I Follow a Middle Eastern Person Who Was Tortured and Executed by the Governing Authorities (December 27, 2014)
As an American, I live in a nation where the majority of persons now approve of the use of torture (around 59% according to an ABC/Washington Post poll). A majority of Americans also approve of state sponsored execution (around 63% according to a Gallup Poll) , although the percentage has declined significantly since the mid 1990’s when support for the death penalty peaked around 80%. The polls also show that those who identify as Christian approve of torture and executions at a significantly higher rate than most other groups in our society.
As an Oklahoman, I live in a state where an even larger majority of persons approve of the use of torture and execution. The percentage of persons in Oklahoma who identify as Christian is much higher than the national average. The vast majority of persons in Oklahoma approve of the use of capital punishment, even in the aftermath of the horrifically botched execution in April of 2014 in which an execution became torture and in spite of the fact that no other Western democracy allows capital punishment. Torture and executions are supported and defended by Oklahoma politicians who are elected with large majorities time and time again. Retiring Senator Tom Coburn says, “To me, waterboarding is not torture. That’s just me personally. I’ve seen it. You’re not going to die from it, you just think you are. It’s a psychological tool.” Long-time defender of torture Senator Jim Inhofe said in response to the atrocities at Abu Ghraib that he was “outraged by the outrage” over the torture that occurred there. In response to the Senate Torture Report released earlier this month, Senator Inhofe stated, “This over $40 million report is nothing more than a partisan attempt to discredit vital intelligence gathering techniques that have saved an untold number of lives” (Senator Inhofe’s facebook page, December 9, 2014).
Torture and execution are strongly held Oklahoma values, and self-identified Christians in Oklahoma hold these values more strongly than those who are not Christian. The self-identified Christian politicians who speak openly for and support these Oklahoma values are rewarded.
There are numerous aspects of this reality about Oklahomans’ support for torture and execution that sadden me and make me scared for our future, especially for the future of my Muslim friends and neighbors and also for persons who are in other minority groups who are more likely to be tortured or executed. As a Christian, I am especially saddened that there is such a strong correlation between being a Christian and supporting torture and executions. Perhaps we who say we follow Jesus need to be reminded that the incarnation of love we celebrated on Christmas a few days ago was a Middle Eastern person who was tortured and executed by the governing authorities and who calls us to love our neighbor and to love our enemies and at no time or in any way, shape, or form, calls us to torture or execute them. Perhaps we also need to be reminded that we are bearing false witness when we sign international treaties condemning and outlawing torture in any form but then continue to support torture.
Not only are we not following the way of Jesus; we are breaking our promises to the international community. Lying to the international community and not following the way of Jesus who calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies surely cannot be Oklahoma or American values. Christians follow one who was tortured and executed, not one who calls for torture and executions.
Blessed are the Persecuted (December 21, 2016)
Many self identified Christians in the United States feel persecuted. They are outraged that they have to bake cakes for same gender weddings, allow persons who are transgender to use public restrooms of their choice, provide coverage for the whole range of women’s health care for their employees, not fire workers based on sexual or gender orientation, and allow Muslims freedom of religious expression. Many self-identified Christians see these things as an affront to their morality and an attack on their religious freedom rather than a just implementation of the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of law for all persons.
In the generations right before my own, many self-identified Christians also expressed feelings of being persecuted. They were outraged that they could not continue the practices of Jim Crow in the South, that people of different races would date or marry one another, that women would aspire to equal rights with men, and that persons who were LGBTQ would do anything but totally repress their sexual and gender orientation. Earlier generations of self-identified Christians in the United States felt persecuted when their “right” to own other people was challenged. Christian denominations even split over these issues, including my own Methodist Church.
Many self-identified Christians who feel persecuted may find solace in the passage from the Beatitudes where Jesus says “blessed are the persecuted.” Perhaps they see their reward as the “Kingdom of Heaven” as the passage promises. The passage, however, reads “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” not blessed are those who are persecuted for denying persons equal protection under the law. Feeling persecuted because you can’t treat people unequally is not persecution for the sake of righteousness. It is persecution for the sake of wanting to treat people unequally – in other words, persecution for the sake of bigotry.
Christians in the United States who follow the way of Jesus may well experience persecution for righteousness’ sake in the years ahead. They may be persecuted for protecting our Latinx sisters and brothers from deportation, for resisting a proposed Muslim registry and attacks on freedom of religious expression, for resisting systemic racism, for resisting voter suppression across the country, for resisting the exploitation of the natural world and protecting a livable climate, for standing with indigenous persons to protect water and land, for resisting growing white nationalism, and for protecting the equal rights of persons who are LGBTQ.
If Christians in the United States follow the way of Jesus, then we may very well see millions of Christians being persecuted for righteousness’ sake in the years ahead. If Christians in the United States follow the way of Jesus, then we should see millions of Christians being arrested over the next four years. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for they will inherit the Beloved Community.
Refusing the Hand of the Empire (December 28, 2016)
The biggest mistake ever made in the history of Christianity (and there are a lot of them) is when the Christian Church decided to believe and accept that the Empire was on its side. When Christianity allowed itself to be co-opted by Constantine in the early Fourth Century C.E., it was a bit like if Luke Skywalker had accepted Darth Vader’s offer to join him and rule the galaxy together. The Church reached out and took the hand of the Empire instead of taking its chance with a leap of faith into the abyss, thereby becoming the servant of the dark side for the sake of its own survival.
The Roman Empire fell soon after its takeover of Christianity (a fact not easily explained by Christianity’s defenders), but Christianity re-attached itself to numerous empires thereafter to maintain its hegemony in Europe and beyond. The Christianity of Empire, as opposed to the Way of Jesus, was used to justify crusades, inquisitions, conquests, colonization, slavery, and genocide – often done in the name of Christian mission, but always done for sake of the Empire.
That Christianity became an imperial religion is antithetical to everything Jesus lived and taught. The Empire was never a friend to Jesus, and Jesus was never a friend to the Empire. The Empire executed Jesus with its most public and brutal method in order to display its power and eliminate a threat, and when the Jesus movement would not die, the Empire eventually co-opted the movement for its own purposes. That is what empires do.
Once the Empire co-opted the Christian movement, it focused on the otherworldly aspects of Christianity in order to keep power and control over people in this world. The Empire or State maintained control of the affairs of this world, while religion prepared the soul for the next. Obedience to the Empire’s authority in this life became one of the prerequisites to enjoying the rewards and avoiding the punishments in the next. The Empire made central the peripheral strands of eternal punishment and eternal reward in Christianity as a means to maintain and consolidate power and keep order among its subjects.
Christianity in the United States continues in this long and tragic tradition of serving as the religion of the Empire. The way of Jesus has been mistaken for the American way; including adherence to its social, political, and economic systems. Through increasingly sophisticated and ever present forms of propaganda, a form of Christianity is used to bolster loyalty to and support for the Empire. Every cry that we are a Christian nation is an echo of the imperial voice that seeks to tame Jesus and use the power of the Jesus movement to consolidate power of the Empire through the alienation of the “other,” by highlighting that their way is not our way, that “they” are not us.
