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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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President Obama

Defending a Liberal from a Bible-Wielding Bully

I’ll admit it right up front – I consider myself to be a moderate. There are some areas where conservatives get it right. There are other areas where liberals get it right. It’s foolish to think that either side gets it 100% right or wrong.

But one thing that really gets my blood boiling is when a person one side seeks to tarnish (or completely strip away) the salvation of an opponent on the other side. This was just the case this week as conservative blogger Matt WalshMatt Walsh wrote a piece partially titled: It’s Incredibly Obvious That Barack Obama Isn’t a Christian.

While Mr. Walsh and I probably agree on a great many things politically, ethically, and morally, I disagree with his admitted attack on President Obama’s Christianity. I have two fundamental problems with Mr. Walsh’s attack piece. First, the beginning part of the article is superfluous and unnecessary. Mr. Walsh let’s loose with a long list of grievances that show the President’s lack of Christian faith:

– he’s part of a radical heretical sect called Black Liberation Theology
– he attacked religious freedom in America
– he “aided and abetted” persecutors of Christians overseas
– he supports same-sex marriage
– he’s dishonest
– he exploits racial tensions
– he’s generally corrupt and unwaveringly narcissistic

Mr. Walsh invokes Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:16

You will know them by their fruit

It’s quite possible that nobody ever told Mr. Walsh that reading a Bible verse requires seeing the surrounding verses as well for context. In Matthew 7:15-16 Jesus actually says:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.

Do you see it there? Jesus is talking about judging and gauging prophets. He’s not talking about politicians. While there may be a general life principle about watching a person’s behavior to know who and what they are, we mustn’t tweak Jesus’s words to fit our agendas.

Then, admitting that his entire list is irrelevant, Mr. Walsh says:

He could theoretically be all those things and still be a Christian.

So there is no biblical support to back up the initial accusations. They do not stand as proof of a false Christian faith. The real issue, what Mr. Walsh is really getting to, is his intense loathing for President Obama based on Mr. Obama’s stance on abortion.

Leave all of that aside, then. The thing above all else that really reveals his true faith (or lack thereof) is his undying passion for, support of, and belief in abortion.

Mr. Walsh then unleashes a plethora of articles and facts illustrating Mr. Obama’s stance on abortion.

Plethora

Here comes my second fundamental problem with Mr. Walsh’s article. He misuses the Bible again to support his point (c’mon, this blog is about the Bible, of course that’s going to be the issue here).

Mr. Walsh “quotes” the Bible and adds his own commentary:

If anyone causes harm to these little ones, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Did you catch that? Can we all take a moment to let that one sink in (no pun intended)? You would be better off dead than harming a child. It would be wiser to literally drown in the ocean than do anything that would bring harm, whether physical or spiritual, to a child. That’s God talking. Do we think He was joking? Exaggerating? Just blowing off steam? Does he need to calm down and be reasonable, as pro-lifers are constantly told when they make statements not nearly as strident and damning?

No. This was a direct statement. A command. A promise. When you bring harm to the innocent, you commit a sin so terrible that physical death would be preferable.

Mr. Walsh is creating his own meaning to Jesus’s words. No – it goes beyond that. Mr. Walsh is putting words in Jesus’s mouth. I looked at Mark 9 in 15 different Bible versions – including my Greek New Testament, the New International Version, the King James Version, The English Standard Version, the Holman Christian Standard, heck, even the Message! I didn’t see Mr. Walsh’s version anywhere.

Because it doesn’t exist.

After Jesus’s disciples have an issue with an outsider doing exorcisms in Jesus’s name, Jesus says, “Do not forbid him…. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble….”

Jesus is NOT talking about hurting children. He’s talking about Christian behavior damaging the faith of other believers.

It is dishonest (perhaps unintentionally) to use this passage to promote a pro-life agenda, AND I SAY THIS AS A PRO-LIFE SUPPORTER. Jesus gave no direct statement, command, or promise about abortion or hurting children. Abortion existed thousands of years ago but there was still no direct command against it.

I personally believe that a high view of human life being created in the image of God should lead people away from abortion, but don’t put words in Jesus’s mouth.

So let’s get down to brass tacks. The Bible DOES talk about faith and salvation.

Peter preaches, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

A jailer asks Paul, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul answers, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

We’re never called to hold to certain political positions in order to be saved. It’s about faith in Jesus. That means that, though we may not like it, there is a WIDE variety of people and political ideologies that still fall under the umbrella of Christianity.

We may not like a person’s position. We may feel that they are downright wrong. But we don’t have the ability to revoke someone’s salvation because they differ from us on issues. C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity
that we don’t have the ability to say a person is or isn’t a Christian. We are not the judge of hearts. All we can say is that a person’s behavior doesn’t seem to align with what we think Christian behavior ought to be (forgive the paraphrase, I can’t find the exact reference right now).

I am pro-life.

