actions don’t match our words, we are actually driving people away from Jesus, not toward him. 

Like, I’ve never had someone tell me, “Dude, you know what really made me want to follow Jesus? Being berated by Christians about my vice. I knew what I was doing was wrong, and I was on the fence about Jesus, and the deciding factor was when Christians came in and treated me like a third class citizen.” But this seems to be the common habit amongst certain Christians. It’s like they get this idea that legislation is the greatest form of evangelism. “If we can prevent people from doing _____, they will honor Jesus.” Meanwhile, all I can think is, “So let me get this straight: God himself can’t make people obey his commands, but a hypocritical politician will? And by stripping people of civil rights, at that!” Can you imagine a police check point with that kind of mentality? “Lisence, registration, and proof of insurance and heterosexuality, please.” 

But to get back to my main point, how should Christians engage with politics? Because, as Gabe Lyons points out in his book unChristian, a popular perception of Christians is that we are overly political. We don’t just engage in politics, we demand that a whole nation abide by our rules, because they’re “God’s rules.” Which is why we see certain movements like The Moral Majority in the 80s and 90s. And one group that I’m most familiar with claims, “We must occupy until he comes.” This particular group is a fun one, because it takes a single phrase from the KJV translation of the parable of the talents, and applies it to political involvement. So they take a parable that already comes with its share of interpretive struggles, and then take a single phrase from an outdated translation, and make it mean that they must create a Christian Theocratic State. (Aren’t Scriptural Gymnastics fun?!?!)

But on the other hand, pastor and author Mark Driscoll points out in his book Death by Love, that one of the ways God  uses the crucifixion to redeem the world, is through the good works and service of Christians in the world. Jesus redeems the Christian, who in turn goes about making the world a better place. 

Pastor and author Tim Keller provides a great answer to this. Some religions, he points out, have a high view of politics, and use it to enforce their religious laws. One example of this can be seen in the Islamic States in the Middle East. Another one would be England in the years following the Reformation. But you can look to history to see that this does not work out too well for opposing parties. To use England as an example, when a catholic monarch ruled, things went really well for Catholics, but really bad for Protestants. Likewise, whenever a Protestant monarch ruled, things went really bad for Catholics, and in certain cases, for certain denominations as well. Political activity wreaked havoc. 

But then, as Keller points out, there are those religions that completely disengage from politics. But what ends up happening with these groups, is that the political machine grows more and more powerful, and runs amuck. Eventually, even these religions become victims of the state. 

But Christians have this very precarious balance between those two. We don’t completely disengage from politics, and leave room for wicked rulers to come in, and enforce oppressive laws. But we also don’t want to rule in the name of our faith, and thus oppress in the name of Jesus. Instead, Christians are to be engaged in politics, without becoming political. Because morality and social justice are non-partisan. It’s not a political strategy to do good for all people, regardless of race, gender, age, religion, or socioeconomic status. It’s common sense. 

Right now, in my experience, Christians are easy targets for politicians. Just say the right words, take the right position, and you’ve bought them hook, line, and sinker. This is what we saw with Donald Trump. The man is a moral nightmare, but James Dobson and Franklin Graham, because they have so limited their scope of faith, excused everything he said and did because he was “a baby Christian.” 

But imagine if Christians were the hardest to appease! I long for the day when I hear a politician say, “Ya know, we try to reach these Christians, but they always surprise us. They want to end abortion as birth control, but instead of just making it illegal, like we used to talk about, they want us to provide better healthcare for women, and other services for unplanned pregnancies. They want it so that pregnant women are so cared for, that abortion isn’t even an option. These guys fight crime, by making society a better place, so that people don’t want or need to turn to crime in the first place! Do you remember when all we would need to do is say, ‘I’m a Christian, I’m pro-life, and I’m pro-traditional marriage?’ Why can’t it be that easy again?”

Anybody else with me?

Jesus Of Nazareth, PA

The older I get (I’m only 33), the more I’m amazed at how things keep coming full circle. Most of us, I’m fairly certain, can say that we see it most often with fashion. Once, when I was in college, a classmate was rocking his brand new penny loafers with utmost pride, as if he had just discovered the latest and greatest in men’s footwear. And then Dr. Murray, who, being from Texas, only knew one way to address an issue – bluntly – said,  “Hey! I remember when those became popular when I was in grade school…IN THE SIXTIES!!!” I don’t think I ever saw those penny loafers again. 

(Note: For those wanting to bring back the 80s, you do you, but please, for the love of all things kind, leave the hairstyles and rock music alone. We never need to see those come full circle.) 