Those who wish to the follow the way of Jesus rather than the religion of the Empire need a reminder that following Jesus is better done in the catacombs rather than cathedrals, in the barrios rather than basilicas, in the streets rather than status seeking institutions, in the turning over of tables of injustice rather than taking up seats around them, in the resistance to Empires rather than in their maintenance. People who follow the way of Jesus follow a Middle Eastern person who refused to take the hand of the Empire and who was therefore tortured and executed by imperial authorities.
It is time for those who follow the way of Jesus to once and for all reject the way of Empire. It is time for Christians in the United States to get their Pre-Constantinian identity back and get to the work of bringing love and justice into a broken world, even if it means letting go of that which appears to be working on behalf of their institutional survival. The Empire was never on the side of Jesus, and it never will be.
Hell on Earth for Heaven’s Sake (January 7, 2017)
The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world and is second to none in the total amount of wealth it possesses. Some might see our wealth as a blessing that is in some way connected to our religiosity, but something is deeply wrong with our prevailing religious beliefs and practices when they support social, political, and economic systems that have led to one of the least accessible healthcare systems in the industrialized world, the highest incarceration rate on the planet, deeply embedded and systemic racism, high poverty rates and extreme income inequality, a disintegrating public education system, a crumbling public infrastructure, an entrenched military industrial complex, unprecedented gun violence, high rates of scientific illiteracy, and the highest levels of climate science denial in the world. Within the United States, the more religious the state, the more likely the poverty rates and incarceration rates are high, environmental protection is lax, and access to quality healthcare and education is low.
Religious organizations and religious persons who ignore these challenges are betraying both people and the planet; and for persons in theistic traditions, this is also a betrayal of God and God’s creation. In the Christian tradition, Matthew 25 calls on Christians to feed the hungry, provide drink for the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. In contrast, much of Christianity in the United States is supporting systems and structures that are contributing to more hunger, less protection of clean water, more poverty, more hostility to the stranger, less access to healthcare, more people in prison, catastrophic climate change, and the sixth great extinction on the planet. That can’t be anything close to what Matthew’s Jesus was teaching.
There is an otherworldly focus in much of American Christianity that lifts up the importance of life after death over how we are treating each other and the earth in this life. The challenges of hunger, access to clean water, incarceration, immigration, healthcare, education, violence, and environmental protection are left to the economics and politics of this world, while religion focuses primarily on the next. The result is that our religious obsession with another world is contributing to the creation of a hell on this one.
In addition to a focus on life after death rather than life before death, many religious persons in the United States (41% according to a 2010 Pew Research poll) believe that the end of the world as we know it will happen before 2050. It is difficult to be motivated to take on systematic efforts to make life better in this world when one truly believes it is all coming to an end within the next 33 years. Worse yet, many not only believe that the world is going to end soon, but some look forward to it so much that they are actively attempting to expedite the process of that event occurring. For our society to make the turn it must take to save this world and not just save our souls for the next, we will need to take life in this world at least as seriously as we do life in the next, or risk humanity losing this world forever. No matter what one believes about life after death or the possibility of another world beyond this one, let us not create a hell on earth for heaven’s sake.
Choosing Caesar over Jesus (October 11, 2017)
The response of the majority of white Christian Americans* to the trumped up outrage about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest the unjust treatment of people of color in our country has reinforced my view that the religion of the majority of White Christian Americans has more in common with the imperial state religion of the pre-Christian Roman Empire than it does with the religion of Jesus.
Trump/Pence are like Emperors in their Coliseums, insisting the gladiators submit to their rules or they will turn the crowds against them. It is not surprising that they would be upset by people disobeying the rules in their Coliseums. Professional sports are used by people like Trump as propaganda for their state religion of unquestioning patriotism, and they get upset when players and commentators don’t stay on script. And apparently nothing outrages Trump and Pence more than people of color and women not doing as they are told. Trump has been relentless in his calls for players and sports commentators to face professional consequences for their opposition to him, and through a series of tweet storms he has directly called for them to be disciplined or fired.
And what of the response of the majority of White American Christians? They have acted more like the Romans enforcing imperial religion than like the early Christians who refused to submit to it. In stark contrast to the majority of White Christian Americans, early Christians were executed for refusing to participate in acts of civil religion being enforced by the state.
The fact that such large numbers of White Christian Americans are supportive of enforcing symbolic acts of patriotism shows that we just don’t get Jesus. Christianity has been used to protect white privilege and to support nationalism for so long that we have forgotten who Jesus was – a person who was killed unjustly and brutally by imperial powers that were forcing an oppressed group of people to perform acts of patriotism to Rome. Jesus has much more in common with those kneeling in solidarity with the oppressed than with those who would force them to stand or face consequences.
Will the majority of white Christian Americans ever quit letting Trump, Pence, and Franklin Graham play them like a fiddle with their anthem outrage? No one dishonors the flag or national anthem more than the one who attempts to use them to divide the country for which they stand. Attempting to force others to express symbolic acts of patriotism is not patriotic, and it is certainly not Christian. It is, however, something fascists do.
Restricting nonviolent free speech and nonviolent freedom of expression that do no harm is not patriotic or Christian. Forced acts of patriotism make our country less and less like the America of our highest ideals and more and more like the many authoritarian countries that people flee for the chance of experiencing greater freedom and justice. Let this sink in: we now live in a country where the “leader” wants to force all of us to stand and make patriotic signs with our right hands or face the consequences. Sound familiar?
White Christian Americans, Trump/Pence are putting us all through a loyalty test right now, and most of us are siding with Caesar over Jesus. Now is the time for us all to take a knee in solidarity with people of color and all other persons who experience injustice in our country.
* For polls indicating the views of the majority of white Americans on the protests. see here, here, here, and here. Given that the majority of white Americans self-identify as Christian, and given the significant support of Trump among white Christians, the assertion that the majority of white American Christians disapprove of the protests is well-founded.
The War on Christmas (November 25, 2017)
As those of us who are Christians enter into the Christmas season, I respectfully request that fundamentalist Christians cease with their “war on Christmas” rhetoric. I also really don’t want to hear their “let’s put Christ back into Christmas” mantra either.
To declare that there is a “war on Christmas” or that we need to “put Christ back into Christmas” requires that we have some sense of who Jesus was and what the core values were that he stood for in his life and through his death. This understanding seems to be of little concern to the fundamentalist Christians who have declared such a “war on Christmas” exists and who proclaim that “Christ needs to be put back into Christmas.”
For there to be a war on Christmas means that there is something happening in our society that is at war with the way of Jesus. in this sense, I actually agree with fundamentalist Christians in America that there is war on Christmas and that we need to put Christ back into Christmas; but the war on Christmas is being waged primarily by fundamentalist Christians themselves rather than the non-Christian others whom fundamentalists so readily condemn.
There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians use the Christmas story to justify child molestation. Christ needs to be put back into Christmas when fundamentalist Christians reject the migrant and refugee.
There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians embrace Herod-like authoritarianism rather than the way of love and justice that so often comes to us through a child. Christ needs to be put back into Christmas when fundamentalist Christians reject people of other cultural backgrounds and faiths instead of accepting the gifts of those who come from afar.