I will not destroy the salvation of someone who disagrees with me, even though I personally believe that abortion destroys the human created in God’s image. Even on the big issues, salvation is still about Jesus. That’s it. The closer we walk with Jesus the more our morals and values will align with his, but we’re all in different places in our spiritual growth and development.

In the end, I’ll let God determine whose faith is authentic and who is merely faking it.

That’s kind of his job anyways – not mine.

_ _ _ _ _

I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Eradicate: Blotting Out God in America – A Review

ERADICATE (Front Cover)

It’s a normal desire to want to live in a place where people share your values. It’s a normal part of humanity to see your culture and way of life as normative and everything outside the norm as a problem to be fixed. This is the basic premise of David Fiorazo’s Eradicate: Blotting Out God in America.

David Fiorazo
David Fiorazo

I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review of the book. Even though I was reading to write a review I was anticipating reading. As a moderate Evangelical Christian pastor and a Chaplain in the United States Army Reserve the idea of a society that is slowly taking God out of the picture disturbs me. My hope was that this book could provide a vision for the way ahead – showing Christians how to move forward in the culture in which we live and live as people of faith in a world that does not share that faith.

Alas, this was not what happened.

From the outset, Fiorazo confuses patriotism with faith. He is what I have termed an “Americhristian” – someone who believes that being a citizen of God’s kingdom and a citizen of the USA are one and the same. When that confusions takes place, we place nationalism on the same plane is faith. What the author desires is not necessarily Christian, but conservative American values that may or may not necessarily be Christian. Time and again he reveals his cultural bias. In the introduction he states:

“In spite of all its failures, America is still the greatest, most exceptional demonstration of faith, family, and freedom in the world.”

Such a statement is cultural bias, not fact. If God is the God of all nations then the emphasis of faith should be living, to appropriate the Bible, as strangers in a strange land. All Fiorazo does is call people back to conservative ideology. His talking points are the same you can hear daily from Rush Limbaugh or Mike Gallagher. His primary areas of concern:

1. Education
2. Planned Parenthood / Abortion
3. President Obama
4. The Media
5. Any form of Christian faith that isn’t old-school Christianity

Regarding education, Fiorazo is not an educator. He’s a media personality. He offers no curricular evidence when he talks about modern students learning “a much different history than you and I once learned in public schools.” He offers no data to verify what he says when he claims, “Parents studied the Bible and took its application seriously.” As a pastor I can tell you that I have not seen the overwhelming majority of ANY generation study the Bible and teach it to their kids. In the end, Fiorazo is merely upset that modern education pushes all of the things he is bothered by, including: environmentalism, illegal immigration, man-caused global warming, social justice, and the Democratic Party (pg. 31). He never stops to consider the possibility that one can be a faithful Christian and support environmentalism or be a Democrat. As I said, he’s confusing faith with politics.
Fiorazo’s chapter on Planned Parenthood and abortion is actually one of his better chapters. He takes an historical look at the development of the organization and its fight for abortion and the pro-choice position.

Then the author returns to his political attacks and writes on President Obama. His thoughts are nothing new and reflect what most in the conservative right already believe – that Mr. Obama is not a Christian and is working to undermine Christianity in America. One of the problems of this book is its dated material. Written before the election, Fiorazo talks about the upcoming election between Obama and Romney and urges people to vote for Romney. Ironically, while he rails against the “unchristian” Obama, he never really touches on the fact that Romney is not a Christian. Again we see politics coming into play above faith. It’s really not a faith issue for the conservative right. Has it ever been?

Fiorazo spends a good deal of time talking about corruption and bias in the media. “We must understand some news outlets are definitely biased, and we need to listen, read, and watch!” (pg. 131). He never addresses the fact that conservative outlets are just as biased as liberal outlets. HE throws around the same pejorative language as Limbaugh and Gallagher, referring to media “elites.” He brings up the media’s love for Mr. Obama, proving once again that his real concern is political, not spiritual.

At the end of the book, Fiorazo rails against any form of faith that does not conform to his understanding of traditional conservative values. He brings up the Emerging Church, New Age, Oprah, Yoga, multiculturalism, contemplative prayer, and every other issue that is seen as a hot-topic issue for the conservative right.

When all is said and done, Eradicate: Blotting Out God in America is more about political ideology than it is about faith and spirituality in culture. You will not find any content that is unique and cannot be heard every day from conservative talking heads.

It is merely the battle cry of conservative Republicans.

You can find the book on Amazon from author David Fiorazo.

My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black

Family - Christmas 2012

I’m a White man married to a Black woman. Actually, she’s only 65% Black. She wanted a DNA test for our anniversary and, being the romantic that I am, I got it for her. So we know that 65% of her DNA traces itself to Sub-Saharan Africa.

