‘Why I Refuse To Join A Church (Part 2)

Go to church but they tease us, with a picture of a blue-eyed Jesus!  –  Ice Cube

Well, sort of.  I don’t take these lyrics from Ice Cube’s rant from his classical African-American community critique “Us” as an issue of merely color; but rather ideology.

I tried to make this point in the last church I belonged to.  Our services were tailored in a fashion that allowed us to ask questions or make comments during the sermon.  As you can imagine, that made for some memorable experiences, both for the good and not so good.  At the time George W. Bush was campaigning for a  second term in the White House.  There was a heavy religious fervor regarding that election too.  Both Catholic and Protestant organizations were galvanized similarly (if not more) than they were in 2000.

My comment during the service was that I found the election season offered at least two different Jesuses.  Immediately when I said it there were cat calls from the other members.  “Oh no, there is only ONE Jesus.”  I think they thought I was being literal.  And I found it hard to explain, as I was cut off continuously.  My point was that while most Christian churches share the same basic bible for scripture references, Jesus’ points of emphasis and agenda seemed to go down racial, class, social and political divides.

I recall visiting a prominent church in South St. Louis when the subject of the election came up.  The pastor of the church said, “I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.  But I will say that I’m not voting for someone who is for killing babies.”

I thought to myself, “Wow, I can understand Jesus being bent about abortion, but he’s not bent about torture or bombings of civilian communities?  What about all of the other injustices and crimes against humanity out there perpetrated by men for political or ideological reasons?  Is that ultimately what this election is about?”  I’ll get back to that.

Later I attended a different church for a men’s breakfast.  As usual when the subject of men come up at such an event it’s natural for the meaning of manhood and how it’s manifested in society to be brought up.  Some of the speakers made a point of making sure that homosexuality and manhood had nothing in common.  In doing so words and phrases to describe gays or being gay were slung around.  They consisted of standards such as ‘sweet’ ‘sissies’ and ‘punks’ to name a few.  Then there was the usual reference to Adam and Steve.

While all of these black macho evangelical males “amen’d” and approved of this name calling, I raised my hand and asked a question:

(Paraphrasing)

“I hear all of this name and cat calling regarding the homosexual community.  And while I respect the fact that your brand of faith entitles you the right to have your own opinion that homosexuality is a sin, do you honestly believe that Jesus would endorse the name calling that some of you are using such as ‘sissy,’ ‘punk’ or even ‘fags?’ “ 

At that point the pastor was silent.  To speak boldly like this against the precepts of leadership in a powerful black church is not something grinned upon.  But one of the elders jumped in quickly to the rescue.  With anger he burst from his seat and started spouting off scriptures in Leviticus and how homosexuality was a sin and that God didn’t like it and neither should any Christian.  He was practically foaming at the mouth from the front of the sanctuary as he looked towards my way in the back.

I reiterated:

“I’m not discussing the validity or non validation of homosexuality as a sin.  What I am asking… is that if there were homosexuals in this congregation, (and chances are there one or more among this group of men) if I were a homosexual who was struggling with my sexual identity vs. what I believe my faith allows, would your words as well as your spiritual disposition attract me to you as a source of help, or would I be repulsed, insulted or put off by your tone?  Would Jesus address a person who happens to be a homosexual with the names you choose along with your mocking tone?”  

DEAD SILENCE in the congregation.  I think some thought a fight was about to ensue.

The elder grew more angry, then shouted something else before the pastor got up and addressed my question… sort of.

“I understand what you are saying brother.  And perhaps you are right that we can do better with the name calling.  But let me be clear, homosexuality is a sin.  Now let’s move on.” 

This, among other things at that time, drew me to the conclusion that as far as the evangelical community was concerned, all God/Jesus really cared about were what I called the ‘Big 3’  Abortion, Homosexuality, and Stem Cell Research- all of which He was against.

That’s right.  Let it be known henceforth that these are the bullet points on Jesus’ hit list.  But was it really? 

The question of Jesus and the identification of his agenda have been going on thousands of years, right?  In the scriptures he seemed to identify it himself:

Matthew 16:13-15

13 Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say that the Son of man is?

