I've mentioned a time
before, that the Church is dying
. And because of the research presented in books like unChristian
by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, we know a lot of the reasons for it.
While some people in the Church like to point to the economy as the chief reason reason for struggling churches, it's time to get real and just admit that while it really is terribly convenient to be able to say, "Really it's not us; it's that gosh, darned economy," it's just not true. Sure the economy necessarily effects most churches, but our problems have been going on much longer than that. And we are the root of our problem.
As Kinnaman points out, there are several problems that keep most young people who consider themselves spiritual from darkening the door of a church, but the big one is hypocrisy. And like it or not, part of that hypocrisy is tied up in politics.
For decades now, the loudest voice in Christianity (or at least the most persistently visible) has been from politicians on the right. Let's face it, they have owned the national Christian voice. Touting Jesus as if they had been one of the original disciples, they have twisted the reality of the Gospels and God's biases for the oppressed, the marginalized and the undeserved into a pro-Americana doctrine that promotes the rights of the haves over the needs of the have-nots. They've actually figured out how to make it seem sinful to question war and capital punishment.
And the dominant part of the Church has, at best, sat idly by as the political right has used the name of Christ to take God's name in vain by marginalizing more and more people as they pass laws that make it more difficult to obtain basic human rights like health care, reasonable access to shelter and the ability to feed our families.
We need modern day prophets to walk in the footsteps of Isaiah, Amos, Micah, Jesus and, yes, even Dr. King. People to stand up to, and to stand over and against the status quo. Voices calling out into the modern day wildernesses of plutocracy, militarism, white privilege and so many other anti-Biblical movements that serve only to marginalize and hurt specific groups of people.
In this age of social media, it might be that the Voice In The Wilderness that the world so sorely needs, might just be Voices (with an 's') In The Wilderness. It might just be your voice, my voice, our voices in a collective cry saying, "Repent! God does not love straight people more than gay people. God does not love the wealthy more than the poor. God does require us to DO justice. Not to just say it is a good thing, but to insure that it is a reality for all people."
We must stand up to the Religious and Political Right who have been allowed to own the voice of Christianity for far too long and we must reclaim it.
The Tea Partier
and a member of The Christian Left
have a discussion about "The War on Christmas."
Editor's note: Guest blogger The Christian Left (a consortium of Progressive Christian writers and thinkers whose web page recently went live) submits the following article on biblical examples for mixing church and state.
Both the Old and New Testaments stress the importance of government for protection and for maintaining order.
In the Bible, kings or other rulers were expected to rule with wisdom and justice. The Old Testament contains story after story of wicked, greedy and oppressive rulers who brought disaster on themselves and their people. Many of the Old Testament prophets, such as Elijah, Elisha and Daniel, delivered their messages of reform to Israel's kings.
Those of us who live under democracy elect our own "rulers." Our votes decide whether our government will be benevolent and just or harsh and oppressive. The Bible's advice and reproaches to the ancient rulers provide us wisdom to help us make wise choices in our own times.
A recurring theme in the Bible is that we should provide equal justice for all, not favoring the rich or powerful. Also, because all the peoples of the world are God's creation, we should not discriminate against foreigners: He who oppresses the poor reproaches his maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. (NAS, Proverbs 14:31) Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (TNIV, Exodus 23:6-9) Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, So as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth? (NAS, Isaiah 10:1-3)
The Bible often speaks of charity as an individual-to-individual act of generosity. The law of Moses and the Hebrews, though, provided an institutional way of providing for the poor that did not depend on the good will of any individual. Not only was individual generosity encouraged, but, as a matter of law, part of everyone's produce or income was to be set aside to aid the poor: "And you shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. (NAS, Exodus 23:10-11) "When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied. (NAS, Deuteronomy 26:12)
Let's also recall the celebrated story of Joseph, son of Jacob: Genesis 41:25-42 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, "The dreams of Pharaoh are one. God hath shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years: the dreams are one. And the seven thin and illfavored cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: what God is about to do He showeth unto Pharaoh. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine shall consume the land. And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following, for it shall be very grievous. And for that the dream was repeated unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. Now therefore let Pharaoh seek out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up a fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store for the land against the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land perish not through the famine." And the counsel was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said unto his servants, "Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "Inasmuch as God hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art. Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled. Only in the throne will I be greater than thou." And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt." And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.
In above story of Joseph, "The Government" set aside the bounties of 7 years of plenty to be "redistributed" during 7 years of famine. Enough said?
