Christianity

Why Does Jesus Have to Be Such a Lousy Role Model?

By Derek Penwell

WWJD? If you read the Gospels, apparently not much that would please the Family Research Council.

Given the pressing social concerns about the “war on Christmas” and the first amendment travesty visited upon America's evangelical wedding cake industry, Jesus’ regard for the poor and oppressed seems laughably myopic.

I mean, if you believe that you’ve been put on this earth to skulk about pointing out everyone else’s sins, Jesus doesn’t set a very good example. Oh sure, he cracks on the self-righteous and the hypocrites, but usually because he feels a moral responsibility to shine a light on the self-satisfied, those who seem way too pleased that they’re “not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like [the] tax-collector” (Luke 18:11).

Interesting that Jesus not only doesn’t feel the need to scour the countryside in search of people to condemn—for fear that surely someone’s ruining the fabric of “traditional society”—but, ironically, he seems to find those who are most publicly religious (that is, the folks who do scour the countryside in search of people to condemn) the folks most in need of a good verbal smack down.[1]

So, if you believe your Christian mission centers on identifying sinners to steer clear of, Jesus is a really crappy role model. If you think that the demands of Christian purity require you to shine a bright light on the those people the church ought to be busy hanging scarlet letters on, then Jesus is bound to be a disappointment to you.

At this point, someone will surely object, “But we’re just calling attention to sinful behavior. We don’t hate the sinners, just the sin. What we’re doing is actually the loving thing to do. We love them; but we have a responsibility to make sure that they change.”

But let’s just be honest—when some group utters “love the sinner/hate the sin,” everybody knows they’re only talking about LGBTQ people. (Frankly, I don’t think being LGBTQ is a sin, and I don’t like the phrase. But if you’re going to wield it against someone you don’t approve of, at least try to be consistent.)

Franklin Graham wouldn’t advocate keeping rich people, for example, from full participation in the life and ministry of the church—in anticipation that they’ll, you know, renounce that which prevents their tricked-out camels from fitting through the eye of the needle.

I’m pretty sure Tony Perkins isn’t launching any campaigns meant to publicize the socially corrosive sin of anger evinced by road-ragers who terrorize rush hour traffic, proudly displaying their “Jesus” fish and their “God is my co-pilot” bumper stickers.

Jerry Falwell Jr. isn't leading the charge against hypocrisy, calling out the white-washed sepulcher lobby who claim to follow Jesus, but who still embrace violence, selfishness, and deceit in their political leaders.

The truth of it is, we’re extremely parochial about the “Biblical” sins by which we’re determined to be aggrieved.

My suspicion is that “love the sinner/hate the sin” language operates practically as a convenient mechanism by which one can appear morally superior to those whose sins most offend one’s particular sensibilities—all for the purposes of public consumption.

But the specificity with which we apply “love the sinner/hate the sin” bothers me. I guess my question would be: Have you actually talked to someone who’s been “loved” to death by all this concern for the particular sin of being LGBTQ? Young people are killing themselves from this kind of “love.”

Yeah, Jesus is a lousy example if what you care about are the sins that vex much of popular Christianity. In fact, not only didn’t Jesus make it his mission to fish about for people to be offended by, he sought out the people that most of the rest of polite society saw as offensive, and then proceeded to go to the bar with them.[2]

So, Jesus is exactly the wrong guy to appeal to as the inspiration for a 21st century version of the personal morality police.

And it’s kind of sad, really. For a large segment of Christianity, Jesus’ lack of moralistic rigor cannot but appear embarrassing.

On the other hand, if you want to pattern your life after a person who befriended the folks who always seem to get picked last in the game of life, Jesus works perfectly as a role model.


