Even though I live in Canada, I am in the Minneapolis media market for American television, and thus the George Floyd story has been front and centre on my television possibly moreso than most because of where I live.
For the three or four of you who are unaware of the story, George Floyd was an African-American resident of Minneapolis who was arrested after a store-owner’s complaint that Floyd attempted to use a counterfeit bill to pay for purchases. During the arrest, the white officers responding the the case pressed Floyd on the street and pressed their knee to his neck, which was determined to be the primary cause of death. This highlighted the abuse that African-Americans and other minorities in the United States (and indeed other countries) face when being arrested by police officers which are usually white and kicked off protests across the country to highlight this.
On my television (as I said, some of the broadcast channels including many of the major networks, are based in Minneapolis in my area), I’ve seen glowing tributes to the man: voice against gun violence, caring father, recent victim of job loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and star football player. But the Internet, being what it is, brought up other information on Floyd that they were quick to share wherever they could: prior convicted felon, current drug user, and former “porn star”. (Note, the last link is a relatively SFW newspaper story out of South Africa that mentions that he performed in a porn video, not a link to the video itself.) “Why,” they say, “are you idolizing this man when he’s done so much wrong in his life? This is not a role model and only serves to cheapen the cause holding him up as a role model!”
So let’s, as this blog always does, look to see what God says about this. The linked articles above do show that George Floyd was not some perfect person. He has sinned. And the wages of sin is death. So his killing is justified! Right?
“You shall not kill” – God (Exodus 20:13)
No. Our death for our sins is solely the domain of God. (This is one reason many progressive Christians are against the death penalty). We are all guilty of exactly the same fate. Are we convicted felons or drug users? Most likely we are not. But God doesn’t make distinctions about what our sin is, all of us deserve to die for any sin, no matter how slight it is. And the world would be a pretty empty place if we truly decided that everyone who sinned deserves death like George Floyd. Every single person on Earth would be dead.
We are just as bad as George Floyd. George Floyd is just as good as we are.
I don’t know if George Floyd was saved or considered himself a Christian. (An interview with his former church in Houston says he had a passion for serving in his community and being a shining example to win people to Christ.) I can’t definitively say anyone’s name truly is written in the Book of Life. Only God knows. But he says that in His eyes, our sins are forgotten.
The world will not forget George Floyd. But God has already forgotten his sins. And ours
Let us never hold someone’s past sins, whatever they are, against them. God doesn’t.
It’s a new era now, and not a particularly good one for progressives now that Donald Trump is president. We are toiling now under a government that has the complete opposite intentions as us, and it can get frustrating. So, the question now is, what is the job of a progressive in the Trump era?
It’s no secret that Donald Trump’s policies are not very progressive at all. Already, after his first 100 or so days, he’s enacted (or tried to enact) legislation to revoke health care from millions of low-income people, ban refugees based solely on national origin, and his cabinet speaks out against oppressed people like the LGBT community while President Trump’s silence at their policies implies complicity. Also, while our leaders have always been sinners, and continue to sin in office, the election of Trump, who not only brags about his sin, but also claims he does not need God’s forgiveness for his sin (something that is against what the Bible says, by the way). It’s going to be a rough four years for progressive Christians. So what can we do?
There seems to be different ways to react to Donald Trump’s presidency by liberals. We are familiar with the marches that have occurred to protest what Trump has done and to remind others that similar actions in the future won’t be tolerated. There has been unprecedented levels of people contacting their representatives in Congress (and here, by the way, is a great article that spells out the best ways and not-so-good ways to successfully get your view to your Congressional representative). Activism is at an all-time high. Articles have been written on how to be a protestor in the age of Trump. One popular tactic is to de-legitimize Trump with names (Drumpf, Cheeto-skinned, wank-puffin, moron), whereas others, like myself feel that while his policies are ripe for ridicule, he should be treated with the same respect as others; after all we make sure to call people by their chosen names and pronouns in the wake of rampant anti-trans-ism, why should that only extend to those we agree with? So, what is the “right” way progressive Christians are to protest non-progressive policies?