   14 And they said, Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.

   15 He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am?

   16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

In my estimation, this question is still the most divisive among Christian believers.  Who Jesus is- a direct result of what he endorses- stands for, evangelizes, and lives by.  As Christians (followers or Disciples of Christ) by very definition that agenda should translate into their own.  And this is where confusion and division has obviously settled in.

Let’s take it step by step.  While these are not absolute, I think we can agree that these are generally the focus, missions, and nature of Jesus, depending on the demographics and world view of the worshipper. 

During slavery a certain segment of the population believed that Jesus endorsed the enslavement of Africans which included selling, beating, raping and murdering people that Jesus/God created.  During this same period the slaves (often taught Christianity either from Catholics in Africa or Protestant enslaver in America) believed that Jesus would deliver them from their oppression. 

Similarly, during the Jim Crow and civil rights eras, The KKK (who defined themselves a Christian organization) believed as they do today that Jesus choose them to be superior, while other nationalities are inferior. Many churches, both black and white, believed that Jesus created, loves and values all men equally. 

These days we face many of the same challenges.  Some upwardly mobile church dogma believe that Jesus favors the wealthy while others believe Jesus is concerned for the poor.  

Let me give you a biblical example and how it may play out today:

John 6:5-14

5When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

   6And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.

   7Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.

   8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him,

   9There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?

   10And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

   11And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.

   12When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.

  13Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

   14Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

 Newt Gingrich

If something like this were to happen, one side of the Christian agenda would report it this way:

Boy donates food, Jesus takes the little and performs a miracle to serve thousands.  The people rejoice.

Another Christian agenda would report it this way:

Unemployed multitude threaten to mug little righteous boy who has food.  Jesus the self-appointed welfare socialist takes the food away from the one who had in order to spread the wealth.  Claims of a miracle go unsubstantiated, but Newt Gingrich says that Jesus should face prosecution for robbery.  Sara Palin said Jesus is an illegal alien- “just look at his name”- (Pronounced Hey-Seuss) and bad for American values.  Finally, Rush Limbaugh called him “The Magic Hebrew.” 

Ok (chuckle) I’m having a little fun with this.  But you get my point.  This conversation has political ramifications, but in this context it’s not political at all. 

I have attended many of these churches during my lifetime so I speak with experience.

The evidence shows that our depiction of Jesus, given his world view, is something either given to us by others or something we decide upon ourselves- based on our own background- sociopolitical, socioeconomic and dogmatic vantage point.  Christians decide which Jesus to follow based on what they are comfortable with.  That’s right.  Believe it or not, Christians have pretty much picked their own Jesus to worship and follow based on their own accepted set of criteria.

For those living in inner cities, their Jesus cares about the poor; thought not exclusively.  For many living in upper class neighborhoods, Jesus wants you to have riches.   Many ministers I know believe and teach directly that the level that God shows his favor and blessings upon you, and the very proof of your own level of faith is a direct result of the believer’s financial status.

 Rev Ike

Some Christians promote charity and believe that government should help with social causes.  Other Christians are for cutting any and everything having to do with helping those less fortunate.  It’s happening in this country in a big way right now.  I’m not making a judgment one way or the other but more asking why is it that so-called liberal Christians believe one thing while conservative Christians believe something else entirely – while reading the same bible?

I’ve heard it said that it’s up to moderate Muslims to speak out against radical Muslims who are for violent and other unrighteous acts done in their name.  While I agree with that I rarely see Christians doing the same. 

When have you heard of moderate Christians speaking out against Pastor Steve Anderson and Rev. Wiley Drake  for praying that President Obama dies?  Have you ever been up late and night and seen those ministry programs where they offer to sell you God’s blessing for $500-$1000?

So why not just join a church that chooses a Jesus I am comfortable with?

On the one hand, that sounds kind of attractive, right?  But on the other, I’m not so sure about that.  My own personal evangelical bent lends me to believe that God, by virture of being the creator of the universe (which includes my very existence), has the authority to demand without question first and foremost that he be in charge.  If that is the case I certainly don’t need to align myself with a church that simply makes me comfortable.  Furthermore, I can’t fathom believing in a gospel that is not transferable to any and all communities in the world.   I can’t believe a message in College Park, Georgia that could not be preached in the slums of Calcutta, India just because the economic opportunities are not the same.

