Flipping through TV channels, I paused on a sincere, yet bizarre religious show where in a matter of moments I heard that the devil is working on perverting our children, that there is absolutely no scientific evidence in support of evolution, that all homosexuals are atheists out to destroy the church (does that mean all atheists are homosexuals???) and that psychologists are pawns of Satan, giving drugs to people to weaken their resolve and make them more susceptible to demonic possession. (Psychologists don’t prescribe drugs, but that’s beside the point…) I was amazed how fast the hosts of this show could cover so many sources of evil and how completely irrational their rants could be. And they were so serious and sincere, gravely discussing how evil spiritual forces are apparently so much stronger than God — because in their world, evil is obviously winning the metaphysical war.
The news from recent months (and years) doesn’t offer a much brighter picture. Enthusiastic Christians have been responsible for the deaths of gays, abortion doctors, Muslims (and mis-identified Hindus and Jews), and classmates in public schools and colleges. As the economy tanked, gun sales increased among Christians as well as non-Christians. I have been personally criticized for promoting not only the study of science, but the study of the Bible as well. Christians burn books — Harry Potter gives off an especially satisfying heat — and petition libraries to ban “offensive” material. Racism and sexism are very much alive within Christian circles, and xenophobia dominates many congregations. Many Christians still want to teach creationism and its poor cousin, intelligent design, in public school classrooms.
Modern day proponents of prayer teach that we can control the weather, our health, our leaders, and our survival by faith. There are websites that teach Christians how to avoid severe storms through prayer, to destroy the demons that cause cancer through prayer, and even divert killer asteroids through prayer. More Christians than ever believe in ghosts and in angels who disguise themselves (apparently as Roma Downey and Della Reese) and dwell among us. The prosperity gospel is alive and well, as people unabashedly pray for material wealth and possessions. There are a number of pastors who encourage their followers to pray for the death of world leaders — including Barack Obama.
Is it any wonder that Christianity as a worldview is coming under such attack from atheists and cultural critics? I mean, come on, we’re making it too easy. I wish all these examples were of other denominations — that we could claim the high road and say, “well, at least United Methodists aren’t like that…” but unfortunately we are. UM brothers and sisters have written to me about things I have put on the blog to warn me that I am going to hell, that I am a blasphemer and a spawn of Satan, that I am a lover of sin and sinners, and that my punishment will be VERY severe. The fact that I believe mercy, love, justice, kindness and forgiveness should be extended to all of God’s children is seen as heretical and damning. The fact that I believe God gave us our intellects as divine gifts, and that science is one result of these gifts is seen as sacrilege. My desire to see a planet governed by civility, decency, tolerance, equality and peace is somehow deemed hateful and petty. And, oh yeah, my endorsement of universal healthcare and global security makes me a perverse and hateful liberal. Do I sound bitter? I’m really just confused. How did up become down and right become left (or left become wrong)? How can so much venom and bile be accepted and tolerated by people who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ? How can privileged upper-middle class white men and women sit in a television studio and pass judgement on anyone and everyone who disagrees with their narrow view? (and who am I to pass judgement on them…?)
I wonder, if we are so lucky to survive another thousand years, what future residents of planet earth will make of the early 21st century? Will this be seen as a time of amazing progress and innovation, of radical change and advancement — or will it be seen as a dark age, a time of short-sightedness, fear, anxiety, and lack of vision and leadership? Surely we have come a long way since the last dark age, but just how much light defines our enlightenment? When our world is fraught with war and violence, greed and injustice, fear and distrust and widespread cynicism, it is hard to feel that we have come very far at all.
We are a people redeemed by love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. We are so fortunate. We should be so grateful that all of our thoughts, words and deeds should express joy, relief, appreciation, humility and a desire to pass it on. The church should be able to rise above its critics — to give people absolutely no reason to charge us with hypocrisy and deceit. We need to get focused on the higher things — on those fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, justice, mercy, and humility — that can truly save the world. We are a people committed to transformation, but our transformation should be to something better, something nobler, and something more beautiful than we already are. It breaks my heart when Christians witness to hate, fear, violence, and destruction. I am always confused by Christians who seem to ascribe so much more power to the devil and to evil than to God. I guess I just can’t understand why anyone would choose to wallow in the acid and poison and bile of judgment over the cleansing, living water of grace that we have received through Jesus Christ.