As advice columnist Ann Landers used to say, it’s time for all of you “I want my theocracy, and I want it now!” folks to wake up and smell the coffee. I’ve more than had my fill of hearing you say it’s time to put God back in the public schools, and in the public square, and that we should make God an active mover and shaker in our national legislative process. As I listen to your screeds, or read the stuff that comes from your annoyingly cute FW: emails, I get the notion that you believe the God who created all that is, seen and unseen, has been tossed out of our society like some unruly drunk might be tossed from a bar. Sorry, people, but if you’ll just look at the the God revealed by your Bible, you’ll find that God is much too big to be tossed out of any aspect of our existence. Even when you try to limit God with patriarchal male pronouns, or by using the Bible as your inerrant crutch, God nevertheless remains bigger, more mysterious, and beyond any sense of control you might wish to impose.
You need to wake up and realize how much you’ve been used by people who know how to name-drop God’s name so that they can get you to do their bidding, thereby making themselves much more rich and powerful at your expense. The most glaring examples in recent times have been people like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, theocrats Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and most anyone that led, served in or was appointed by the Bush Administration.
You also need to wake up and realize that the LaHaye/Jenkins update on 19th century millenialist Darbyism–you know, your beloved “Left Behind” library–is little more than unbiblical, lame-assed fiction. It reads mostly as if it was written by a third-rate romance novelist who suffered one of those strokes that leaves a person moody and irritable. Instead of writing about a world in which the mysterious love of God is at work within and without the lives of people to redeem, renew and restore, this stroked-out fiction prefers to dwell in a world where Angry Jehovah kicks things off with a catastrophic and horrific event called the Rapture. Here is why I would say such a thing about this event that I know you hold so near and dear to your hearts:
I spoke with one of you on the morning of 9-11, 2001, soon after the first tower collapsed. She was the leading community pastor of the largest church in a small, rural farming town. She was also the president of the local ministerial alliance, and she was calling to suggest we postpone the alliance’s annual picnic scheduled that evening. We talked about the eerie, unfathomable events still unfolding on the TV screen; how two planes could so unthinkably smash into these Twin Towers and explode, how another plane was said to have crashed in PA, how another was said to have hit the Pentagon. Somehow the talk veered to Israel, where the Intifada had broken out after Ariel Sharon had put on a show at the temple mount with scores of heavily armed, black-shirted security. At some point, this woman said, “Isn’t it all exciting?” Exciting???!!! I’ll never forget the high energy level in her voice that day. It was like she had been waiting for Santa Claus to come, and finally he was on his way. This, with the smoke billowing from the tower yet to fall, along with the early reports telling us that as many as 25-30 thousand people might have been there that day. Her words came through the phone like a slaughterhouse stunning hammer. I could do nothing but quickly conclude the call, and then set about the many tasks of organizing an evening prayer service that might help people deal with this unfolding national tragedy. Later, after someone had “kindly” lent me their dog-eared copy of the first installment of the Left Behind series, I discovered the place from whence this woman had gained such enthusiasm about 9-11. You see, your whole LaHaye/Jenkins Rapture theology kicks off with God (Pissed-off Jehovah) bringing about the Rapture for all the really, really good people. The people Left Behind are instantly left as passengers on planes without pilots, on trains without engineers, in cars without drivers. So planes crash into buildings, cars careen out of control, trains don’t stop. There is catastrophic horror visited upon the people who don’t measure up to being whisked away by the Rapture. Merry f**king Christmas! Isn’t it exciting?
I’ve got news for you. There is a catastrophic horror of our own collective making that is presently unfolding while you eagerly bury your heads like ostriches in your Rapture religion. I’d call it Global Warming, but that would just send you back into your ostrich-hole squawking, “That Al Gore is a two-faced liar!” That’s why polite society has tried to mollify you and pacify you with the seemingly more amenable term, “Climate Change.” But Global Warming is what the scientists tell us we’re already experiencing. I know; you’re convinced these scientists are just Godless tools of the Anti-Christ. Science is bad, unless it’s warped into the Creationism you call Intelligent Design. To you, any real science ought to be championed by Bible-believing scientists who’ve got a pocket version of the King James stuffed in their lab coats.
Guess what? Just because you want it to be science, and want it really badly, doesn’t make it science. And the real science tells us we are already in Global Warming. We probably have passed the tipping point that would allow us to reverse these changes anytime soon, and we have an amazingly short amount of time to stave off the prospect of future tourism to New York, Florida, Houston and Los Angeles consisting of chartered, underwater dives. But you really don’t give a rat’s hindquarters about all that, do you, what with the federal government wanting to restrict what lightbulbs you can use and what toilets you can flush. You’re worried about all those “Obamunists” at work to undercut the foundations of the Mom-Apple Pie-Chevrolet America you have embroidered on your pillows and on your walls. And you keep listening to and following the people who would lead us all into the great sausage grinder, while the sausage makers sing their songs of fear-mongering, fundamentalist xenophobia.