Well, as Christians we should always look to what Jesus did for answers to hard questions. (I know “What Would Jesus Do?” has become somewhat trite, but it can be a good reminder.)
Well, while Jesus of course did not walk the earth in the age of Donald Trump, the leaders of his day were just as much against his teachings as ours are. Even many of the religious leaders had disdain for Jesus’ words of putting the well being of people before the rigid interpretation of the law. The cries from the Pharisees of adherence to the law of the Scriptures rather than treating others with God’s compassion wouldn’t be out of place in our modern world.
“But, he also had harsh words against the Pharisees! “Woe to you, Pharisees” was a key theme of Matthew 23!” Yes, Jesus’ words for the Pharisees are very different from what he says against those who are actively trying to kill us. But keep in mind who each is for; the first passage, the “non-violent resistance” part if you will, are against the Romans, those that don’t know God. We are to be non-violent towards them, to show them God’s true mercy and grace. Yet towards that do claim to know God, the hypocritical religious elders, Jesus wants us to get mad. To show them what God actually says.
Trump claims he’s a Christian. It is our job in the next four years to remind him what Christ actually said. To keep protesting laws that aren’t His. And to always demonstrate Christ in whatever we do. Put on your full Gospel armour and prepare for taking on the administration with the words of Jesus. Dialogue with others, especially other Christians, is key. Sitting down and talking with others, and letting them know about what Jesus actually says, is key. As I mentioned in a previous post, Jesus had these conversations with the “religious right” of his day too. Figures such as Ken Burns and Trevor Noah also suggest talking to others. And this is Jesus’ example. Talk. Inform. Write your congressmen and remind them to defend the oppressed. Correct the oppressors. #resist
Apologies that this post has taken so long to write, my life has just been really busy with one thing or another lately. Rest assured, though, I still do have several more article ideas, and I’d also like to strongly suggest that, if you don’t already, to follow our Facebook page, as it’s easy for me to share there, usually bits from other progressive sites I see that I want to pass on. Think of it as this blog but by a better writer. Make no mistake, in the age of Donald Trump, progressive Christianity is more important than ever, and I hope this is your place for progressive ideas.
(If you can’t see images, it depicts a rainbow-striped figured getting kicked in the gut by a figure coloured in a flag advocating … state’s rights? (Really, if you’re going to claim that the Confederate battle flag is not a flag of hate, don’t do hateful things under it!))
And, as a progressive, I knew my weekend wasn’t going to go well.
That really made me upset and angry and sad. That the political climate has gotten to the point where people who hate are more open with their hate, making people different than them in every way uncomfortable so that they can be comfortable is very distressing.
But then came the revenge fantasies.
Same decal, but the roles are reversed. Blessed are the persecuted, for they shalt kick ass!
But this is not the answer either. You’ll notice by my subversion of the Beatitudes that this isn’t the way Jesus wants us to act either. Progressive First Lady Michelle Obama famously said “When they go low, we go high”, having gone through persecution ourselves, do we seriously want that for others?
Finally, I saw what I thought was the answer on Facebook:
In response to this whole issue a friend of mine on Facebook, who is a member of the LGBT community, has also seen the meme come full circle, from being persecuted, to doing the persecuting, to forgiving the persecutor. After her and others like her being subjected to senseless and hurtful discrimination and abuse at the hands of those who use the Bible as a blunt instrument, asking forgiveness for being themselves and not being the wrongdoers makes absolutely no sense. And the fact that the character not in the rainbow stripes is still decorated in the design of a flag that has come to represent racism and subjugation makes forgiveness make even less sense.
So what does Jesus say about forgiving those who hate us? Whether they are racists firebombing houses and places of worship of those of other nationalities and religions, or right-wing legislators making it legally acceptable to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identification, or even conservative Christians mocking and denigrating progressives for our work to love and care for everyone, as Jesus commanded, there are several key passages to look at.
