Let me start by lifting up for prayer all the people who have been uprooted and traumatized by Harvey and it’s aftermath. In times like these we need to come together as people of all faiths to take care of those who need us. In addition to your prayers, please contribute your time and/or your gifts to help them.
Two news items came out this week that provoked this blog. The first was a synopsis of a book by Brian Zahnd—Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God — in an article by Jonathan Merritt in the Religion News Service. Although I haven’t read the book yet (I surely intend to!) the article captured my imagination and took me back to a time when I was beginning to remember the importance of faith in my life.
Pastor Brian Zahnd’s book focuses on Jesus as “the perfect theology.” At a time when I needed to return to God, the thought that came to me was “Jesus was right.” I did not think “I am a sinner,” or “I need God’s help” or even “I need to go to church.” My thoughtwas that Jesus was right in everything he taught and in everything he did—you know, all that stuff we learned in Sunday School. Jesus was right in his emphasis on loving both God and others, he was right about how we are to relate to money and material things, he was right about the priority we are to give to helping people in need, etc. My next thought was that if everyone in the world did what Jesus taught, what a great world this would be. Then my mind said that could never happen—which led me to the conclusion that even if it didn’t happen, my job was to do my part. That conversation with myself eventually brought me back to church, leading me to the rest of my “herstory” as a pastor and Christian leader.
So you can see why I’m fascinated that Pastor Zahnd has captured my thought as the subject of his book. He tells us that Jesus is the perfect incarnation of God, the living theology (understanding of God) whose example we are to follow and through whom we are to interpret and understand the Bible. To make a point about how misdirected we can become if we don’t focus on Jesus, Pastor Zahnd shares this historical example from the American colonial era:
In 1637 the English colonial leadership in Connecticut sought to launch a war of aggression against the Pequot tribe for the sole purpose of acquiring their cultivated land. … When some of the colonists expressed moral qualms about launching an unprovoked attack on their peaceful neighbors, the matter was referred to their chaplain, the Reverend John Stone. After spending the night in prayer, Reverend Stone “was ‘fully satisfied’ with Mason’s proposal.” At dawn on May 26, 1637, the armed colonists attacked “the main Pequot village at Mystic Lake on the central Connecticut River, killing an estimated 400 to 700 Indians. Most of the dead were women and children… —burned to death in their wigwams as the English slaughtered those who ran.” Captain Mason describes the slaughter in these words: ‘Thus was God seen in the Mount, Crushing his proud Enemies and the Enemies of his People…burning them up in the Fire of his Wrath, and dunging the Ground with their Flesh: It was the LORD’s Doings, and it is marvelous in our Eyes!’
This story leads me to the next piece of news I received this week: The “Nashville Statement on LGBTQ & Transgender Acceptance.” This statement was published with much fanfare by a relatively small group of conservative evangelical leaders on August 29, to reiterate their denouncement of homosexuality. This statement begins by claiming that Western Culture has become “increasingly post-Christian,” and that those who support the LGBTQ community are a part of a “secular spirit” who are drawing away from God. They ask: “Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life?”
This group of conservative leaders lift themselves as having a complete understanding of God and the Bible. But they don’t. The “biblical conviction and clarity” they promote as coming from Jesus comes from them, not Jesus. They want us to believe that every true Christian must accept their viewpoints as the only Godly “way of life.” We don’t. They think they have the exclusive right to tell others what is God’s truth. They don’t. They are no more perfect than other humans, they do not get the final say on how the Bible is to be interpreted or the right to tell us what to believe, and we don’t have to worry about the wrath of God just because we don’t agree with them.
What Jesus says is more important than what these conservative leaders think. Jesus says the highest commandments for us are to love God and to love others as we love ourselves. Defining how we love others as ourselves has to be interpreted both individually and collectively. If your love doesn’t feel like love to me– if it condemns me for what Ibelieve and for how I interpret the Christian way, if it condemns me for disagreeing with you–it’s not real love.
The percentage of persons in the United States who identify themselves as gay, lesbian or transgender is around 3.8%, making them a very small minority (see this Gallup Poll article) They pose no threat to American Christianity. Many in fact are Christians, and many other Christians support them, including me. My interpretation of the Nashville Statement is that The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who wrote it, intend to excoriate and ultimately eradicate the Christian LBGTQ community and their Christian supporters from living peacefully alongside them as Christians. Jesus’ fiercest wrath was against religious leaders who thought—like this Council and like Reverend Stone in 1637—that they had the right to judge and condemn others in the name of God (See Matthew 23). “How can you say to your neighbor,‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:4.
The “Nashville Statement” disparages, tortures, and nails to the cross the LGBTQ Christian community and their Christian supporters. The Christian leaders who wrote it stand before them shouting “crucify them, crucify them.” Who is more like Jesus?