The New Split in Christianity

Image result for northern ireland conflict
Northern Ireland 1970

Christianity has had its share of historical ugliness when it comes to defining and defending the faith. From Catholic priests offering indulgences for those who could afford them to the violence and death between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, including the U.S., Protestantism arose as the Bible became more broadly available through the printing press, so that those outside the grasp of Rome could discover for themselves God’s instructions to humanity.

The ruling class slowly evolved to support protestantism, in part, because good works and deeds within its evangelical mandate took a back seat to one’s faith, which is an open door for mischief through claims of righteousness. Those brave souls who moved across the sea to tame the wilderness known today as America carried the evangelical message with them, a license to destroy the beliefs and lifestyles of the native population in the name of saving them. It was no accident that they also brought with them the business acumen of those from their fatherlands.

And so, the gap between the two forms of Christianity widened, one emphasizing the holiness of this life on earth, the other offering a prize in the afterlife. The Apostle James wrote that faith without works is dead, but Luther called the book of James “the epistle of straw”, thus enabling societal growth as the real higher power in the works of man.

Today, there’s a new and growing split between forms of the protestant faith, one that is seen and discussed in only a very few places. The political power and wealth of the white evangelicals has replaced the hand-to-hand combat that is the war on poverty as the primary mission of the church.

To be sure, the evangelicals have their answer to poverty, which is to emulate its leaders, because “God is no respecter of persons” and what they’ve been given is available to everyone. It’s warmly presented as “Give a man a fish, and you’ve fed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” This, of course, presupposes an equal playing field for all and the natural resources for everybody to be rich. This is quite impossible, even though “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”

A supporter gestures at the press as Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Cincinnati

The Language of Zion forms an important narrative for these faithful people, for there is nothing so absolute as to end all discussion than a good Bible verse or summarizing metaphor in secret-handshake language that only its practitioners understand. These believers point to what they view as the sexual sins of the culture as the great enemy of theirs and especially their children. This is another assumed license they’ve been given to practice their brand of Christianity despite what the Bible actually says.

The best illustration of this is found in the 16th chapter of book of Ezekiel where God tells the prophet to tell Jerusalem how displeased He was with them. In the 15th verse, God tells Jerusalem, “But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.” To God, the comparison is valid, and if you’re looking for Bible verses about sexual misconduct, look no further than this chapter. For 48 verses the prophet rages on about the wickedness of their sin, and then he makes this remarkable observation:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

So, while Christians today rail on about homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenders, and other forms of what are called “queer,” God is concerned only with the love in their hearts for the poor and needy.

Another example of this is found in the book of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called to prophesy God’s unhappiness with King Shallum, the son of righteous King Josiah. Under Josiah, the land had prospered and all was well, but Shallum hadn’t walked in his father’s ways and had fully slipped into sin by reinserting pagan beliefs into the culture. In referring to Josiah, Jeremiah offers this word of God to Shallum that justifies removing him from the throne:

“Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place…

…“Woe to him (Shallum) who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. ‘Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord. ‘But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.’”

Image result for poor and needy

God’s message to humanity is to care for the poor and needy, and not through the laziness assumed in teaching a man to fish, and this brings us back to the current split in Protestantism. It’s not going to end well for those who remove themselves from this core mandate of the faith, and that’s not me saying so; it’s directly from God’s word to humankind.

Gospel preachers who fly around in private jets to spread their form of prosperity are the modern-day Shallums and Sodoms, and it’s their followers who will suffer most in the final analysis. The splitting within Christianity today is along the grain and will not be joined back together with only glue, and God’s forgiveness is not absolute, despite the redemptive power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

During his ministry, Jesus warned everywhere of the deceptions that plagued humanity. He asked the Pharisees to consider the words of the prophet Hosea to the unrighteous:

“…I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth, and My judgments go forth like lightning. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Let me close with a few rhetorical questions. How does your religion feel about the destruction of our planet in the name of profit for the rich? How does your faith reconcile borrowing two trillion dollars to give to the rich in the name of a tax cut, while demanding that everybody else pay for it? How does your faith explain its beliefs about protecting the unborn without pleading the cause of those already born? How does your religion rationalize spreading its legs for the wicked while denying the needs and desires of those immigrants seeking the very freedoms we enjoy?

These and other questions are what is tearing Christianity apart in this century. Behavior today is the only issue that matters, despite the promise of Heaven to those who beg forgiveness at the end of a life of greed and avarice. That is the great deception of today, and I fear for those brothers and sisters who will not be held blameless for their support of such ungodliness.

NOTE: All Bible verses from the New International Version (NIV)

An open letter to certain Facebook “Christians”

Christianity is changingThe President has been re-elected, and it’s time to put aside your good intentions and inspect your behavior of late. May I?

You and those who lead you have spent the last year in vile character assassinations (a form of murder, but who knew?) in an attempt to convince me (and other “friends”) of the righteousness of your worldview. To those of us who’ve had to endure this bombardment, the relentless hostility of the cartoons, clever images and commentary came off as a haughty justification of your superiority by painting your political enemy as something less than human. This is called “demonizing,” something that your spiritual taproot probably condemns.

I cannot count the number of times I came across the theme “I’m a Christian; I’m voting for Romney,” spoken with certainty, as if a vote for “that other man” was a vote for evil personified. I’m serious. It was that bad. And this thought did not originate with you; you were simply parroting what others inside your bubble were saying. What is it about politics that turns a certain group of Christians into ignorant, raving maniacs?

If your God needs you to participate in the process in this manner then, I’m sorry, but you need a bigger God!

The latest report from the PEW Forum on Religion & Public Life a few weeks ago has many loud messages for those who have ears to hear. Here are three specific findings.

  • The numbers of people who say they are unaffiliated with any religion jumped to almost one in five (19.6%), and those are more likely younger adults.
  • Protestantism fell below the 50% threshold for the first time. Just 48% of Americans call themselves Protestants today, down 5% in just one year. This Protestant decline goes back many years, which leads us to the third finding.
  • When the unaffiliateds were asked for their views about religious institutions, 70% said such institutions are too interested in money and power; focus too much on rules; and are too involved in politics.

So let’s summarize: Protestant Christianity is not only in a significant decline, but it’s pushing its future out the door by an overemphasis on money, power, rules and politics.

The problem, according to Pew, is that the flock sees through these behaviors and is pulling away, and as Stephen Covey once wrote, “You can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into.”

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

Because I used to live inside this bubble myself, I know the automatic retort — that an increasingly immoral culture is trying to pull you into the gutter with it, and that voting in “righteous” representatives is your duty as citizens. Let me repeat, you need a bigger God. When in history has “the culture” not tried to pull you into the abyss? No, it’s not the culture; it’s your reaction.

It’s my prayer that over the next four years, you’ll begin the important journey of reading the work of those outside your bubble, because the reflection from inside your dwelling place has blinded you, or at least colored your view of truth. I’m as Bible-aware as any of you, but I’ve matured over the years and am now influenced by many other people, views and philosophies. The view from here is much more inclusive but not any easier, and I don’t find any evidence either of a world that’s conveniently just black or white. If it were so, life would be so much simpler. The gray confounds, but that’s where you’ll find God’s spirit most at work.

In the postmodern era about which I write (which some call “postChristian”), the days of automatic, lock-step, Caucasian hierarchical acceptance are on the wane. God in the postmodern world is a participatory god, God, the Holy Spirit, and He is not concerned with a specific “type” of human being only.

If history is any judge, it’s very likely there will be revivals of religion in the 21st Century. Don’t count on them to look like those from the past, however, because the past has, well, passed.

And let’s all consider the old admonition, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”