First is the above quoted Matthew 5:44, where we are to love our enemies and pray for them. Then there is the famous passage from Matthew 18 where Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive someone who sins against him. He suggests seven (not as the actual number seven, but as a generic somewhat large number, like how we might use “a hundred” today), but Jesus replies “seventy times seven” (or, in some translations, “seventy seven”) – again a generic astronomically large number, like how we’d use “a billion”. Then Jesus, as he is wont to do, illustrated this with a parable, this one about a king who took pity on a servant in his debt and forgave his debt, only to get angry with the same servant who refused to forgive a debt he was owed.
Back to our flag-bedecked stick figures. Should we forgive people that have wronged us, hurt us, discriminated against us, terrorized us, and denied our rights, like the last set are doing? Jesus is telling us to forgive no matter what. But, the parable that illustrates the point also says that if we come for forgiveness we cannot just come for forgiveness and continue to not change at all afterwards. Forgiveness involves leaving behind what made the other person angry. Taking off hateful attitudes and never putting them back on. And truly accepting similar acts.
Two thousand years ago, the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland were under the control of a non-Jewish ruler. It had been that way for the past several hundred years but, understandably this did not sit well with them. Like many minority groups today, they wished for self-determination of their own affairs under a Jewish leader who could throw off the foreign Roman rulers, the Messiah. And finally, a thirty year old itinerant rabbi from Nazareth came along and claimed to be that Messiah. Rallying the Jewish people together, he formed a political group that assembled an effective militia from the populace and, after several acts of civil unrest in the country, finally brought about the Jews’ political freedom.
Except, it didn’t work like that. This preacher, you probably guessed, is Jesus. His claims to be the Messiah were based on caring for all people, saving from sin instead of saving from politics.
So why do many Christians, who know about Jesus, want their God to be a political saviour rather than a spiritual one? We are political creatures, so, creating God in our image, feel that God is a political creature as well. We can’t go to the polling place without first asking ourselves “Who Would Jesus Vote For?”
But that’s the problem. Jesus didn’t vote. Even if He could (it’s not like the various prefects of Roman provinces cared if the people supported them or not) He wouldn’t. Because Jesus never cared about politics. He cares deeply about political decisions that adversely affect people, and as followers of Him, we should too, and vote accordingly. But he never intended to have political control over the world. The world is not our home, Heaven is.
Control over the affairs of man (whether political or otherwise), would definitely be tempting to any Christian, or frankly, a practitioner of any religion. This is probably why several politicians enact laws based on their religion (and why several countries have a state religion). And why Satan made his final offer to Jesus control over all the kingdoms of the world. Satan’s trick didn’t work for Jesus, since it would involve making someone other than God the most important thing in his life, but the siren call of forcing their religion’s laws on everyone no matter the cost is irresistible to some Christians. To make sure abortion is illegal because it is against their religion. To outlaw same-sex marriage because it goes against what they believe. They have the power to legislate God’s words to force people to believe. And they get to be ruler. Donald Trump has figured this out. He promises evangelicals that all their policy dreams will come true, and he will be their saviour. Not Jesus, Trump.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? – Jesus
Politicians ask for us to forfeit our soul in exchange for earthly rule. But this world is not our home. We cannot legislate someone to beleive in Jesus. We should want to follow Jesus’ words because we want to not because we have to. As Christians we need to set an example, by not voting for people who exhibit behaviour contrary to how Christ commanded us to live, but rather always remain confident that our God is bigger than politics, and ever be conscious of those being hurt by politicians’ goals to rule at the expense of others. Besides, what would Jesus want with our petty politics? He’s got Heaven to run.
Hi! Just giving a quick note here to say that I haven’t gone all “Hollywood” and forgotten about the blog after presenting the sermon mentioned in the most recent post. I’ve been busy, but I have been doing a few things that you, as a fan of this blog might be interested in.