The bottom line in my view is that Jesus (as we know him) has been bastardized and transformed into a political football, tossed to and fro by whoever wields his name.  He’s been labeled like soup, and packaged for consumption like a Happy Meal or an Ipad too often for the purposes of manipulation, domination, or deceit.  That’s not to say all churches, ministers, or parishioners, liberal or conservative, are all bad or good.   But what is the difference in that or any other religious group that have segments that do good work?   The point for me is that following God as I want to know him is so profoundly vital to my own spiritual growth and well-being, dogmatic preferences and spiritual limitations cancel my mere desire to belong in such a  group.

Read Why I Refuse To Join A Church Part 1 here.



Advertisements

Politics in the Pulpit~And The Identity of Jesus

Its funny how people talk about the separation of church and state.  Wherever there are strong church ties, the state has never been separated in reality.  Most every law on the books has it’s base within somebody’s interpretation of a  holy book.  This is the case in most major nations.  One could argue that even communist places such as China and North Korea have their own versions of church and state when it comes to the worship they require to be given to their political leaders.  I think the thought of church and state being intermingled are pretty acceptable to most. 

The issue in this nation in particular where one of our founding principles is freedom of religion, is that often that the followers of one religion, (most of the time extreme forms of Christianity) tries to rule over another.  This was particularly true when we look at the heavy right wing evangelical movement that helped produce two Bush administrations.   Bush who claims to be a born again Christian rode that Jesus train hard for two terms.

I still recall a church service I attended before the 2004 election where the preacher said, “I can’t tell you who to vote for, but God would not have you vote for someone who’s for killing babies.” 

After that I spoke to a congregation I used to belong to, and I talked about how there are essentially two Jesus’ in this country.  One who is concerned about abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research, and the other one who cares about the poor, justice, and a person’s inward character.  One Jesus who is concerned about all people and another concerned about Americans who believe in Christianity.  One Jesus who was for bombing Iraq and one who was not.  One Jesus who is for evengelism, and another for colonialism.  One Jesus is poking his nose in the bedroom and the other doesn’t care how  person gets off as long as it’s consensual between two adults.  I was in one bible study where I heard a preacher tell a married couple that it as sinful for them to give one another oral sex.  (They never returned.) 

Who gets to speak for Jesus or God as you know him in these matters?   I can tell you from personal observation, there is nothing in the bible confirming nor denying the ethicality of oral sex for instance.  I can also tell you that there are many lessons to be learned from from a Ted Haggard, the infamous evangelical pastor who had to leave his post after he was discovered to be involved with drugs and a male prostitute.  (mostly male prostitute)  After three weeks of “intense counseling,” with four ministers, Haggard was said to be totally heterosexual.  Just as a side note, Haggard himself has said to his congregation before he stepped down that he struggled with his sexuality for most of his life.  Tim Ralph, the minister who said Haggard was delivered from homosexuality, said that it was just a short phase for Haggard.  There was no word on whether the good reverend was delivered from drugs or not. 

I find it particularly interesting that Haggard pastored a huge mega church all those years before, and that the congregation obviously found some benefit from being ministered to by a gay drug abuser.   I am sure many people “accepted Jesus Christ” as their lord and savior.  There were prayers given by Haggard to his parishioners, and I am sure some of those prayers were answered.  And yet when this little secret came out, he was taken down.  I mean where was God before the scandal broke loose and why did the church prosper if Haggard broke all of the moral laws?  What sins are really bad and which ones are just ok? 

Religion and politics are always intermingled.  The key is how we treat one another who don’t believe as we do, and how we make these differences respectful and functional within society.

Message to the GOP

Giving Up on God
By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, November 19, 2008; 12:00 AM

 

As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.

Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.

I’m bathing in holy water as I type.

To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth — as long as we’re setting ourselves free — is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

The choir has become absurdly off-key, and many Republicans know it.

But they need those votes!

So it has been for the Grand Old Party since the 1980s or so, as it has become increasingly beholden to an element that used to be relegated to wooden crates on street corners.