I became a Christian in the late nineties. And what I remember about every youth related material for churches, is that they all centered around the mantra “Let your walk match your talk.” (Ironically, the one man in my life who pounded that drum the loudest at that time, is very often a complete jerk. But I digress.) But, despite hearing that phrase every week for years, for whatever reason, one day I stopped hearing it for the next 15 years. 

And then 2016 came along, with its polarizing election. 

After the numbers were fully tallied, it was found that 80% of white evangelicals voted for The Donald (give or take a percentage or two). Either word you choose to focus on (white or Evangelical), that number is way too much support for a man who openly ran his campaign on lies, fake news articles, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny. In a recent article for Christianity Today, missiologist Ed Stetzer pointed out that such a large number has potentially damaged the witness of white Christians for years to come. Both Stetzer and philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins have each pointed out that, while this number is staggering and heartbreaking, it is important to remember that not every white evangelical voted for him because of his hateful rhetoric. Some voted because they thought they were choosing the lesser of two evils (better a man who says bad things, than a woman who does bad things). Others voted out of desperation, because they felt left behind by Democrats. Still others, because they were hoping he would make good on his promise to select pro-life judges for the Supreme Court. Both Stetzer and Rollins cautioned against treating every Trump supporter the same. (Rollins himself, living in Northern Ireland, had just experienced the fallout of Brexit.) This was also a similar message that Martin Luther King had in his “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he warned people of color not to treat all white people as racist, because some of them were actually in the trenches with them. 

I do not want to paint all 80% with the brush of hate. But, Christians in general, and that 80% specifically must  do some genuine soul searching. 

As Christians, we claim to be a people who love all people. And yet, we elected a man who wants to discriminate against certain people groups. 

As Christians, we claim that God loves all people, regardless of whether they love him back. And yet, we elected a man who promised success only for Christians. 

As Christians, we claim to love the truth, and hate dishonesty. And yet, we elected a man who, according to Politifact, lied 75% of the time, from the moment he stepped off that escalator, to his victory speech. 

As Christians, we claim to be a people who love the least of these. And yet, we elected a man (and a congress) who wants to strip the least of these of the basic human right of healthcare, and dump them with the weight of the nation’s tax burden. 

As Christians, we claim Jesus’ words that leaders must be humble. That to be first, we must be last. And yet, we elected a man whose whole life is a living monument to himself. 

As Christians, we claim a savior who has broken down the walls of hostility. And yet, we elected a man who wants to erect them. 

As Christians, we remember the quiet witness of Mary, the mother of Jesus. And yet, we elected a man who has a long history of treating women as objects for his own sexual gratification. 

Christians, we have so much soul searching to do as it is, given our own history. But you 80% have a major uphill battle ahead of you. For you allowed a man’s words to speak louder than his actions. 

Christian leaders, especially Franklin Graham, James Dobson, James MacDonald, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson, must answer for their clear partisan politics done in the name of non-profit status. Being a baby Christian does not excuse human indecency. And you must consider the implications of your choices. 

We must allow that old mantra to come full circle, especially if we are going to claim any faith in a God who wants to draw all people to himself. 

I conclude with the words of a new song. 

I met a man from Nazareth,       who called himself Jesus.             But since he was from PA,                  I knew they weren’t the same.  Just because you claim a name, don’t mean that’s who you are. There’s a Paris, Texas.                   And an Eden, Caroline.                 I’ve spent some time in Vegas,   But never crossed Nevada lines. Just because you claim a name, don’t mean you are that one. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                    a rose is still a rose.                    These stems, thorns, and petals still warm a lover’s heart.            Call them anything you want,    they are just what they are.    These stems, thorns, and petals still warm a lover’s heart. 

Preacher man opened The Book,  And screamed about his God.        He looked for some souls to save, But barred them at the gate.            Just because you claim a name,     Don’t mean you represent.              There’s Benedict Arnold,                 And Judas Iscariot.                             Brutus was Caesar’s friend,               But stabbed him in the back.            Just because you claim a name,         Don’t mean you will next time. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                     A rose is still a rose.                             These stems, thorns, and petals,        Still warm a lover’s heart.                 Call them anything you want,              They are just what they are.                These stems, thorns, and petals,         Still warm a lover’s heart. 

Actions speak louder than words,   Or have you never heard?              You can speak in angels’ tongues,    But beat your brother numb.          Just because you claim The Name,  Don’t mean you love his world.     There’s no shortage of evil,               And wickedness abounds.                 But the worst kind of sinners,          Were born and raised in church.     Just because you claim a name,      Don’t mean you really are. 