  1. See, for example, Matthew 23—a chapter dedicated to calling out religious pretension.  ↩
  2. See Matthew 11:19.  ↩

Mental Health and Ministry

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

At the recent Regional Assembly of the Christian Church in Virginia, there was an Interest Group titled “No, I’m Not Crazy!” Affirming Those with Mental Health Issues.  It was the Interest Group I decided to attend.  Not because I thought I needed to learn how to affirm others, but because I wanted to feel affirmed.  Throughout my adult life, I have waged a battle with depression.  I know the struggle that comes with feeling thoroughly overwhelmed in mind, body and soul by what seems like nearly insurmountable sadness.  I understand what it is like to be nearly paralyzed by the weight of the darkness that engulfs someone suffering from severe depression.  My battle with this form of mental illness has been costly in my life.  I believe it was a contributing factor to the end of my first marriage.  In addition, some colleagues could not understand the depth of my depression and thought I just needed to “snap out of it.”  When I couldn’t do that, they decided I was not someone they should have in their life.  The words I heard was that “I bring them down.”  Also, at one point, I had to take a year away from ministry.  The depression had reached a point that I lost my voice to preach; my own sense of being spiritually lost made it very difficult to lead others in the journey of faith.

                After the workshop, I went up to our Regional Minister, Lee Parker, and told him I was grateful for the church’s willingness to address this important matter.  I also shared with him about my own personal battle with depression, along with a couple of articles I had written about my experience.  He called the next day, after having read the articles, and asked if I would write something for the Virginia Christian about ministry with those who have mental illness.  The question for me became, do I write about my own journey or do I give some practical advice about how to be present with others who are going through this painful experience.  I decided that sharing about my own personal struggle with depression was of primary importance because it would help to pull back the stigma and cover of secrecy that all too often accompanies mental illness.   Out of fear of being judged by others, those suffering from mental illness often try to hide their struggles which can lead to an even deeper private pain and a further sense of isolation.  In my life I have become keenly aware that if I am to overcome this illness I have to be willing to address it head on and I need the support of friends and family who are willing to walk with me.

These are a few things I have learned in my journey.  Though there will always be some people “who just don’t get it” there are others who will have an understanding and compassionate response - some of them precisely because it is their battle as well.   I need to surround myself with such people when the darkness is deep.  In my last period of a depressed state, it was the companionship of some former church members, a couple of friends from my seminary days, the presence of my children, and the tenacious love of my sister that brought light to me.  Though loneliness was a struggle during that time, I was never completely alone.  They walked with me and in their presence I felt the presence of God.  For that I am grateful.  I have also learned that with my form of depression the complex relationship between genetics and environment is not clear.  Both play a role in my illness.  So both medicines and talk therapy are vitally important in helping me maintain a sense of well-being.  In addition, one reason I am able to face my illness directly, is because I will not allow it to become the defining characteristic of who I am.  Though my depression has gripped me fiercely at times, I live an abundantly fulfilled life.  I love to laugh and spend time with my children.  I enjoy exercise and running road races.  I love the work I do as pastor.  Congregational leadership has again become life giving to me.  Reading the book, Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness, allowed me to see that my own battle with depression does not by any means disqualify me from leadership.  In fact, for my life as a pastor, it has helped me to become a more compassionate and understanding person.   And though I lost some relationships because of my struggles, the door has opened for other relationships to begin.  Again, I am grateful.

I will not live in fear and silence when it comes to the fact that I have a form of mental illness.  As some people’s journey consists of diabetes or Crohn’s disease or cancer and they must undergo medical treatment and receive various kinds of support, so does my illness require the same. I also hope that my willingness to share openly about my situation will help to show others who have similar battles that they are not alone.  They need not fear what others might think or believe that they should not ask for help.  The journey toward wholeness and well-being is a journey all human beings are on.  It can, at times, be a difficult journey, but it is one that can lead to a full life if embraced with a courageous and honest spirit, an abiding faith and a community of support. 

 

A Story of Forgiveness: A Chapter From The Relationship With My Father

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

The only story any of us can truly tell is our own . . . and yet all our stories are part of another’s story. The chapters of our lives are chapters in the lives of others as well. This is my story of how I learned about forgiveness.  It involves the story of my father and his father also.  My grandfather died two years before I was born. I tell it so it might become part of your story.  Most of us have a chapter or two from our lives that involve forgiveness.  Or at least we should. Maybe this will help you write yours.