Short break as writer ties blindfold and smokes her last cigarette.

Which is to say, the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.

Here’s the deal, ‘pubbies: Howard Dean was right.

It isn’t that culture doesn’t matter. It does. But preaching to the choir produces no converts. And shifting demographics suggest that the Republican Party — and conservatism with it — eventually will die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one’s heart where it belongs.

Religious conservatives become defensive at any suggestion that they’ve had something to do with the GOP’s erosion. And, though the recent Democratic sweep can be attributed in large part to a referendum on Bush and the failing economy, three long-term trends identified by Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz have been devastating to the Republican Party: increasing racial diversity, declining marriage rates and changes in religious beliefs.

Suffice it to say, the Republican Party is largely comprised of white, married Christians. Anyone watching the two conventions last summer can’t have missed the stark differences: One party was brimming with energy, youth and diversity; the other felt like an annual Depends sales meeting.

With the exception of Miss Alaska, of course.

Even Sarah Palin has blamed Bush policies for the GOP loss. She’s not entirely wrong, but she’s also part of the problem. Her recent conjecture about whether to run for president in 2012 (does anyone really doubt she will?) speaks for itself:

“I’m like, okay, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I’m like, don’t let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is…. And if there is an open door in (20)12 or four years later, and if it’s something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I’ll plow through that door.”

Let’s do pray that God shows Alaska’s governor the door.

Meanwhile, it isn’t necessary to evict the Creator from the public square, surrender Judeo-Christian values or diminish the value of faith in America. Belief in something greater than oneself has much to recommend it, including most of the world’s architectural treasures, our universities and even our founding documents.

But, like it or not, we are a diverse nation, no longer predominantly white and Christian. The change Barack Obama promised has already occurred, which is why he won.

Among Jewish voters, 78 percent went for Obama. Sixty-six percent of under-30 voters did likewise. Forty-five percent of voters ages 18-29 are Democrats compared to just 26 percent Republican; in 2000, party affiliation was split almost evenly.

The young will get older, of course. Most eventually will marry, and some will become their parents. But nonwhites won’t get whiter. And the nonreligious won’t get religion through external conversion. It doesn’t work that way.

Given those facts, the future of the GOP looks dim and dimmer if it stays the present course. Either the Republican Party needs a new base — or the nation may need a new party.

Kathleen Parker’s e-mail address is kparker@kparker.com.

Pro Life! (Across the Board)

As the election draws near I am hearing more and more from my conservative friends regarding the pro-life vs. pro choice argument.  The Catholics and Evangelical Christians are especially vigilant on this issue.  They feel as they did the last 8 years that to vote for someone who is pro-choice is a vote for a pro abortionist or a baby killer.  Some are even saying now that to vote for Senator Obama is to bring eternal damnation upon ones self. 

© Roger Derin - NYI Student

Someone asked my opinion of the abortion issue recently.  And I have debated with my right leaning Christian friends for years.  What gets me most in this debate is the fact that rarely is there any balance in the discussion… especially from my Christian and Catholic friends.

I can say for sure I am totally pro-life.  I don’t believe that abortion is a good thing for anyone – certainly not as a form of birth control as some have practiced.   I believe these people are rare however.  The abortion rate outside of reasons for the health of a mother, or in cases of rape and incest is horrible.  I honestly feel that most people who are pro-choice would agree with me on that.  Most Americans are not pro-abortion.

Where my right wing friends miss it however, is the narrow scope in which they focus on the unborn exclusively.  If one is to be truly pro-life, he has to be pro-life across the board.  In the scriptures Jesus himself said that He came to give life… and to give it more abundantly.  This is to say that the act of living is not the end all.  Quality of life is also important.  So to protect the unborn is great, to help promote and preserve the lives of the living once they make it past the womb is even better.

And yet how ironic is it that most so called pro-lifers are for government stepping in to control the womb, but are against government helping to promote and preserve healthy living standards for poor or lower enconomically developed families.  How ironic is it that when it comes to public education, most of the Christian right do not fight for better schools and better teachers.  How ironic is it that these same Christians and Catholics are against goverment providing or helping with the cost of health-care?  Basically what they are saying is:

“This unborn child is a gift from God and should be allowed to live by any means!  But once the child leaves the womb, the mother and child are on their own and it is not our responsibility to make sure that child has every opportunity to make it.” 

