Thursday, March 19, 2015

Billy Graham Did Enormous Damage

Okay, I'll say it.

Billy Graham did enormous damage to American Christianity.

Many of those who "came to Christ" at his "crusades," never came to Jesus the Christ at all, but only to their own fears of hell-fire and damnation. Many, I know, were looking for an out from troubled lives - alcohol, poverty, a lousy job and who-knows what else.

And they came forward in droves, driven in large measure by mass-hysteria, fearfulness and longing.

They joined local churches, many of them led by men (mostly) who were poorly trained, who "knew the Bible" by rote and were able to string together verse-upon-verse to the "delight" of the congregation, while slowly spinning the web of pride (in being saved) and hatred (of the unsaved).

I have no doubt that Billy Graham was a decent sort of a man, but his message was a mess, and those who "came to Christ" via this message laid the foundation for the Right Wing destruction of the American Christianity.

When Hearst told his newspaper chain to "puff Graham," Hearst recognized a religion that could serve his own conservative purposes, and so emerged the strange and now deadly relationship between Capitalism and American Christianity.

Sadly, it was American Christians who were duped and played for fools. Hearst and his capitalist culture trumped everything and won the day, and men like Billy Graham bore the message that America was godly and good, Communism was godless and bad, and that American Capitalism was god's will for the world.

Yes, Graham tore down the rope of racial division at his crusades, but only to give the audience a message that has proved both hollow and tenacious. Hollow for want of a full biblical message, and tenacious because its "true believers" cannot admit how flawed the whole enterprise is (after all, look at the money, look at the buildings - the very things that impressed the disciples when they strolled through Jerusalem with Jesus, and which Jesus dismissed with a snort).

Yes, yes, yes, there was good in it, too, because good shows up in all kinds of places, but clear-headed thinking is needed. The mess we have today has to be studied and its roots discerned if we're ever going to find a way out and help American Christianity recover its mind and heart, the fullness of God's Counsel and the power of Scripture's prophetic message proclaimed by Jesus.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fundamentalism and Capitalism Are in Love

It's impossible to say who's using whom in the strange, if not demonic, alliance between fundamentalist christianity and hyper-conservative capitalism currently carrying such a big stick in our churches and in our national politics.

Each of them, by themselves, is dangerous enough, because both eliminate all ambiguity. For them, "truth" is clear, and clearly in their possession. Questions are not allowed and swift is their punishment of doubters and naysayers.

Together, they represent the very worst of human potential: repression of creativity, restrictions of freedom of thought and choice, mistrust of scientific exploration and education ... and the subsequent elevation and apotheosis of market forces, the reliance upon military means to harness the world and the love of wealth as proof of divine providence.

We live in fateful times, as we witness the coalescence of dangerous impulses, multiplying their effectiveness and threat.

It's happened before, so we know that it can't last. Sooner or later, the human spirit, the divine spirit, mitigates these demonic forces, raises up prophets who shed light upon their evil and call them to account, generates creativity, new choices and the unexpected breakthrough ... sooner or later, history corrects itself, but not without damage and sorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Despising the Poor

Poor people have always been despised by the powerful ... poor people remind the powerful, I suppose, just how lucky they are, and maybe they're just one moment away from losing it all. Poor people also remind the rich of their social responsibility. The rich and the powerful don't like to consider such things, so they run away from reality, buttressing their lives with more and more things to prove to themselves how powerful and good they are, while despising the poor. 
Is it any wonder that Jesus held out very little hope for the rich to enter into the Kingdom of God? And Jesus isn't talking about something beyond death, although that's included, but the here and now. The Kingdom of God is always possible, here and now, not in totality, but in bits and pieces, and sometimes even big pieces, like when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and the Berlin Wall fell. 
With every kindly thought, every good deed, every effort to make life better for another, to make government the means of mercy, to provide good schools and decent jobs - here is the Kingdom of God. All of that, and more, is a part of God's creational intent, a part of God's reign, God's rule over time and history. Right now, yes, we can live in the Kingdom of God when we embrace the life of Christ and follow him in word and deed (here I speak to Christians). But every religious tradition, a reflection of the Spiritual Presence that creates faith, has the same option, the very same possibility.
But the rich fool and his barns, the rich man with Lazarus at his gate, the rich who despised Jesus and collaborated with Rome to kill him, will hear none of this.
It's always been this way, but these days, there's a certain and curious cache to it - what was reserved for drawing rooms and privileged conversation now has become "the American Way," and for many religious people, even a "christian" value.
The rich and the powerful have alchemized something evil into something "good." It's now virtuous, even godly, to despise the poor, to condemn them for their ways, to see them as undeserving, ineligible for even the crumbs of the table.
Something very wrong has emerged in American Culture ... and millions of Christians, bowing down, I suppose, at the altars of Mammon, have fallen into line on this one.
I don't understand how it happened, but I hope that people will awaken, that the Spiritual Presence that gives life will prod and prompt awareness, open eyes, that folks will see the evil, and reach for the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Obama's Faith

That which clearly reveals the strength and reality of Obama's faith is its ambiguity ... the very thing hated by evangelicals, for whom ambiguity is a lack of faith, and for the evangelical, there is nothing more frightening than the possibility of an "uncertain" faith. 

Yet, uncertainty is the essence of our existence, and is the only way of opening doors and keeping them open. 

As for his faith being Christian, there is no doubt about that, whatsoever. His childhood and his adulthood have been shaped by the Christian tradition, it's symbols, it's understanding of history and justice and peace, with the Christ at the center, his cradle and his cross. 

This isn't about dogma, but vision and hope. Sadly, evangelicals are drowning in dogma - and it's sapping their life, creating huge amounts of anger, frustration and judgment of others. 