There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians want to build walls of separation rather than bridges of community. Christ needs to be put back into Christmas when fundamentalist Christians celebrate corrupt wealth and power instead of looking out for the poor, the sick, the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the lost.
There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians put their faith in the instruments of war rather than the ways of peace. Christ needs to be put back into Christmas when fundamentalist Christians support torture and execution.
There is a war on Christmas when fundamentalist Christians support policies and practices that harm the Beloved Community of all creation and threaten the future of human civilization. Christ needs to be put back in Christmas when fundamentalist Christians refuse to support the civil rights of all persons. Yes, there is a war on Christmas, and yes, we need to put Christ back into Christmas.
This Christmas season, as we reflect on the very real war that fundamentalist Christians are waging on Christmas and on the way of Jesus in this world, may we all remember that Jesus was a Middle Eastern person whose family spent his early years as a refugee, a person who is called on his followers to work for justice and to be peacemakers, who lifted up people of other faiths as examples of God’s love and justice in the world (the Samaritan), who called on us all to care for the most vulnerable, who taught us to love our neighbors and our enemies, and who was tortured and executed by the governing authorities. If we are to end the war on Christmas, we must follow this way of love and justice, this way of peace and sacrifice. If we are to put Christ back into Christmas we must once again open our hearts to the Middle Eastern refugee.
#MAGI: Resisting Herod (December 23, 2017)
In the Christmas story, we are told that three wise men (Magi) were in Jerusalem asking about a child who had been born King of the Jews. When Herod heard about this, he plotted to con the Magi into informing him about the whereabouts of the child. Sending the Magi to Bethlehem, Herod told them, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage [believe me!]” (Matthew 2:8) Of course, we know that Herod was not planning to pay homage to the child. Herod was planning to kill the child whom he perceived as a threat to his power and greatness. There was no room in Herod’s kingdom for a perceived outside apprentice to his power.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem, the Magi were overwhelmed with joy in the presence of the child, and they knelt down in the presence of this vulnerable and soon to be refugee child and family and offered him “gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11). In a dream the Magi were warned that when Herod says “believe me” that they should by no means believe him, so they wisely resisted Herod and did not return to him, going back to their country by another road, thus siding with the vulnerable child and his family over the authoritarian leader Herod who would do anything to maintain and expand his own power, even if it meant the suffering of the most vulnerable, even if it meant families separated from each other, even if it meant many children would die, and even if it meant the child and his family would have to become refugees to escape Herod’s tyrannical intent.
The father of the child, Joseph, was warned by a good angel in a dream that they should flee to Egypt to escape Herod and the raid that he had planned to remove the threat to his power posed by the child. Though the child and his family escaped to Egypt, many other children and their families were ripped apart by the raids of Herod’s men. Two dreams, that of the Magi, and that of Joseph, saved the child and his family. These dreamers found the strength and wisdom they needed to escape the unjust and violent plans of Herod to harm this innocent child and family.
Eventually, after spending years as refugees, the child and his family were able to return to the land of Israel; and the child grew up to do great things to bring new life, love, and justice into the world. Billions of people have followed the child’s way of peace and joy in the world, a way that his followers celebrate on Christmas day, and a way they are called to follow and live every day – the way of the Magi, the way of wisdom, the way of resisting evil, the way of caring for the most vulnerable among us in all that we do.
Meanwhile, Herod is one of the most reviled men in history, choosing the favor of a foreign country (Rome) over the well-being of his own people, and known for using tax schemes to enrich himself and build monuments to his greatness. Herod had ten wives whom he treated horribly, and it was reported that he died an excruciating death (Josephus, Antiquities, 17.6.5.) About two generations after his death, his monuments and the magnificent architectural achievements that he hoped would serve as a reminder of his greatness were destroyed by the Romans, with whom Herod ironically colluded even to the detriment and suffering of his own people. The Magi are remembered for resisting tyranny. Herod is simply remembered for being a tyrant.
We Will Not Be Controlled (March 30, 2018)
In our desire to leap past Good Friday to Easter, we tend to forget that Jesus was a human person. He felt pleasure and pain. He had hopes and fears. He had moments of laughter, and he wept. He had friends and family whom he loved deeply. When he died, he had so much to live for.
Yet Jesus could not keep from speaking out for love. He could not keep from turning over the tables of corruption and injustice. He could not keep from calling out hypocrisy and greed. He could not keep from spending time with persons with whom “respectable” religious leaders were not supposed to be around. He could not keep from proclaiming good news for the poor and oppressed, and good news for the poor and oppressed was not seen as good news by the wealthy and the oppressors. He could not keep from challenging the power of the empire with a different kind of power, and for this, the empire brutally and publicly murdered him.
Whatever one thinks about what happened to Jesus on the Sunday after Good Friday, may we never lose sight of the person Jesus was – a person who lived and loved so fully that he could not give up on turning over tables for the most vulnerable in his community. May we never lose sight of what led him to the cross – the corrupt power of a colonial empire threatened by the radical Beloved Community of justice that Jesus called for with his life.
If we focus too much on the resurrection and lose sight of Jesus as a person who lived, laughed, cried, hoped, feared, loved, suffered, and died; then we run the risk of missing what the radical vision of Jesus can bring to this life by focusing too much on the next. Jesus reminds us that we are to love, be present with, and seek justice for the poor, the sick, the hungry and thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the prisoners, the outcasts, the vulnerable, and the oppressed in this life.
Empires like for their people to focus on the afterlife as a way to maintain control over them in this life. Jesus lived and loved for so much more than what life will be after we die. He did not simply live to be a human sacrifice for our sins.
When the empire murdered Jesus they thought they had controlled him. They thought they had killed the movement of love and justice he created, but Jesus would not be controlled. The Empire, however, never stops trying to control those who follow this way of radical love and justice in this world…. On this Good Friday, may we live and love in resolve that like Jesus, we will not be controlled.
Hardened Hearts (July 9, 2018)
What we are seeing in our country and in our world today is not new but rather a refrain of a recurring phenomenon in human history and one that is often portrayed in our sacred literature. When new things are breaking into the world, there is a tendency for many persons’ hearts to be hardened. Fear of change and a feeling of loss of power are likely the greatest reasons for the hardening of the heart. In Exodus, the Hebrew Bible portrays Pharaoh’s heart as hardened when confronted with the prospect of Israel’s liberation, and the people of Israel’s hearts were hardened in the wilderness when they feared they had lost their way. In the Christian Bible Jesus wondered aloud if the disciples hearts were hardened when they feared they had no bread (Mark 8:17). In both the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian Bible, hardened hearts are portrayed as a barrier to the healing of relationships with God and other people. Proverbs warns that a hardened heart will lead people to calamity (Proverbs 28:14). In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul warned that our hardened hearts are a way of storing up wrath for ourselves (Romans 2:5).