My father was an alcoholic.  During the years that I and my siblings were at home, Dad drank on a regular and excessive basis.  The alcohol was a true demon for him.  It brought out anger, cruelty and bitterness.  There were many a night that our home was filled with voices yelling and threats being made.  Once, when I was seven years old, I remember my teenage brother and my Dad screaming at each other and a butcher knife being held in my brother’s hand. I buried my child’s head in the couch.  I do not remember how it all was resolved. I do remember the sound of the yelling, the smell of the liquor, the rage in the eyes, the hot air as I cried into the couch, and the knife.

We were all hesitant to have friends over because we didn’t know what kind of shape Dad would be in.  If it was not a good day for Dad, it was not a good day for anyone.  There were nights after work when he didn’t come home, nights when his entire paycheck was lost on drink and losing at the pool table.   It was only many years later that I realized how hard all this was for my mom.

As you can imagine, Dad’s alcoholism affected our family in numerous ways – the efforts to keep it hidden from others, the inability of our family to ever deal with it directly or in a healthy way, the guilt and shame that comes to nearly everyone who lives in a house where unaddressed addiction is a dominant member of the family.  Four of us grew up in that home where indeed love and faith were present, but also deep human brokenness that evidenced itself through drunken anger and cruelty.  Each of us have had to deal with it in our own way. 

I know I had a deep sense of anger at my father for many years, and some of those years we barely spoke.  I spent many hours in a therapist’s office dealing with the dynamics of my family and the shame, guilt and depression that arose in my life, at least in part, because of those dynamics.  But there came a precise moment when I began to understand things differently and see my father in a new way.  It was not a moment that came from the wise counsel offered in a therapist’s office.  It was a moment that came at our family’s kitchen table and the words that changed things were spoken by Dad.

It was the summer of 1989.  It was an especially difficult year for my family that involved divorce, tragic death, and bouts with severe depression.  The moment came on a warm July evening.  Late one night, I found Dad crying at the kitchen table.  His forehead held in the palm of his hands.  We started talking about all that was happening in our family and in the midst of the conversation, Dad said to me – what prompted it I do not remember -  “When I came back from the war my father told me he wished I had been killed so he could have gotten the government money.”  Then Dad just cried, and cried and cried.  I sat there completely stunned as he got up from the table and headed back to his bedroom.  Dad’s tears that night were about all that was happening to our family, but they were also about the painful and horrible words spoken to him more than forty years earlier.

The next day, I asked my mom if Dad had ever shared that with her.  She said no.  None of my siblings had heard it either.  It had lived painfully within him for all those decades.  He kept it a secret within himself.  Like many young men in that time, Dad came home a hero from WWII.  A chest full of medals including two bronze stars.  But when he got home his father said, “I wish you were dead, so I could have the money.” In that moment at the kitchen table I learned why there was a whiskey bottle in the garage, and why that drink released such bitterness and anger in my father.   It is simply true, hurting people often hurt others.  Learning of my father’s own emotional pain, brought on by the words spoken to him by his own father, helped me to understand Dad differently.  It helped me to forgive him in a way that all the hours of counseling never made possible.  And I think it helped Dad to speak of his pain, because it was about that time that he quit drinking and for the last twelve years of his life, he never touched a drop of alcohol again. 

As we live the stories that are our lives and our chapters become interwoven with the chapters of others, there are often aspects of someone else’s story that we do not know.  Maybe things they have buried so deeply that they themselves do not talk about them, but those things still affect how they live.   A note to this story is to tell you, that I bear no ill will toward my grandfather for what he said to my father.  Chilling words whose impact was profound on my family.  As I said, my grandfather died two years before I was born.  All I can do is wonder about what terrible thing happened in his life that caused him to say such a horrible thing to his son.

As you encounter people whose ways are painful to others, there is likely a story that you do not know.  It doesn’t excuse their behavior.  It doesn’t make their behavior okay.  But knowing that there might be a story that you are unaware of, it can help you to understand.  It helps you to be slow to your own anger.  It can help you to break the cycle of blame and guilt and infliction of hurt that we continue in too many of relationships.  It helps you to have grace. Understanding that you don’t know all the chapters of anyone’s story, well, it can help you to forgive.