Guess what? You’ve enabled and lauded the launch of a modern Crusade against the Muslims, and your annointed leader has said that the Iraq invasion was necessary to wipe out God’s enemies, Gog and Magog. The result, though you hate to look at it, has been a body count upwards of 3 quarters of a million people. Lots and lots and lots of innocent men, women and children, slaughtered during the initial invasion and slaughtered even more in the resulting chamber of horrors wrought by this blind dedication to giving Iraqis a taste of our Mom-Apple Pie-Chevrolet notions of freedom. Though you’d just rather hang with those official government casualty counts offered by the Department of Defense, wouldn’t you? That is one area of the federal government that you seem more than willing to offer your unquestioning trust and your unwavering support.
Now the sausage makers have whipped you up into a banshee-like frenzy over the issues surrounding healthcare reform. Of course, you couldn’t be bothered with the issues, or the details, or those little things we call rational discourse and civil debate. Those big-ol’-bills are just too ponderous to actually read, much less digest in ways that form cogent ideas in favor of, or in opposition to the proposed legislation. So you adopt what is familiar territory when it comes to public expression and show up to town hall meetings like you would to a hockey game. There is an opponent to be jeered, screamed at, intimidated, and beaten. And you are just the people to do it, aren’t you?
Wake up and smell the coffee. Mom-Apple Pie-Chevrolet America hasn’t been the real America for a while, if indeed it ever was. Chevrolet is in the crapper. The apple pie is now store-bought and mass-produced and laden with the processed foods and preservatives that send us to the doctor or to the hospital. And mom? Well, mom’s gotten old and debilitated and a bit too “Alzheimery” to keep at home any more. So the kids begin to pressure dad to divorce the old gal, so as to put her in the state-of-the art Alzheimer’s facility without actually having to pay for it. Because if you’re good at playing shell games with retirement funds and other assets, and make mom newly-divorced and destitute on paper, why you can get the federal government to pick up the whole whopping tab on mom’s care without having to pay a cent. Now that’s the sort of socialism that you can appreciate, isn’t it? Shame on you.
My final bone to pick with you all has to do with the way you interfere with my vocation as a Christian pastor. Part of my job is to share the good news of the message brought by Jesus and handed on to the apostles. It’s a great message, full of hope, and tantalizing in its possibilities as well as its paradoxes. It’s a message that reveals God as much more than some pissed-off, angry old man upstairs. It says nothing about a deity who wants to love everyone, but whose divine hands are tied by an ultimate law of righteousness, thus dooming many “unbelievers” to the eternal fires of punishment. Notice how I put “unbelievers” in quotation marks. It’s because you might want to spend a little bit more time on the notion of what it means to truly believe in Jesus as God’s Son. Belief leads to actions that reflect the nature of the belief. I see very little in your actions that suggest a belief in the teachings and life of Jesus, much less his death and resurrection. Oh, you talk a good game. Until the sausage makers whip you into a right-to-life frenzy over some comatose, brain-dead woman whose autopsy reveals that part of her brain had liquified long before you began your passionate crusade to “save” her life. I see not one inkling of awareness or belief in the Jesus of Easter in such behavior. And there’s nary a notion about living life and promoting life according to the teachings of the one you say is your Lord and Master. Of course, we all have a long way to go in that regard, of conforming our lives to the life and teachings of Jesus. It’s freakin’ hard to do in the world we live in. It’s easier instead to find a suitable ostrich hole, one that is Rapture-sized. It’s easier to try and live life like you’re a spectator at a sports event, where there are the good people to cheer for and the bad people to scream at. It’s easier not to wrestle with the glaring, paradoxical complexities bundled into the books that have been stitched together to make up the bigger book we call the Bible. But that is what we’re called to do if we are people who feel called to grow in faith, hope and love. And as St. Paul reminds us, the greatest of these is love. God is love, says the writer of 1 John. Jesus says he showed up because God loves the world, and in Him we find that we are all members of an unimaginably huge family, a blood family united by the blood of Jesus, who offers to be our Christ, the Way out of the path that leads to the sausage grinder.
But back to that interference in my vocation thing. Whenever I speak with someone outside Christianity looking in, they rarely- if ever- see the aspects of Christianity I’ve just lifted up. Instead, they assume we’re all fundamentalists, that we’re all narrow-minded, judgmental, and warped people. And it’s because of the brand of Christianity they see playing out on the main stage, your brand of Christianity. You must stop this, if you are to avoid what our Lord says comes to those who would be stumbling blocks to others coming to faith. You are Millstoners, the whole lot of you.
Wake up and smell the coffee.