In our country’s past we hardened our hearts against our indigenous neighbors as we ripped away their land and culture and committed genocide against them; we hardened our hearts against our African American neighbors as we enslaved, segregated, lynched, imprisoned, and committed violence against them; we hardened our hearts when we turned away Jewish refugees fleeing Germany and Europe prior to our entry into World War II; we hardened our hearts against our Japanese American neighbors as we tore them from their homes and livelihoods and put them in internment camps; we hardened our hearts against our immigrant and refugee neighbors (especially those who are not white and not Christian) as we turn them away, deport them, separate their children from them, and as we ban them based upon their religious affiliation; we hardened our hearts against our women neighbors as have treated them unequally, paid them less, and objectified them; we have hardened our hearts against our LGBTQ+ neighbors as we have rejected them, physically and spiritually bullied them, and driven many of them to seek escape from their pain through suicide; we hardened our hearts against our non-human animal neighbors as we have forced them into concentrated animal feed operations and made their lives miserable until we butcher them for the fast food meals that are good neither for our bodies nor for our souls; and we have even hardened our hearts to future generations as they will inherit the climate chaos that we are creating for them.
Today in the United States we are experiencing another wave of heart hardening as white Christians (especially white Christian men) fear their loss of control in our country. This hardening of the heart is expressed in the guise of faith and patriotism, but it is hardening of the heart nonetheless. If our hearts could be softened, it would open us to new possibilities and relationships with one another in a richly diverse community in which we care for all people and the planet instead of experiencing the increased fear and hatred that comes with a hardened heart.
Our hearts have been softened in the past as we continue to recognize and repent from the evil we committed against our indigenous sisters and brothers, as we rejected slavery and Jim Crow, as we created women’s suffrage and expanded the protection of women’s rights, as we lamented and repented from the internment of Japanese Americans, as we reached out and cooperated with our friends who relate to religion differently, as we embraced marriage equality, and as we have worked to care for our environment.
If our hearts continue to be hardened, much of what we have gained in the new relationships and communities made possible by a softened heart could all be lost, and that would be the most tragic calamity of our time. May our hearts not continue to be hardened, and may we all do the hard but life transforming work of softening our hearts for the creation of Beloved Community.
The Darkness Did Not Overcome It (July 15, 2018)
When we love one another, when we do justice for our neighbors, when we care for the poor and oppressed, when we feed the hungry, when we give drink to the thirsty, when we clothe the naked, when we visit the prisoner, and when we welcome the stranger; we participate fully in the resurrection of the love and justice of Jesus.
When we hate one another, when we commit injustice against others, when we oppress the poor and vulnerable, when we ignore the naked, hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, and the stranger; we participate in the hate, violence, and injustice that executed Jesus and has brought suffering and death to so many through the ages.
The continued resurrection of the way of Jesus is empowered by the people who continue to live out the way of love and justice in this world, while the ways of death are perpetuated by those who seek their own power and prestige to the detriment and destruction of the most vulnerable among us.
Our lives provide us with a choice of whether we will side with the ongoing resurrection of life, love, and justice in this world or become complicit in the ways of hate, fear, violence, injustice, and death. Those who have chosen the latter keep trying to kill the way of love and justice in this world, but it won’t go away because it is alive in the resurrected Beloved Community that keeps seeking ways to overcome the ways of death in this world.
Even if we lose our lives in the struggle for love and justice like Jesus did and like John the Baptizer did before him and like many others throughout human history have, our lives and work will be taken up and will continue to live in the Beloved Community of all who seek love and justice for all of our neighbors. Perhaps this is what is meant by the communion of the saints. All of the love and justice that has been brought into the world by all people from all times and places will forever be a part of the world and continue to urge it on towards a more Beloved Community.
In times that are dark and full of fear, hatred, and violence; it is important to remember that the forces of evil in days, years, and centuries past often thought they had the last word, only to see that love and justice have a way of not being fully overcome by the darkness and continuing to live on.
In Jesus’ time, King Herod thought Jesus was John the Baptizer resurrected whom Herod imprisoned for speaking truth to power and whom Herod beheaded so as not lose face with those whom he considered more important than John. I think Herod was more right than wrong in his assessment that Jesus was the John the Baptizer resurrected. All that John the Baptizer had done to prepare the way for Jesus through John’s radical message of love, justice, and repentance led to Jesus being baptized by John. All of John’s work and love was fully present and fully alive in Jesus even after John was killed. Like John, when Jesus spoke truth to power, he was also arrested and executed. In a very real way, all of the love and justice that Jesus lived, practiced, and taught as he prepared the way for those to follow is resurrected, fully present, and fully alive in the Beloved Community working for love and justice in our world today. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5), and the darkness will not overcome it.
Turning Over the Tables of ‘American Christianity’ (August 2, 2018)
The reason American Christianity does not stand against the actions of our current president is because American Christianity is not Christianity properly understood as the way of Jesus. It puts a warped view of ‘American’ before Christianity. Christians who live in United States must reject this.
What we are seeing in Christianity in the United States is a battle over whether the way of Jesus will have any real practical influence in the life of churches and in the life of persons who call themselves Christian.
Christians and Christian churches who do not welcome the stranger; who do not seek justice for poor and oppressed; and who do not care for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the homeless, the imprisoned, and all creation are living in such a way as if the life and teachings of Jesus are wholly irrelevant. They have put nationalism, and in many cases race, before the way of Jesus. They have put fear and hatred and their own desire for security before Jesus’ call to seek justice for all people, to love all of our neighbors, and be not afraid. They have exiled Jesus from their churches – churches that would make Jesus weep that his name is being associated with the very expressions of hatred, fear, and corrupt power that Jesus gave his life to resist.
The news that such Christians and such churches bring to the world is not the good news for the poor and oppressed that was the clarion call of Jesus’ work in this world, rather it is news of exclusion, control, fear, and oppression of the weak and vulnerable in our midst. It is the news of exploitation of the community of all creation rather than its care. The ‘religious freedom’ that such Christians and churches seek is a freedom to discriminate and exclude rather than a responsible freedom that seeks love and justice for all.
Jesus would set foot in such churches for only one reason, to turn over the tables of injustice and to call us all to repentance – to turn away from fear, hate, and nationalism so that we might turn our lives toward the good news of the Beloved Community. The response that such Christians and churches would make to Jesus’ message would likely be similar to the violent rejection Jesus received at the hands of the corrupt power of the empire of his day, and with so many people in our churches carrying guns, a brown man turning over tables and calling out for repentance might not even make it out of church alive.
Ministry and Politics (October 3, 2018)
In our official work within churches, we who are ministers must be non-partisan in our political rhetoric and engagement to protect the non-profit status of our churches and respect the agreement within our religious communities that our churches will be non-partisan (note: a church could decide it wants to be partisan, but it would need to forfeit its non-profit status to do so). However, being non-partisan does not mean we must be non-political in our official capacity as ministers. Within the Christian tradition for example, the work of Jesus in the world was profoundly political. That is most likely why he was executed by political authorities on political charges. Following Jesus is a political act.
Bringing good news to the poor and oppressed and liberation to those who are held captive by systems of domination requires us to engage in political work as ministers and even openly criticize and resist the actions of governmental authorities if these actions are opposed to what it means to love and care for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. This can all be done in the prescribed non-partisan ways (not endorsing a candidate or a political party or calling on our congregations to work against a candidate or political party). The decision by ministers to attempt not to engage in any political action in our official role as ministers in our churches is actually itself a profoundly political action in a context in which our social, political, and economic systems are oppressing the vulnerable ones with whom Jesus calls us all to be in mission and harming the community of all creation.