Forgiveness has the power to free both the one forgiven and the one who forgives.  I came to love my father deeply and knew his great love for me and for all of his family.  I came to have deep admiration for the courage he showed in his victory over the demons that haunted him for so many years.  After he stopped drinking, the kind and gentle man that we had seen glimpses of over the years, shined through beautifully.  We spent many hours after that fishing together and laughing and telling stories to one another.  But we never mentioned again that night at the kitchen table and what was said there or forty years before. I think we both knew nothing else needed to be said about that night.  That chapter in our lives had the end that it needed to have.

So much of what I understand about grace, forgiveness and love are not the result of study in a seminary classroom or from the works of the great theologians. They are lessons learned from the brokenness and the healing, often painful, of our lives.  I suppose it is the only way we really learn.                 

America Can Be Great, But Not "Again"

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

One of the candidates for the office of the President of the United States has used as his official campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”  If you want you can go to his official website and buy a baseball cap with that phrase on it.  Depending on which hat you pick it will set you back anywhere from $3.03 to $25.00.  Of course, you have to pay for shipping and handling too.  Once you buy that hat, you can wear it and promote the idea that America has a former period of greatness that we just need to rediscover.   As for me, even though I love baseball caps because they hide my baldness, I am going to keep my money in my pocket.  And not because I think this candidate has more than enough sources of income already, but because the word “again” is just not something I can buy into.

I have learned over the course of my life that history is always interpreted from the perspective of those who have power.  And the idea that our nation has a former period of greatness which we just have to rediscover comes from the perspective of white male privilege and the desire to hold onto that power.  I am fairly certain if we were to ask some other groups to identify when our period of national greatness was, we would be met with silence.  If we were to ask the Native American population this question about America’s greatness, they might refer instead to the ravaging of the land they hold sacred, the many treaties that have been broken, the genocidal Trail of Tears on which many of their ancestors died.   The mistreatment of Native Americans continues today as the current battle over the oil pipeline in North Dakota shows.  The proposed pipeline will go through a sacred burial ground and also has the potential of devastating local water supplies.  Can you imagine the uproar if a pipeline was planned to run through Arlington National cemetery?  Centuries of our violence and broken promises to Native Americans continues even in our day, as peaceful pipeline protestors were met with attack dogs and pepper spray.  Or what about our African-American citizens?  Is there any period of our history that they want to return to because it was great for them.  Was it the brutal days of slavery when they were held in human bondage?  The humiliating days of Jim Crow laws? The time not too long ago, within my lifetime, when beatings and lynchings still happened without fear of punishment for those white men who perpetrated such atrocities?  Is there an American past that African-Americans want to rediscover because of its greatness?  When it comes to these two groups of people American greatness is not something to be found “again.”  As a former United States President once said about the American treatment of these two groups of people:

What we have done with the American Indian is in its way as bad as what we imposed on the Negroes. We took a proud and independent race and virtually destroyed them. We have to find ways to bring them back into decent lives in this country.

We could mention other shortcomings of greatness as well.  The fact that women weren’t allowed to vote until almost 150 years after the United States began.  The children who filled the coal mines and textile mills for meager wages while the owners gained further wealth. The internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.  Our nation’s greatness is not something that lies behind us, except in the minds of those who want to disregard the full history of our nation as they seek to hold onto the power that they feel slipping from their grasp.

If there is a greatness to our nation it is found not in any historical period, it is to be found in the idea of our freedoms which allow us to have a voice about what is wrong with our nation and the opportunity to work and correct it.  Our hoped for greatness lies in continually striving after the foundational idea that “all men are created equal and possess certain unalienable rights given by the Creator – among these rights being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  When Thomas Jefferson penned those words, he could not have known that 250 years later we are imagining a fullness to his words that he never even dreamt of.  Originally those words meant that only white male, land owners were equal and had certain rights.  Our possible greatness lies in our continual work to expand our understanding that human equality and rights exist for all people. 