And, unfortunately, the evangelical definition of faith and Christianity has prevailed in the media and popular, only because the media and America itself has thoroughly dumbed themselves down since the days of Niebuhr and Tillich and Barth and the energies of the Civil Rights Movement with a leader like Martin Luther King, Jr.. This is the rich and deep Christian tradition that shapes Obama, and whatever the outcome may be in the popular imagination, he has done us a great service by disconnecting the Presidency from the deadening and dysfunctional dogma of evangelicalism.


After posting this, I added the following in reply to another comment:

Too many sermons on "true" vs. "pretend" christian have characterized evangelical christianity. And, of course, the great boogeyman of evangelicalism: secularists trying to "work" themselves to heaven ... this kind of "theology" has caused tremendous harm to the American Spirit and is a poor reflection of the Christian Faith, it's Scriptures and the manifold variations on its many themes over the centuries. 

Evangelicalism is a drop in the bucket, and not a very clean drop at that. It's the whole ocean that counts, and finally, everyone of us is in that ocean, an ocean of great love. None are lost; all are found ... and for all of us, it's never easy, and no one can claim a morally or spiritually superior understanding of God or life or faith. 

President Obama is one of a handful of Presidents who truly has a grasp of the Christian Faith in its largest dimensions. And that kind of faith scares the daylights out of evangelicals who have long traded in tiny ideas and restrictive dogma, believing themselves to be "true" christians and the rest of us only "pretend" christians. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Beware the one who says, "after much prayer."



Beware the one who says, "after much prayer."
"Much prayer" guarantees nothing, especially when the "prayer" is cut off from the heart and soul of Scripture, Love God and Neighbor, the prophetic witness against hypocritical prayer (always self-serving while talking about God), the witness of Jesus to all such false prayer, the witness of Paul and the early church reminding new believers that prayer and justice and kindness are intrinsically linked.
Every crime in human history, and then some, has been committed by folks "after much prayer," believing in their own self-appointed holy destiny. 
Women were denied the vote "after much prayer," and later on ordination. Blacks were refused lunch-counter service and their civil rights "after much prayer." 
These days, LGBTQs are denied medical help for an infant, and other such essential rights, by folks who say, "after much prayer." 
To protect such nonsense with "religious freedom" legislation is to make a mockery of both religion and freedom.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Two Systems Locked in Battle

We have two competing systems of thought for how our nation needs to work, to realize its dreams and fulfill the promises of the Declaration of Independence.

One system focuses on wealth, the building of wealth and the protection of wealth - a system that our Founding Mothers and Fathers knew well, a system from which they sought escape, a system they would not repeat here.

The other system focuses on wellbeing, the mutual responsibility we all have for one another, to maximize the benefits of life here and now and provide protection for those who need it, whatever the reason may be, because at the heart of a wellbeing system is generosity without condition and kindness without questions.

In the wealth-system, some do exceedingly well, many struggle, and a few are plunged into misery. The wealth-system is very good at wealth for the few, and poverty, or near-poverty for the many.

The wellbeing system sees to it that everyone enjoys a minimum of good life - wages, benefits, education and retirement. It's a system that produces lots of wealth, but not at the expense of the many.

Right now, these two systems are locked in mortal battle for the soul of our nation.

Huge amounts of wealth are poured into promoting and protecting the wealth system, telling huge lies about how good it will be for all of us once the wealth system is fully in place, everything privatized, and big government replaced by big business. For the time being, the wealth system has prevailed, and we see its fruits clearly: wealth, great wealth, for the few, a shrinking middle class, and the spread of poverty - here and abroad, as America's gigantic wealth-system sucks life out of the world, for that's how wealth-systems function, like parasites.

There are plenty of people right now, people of faith, various philosophies, politicians and professors who see clearly the goodness and power of a wellbeing system, and they labor mightily for America's better day.

The choice is up to us - to buy the lies of the wealth-system and be cheated of life, or to embrace the wellbeing system and share life, abundantly, with one another.

The wellbeing system is biblical, what the prophets envisioned and worked for, what Jesus offers and gave his life to raise up and what the early church practiced. To be faithful to Jesus is to embrace the wellbeing system - wherein the mandates of creation are honored and the goodness of the covenant practiced - wherein the earth is cared for and all creatures honored, and the biblical "trinity of human need," the widow, the orphan and the alien, is welcomed, loved and cared for.

That's how I see it, and to that end, that's how I live.

Monday, January 26, 2015

At the Foot of the Bridge

At the foot of the bridge ...

Been thinking a lot about "Selma" ... after seeing it last night ... and LBJ's remark that the lowest white man in the world is told by the powerful that their whiteness is still better than being black ... and for many a white person in the South, being white was all they had. Poor as dirt, without a voice, but still better than those "colored people."

I think now of the struggle for marriage equality, another civil right ... and those who stand at the foot of the bridge today and say, "You will not enter here."

I don't know how it all works, but for many a "christian," having something or someone beneath them, a sinner damned to hell, or whatever it or who it may be, is sometimes the only  "real" thing they have. Their faith is convoluted and frightening, shouted at them every Sunday, and they know it, but as long as there are "gays and lesbians" who are "terrible in the sight of the LORD," these poor folks at least have their pride and the pleasure of opposing marriage equality and defending the ways of the LORD.

Very sad ... the folks who stood at the foot of the bridge against Martin Luther King, Jr. still stand at the foot of the bridge ... wherever that bridge may be found, and it's found all around the world, in all kinds of places.

People are always marching across it to enlarge the world of hope ... and for reasons unfathomable, there are always folks who stand at the foot of the bridge, with hatred in their eyes, billy clubs and pipes in their hands ... dangerous as hell, and ready to kill.

They are afraid of a phantom, lies told to them by the powerful.

So very sad ... to be so afraid ... at the foot of the bridge.