Ministers, like all persons, do not only act in our official capacities of our employment; we are also members and active participants within the broader human community and have responsibilities to be politically engaged and are free to do so in partisan ways if we so choose. Once again, when we who are ministers choose not to engage in political action as citizens outside of our official capacity within our churches, this is a profoundly political choice as well.
In a context in which harm is being done to our neighbors who are refugees and immigrants, women are being mocked for speaking out about sexual assaults, persons who are LGBTQIA are experiencing discrimination, our incarceration rate is the highest on the planet and our criminal justice system shows clear bias against persons of color, inequality between the rich and the poor is increasing, millions of persons do not have adequate access to the healing made possible by affordable healthcare, the flames of fear and hatred of persons who relate to religion differently are being openly fanned, and the very earth itself is being ravaged by human activity; trying to be non-political is not only a political choice, it is also an irresponsible and immoral choice as well.
Angry Jesus (November 3, 2018)
Typically when we think of Jesus, an angry Jesus is not what first comes to mind for the majority of Christians. Loving Jesus, meek and mild Jesus, forgiving Jesus, healing Jesus, servant Jesus, obeying the governing authorities Jesus, saving Jesus, he’s got the whole world in his hands Jesus, and coming back soon Jesus – these are the images of Jesus that tend to get more play in our culture these days, especially among self-described “evangelical” Christians.
We tend to stick with the “safe Jesus” and the “not going to rock the boat Jesus.” This Jesus isn’t going to piss off too many people. This Jesus won’t run off the wealthy donors in our churches. We can build big church buildings and create mega-churches with this Jesus. We can square this Jesus with just about any political or economic perspective we might have. This Jesus gives us a pass when it comes to climate change and the fact that we are responsible for starting the sixth great extinction event in the history of earth, because the world as we know it is going to end soon anyway, so why do anything that might radically change the status quo for nothing? This Jesus is in control, and we don’t really have to worry too much about our economic and political actions with a Jesus like this.
The problem is that this image of Jesus, although based on some truths (Jesus is loving, healing, serving, humble, and forgiving), hides the fullness of how Jesus was depicted by the Gospel writers. It ignores the justice seeking Jesus; the Jesus who spoke woe to hypocrites; the Jesus who was baptized by the one who preached repentance and warned people of the wrath to come; the Jesus who warned of the consequences of not caring for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the sick; the liberating the oppressed Jesus; the angry Jesus; the turning over tables Jesus; and the Jesus who was seen as such a threat to the governing authorities that he became the crucified Jesus.
From a variety of depictions of Jesus in the Gospels in the New Testament, we get a clear picture of the things and actions that the Gospel writers portray as making Jesus angry, and these things and actions are the very things a large segment of self-described “evangelical” Christians seem to be embracing in the United States. By embracing Trumpism with its rejection of the refugee, its wanton disregard for the well-being of the environment, its persistence in decimating access to affordable healing from healthcare, its disregard for oppressed people and people of color, its attempts to make the poor even more vulnerable than they already are, its glorification of violence, its relentless attack on the truth, and its separating of children from their parents who are seeking asylum; “evangelical” Christians are doing the very things that make for an angry Jesus, a very angry Jesus, a whip-wielding, turning-over-tables Jesus.
If Jesus were to visit what has become one of the most popular gatherings of American “evangelical” Christians, a Trump rally, to express his anger at their embracing of the idolatry of Trumpism, and if angry Jesus were to begin turning over tables at a Trump rally, Trump would want this Jesus “roughed up,” and he might say out loud that he longed for “the good old days” when angry Jesus might be “taken out on a stretcher.” Trump might want to punch this Jesus in the face or at least “look into paying the legal fees” of persons who might sucker punch angry Jesus. Trump might even tell the armed security at the rally to consider angry Jesus’ whip to be a rifle.
If angry Jesus were to make it out of an American “evangelical” Christian Trump rally alive, he might find himself met by a group of Proud Boys in the streets outside the rally, thrown to the ground and kicked and beaten mercilessly, and the next day neither Trump nor the American “evangelical” Christians at the rally who witnessed the treatment of angry Jesus would say one negative word about it, and Trump might even get on FOX News to proclaim, “Maybe he should’ve been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
Taming Jesus (December 20, 2018)
The Roman Empire perceived Jesus to be a threat to its power, and it killed him using its most public and humiliating form of execution. The crucifixion was not just the execution of Jesus; it was a public warning to his followers that Rome would not tolerate movements that tested its hegemony, and all who continued to live like Jesus lived did so at their own peril.
Rome was correct to see Jesus as a threat. A charismatic teacher and prophet crying out and acting out for justice and challenging systems and powers that oppressed the poor and most vulnerable was a direct rebuke of an imperial system that used vast and elaborate networks of hierarchical control, patronage, and terror to perpetuate an unjust order of domination of peoples and territory for imperial benefit. Jesus’ teachings and actions were a prophetic and insurgent “no!” to Roman oppression and injustice.
Past and present Imperial Christianity downplays the political nature of the crucifixion in favor of soteriological explanations that lay the death of Jesus on the sin of humanity for which Jesus’ death atones as opposed to seeing it as the result of an act of violence by the empire against a person who posed a political threat.
With the crucifixion of Jesus, Rome sent a message to his followers and friends – your teacher, your prophet, or whatever you called him; he is nothing. You want to fill crowds of people’s heads with ideas that things are going to be radically different than they are now? You want to bring good news to the poor and liberation to the oppressed? You want to turn over tables? You want to create a scene? This is how it will end for you too. You want to create a spectacle? There is your spectacle bleeding and suffocating to death on that cross. If you don’t want to be hanging there too, then get it out of your heads that anything is going to change. We are Rome, and you are nothing.
Rome dealt with Jesus like he was an insurgent. Rome had a lot of experience dealing with insurgents – people who dared to question and resist imperial authority. Neither prison nor a simple and quick execution was seen as being enough to crush the spirit and torture the bodies of those who had the audacity to resist the most powerful empire the world had ever known.
The public, humiliating, excruciatingly painful, and slow death by crucifixion was Rome’s chosen way to make an example out of those who defied the god-like power of the empire personified in Caesar. Rome displayed the choice for Jesus’ followers: choose Jesus and you are choosing the cross, choose Caesar and you are choosing life, albeit a life under an occupying power. Public brutality was the Roman insurance against insurgency and resistance. It almost always worked. Rome counted on Jesus’ friends and followers not to choose the cross. …Rome was wrong.
While the representatives of Roman power in Jerusalem may have thought they had eliminated whatever threat to order that Jesus posed by executing him and making a humiliating example out of him as a deterrence to other dreamers of justice and liberation, there was no way for Rome to see that not only was the cross not the end of Jesus movement, it was a new beginning. Rome was too powerful for its leaders to think much of anything about Jesus’ death other than it being the death of one more nuisance, one more troublemaker, who was dead and gone like all the troublemakers of the past and those to come. Rome thought they had killed the Jesus movement and that Jesus’ followers would not risk the same fate as their teacher. …Rome was wrong.
Little did Rome know that the roads it built to maintain and expand its empire would soon be traveled by followers of the one whom Rome thought it had eliminated through torture, humiliation, and death on a cross, the one whom Rome thought it had sealed off permanently from any further influence in this world.