As a person of faith in America it is the striving after a greatness that lies before us and is inclusive of all people, that my faith and my patriotism can work together.  Every week when I stand behind the communion table and invite people to share in the meal of bread and cup, I say that the Lord’s Supper is for everyone, that all people are welcome.  As an American I believe that equality and God-given rights are for all people – all genders, all colors, all creeds, all sexual orientations, all educational levels – everyone gets to be included in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Our national greatness doesn’t lie in our past.  It is not something that can be discovered “again.” It lies in our ideas of freedom and equality for all.  Ideas that we have never completely lived out, and at times we have quite shamefully failed them.  Yet, the ideas of freedom and equality are something we can always strive toward and work for.  Any greatness that the United States of America might attain is yet before us.  So may we work ever harder toward fulfilling the great idea of a more just and inclusive nation for all

"Epipen Outrage: Unbridled Greed and The American Health Care System"

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”  I Timothy 6:10

The cost of drugs is something that I have been keenly aware of for more than a decade now.  In fifth grade, my daughter, Michele, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Over time and trial, it was determined that the best option for Michele was drug therapy which would be given through an infusion every two months.   The drug would not cure her illness, but it would treat her symptoms and hopefully allow her to stay in remission.  We are grateful that drug has done its work and Michele has been able to live in the most comfortable way possible with her illness.  Over the years, she has had approximately sixty such treatments. The charged cost of the medicine to treat her illness over this time is about $750,000.  That doesn’t include the doctor or hospital bills, the charges for the use of the infusion center room and the other medical supplies that have to be used during her infusions.  Just the main medicine has come at a cost of about $75,000 a year.  I am extremely grateful of the relief that this medicine gives to my daughter and for the doctors who cared for her and recommended this course of treatment.  The care given to her has been exemplary and the outcome for us could not be better.

I also know that my family has been one of the better provided for when it comes to caring for someone with a chronic illness.  In addition to having major medical insurance, there was rebate program for the medicine provider in which we could take part and we did.  Still, even with the insurance and the rebate program, because of deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses, and pharmaceutical co-pays, Michele’s medical bills averaged between $400 and $500 a month.  It was a significant percentage of a pastor’s salary.  Again, my family was fortunate.  Some members of the church I was serving for much of that time helped us cover those monthly expenses. For that gift I will always be grateful. Like, I said my family has been one of the better provided for when it comes to medical care for someone with a chronic illness.

My own journey through medical costs came to mind this week when I heard that from 2009 to 2016, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, maker of the Epipen has raised the price of this medicine, which can be life-saving for those with certain allergies, by more than 400 percent. In 2009, a two-pack Epipen cost $100 and now that same product costs $600.  A vial of the medicine, Epinephrine, can be bought on the open world market for about one dollar.  Appearing before congress, Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch, said that the price increase was not the fault of Mylan, but America’s health care system.

Bresch argued that a lack of transparency in the complex health care system -- with bigger cuts for everyone along the supply chain -- "incentivizes higher prices" in the industry. She pointed out that copays and deductibles are on the rise, too. (CNN, August 25, 2016)

As she passed off the buck of responsibility to “the system,” I honestly found her words hard to swallow since the 400 percent rise in the cost of a life-saving drug coincided with a 671% rise in HER compensation package.  During the same period of time, her compensation rose from $2,453,456 to $18,931,068. (Chicago Tribune, August 25, 2016)  I do not think there is a coincidence here.  While some families dealing with life threatening allergic reactions, were having to decide what they could cut from their budget so they could afford this potentially life-saving medication, she was personally profiting to the tune of $17,000,000.  I do not have trouble calling such profiteering evil.  It is done at the extreme expense of others, even possibly the expense of someone’s life. 

I believe one of the primary problems with the medical system in America is simple greed or as the author of I Timothy writes, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  The greed of pharmaceutical and insurance companies, is destroying the idea that health and well-being is a basic human right in which all people deserve quality care.  Leaders of such companies lack a moral compass when they can accept millions of dollars in increases while people struggle to afford the medicines that they provide.  Last year, another pharmaceutical CEO, J. Michael Pearson of Valeant, said that the company’s primary responsibility was to the shareholders.  He did not mention those who might benefit from the use of his company’s drugs.  His concern was profit margin alone – not care for the sick (US Uncut, October 2015.)

Such unbridled greed has cost much damage in our nation.  Not only does it lead many families to have to make decisions between medicines and some of life’s other necessities such as food and clothing, it has also led to many families being virtually destroyed financially.  The number one cause of personal bankruptcies in America is medical expenses which accounts for about 62% of all bankruptcies.  And, 72% of such bankruptcies from medical expense are even filed by people who do have some type of medical insurance. (The Huffington Post, March 24, 2015).