Call it good, bad, or evil,                     A rose is still a rose.                          These stems, thorns, and petals,        Still warm a lover’s heart.                 Call them anything you want, they are just what they are.                    These stems, thorns, and petals,       Still warm a lover’s heart. 

I met a man from Nazareth,             Who called himself Jesus.                  But since he was from PA,                 I knew they weren’t the same. 

Are You Not Entertained?

The more I read the Gospels, the historical accounts about Jesus in the New Testament, the more I see just how masterful he was at teaching people. Very often Jesus’ points were constructed in such a way that his listeners, no matter who they were, left without a question as to what he was talking about. Well, except for those pesky parables that were designed to stump his listeners. Those who got him, got his message. Those who did not get him, continued to see a mere rabble-rouser.

At one point, he actually pokes fun at his opponents, and compares them to spoil sport kids playing games in the street. “We played a dancing game, but it was the wrong tune. We played a funeral game, but it wasn’t quite gloomy enough.” His point was that his opponents were never satisfied, unless they got to call the shots.

To put his words in a more modern context, here’s how I would say it: “To what shall I compare the American Church? You’re like kids playing Street Preacher. When we emphasized grace, you said we needed more truth. But when we did emphasize truth, you said it we had no right, since we had previously put such an emphasis on grace.”

The 2016 election exposed a line of hypocrisy in the Evangelical Right. They don’t desire people to believe the truth – that which describes reality correctly, such as the sky is blue, and the grass is green. Instead, they want people to believe the truth that they have deemed important.

There was public outrage against “Pussy Gate” (The leaked tape of Mr. Trump and Billy Bush on the bus). I don’t know about you, but the response I heard most often from evangelicals was, “You didn’t have this reaction when it came to Fifty Shades, or Beyoncé or whatever fill-in-the-blank sexy thing you can think of, so you have no right to complain now.” The very same people who lament that “this world” doesn’t care for truth, the very same who threaten people’s salvation because of a perceived lack of absolute/objective truth, became whole hearted relativists in 2016. (More like they brought their relativism into the light, for all to see.)

Sexual assault (“I just grab ’em, I don’t even ask, I just do it.”) became “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys.” “Baby Christian” became a license to dismiss the conscience and morality,  and embrace irreverency and outright immorality and indecency.

When Jesus compared the religious elite of his day to mere children playing a game, the point was that they always had to change the rules to make their game fit, and ensure that they would win. It’s no different with the American Evangelical Right. They accuse the culture of embracing relative truth – that which is true for me, but not for you – and not having a moral compass. But then a whole wave of people wakes up, and starts to show a moral compass and that truth does actually matter, and the accusation became, “you embraced it too late.”

Always needing to up the stakes.

It makes me think of the scene in Gladiator, where maximus looks around the arena after killing his opponent, and balks, “Are you not entertained? Is this not what you came here for? Are you not entertained?” Maximus was booed for killing his competition too quickly. Evangelical leaders booed the culture for not standing up against their version of wrong. It wasn’t enough! They had to change the rules.

So it’s not just a general sense of right and wrong, it’s gotta be biblical truth that people must embrace. (Which I’m always curious about: what exactly makes biblical truth different, or more truthful than non-biblical/extra biblical truth? Is it more truthful than regular truth?) You can’t get mad at a presidential candidate for advocating a sex crime (and so much more), you have to be mad about every example in which sex was used in a non-procreative way. It has to be their idea, not the culture’s. They had to be the ones to call out sexual immorality, not the culture. Because what? that might give people the impression that truth really is universal, and wrong means wrong, even when a non-Christian states that it is? (I wonder what modern evangelicals would’ve thought about the Nuremberg trials – where other countries put German officers and leaders on trial for war crimes.)

It became increasingly clear: for evangelicals, it wasn’t enough for people to say Trump was lying, or that he was a moral disaster. Since they didn’t stand up for truth that one time, whatever that one time is, this time doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter that this may have been the circumstances that “woke people up,” and showed them that there are things that absolutely should be labeled as wrong or evil, “You are speaking ill of God’s candidate!” If we couldn’t embrace the man, we needed to at least embrace the Party. (Never mind the fact that the Party embraced and endorsed the man!)

So to those evangelicals – the ones who aren’t satisfied – I ask this: when will it be enough? How much truth do we have to embrace, before you believe that we embrace the truth? How much needs to labeled wrong by those outside the faith, before you start to heed the warning, and calling it wrong yourselves?

Are you not entertained? Is this not what you desired? Are you still not yet entertained?