The sojourners who went from town to town sharing good news for the poor and release for the captives were, like their teacher, a threat to the hegemony of Rome. They might “submit to the governing authorities” and “render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s,” but Rome knew that the followers of Jesus would never render unto Caesar what Caesar demanded of all within his reach – unwavering devotion and obedience to him above all others. Caesar knew he was not above all others in the hearts of these followers of Jesus. Roman emperors knew that followers of this new way were lost to them as loyal followers of the way of empire.
Like Jesus before them, the followers of this dangerous way of Jesus, this way of justice for the poor and oppressed, this way of liberation, must be controlled and subdued. Their un-Roman and treasonous refusal to sacrifice to the cult of the emperor could not be tolerated. The imperial persecution of the early followers of Jesus, though not constant, was periodically brutal and deadly and at times widespread; yet the Jesus movement continued to grow even though it literally went underground at times.
For nearly three centuries after the Roman Empire’s public execution of Jesus, the Jesus movement continued to expand, especially among the poor, even in the midst of a hostile and violent environment. The followers of Jesus were warned not to continue in his subversive ways, they were given an explanation for why they had to sacrifice to the cult of the emperor, they were tortured and killed with methods just as brutal as the torture and death of Jesus; yet they persisted in the way of Jesus, not rendering to Caesar any more than they thought belonged to Caesar. Caesar would never be their God. Caesar would never own their souls.
The Jesus movement would not die. It was not a movement without flaws or without infighting, but it was still a movement that brought good news to the poor and oppressed and the vulnerable as opposed to the imperial news of ongoing domination and exploitation, and the Romans simply could not kill it. Even when they thought they had killed it, it would not stay dead.
Given the centuries of persecution within the Roman Empire, followers of Jesus must have felt they had won a great victory when in 313 C.E. with the Edict of Milan, Emperors Constantine and Licinius declared the practice of the Christian religion to be legal within the empire. What an occasion to celebrate! Not only did Constantine and Licinius legalize Christianity, they gave back property to Christian communities, gave Christians imperial protections, and over time even offered the force of the empire to bring unity to the Church’s theology and practice. By 380 C.E., not only would Christianity be legal, it was the official religion of the empire. The religion that had been persecuted by the state was now the religion of the state, far removed from the humiliation and suffering of the cross.
In 313 C.E., the Edict of Milan made Christianity an acceptable, legitimate religion in the eyes of the Roman Empire; and following this Edict, the emperor Constantine proved himself to be quite favorably disposed to Christianity – giving it protected status, helping it organize more effectively, and assisting its fight against perceived heresy. After Constantine became the Emperor of the whole empire, he even helped oversee the Council of Nicaea where the Church laid out its official doctrines. After the Council of Nicaea, Constantine helped the Church enforce these official doctrines with the force of the state, and sometimes this included violent and even deadly force. Christianity would not become the official religion of Rome until 380 C.E. under the Emperor Theodosius I, but it was under Constantine’s rule that Christianity first had its taste of being the favored religion of the empire, and it was not a taste the Church wanted to get out of its mouth. It was a taste of legitimacy and power that the Church savored.
One can understand why the Church embraced the acceptance of the empire. It does seem much better to be supported by the empire rather than being persecuted by the empire. Restoration of properties and protection by the Emperor sure beats being eaten by lions or crucified. It is hard to blame the Christian Church for accepting this new legitimate status. It seems to be an easy choice; a choice between lions and legitimacy seems like a no-brainer. Christians had suffered greatly at the hands of the state for over two and a half centuries. What a relief it must have been to escape the waves of persecution that at times were horrific and deadly.
Though it is understandable that Christians of the time would see the Edict of Milan as a good thing, and though it really wasn’t a choice made by the Christians to make themselves an acceptable and legitimate religion in the empire; the practical result of Constantine legalizing Christianity and taking steps for the empire to be supportive of Christianity was that the interests of Christianity and interests of the empire became more closely intertwined. Christianity now had a patron in the Emperor, and as is the case in many relationships of patronage, the patron had expectations of some return on the investment.
The survival of the empire was now in the interest of the Church, and the empire had an interest in influencing the Church to take on forms and doctrines that would be most favorable to the order and stability of the empire. The empire was willing to give its authority and its ability to use force to create an empire friendly Church. This, in effect, resulted in the taming of Jesus and the Jesus movement, both of which had never been a friend to empire.
By giving Christianity legitimacy and imperial protection and support, the empire was able to co-opt Christianity more effectively for its own purposes and create an image of Jesus and an institutional Church that would be empire friendly. Once the empire co-opted the Jesus movement, it focused on the otherworldly aspects of Christianity in order to keep power and control over people in this world. The empire or state maintained control of the affairs of this world, while religion prepared the soul for the next. Obedience to the empire’s authority in this life became one of the prerequisites to enjoying the rewards and avoiding the punishments in the next. The empire made central the peripheral strands of eternal punishment and eternal reward in Christianity as a means to maintain and consolidate power and keep order among its subjects.
Empire-friendly Jesus and the empire-friendly Church were supportive of the empire handling the affairs of this world. Empire friendly Jesus was king of another world after this life, while the empire continued its role as king of this world. The empire-friendly Jesus and empire-friendly Church were fine with the empire waging war. Empire-friendly Jesus and empire-friendly Church were fine with the empire using violence and its powers of capital punishment to suppress heresy and maintain order to keep the Church safe from hostile powers.
Empire-friendly Jesus did not turn over tables. When it came to the affairs of this world, empire-friendly Jesus encouraged people to be meek and mild rather than angry and wild, to be satisfied with the temporal crumbs from the empire’s table in exchange for the promise of a seat at the table of the heavenly banquet. Finally, the empire had Jesus and the followers of Jesus right where it wanted them. The empire had finally accomplished what the cross and nearly three centuries of persecution had failed to do. The empire had finally tamed Jesus.
After legalizing Christianity in 313 C.E., the Emperor Constantine unified and codified the Church’s doctrine and practices at the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. A Church without major differences was beneficial to establishing order and stability within the empire. The empire became the enforcer of right doctrine and right practice in the Church. The leaders of the church could count on the temporal authority of the empire to maintain the spiritual authority of the Church. It was a reciprocal and mutually reinforcing relationship between empire and Church.
At the Council of Nicaea, the date for Easter was set as the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, no longer to be based on the actual date of the Jewish Passover as had been the practice. In 336 C.E., the year before Constantine’s death, the date for a new holiday, Christmas, was set around the Winter Solstice, a date that had nothing to do with Jesus’ actual birthday. The empire seemed more interested in substituting pagan holidays based around solar and lunar schedules with Christmas and Easter than it was with correlating the dates with the actual life of the Jewish Jesus.
When Christianity became the official religion of the empire in 380 under Emperor Theodosius I, the function of empire friendly paganism was replaced fully by empire-friendly Christianity. And the new Christianity of the Roman Empire had more to do with its function within the empire than with its connection to an anti-imperial Jewish prophet who was executed by the very empire that now had co-opted the Jesus movement for imperial purposes.