There is much discussion in the current political debate about health care and most of it centers on the Affordable Care Act and the prospect of universal health care and the sky-rocketing cost of medical care.    I believe the church has an important role to play in this conversation.  We can speak out for those who live on the edges and who fall through the cracks when it comes to being humanely cared for.  We can also dare to speak about the greed which is driving too much of our current system, calling greed what it is – evil.  In addition, we can speak up about the social and moral responsibility companies and corporations need to have.  This, I believe, is our Christian responsibility.  To work for a more just and equitable world.  Quality health care is a right for all and not just a privilege for those who can afford it.

I am glad my daughter is well and I owe lot to all those who make her health possible.  I want to work for a world where we are not just the fortunate ones, but a world where everyone has the same kind of fortunes we have been given.

 

But I Say to You

By Rev. Joseph Pusateri

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28, NRSV).

I have been hearing a horrifying thing a lot lately.

Since the rise of Donald Trump’s popularity in the GOP primary race, a significant number of people have been saying in the media (and to me personally): “He’s saying what we are thinking, but afraid to say because of political correctness.”  Now what is horrifying to me is that I had no idea there were so many people with outright hatred and contempt for Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, the Chinese, Democrats, Republican rivals and whoever else has inspired Mr. Trump’s wrath.  Now, I treasure political diversity in our community.  I think it is a gift that we have conservative, liberal and independent people in our congregations and neighborhoods.  I have no desire to tell people how to vote and I think that to do so—especially as a minister—is distasteful and inappropriate.  But it is nothing short of sinful for anyone—especially a disciple of the crucified Jesus—to remain silent about a disturbing phenomenon in this country in the 21st century.

I can think of no plainer way to say it: Jesus commands us to love God and each other, especially those we consider our enemies.  Period, amen.  Whether you believe that larger or smaller government, far-reaching or less intrusive foreign policy, progressive, regressive, flat, low, high or no taxes are better for a self-governing democratic republic as the United States of America strives to be, wonderful.  That is your right and I encourage you to exercise it and engage in a robust and civil debate on how we shape a more perfect union.  But bigotry, xenophobia, religious, gender, racial, orientation or ability-based discrimination is uncivil, sinful, demonic, wrong, evil, un-American and un-Christian.  Even for the Christian who believes only she/he and people exactly like them are going to heaven, and that everyone else is going to hell, is not justified by a single word Jesus ever speaks in scripture to treat anyone on the planet with anything other than love, even to the point of giving one’s life.  Which is, by the way, exactly what Jesus did for people—even those (and especially those) who hated him. 

This is why I do not like so-called political correctness: it hides who the bigots are.  If there are lots of people who hate immigrants, women or people of other races, by God I think we should know who they are.  It gives us a more accurate picture of reality and the work we need to do to repair deep wounds in the social body.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes through a litany of “You have heard it said… But I say to you,” phrases, which inform us of the high moral standard Jesus expects us to abide by if we are to be faithful.  He says, “You have heard it said that you should not murder.  I say to you, don’t even have hatred in your heart.”  In other words, of course we shouldn’t murder people, but if we are all wanting to kill each other and simply not doing so in order to be compliant to the law, so what?  What God is after is your heart.  Don’t hate people.  At all.  That’s what God wants.  And if you don’t hate anyone, not murdering people takes care of itself.  The same goes with lust.  Let’s not wear out our arms patting ourselves on the back for not committing adultery.  Big deal.  The point of God’s intention for faithful, human behavior is to not have lust.  When lust is absent, adultery does not happen as a by-product.  

What has been called “political correctness,” or the rules about what you can/should say or not say about other people is like what Jesus calls the law.  But if we want a civil and prosperous society, the rules about speech (like adherence to the letter of the law) are not the point.  We shouldn’t have bigotry in our hearts.  Imagine Jesus saying, “You have heard it said ‘do not say the n-word.’  But I say to you, love black people like you love your own family.”  The horrifying perversion of this is what we are seeing right now.  People who have been resenting the politically correct instruction not to slur Muslims, immigrants and minorities are celebrating the right to hate openly.  That would be like the people Jesus was preaching to only hearing the first part of the teaching on murder:  “What did you say Jesus?  The old murder law is out?  Great!  Because I can’t wait to kill some people.”