One doesn't have to dig very deep to learn the spoken sentiments of Jesus related to these matters: Matthew 25:31-46 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The ancient Hebrews lived in extended families or clans and could generally take care of their own. In modern industrial societies, though, families are often fragmented and many have nowhere to turn except to "The Government," which is really We The People. In Jeremiah 22, when the prophet delivers a scorching sermon about the treatment of workers, aliens and the poor, he specifically addresses both rulers (government) AND individuals. Jeremiah 22Judgment Against Evil Kings 1 This is what the LORD says: "Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 2 'Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on David's throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3 This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5 But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.' " 13 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. 14 He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.' So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. 15 "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. 16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD. 17 "But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion."
Everyone, both rich and poor, benefits when a government respects the rights of all and provides for the needy. Crime and drug abuse breed in areas of poverty and unemployment, where people may feel they have nothing to lose. Likewise, apathy and violence breed where people perceive injustice and feel excluded from the benefits of society. To the extent every individual feels empowered as a valuable, productive member of society, then society becomes healthier and more secure for everyone. Amos 5: 11-12 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Courts? That would be "Government." Sources:
Copyright © by Cliff Leitch
The Christian Bible Reference Site
Used by permission.
Scripture taken from
the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL
VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica.
Used by permission of Zondervan.
All rights reserved.
Some Scripture quotations taken from
the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
In many ways, this blog page is my response to what I see as a general malaise that has fallen across Christianity in the U.S. We have bought so far into a kumbaya, turn the other cheek, Jesus is more of a doormat than a door theology, that we have rendered ourselves ineffectual. We think that being nice and kind and loving to one another means not making anyone upset and being non-confrontational. Worse yet, we have started measuring our success at being that kind of Christian by how many people 'like us' compared to how many people don't.
How we got here, I hardly know and, quite honestly, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that a very large number of Christians practice their faith by this misguided understanding of what love looks like. In that kumbaya version of Christianity having an “attitude of gratitude” means possessing a disposition of constant submission to the world and those who think they rule it – turning the other cheek so many times that you no longer know if you are looking left or right. Biblically that song is a disharmonious, disconnected and disturbing distortion of who Jesus was.
Need I remind us all that so many people didn't like Jesus that they nailed him to a tree. Not because he was a bad person, but because he did not make nice when people distorted God's message of love. He didn't turn the other cheek when politicians and religious leaders conspired to step on the 'least of these.' He stood up for what was right. He flipped tables in the name of God. He did not lash out violently at another human being, ever, but he did lovingly confront them. He was always motivated by love... but he did not back down, he did not sacrifice the Word of God for the comfort of humanity; he did not keep his mouth shut in the name of being nice.
For too long the people of God have suffered – for far
too long. God has claimed the meek and the poor in spirit and those who morn and those who thirst for justice and the merciful and the pure of heart and the peacemakers and those that suffer persecution for justice sake as God own, as the children of heaven. Those who take advantage of the meek and persecute people who work for justice, have been given a pass by Christians who think that 'turn the other cheek' means to sit passively by like a doormat as they and the marginalized get stepped on, used and abused, by the powerful who wipe their feet of the world's sometimes gritty reality so that the houses that they have built on the backs of the rest of us don't get soiled with the pain, the abuse, the hatred of the world that they themselves have created.
When Jesus was confronted with people that had distorted the purpose of the house of God, he flipped tables. When Jesus was confronted by people using God's name to dupe those who had little, who were meek, who were abused and marginalized, he flipped tables.
What makes a peace-loving, easy-going, hippy-dippy, Jesus freak start flippin' proverbial tables? People using God's name for false purposes. Politician and religious leaders using religion to further marginalize 'the least of these.' Pharasetical proclamations from 'Christian' leaders that inspire hate, division and at times violence (even if veiled in words like 'hate the sin, love the sinner).
I had had enough and so The God Article began. I hope you too have had enough. If you have, let me hear from you in the comment section, share this post with your friends far and wide. In the words of Bob Marley, “Get up, stand up. Don't give up the fight.” Start flippin' tables.
In the name of Jesus, people like The God Article
, The Christian Left
, The Progressive Christian Alliance
, Those Crazy Liberals...and Conservatives
are taking up the good fight. It's time for us to not only flip the tables but to turn them. It is time for us to take back the voice of Christianity. It is time for followers of God to start acting like followers of God. We must confront hate at every turn. We must profess love in every moment. We must see Christ in every face... and it might just take flipping a few proverbial tables.