Christmas in the empire was a time of celebrating Jesus the child meek and mild, not the Jesus who was angry and wild. Easter in the empire was a time of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus after he gave himself up for the sin of all humanity, not the Jewish prophet who was tortured, humiliated, and executed by the empire like an insurgent.
As the official religion of the empire, Christianity celebrated Christmas as the coming of the empire-friendly Jesus into the world, and during Easter it celebrated the everlasting life and presence of the empire-friendly Jesus within the Church. In both cases, imperial Christianity was not celebrating the actual Jewish Jesus, but rather it was celebrating the imperial Jesus, who had very little in common with Jesus at all.
The western portion of the Roman Empire (the part including Rome itself) fell soon after its takeover of Christianity (a fact not easily explained by Christianity’s defenders such as Augustine of Hippo), but Christianity re-attached itself to numerous empires thereafter to maintain its hegemony in Europe and beyond. The Christianity of empire, as opposed to the Way of Jesus, was used to justify crusades, inquisitions, conquests, colonization, slavery, and genocide – often done in the name of Christian mission, but always done for sake of the empire.
Christianity in the United States continues in this long and tragic tradition of serving as the religion of the empire. The way of Jesus has been mistaken for the American way; including adherence to its social, political, and economic systems. Through increasingly sophisticated and ever present forms of propaganda, a form of Christianity is used to bolster loyalty to and support for the empire. Every cry that we are a Christian nation is an echo of the imperial voice that seeks to tame Jesus and use the power of the Jesus movement to consolidate power of the empire through the alienation of the “other,” by highlighting that their way is not our way, that “they” are not us.
As we celebrate Christmas in the American Empire, it is no wonder that we tend to focus on the meek and mild American Empire-friendly baby Jesus and that we use Christmas to foster a rabid and sometimes even violent (Black Friday is dangerous) consumerism that functions to bolster an unsustainable and unjust economic system.
In the midst of a world of extreme poverty and injustice; in which 85,000 children have starved to death in Yemen at the hands of an “ally;” in which journalists who cry out and act out for justice are being tortured, humiliated, and executed with impunity by the equivalent of Caesars; in which children are being tear gassed, separated from their parents, and detained at our borders; and in which our relentless use of fossil fuels is creating an unlivable climate on earth; one has to wonder what an angry and wild Jesus might do today.
One thing is for sure, the American Empire is not awaiting the birth of angry and wild Jesus this Christmas. The American Empire is awaiting the birth of tame Jesus. The angry and wild Jesus was killed nearly two thousand years ago and the Jesus movement was co-opted by empire nearly over 1700 years ago. Angry and wild Jesus is dead, at least that is what the American Empire is hoping for.
What the American Empire does not realize is that this Jesus whom we think was utterly crushed so long ago has a way of coming back. Borrowing some words from Dylan Thomas, love and justice do not “go gentle into that good night.” They will continue to “rage against the dying of the light.” Maybe this is the Jesus we can celebrate this Christmas; maybe this is the Jesus we should be waiting for; maybe the way of love, peace, and justice can make a comeback through us. Maybe, just maybe, this Jesus isn’t really dead after all.
Matthew 25 for an American Empire Christmas 2018 (December 24, 2018)
I was a refugee child escaping violence and death, and when I was hungry, you made my family stay in towns on the other side of the border not equipped to help me, and I went without food.
I was thirsty on the journey and you poured out jugs of water onto the desert floor for me and my family to die of dehydration and exposure.
I was a stranger and you tear gassed me and my family at the border instead of allowing us to apply for asylum.
I was naked and you forced me to stay in border towns in Mexico that struggled to find resources to clothe me.
I was sick because of the long journey, unsanitary conditions, and lack of adequate medical supplies; and because you separated me from my parents, they could not care for me.
I was in prison because you separated me from my parents and put me in a detention camp that the children here call “el infierno” (that means “hell” in my language), and you did not even allow my parents to come visit me.
What’s in a Name? (September 1, 2019)
What’s in a name? The word ‘Christian’ has lost almost all of its positive meaning for me. It used to mean something special to me before I learned that those who have called themselves ‘Christian’ used the power of the Empire to violently and murderously suppress opposing viewpoints and later during a series of Inquisitions tortured and burned persons alive who thought differently than they did; before I learned that ‘Christians’ committed atrocities and mass killings during the Crusades in the name and under the banner of Christ; before I learned that ‘Christians’ brutalized, enslaved, and murdered indigenous peoples all over the planet; before I learned that ‘Christians’ killed each other by the millions over doctrinal and political differences; before I learned that ‘Christians’ justified the slavery and dehumanization of millions of African persons; and before I learned that ‘Christians’ persecuted and murdered Jewish persons for centuries, culminating in a self-identified ‘Christian’ nation committing the most horrific atrocities in human history in the torture and extermination of 6 million Jews.
After this horrific history, it should come as no surprise that so many persons who identify as ‘Christian’ have given themselves to movements that oppress women, persons who are LGBTQIA+, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and refugees. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ would reject their LGBTQIA+ sons, daughters, and non-binary children and drive them to despair and homelessness. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ would justify putting immigrant and refugee children in cages, tearing families apart, refusing immigrants and refugees basic hygiene and medical care, and sending immigrants on special medical visas home to their deaths. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ glorify war and violence and have hardened their hearts to the poor and most vulnerable among us. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ are blocking any meaningful action for climate justice and maintaining a livable climate for all life. It should come as no surprise that so many persons who call themselves ‘Christian’ support an openly racist, misogynist, xenophobic, narcissistic, environment destroying, lying sociopath as their ‘chosen’ leader to enforce their white nationalist vision for America.
Far too often the name ‘Christian’ has come to signify the very antithesis of the way of Jesus; the very antithesis of the way of love, justice, mercy, and grace; the very antithesis of the way of peacemaking; the very antithesis of good news for the poor and liberation of the oppressed; the very antithesis of welcoming the stranger; the very antithesis of caring for the good earth, the very antithesis of everything Jesus taught, lived for, loved for, and died for.
What’s in a name? When it comes to the word ‘Christian,’ apparently not much. Give me a decent, kind, loving, compassionate human being over what has passed as ‘Christian’ for far too long. Give me the way of Jesus and keep the name ‘Christian.’ It has lost its ability to convey the goodness it was meant to possess because of the cruelty and evil practiced for centuries in its name.
If Columbus Had Been a Christian… (October 25, 2019
If Columbus had been a Jesus follower rather than an Empire Christian, he would have respected that the lands he happened upon were inhabited and he would have engaged the indigenous persons as equal siblings in humanity rather than abuse, torture, murder, and enslave them. He and his shipmates would have conducted themselves as respectful guests in a home not their own rather than cutting off persons’ hands who did not provide them with enough gold and raping and murdering their children.
If Columbus had been a Jesus follower rather than an Empire Christian, upon his return to Europe, he would have made an impassioned plea to only have peaceful contact with his newly found friends rather than conquer them, displace them, and commit genocide against them. He would have argued that the indigenous persons’ land and freedom were not for the taking and their ways and lives should be respected and not molded into a European image.
Good people from good countries would have respected that people already lived in what we now call the Americas and would never have forcefully taken the land. They may have entered into trade agreements and some cross cultural exchange, but they would have gone back to Europe and said that the land they found is inhabited by people and that it was their sacred duty to respect these persons and not invade and destroy them.
