Jesus’ Unbelievable Message

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Jesus’ unbelievable message. But have Christians made it believable? Critics contend that Christianity and in particular Calvinism promotes tribalism and tribalistic[1] behavior. 

In her January 11th New York Times Op-ed, The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage [2], Katherine Stewart asserts that the fight against Pelagianism [3] morphed into the right of Christians as the divine stewards of society [4]. She does not place the root of rage in Josh Hawley, fellow Republicans or a Republican party ideology but with a Christian call to steward society.

From her point of view, the Christian message is a “neo-medieval vision.” She warns, “Unless we find a way to address these forces and the fundamental pathologies that drive them, then next month or next year we will be forced to contend with a new and perhaps more successful version of Mr. Hawley.”

The question is whether the rage of Josh Hawley and Republicans is legitimately fed by their faith in Christ. Ms. Stewart mentions teachings from Calvin and Kuyper as potential reasons why they pursue control. Could the root of rage in Republicans be in losing their grip on control?

Her charge is better aimed at the North American church choosing domination over transformation. The Doctrine of Discovery [5] and, with it, Manifest Destiny [6] quickly moved the church wayward toward efficient domination and subjugation of society.

The cross [7], a symbol of death to sinful self, became a symbol of pride for tribal identity. An identity threatened by evil spiritual beings and evil non-tribal members. The cross was a comfort to most believers, but also a tool of fear for non-tribal members. 

The predominantly Eurocentric church conspired in proclaiming another gospel. A form of modern day Kinism, this gospel designated its tribal members as the humanity over and against others designated as subhuman.

As a moral authority, it legitimized dismissing the Bible’s creation story of everyone created in the image of God and instead proclaimed the creation of a human species and subhuman species. White Christians widely held belief in their own superiority.

Lawmakers enacted laws like the “one-drop rule”—also known as hypodescent—dating to 1662 in Virginia. As recently as 1985, a Louisiana court ruled that a woman with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother could not identify herself as “white” on her passport (One-drop rule’ persists - Harvard Gazette, Dec. 2010).

The Jim Crow Laws enacted right after enactment of the 13th Amendment in 1865 flourished to protect and enforce the superiority of Eurocentric church members. The laws also served to punish any and all who would challenge their position. The last of the Jim Crow Laws were removed in the1965 and 1968 (Jim Crow Laws: Definition, Facts & Timeline - HISTORY). 

But the gravity of the sin has not been acknowledged in the hearts of most believers. Identity in the cross has opened to include members of other tribes, but it has not become a place for repenting from racism.

Christians will never transform the world without putting to death the device and divisiveness of racism. It is a sin unlike gluttony, lust, or greed in that it is tribalistic. It allows for sins like lying, stealing, rape, and murder against others in the name of dominion. 

The good news is Christ. His unbelievable message transforms people from every tribe and nation into His holy nation [8]. Christ’s good news is a call and empowering a life worthy of the calling to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 

A few suggestions I hope you find helpful:

  1. On a personal level explore the sin of commission and omission in regard to racism. The jokes, innuendos, or attitudes that come out are just the tip of an iceberg. Seek transformation in this area first. Pay attention to the bodily discomfort or emotional responses that are difficult to name when dealing with people outside your group. David sought the Lord about the hidden things in his heart and the Lord delivered him. Intervene when you hear others being treated or addressed in a manner that does not honor them as created in the image of God.
  2. Listen and do not dismiss when people share experiences of racism. People need to have someone who will understand them. The best experience is of mutual benefit and learning. 
  3. Seek and celebrate the Lord’s reign and crucify the need to be dominant. Have faith, hope, and love.
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Thank you for this, Rudy. Appreciate the suggestions you added as well. 

