By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
If God is all powerful, all good and in control of all things, why is there so much evil in the world? Has God blessed us or damned us? If we believe Jesus, God offers to bless us with the transforming and reconciling spiritual power of His love; but our materialistic and hedonistic culture indicates we have rejected God’s blessings and damned ourselves to human depravity.
Unlike the ancients of biblical times who had no control over their politics and attributed their fate to God, Americans have been blessed--or cursed--with democracy. We are masters of our political destiny. In Luke’s Beatitudes, Jesus taught that God blesses the poor and weak and damns the rich and powerful (Luke 6:20-26). Where does that leave us?
Throughout history God’s prophets have challenged humankind’s propensity for moral depravity, but the lure of wealth and power has made us deaf to God’s call to altruism. The church has not helped. In seeking popularity and worldly power, the church has subordinated the universal and reconciling teachings of Jesus to exclusivist and divisive religious doctrines.
That is evident in exclusivist church doctrines on the crucifixion and resurrection. It is understandable that Paul explained the crucifixion and resurrection as God’s atonement since blood sacrifice was the primary means of atonement for ancient Jews. But we should know better. The crucifixion was not God’s doing. It was an obscene act of human depravity.
If Christians were to reject the atonement doctrine and understand the resurrection as God’s affirmation that the teachings of Jesus were God’s Word (Logos)--a Word that will never die--then the emphasis of the Christian religion would be to follow Jesus as the Word of God, as taught by Jesus, rather than to worship Jesus as the alter ego of God, as taught by the church.
The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions. It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and an altruistic moral standard that can balance our individual wants and rights with the need to provide for the common good.
That moral imperative is essential to a healthy democracy, but it has been corrupted by worldly power since Constantine co-opted the church to sanctify his rule. Throughout history the church has been complicit with the divine right to rule that enabled many authoritarian regimes to oppose God’s will to reconcile and redeem humankind with Satan’s will to divide and conquer.
In the 20th century Christian evangelical leaders established an unholy alliance with big business, and they have promoted radical right politics with a toxic Christianity that opposes the altruistic teachings of Jesus. Recently one of those evangelical leaders, Jerry Falwell, Jr., described Donald Trump, as a “good moral person” chosen by God to be our president.
Falwell has tweeted that “Conservatives and Christians need to stop electing ‘nice guys.’ ...The U.S. needs street fighters like Donald Trump at every level of government.” The majority of white Christians who elected Trump illustrate the lack of Christian stewardship in American politics. They have made American democracy seem more like a curse than a blessing.
Jesus emphasized the need for leaders to be servants of all (Mark 9:35; 10:41-44). Perhaps there’s no place in our democracy today for politicians who are true servants--after all, “nice guys” finish last in politics. Does that reflect God’s will or Satan’s will? Who has damned us with deplorable politics? As Pogo once said: We have met the enemy and it is us.
The toxic Christianity exemplified by Jerry Falwell, president of Liberty University, and many influential evangelical leaders who preach the same message, is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus but pervasive among white Christians in America; and it has gained popularity under the Trump administration. See https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/21/evangelical-christians-trump-liberty-university-jerry-falwell?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other.
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(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
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