If the European countries had been Jesus followers and not Empire Christians, loving rather than conquering the indigenous people would have been the only appropriate response to encountering new siblings on our planet. Imagine what a different world if might have been had Europeans followed the way of Jesus rather than the way of Empire! But they didn’t follow the way of Jesus and left the death and suffering of millions of persons in their wake, and Jesus wept…. uncontrollably and without consolation.
Pandemic Beatitudes (May 20, 2020)
Blessed are the mask wearers, for they help keep persons of sacred worth from dying alone and scared, separated from family and friends.
Blessed are those who care for the sick and comfort the dying, for they are the presence of Beloved Community.
Blessed are those who mourn the dead rather than minimize their death, for they will retain their humanity.
Blessed are the scientists searching for treatments and vaccines, for they are bearers of hope.
Blessed are the food providers for those who can and cannot pay, for they are sustainers of life.
Blessed are those who keep their distance, for they allow our beloved ones to remain close.
Blessed are those who refuse to profit unjustly from the pandemic, for they bear witness to justice and common decency.
Blessed are employers who keep workers safe, for they value life over profit.
Blessed are leaders who make compassionate decisions based upon knowledge and evidence, for they forge a wise path.
Blessed are the truth tellers, for they provide the best information possible to keep all of us safe.
Blessed are those who do not use the pandemic to divide us, for they work for the common good of all.
Georgia Senator Loeffler Criticizes Rev. Warnock for Preaching the Gospel (November 22, 2020)
White Christian Nationalists have been kneeling at the altar of the idol of militarism for many decades, which is why a White Christian Nationalist like unelected Georgia U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler has decided to make criticizing Rev. Raphael Warnock’s critique of the idolatry of militarism one of her main election strategies. It should also be noted that Martin Luther King Jr. was relentlessly attacked by White Christian Nationalists for his denouncement of the evil of militarism in the 1960s.
Listen to these words from King’s 1967 book, Where do We Go from Here: Chaos of Community?: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered”
King goes on to say, “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when ‘every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.’”
When Rev. Warnock said “you cannot serve God and the military,” he was not saying one cannot serve in the military; he was rejecting the idolatry of militarism that has been a problem among American Christians, especially among White Christian Nationalists, for far too long. If you profess to be a Christian, you cannot serve the military as your ultimate concern – you cannot serve the military like you serve God.
Before Christianity was co-opted by empire, early followers of Jesus were clear about this distinction. They knew they were serving God and not Caesar. They knew they were serving God and not mammon. Early Christians were quite clear that their ultimate service was to God, and Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as being quite clear about this in his teachngs: “You cannot serve both God and Mammon” Jesus says. And when Jesus says “render under to God what is God’s and render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” it is quite clear that Caesar is not due anything close to what God is due.
Unfortunately, many media outlets sadly have fallen into the propaganda trap that White Christian Nationalists like unelected Senator Loeffler have laid. By putting only the excerpt “you cannot serve God and the military” from Rev. Warnock’s sermon in many of their headlines, the casual reader, and especially other White Christian Nationalists, will likely jump to conclusions about Warnock’s criticisms of militarism that are not warranted. This is how propaganda works.
The reality is that Rev. Warnock is in a long line of followers of Jesus, going all the way back to the Jesus of the Gospels himself, who recognize that to have faith in God and follow the way of Jesus is to serve the way of God as the only true ultimate in one’s life and to live out this service of God through acts of love and justice in the world – something that the idolatry of militarism fails miserably to do. A more accurate headline for what appointed Senator Loeffler is doing might well read “Senator Loeffler Criticizes Rev. Warnock for Preaching the Gospel.”
Send Them Back to Herod (December 25, 2020)
Imagine if the Roman authorities governing Egypt had found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus after they climbed a Roman wall to get into Egypt and that they almost died of thirst because the Romans had emptied containers of water left behind in the desert for persons fleeing King Herod…
Then imagine that after the Roman authorities found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus on the verge of death in the desert that they separated Jesus from his parents and detained him with other children whose families were lucky enough to escape King Herod’s massacre…
Imagine that some of these children would never see their parents again because of poor Roman record keeping, but after some number of months Jesus was finally reunited with his parents…
But then imagine that the Roman authorities governing Egypt had only reunited Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to deport them back to their home country even though Mary and Joseph pleaded with the authorities not to send them back because the child’s life would be in grave danger…
Imagine the Roman authorities ignoring the pleas of Mary and Joseph and sending them back to the region controlled by King Herod where Herod’s soldiers immediately arrested them and killed the young Jesus…
Imagine that “a voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, [Mary] weeping for her [son]; she refused to be comforted, because [he] is no more.”
You have now imagined how Trump’s America would have treated Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had they fled to the United States to escape a murderous king – but at least we won the war on Christmas and feel good about saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays.
Social Holiness in a Global Pandemic (August 13, 2021)
One of the things we can learn from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, during this global pandemic is the truth that there is no holiness but social holiness, and this points to the reality that there is no personal responsibility without social responsibility. Simply focusing on personal responsibility rather than also looking at public social measures for the common good during a public health emergency ignores this reality.
For John Wesley, the goal of Christian life is Christian perfection, and this perfection was not about being a perfect individual, rather it was about growing in perfection in relation to loving God and others and expressing social holiness. Personal choice and personal freedom for Wesley were grounded in a deep sense of social responsibility. Freedom from the weight of sin meant freedom to love others more perfectly.
What lessons can be learned from this emphasis on love and social holiness during a global pandemic? What actions will truly express more perfect love of others? What actions will most appropriately reflect our social responsibility in relation to others?
In the horrific reality of a global pandemic we are reminded with great clarity that this is not just about me. It is about us – all of us; and right now, might I suggest that growing in perfection entails living according to Wesley’s simple rules of doing no harm and doing good within our beloved community.
Doing no harm and doing good in a global pandemic are tightly woven together. Doing no harm may seem more passive and doing good may seem to be more active, but the things we need to be doing to love each other in a global pandemic express both doing no harm and doing good simultaneously.
Doing no harm and doing good as an expression of social holiness during this particular time of this global pandemic at the very minimum means getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in indoor public spaces for the health and well being of all persons in our communities – especially for the most vulnerable among us. Globally, doing no harm and doing good means working for vaccine equity so that persons around the world have equal access to life-saving vaccines because, as has been often noted by the World Health Organization, no one is safe until we all are safe.
Doing no harm and doing good in a global pandemic entails realizing that the very nature of a public health emergency is that it is not only about our personal decisions when our personal decisions may have a negative impact on public health. The mantra of freedom, personal choice, and personal responsibility that is repeated so often by so many mayors, governors, and other political leaders who want to avoid mask mandates and vaccine mandates leads to a failure to recognize and appreciate the social aspects of the challenges we are facing. It fails the test of doing no harm and doing good in a global pandemic because personal choices not to get vaccinated and not to wear masks in indoor public spaces actually do harm and thus do not do good.
John Wesley reminds us that there is no holiness without social holiness. Personal freedom and personal responsibility alone will not overcome a pandemic – only social responsibility and love for others can do that. May we all work together to more perfectly express this love for one another.