Thanks for this article, it is time that we acknowledge the church's complicity in the toxic atmosphere in which we are living. I think you were right to point out the threatened need for control as fueling some of the rage we are seeing. It relates to a misuse of power for selfish gain rather than for the flourishing of others. If we are following Christ, the way we use power should follow his way. The suggestions above are good ones to begin personal reflection, understanding and Christ-like transformation. We also have to understand that sin is not only individual, it has infiltrated and poisoned our institutions and organizations. As Christians, and as the Church, we need to consider how we can become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

I live in W. Michigan and am "represented" by a Republican in the US House of Representatives. I believe that in this moment, we must let our voices be heard and help speak truth to those in power. Here is what I wrote to my representative yesterday:

Today my granddaughter (one of six) turns 5 years old. A Facetime call with her and family living in SD was delightful. Then I started reading the news, which made me wonder what kind of world she would grow up in. I am alarmed by what I’m reading, not only about the violent extremists in our country, but about the Republicans who support them. Now is the perfect time for the Republican party to find a moral compass (and a backbone) and distance itself from the worst part of Trumpism, the violence and the deception of white supremacy among other deceptions. Instead, after a bit of hope, as Republicans began to denounce the violent insurrection on January 6, and as donors pulled back donations from those who promoted the lie about an unfair election; it seems that now Republicans have crawled back to embrace Trump and his brand of extremism. I believe this is not only unwise – the majority of Americans condemn it, and long to see government working again for the people – it’s also very, very dangerous. We saw on January 6 how dangerous it can be! Please don’t forget that we came very close to a bloodbath in our nation’s capital! We must not embolden extremists seeking to overturn a free and fair election who are willing to use violence as a means to their ends! I hope that we can agree about that. Now is the time to find your conscience and uphold the constitutional oath that you swore to the nation and to the people who elected you to serve. Now is the time to distance yourself from the ugliness of white supremacy and violent extremism and begin governing our nation. I am watching, and the whole world is watching. I’m begging you to do the right thing, our future depends on it.

Thank you, Rudy. You bring up many good points, one being the gravity of the sin of racism and our refusal to acknowledge it.  Racism has been called our country's "original sin" because much of North American Christianity was complicit in perpetrating the Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, American exceptionalism, genocide, slavery, and Jim Crow. 

The Church is still divided and too often silent not only about our past racism, but also the brutalizing inequities that continue to this day.  The Bible clearly teaches that each person is created in God's image and given equal agency to care for the earth and love each other.  Racism damages all people's understanding of our God-given identities- People of color are wounded daily by overt and disguised messages saying, "You are worth less than...", while white people receive the insidiously ruinous message, "You are worth more than...".  

I believe that those messages, reinforced for generations, have traumatized all of us in ways that make racism a uniquely difficult sin to face, especially for white people.  This generational trauma may be why we white folks often react to talk of racism with desperation to escape any hint of the label "racist", even when we publicly confess that we are "sinners." This hyper-individualized defensiveness goes hand in hand with our blindness to entrenched systemic inequity that benefits us.   I have been humbled by the many People of color whose persistent and vulnerable truth-telling stories have been gradually eroding my heart of stone that was taught to protest, "But that happened long ago....I didn't own any...We have laws now....Now it's reversed!...I worked hard....Racism is ignorance and hate, I'm woke and I love everyone.....I don't see color....I have friends..."  

All those protestations can be summed up by the Luke 18:9-14 story of the one who prays, "God thank you that I am not like other people, like this sinner (racist) here."  The other dude simply says, "God have mercy on me, a sinner (racist)."  Jesus says he is the one justified by God.    

God have mercy on me, in the mess of my sin, my racism..our country's sin, our country's racism, our church's sin, our church's racism. Thank you Jesus- death has been swallowed up in victory. The gospel invites us to follow Jesus and join God's work of "Shalom-ing"- renewing all things, including the Imago Dei in each of us, and the healing of all relationships and systems.  Thanks be to God.

 

Thanks Rudy.  
Pray you and your family are well and that you may be passing through Chicago for a visit soon.