We have a lot of work to do.  Whether Mr. Trump becomes the president or not, the lid has been torn off and what was festering underneath is not pretty.  To be fair, I love Trump supporters.  I really do.  I love them because they are human beings, my neighbors, and God’s kids.  I think most of their grievances are legitimate and deserve to be heard.  But because we have stifled sane, civil dialogue across boundary lines, this horrifying spectacle is the result.  I am pleading with those of you who follow Jesus, to help lead this community, nation and world to a place where the law of love might bind us together.

Power Can Be A Big Problem

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

The problem, in my mind, is the abuse of power.  Now let me tell you what I am talking about. Over the past several years, I have spent a large amount of time reading about what has been called “The New Atheism” and its critique on religious faith.  Having grown in popularity after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this movement points to the 9-11 attacks as an example of the evil that can be done in the name of religious faith.  That is often followed with a longer list of historical events in which evil has been done by religious believers - the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem Witch trials, etc.  The number of books that have been written criticizing the philosophical underpinnings of the New Atheism, along with their near complete blindness concerning the benefits of religious faith on culture (criticism that has even come from fellow atheists) is no small number.  These books often point out, accurately, that some of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century were perpetrated by governments committed to an atheistic philosophy - Stalin and the USSR, Pol Pot and Khamer Rouge,  Mao and the PRC, Kim Sung II and the DPRK, etc. 

Now, my reason for citing these examples of the evil committed by certain atheistic regimes is not for the purpose of “tit-for-tat.”  It is not a “right back at you” moment; not a “Yeah, but look at what you did” kind of thing.   Honestly, I think those of us who claim religious faith need to listen with a discerning ear to those who have claims against us.  And though I have many philosophical disagreements with the current atheist movement, I will grant them this truth, there have been times when evil, even great evil, has been done by those of religious faith. There has been evil that has been done in the name of God.  That is a painful reality, but it is the truth, and we who have faith should own it.  It is by no means the whole story of religious faith, but it is as a part of the story.  But those of no religious faith have the same problem.  Great evil has been done by those with a purely materialistic worldview.  Apparently, evil makes for strange bedfellows.

So when it comes to the human capacity for cruelty, the issue of religion or non-religion does not seem to be the necessary factor.  As I look at this matter, it is the presence of power, and its abuse, that is the common characteristic.  Every human community has some kind of structure of power.  In regard to political structures, power is the possession of control or command over others.  I heard a famous American politician once say, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”  Power becomes the precursor to evil when it is used to impose one’s worldview or one’s will on others.  In explanation of the evil done by the atheistic regimes, Bo Jinn offers this critique, “The governing ideology behind every one of these [acts], . . . involved the proposition that there was no power greater than their own.”    I would add that for the times when evil has been done in the name of religion, it has occurred because those in power felt empowered by God to maintain orthodoxy or to purge away what they considered evil.  

For those of us who are Christian, it was our Lord who reminded us that power is something that we should be suspicious of.  Two of his disciples once asked him to sit on his right and on his left when he came into his kingdom. Which means they wanted to sit in seats of power. To this request Jesus replied:

You know that the rulers of Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your  servant. . . .  Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. 

Our understanding of power is to be different.  It is not about the imposition of our way of life on others through the strength of force.  It is about the sharing of our way of life through acts of service and commitment to the common good.  It is not the love of power that motivates us; it is the power of love that moves us to act.  Dr. King said it this way:

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands for justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

For both people of faith and people of no faith, the issue of power and how it is used is of utmost importance.  We must always ask ourselves, what principles, ideas and beliefs are behind the use of whatever power we have been given.  As can be seen, we are all more than capable of using power to achieve the wrong end.  Which means we also have the capability of using power for the right end—a more just and compassionate world.  It is within our power to make the right choice.    

 

Bo Jinn, "Illogical Atheism: A Comprehensive Response to the Contemporary Freethinker From A Lapsed Agnostic"