Now pardon me – but that is some dumb backwards ass shit!  

 How to Take Great Baby Pictures.

We need a holistic approach to the situation.  Let’s not look at this thing from the view of the womb alone.  That is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. 

Let’s start with sex education.  Palin and McCain are against sex education in schools.  Palin in particular is in foolish denial for being against sex education, as if that would encourage kids to have sex.  Funny thing is, her daughter certainly found a way to knock boots regularly and came up pregnant.  Sex is a natural desire as well as a natural act.  No sense in denying the obvious as if it’s going to go away.   And yes it should be taught at home first, but too many parents don’t.  So again if the child in the womb should be a governmental concern, so should the educating of the youth so that they can at least help prevent unwanted or premature pregnancies in the first place –  Let alone helping to prevent the spread of STDs or HIV.

How about healthcare?  Millions of children are uninsured and use the emergency room as a heathcare provider.  When they can’t pay, we as citizens and tax payers pay anyway.  So why not have a system where proper healthcare can be obtained.  That five thousand dollar credit McCain is offering, that is he going to turn around and tax anyway, is not nearly as good as Obama’s healthcare plan.  Again this is especially important for the less fortunate children that we wanted to protect in the womb in making sure they were allowed to live in the first place.

Adoption: A good friend of mine adopted two girls a few years ago.  I attended her ceremony when she became certified by the state to adopt.  When I looked in the book that had the list of kids who were on the state rolls for pending foster care in need of adoption, I started crying from the thousands and thousands of young faces I saw.  They each had pictures and portfolios about their virtues.  This one likes bowling, the other loves math.  It was as if they were “selling” themselves to some perspective parents who would “pick” them as if they were picking a puppy dog.  What was most disturbing was the older faces I saw of kids who were 5-17 years of age.  Basically from what I was told at the agency, most of the teen-aged kids can forget it.  Couples tend to want the young cuddly types.  Babies are cool, but teens are a pain with baggage. 

Then you got couples who take their asses clean out of the county to Honduras or some place like that to adopt little foreign kids… like that shit is hot or exotic or something – leaving the American born kids here to rot.  Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t hatin!  I know a couple who adopted a kid from South America.  They are good people and at the time they didn’t think they could have kids naturally.  Later they were successful in having one of their own.

We had lunch before the 2000 election.  They had not adopted yet and were considering their options.  As far as the presidency was concerned, abortion was the key reason they were voting for Bush.  I said to them however, “You care so much about abortion, and rightfully so.  But I guarantee you there are some kids you can adopt right here who need a home.  Or there are some kids in church or in your neighborhood who need a good man and woman in their lives to be a mentor for.”  I told my friend’s wife, “Take some teenager under your wing who doesn’t have a mother and teach her how to be a woman.  Show her how to take care of her body and eat right.  Help her with her education.  Don’t just look out for those kids in the womb, do God’s work as well by tending to the sheep He has here on the earth who are less fortunate or have special needs.”  They both looked at me with blank stares.  Needless to say they didn’t do either.  They adopted abroad, had their own and kept to themselves.  That is a typical picture of the Christian and Catholic communities when it comes to this subject.  

So I say to all you pro-lifers who are passionate about protecting the unborn… Hooray!  But step your game up and stop being a half-assed pro-lifer.  There are many more ways to help prevent abortion.  To work from that angle alone, or to back a canidate in an attempt to reverse Roe V Wade is shortsighted at best.  Believe me, there are many many other issues that concern life.  Each of the important things on the table, education, healthcare, jobs, oppertunities to gain wealth or live in a safe neighborhood are all issues of life.  And hell I didn’t even touch the wickedness and injustices of the death penalty. 

No way you can tell me it’s godly or Christian to put so much energy in protecting unborn children, only to turn a cold heart to those same kids who may not have the resources to live a healthy life.  Don’t forsake the one goal without neglecting the other.  All of the children of this nation of ours are important and we each have a stake in taking some responsibility for their welfare and success.