But the DNA test also shows that 29.8% of her DNA traces back to European descent. It was a shock for her. She sat looking at the test results for minutes with her mouth agape, processing the information. When I asked her a question she stopped me and said, “Give me a minute – I’m having revelations here!” Nowhere in her personal sense of identity and self did she imagine that such a large chunk of her DNA was European. But the world in which we live doesn’t give a hoot. You see – she’ll always be Black here in America.

So here we are; a White man and a (partially) Black woman. And we had the audacity to bring children into the world. So what are they? Seriously – how would you classify them? They’re 65% European and 33% Black. Do you classify them as White kids or Black kids? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking You, the reader. How do you label them?

We choose not to label them. They’re just our kids. To them, skin color is merely a description of their outward appearance – right now it plays no part in their sense of ethnicity and heritage. They only know that Daddy’s side of the family is “peach” and Momma’s side of the family is (mostly) “Brown.” Descriptively, they see themselves more on the peach side than the brown side. If you were to listen in on my daughter talking about family you would hear her describe herself as “peach.” They don’t have any vested interest or history in skin tone and identity. But the rest of the world does.

I find it odd that parts of the world, even parts of our community in the good ol’ U.S. of A., label my kids based on their parents rather than on themselves. For a Thanksgiving project my daughter’s class colored paper Pilgrims. Everyone in the class got a peach pilgrim to color. Not my daughter. She was given a brown Pilgrim. There was no malice involved. There was an assumption made because my child has a brown parent. She was classified as brown. It tore her up, not because she has an aversion to brown skin but because she wanted a Pilgrim that she thought reflected herself – one that matched her own sense of identity. Even well-meaning people in our church have described our kids as brown, not realizing that they have a different self-image.

I will pause here to admit that I’m getting angry and choked up as I write this. These are my kids we’re talking about – my babies – and the idea of people making them feel “other than” tears my heart out and makes the protective parent in me LIVID.

I’m not writing this because I have a problem with brown-skinned people. I don’t have a problem if my kids decide they want to identify with my wife’s side of the family and their “brown” heritage. It’s part of who they are. One day they’ll understand that better and we can have open discussions about identity and ethnicity. I think that would be wonderful.

No, I’m writing this because it seems that our country recently has lost its ever-loving-mind when it comes to race relations. The Zimmerman/Martin incident in Florida only highlights already existing tensions.

The original incident, the trial & verdict, and the national response show that there is still a racial rift in this country. Recently, President Obama made a statement that was, in my opinion, an attempt show solidarity with a grieving Black community and to help enlighten an unknowing White community.

I have seen and heard a lot of outrage at the President’s remarks. I have seen some ugly behavior and some terrible words thrown around. In my opinion (and that’s what you get – remember…my blog) the President was not making any statement as to the guilt or innocence of Martin or Zimmerman. The heart of his message, as a Black man, was:

“I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Years of slavery and abuse, yielding to discrimination and abuse, yielding to a façade of equality, have given the Black community a unique filter through which it interprets events. It’s a filter that lends it a sense of identity and purpose. When White America waves a dismissive hand and says, “It’s not about race” we are saying that our interpretation of who you are and what things mean matters more than your interpretation of who you are and what things mean. It’s an exaggerated scale of what happened with my daughter’s Pilgrim. My lens is better than your lens.

It does no good to tell someone that the lens through which they see and interpret events is wrong. It’s their lens. You have your own. A better conversation is to say, “I want to understand your lens and paradigm and then want to share with you about my lens and paradigm.” It’s hard to do – we all believe that our own lens is the best lens, the only correct lens. But sometimes our lenses get smudged and dirty and could stand being wiped off. It’s the only way to move forward.

As it stands there is too much of an Us vs. Them attitude when it comes to race relations. We focus on the “other than” instead of focusing on the unifying and uniting elements. Here’s the thing – In God’s Kingdom, there is no such thing as “Us and Them.” We’re all part of the community of faith. It doesn’t matter what your ethnic background is, for our faith transcends ethnicity. This isn’t a concept limited to the New Testament. It’s also found in the Old Testament. God tells Israel:

You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells a story of how the Apostle Peter acted differently towards Gentile Christians than he did towards Jewish Christians. Paul called him out and Peter repented.

We’re in a situation today where many people seem to prefer to exercise their politics before their faith. White and Black alike play the “race card” on each other. Neither side is exempt or immune. We certainly fail to treat each other like equals with the same privileges. We certainly don’t love the “other” like we love ourselves.

It’s time to change. We don’t have to continue down this path. We can turn around. We can work to see things through the lens of the other and help the other to see through our lens. We can work on finding common ground. We can work on true equality – which really only seems to come from God (humanity has a grand ability to botch things up). We can love others the same as we love ourselves.

So be careful how you talk to people. Be careful how you talk about people. Words have power, and you can use them to build or destroy. I firmly believe that God would prefer us to build. So watch what you say. When you speak, say it in love. And whatever you do, watch how you treat my kids.

They don’t know they’re black.

Related Posts:
~ Reflections on Race from a Mixed-Race Couple

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