First, and in my opinion, the most important change I’ve done to this blog is that I’ve created a Facebook page for it. Now, in between looking at cat memes and crushing candy (or whatever it is Facebook is used for), you can also visit the Facebook site for this blog, found on the link above or on the Facebook logo link on the left hand menu. Not only will I be announcing when new posts are published, but also a new interesting feature will be put up there. Often times, in my research for blog posts, or just browsing my progressive friends’ Facebook feeds, I will come across a great article that, as usual, expresses my thoughts and opinions much more clearly than I can. I file them away in a folder on the computer and try to incorporate them in articles when I can, but sometimes either there isn’t enough to make an article out of, or it just doesn’t make the article. Now, on Facebook, I will be linking to these articles when I come across them, as well as a little commentary on them of my own. Articles that I come across that speak to a topic I’ve already written on can appear here too. Consider these “mini-posts”, and only available on the FNPC Facebook page.If you “Like” the page, you’ll be updated when anything gets put up on there. (I also hope you’re “Subscribed” to this blog too, there’s a link on the left to do that.)
The second change that’s come about is a consequence of the first. When setting up the Facebook page, I had to pick a picture for the site avatar. It was a good excuse to unveil a logo I’d been thinking of for a while, that illustrates the four words of the blog’s title, and the focus in general. Simple, to the point, almost too simplistic, and not everyone likes it. Just like this site. 🙂 I’ve modified the About page a bit to incorporate the meaning behind the icons in the site logo, so take a look there if you wish.
So, that’s my little update. I fully intend to be publishing something by the end of this long weekend. (Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving), I’ve been working on an article about money and the church since June, but the recent news about Donald Trump also demands an article, and I could probably get enough words to get that up in a few days as well. Stay tuned to see which makes the cut first (and if it’s the former, the latter I hope to publish before Election Day in the US, but if not, the first article is still close to being ready to go, and could go up soon as well.) Thank you for reading the blog, and being a fan of progressive Christianity.
[Note: This is the text of a sermon given at the Gimli Unitarian Church by your intrepid blogger on August 21, 2016, as previously mentioned in this blog. The Scripture text presented before the sermon was Luke 10:25-37]
Comedian Emo Philips tells the story of a guy he saw on a bridge about to jump. He yells to him, “Don’t do it!” The guy on the bridge said, “Nobody loves me.” “God loves you” he said. Do you believe in God?” “Yes.” “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” “A Christian”, the guy said. “Me, too!” said Emo. “Protestant or Catholic?” “Protestant.” “Me, too! What franchise?” “Baptist.” “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” “Northern Baptist.” “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” “Northern Conservative Baptist,” said the guy. “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” “Me, too!” “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” So Emo said, “Die, heretic!” and pushed him off the bridge.
Christians like to divide up into groups. We have the Catholics and the Protestants. Lutherans and Baptists. Mennonites and non-denominationals. And then you Unitarians are a whole other category yet! And now here comes this guy telling you he’s a progressive Christian. “Great. Something else to learn.” However, I hope that this sermon will give you a bit of background as to what progressive Christianity is, how it is familiar, yet different from the Unitarianism you are familiar with, and we use our belief in progressive ideals and faith in Jesus to make the world a better place.
Like any movement, there are tenets that define progressive Christianity to set it apart. Now, I don’t want to get too far into my presentation without stating first that also, like every movement that has defining tenets, not everyone who identifies as a progressive Christian necessarily believes all of the distinguishing principles. I hope to cover, though, the set of principles that are generally accepted by all progressives. One of the main tenets of progressive Christianity is questioning; if progressive Christianity has a patron saint, Thomas would be it. He is probably most famous for being a “doubting Thomas”, skeptical of Jesus’ rising from the dead. The rest of the apostles believed Jesus when they said He had risen. But Thomas wanted to investigate more. He wasn’t really “doubting” Jesus, but just wanted to use the brain God gave him to find out for himself. Christians are good at a lot of things. We’re good at caring for and listening to others. We’re good at loving Jesus. We’re especially good at putting on potluck dinners. But we’re often not so good at fact checking. The popular rumour-debunking website snopes.com has several examples of tales like “Einstein proving the existence of God to an atheist professor” and “Darwin recanted evolution on his deathbed” and “NASA proves the missing day mentioned in the Bible is true”. And conservative minded Christians love to spread these around because it proves what they already believe. They know what the Bible says if taken literally: that God made the sun to stay still in the sky for a whole day, that God created the world in seven days, and that there is a heaven and a hell. But, if the words coincide with what they already believe, they don’t bother checking to see why they believe what they believe. Why does the Bible say that the sun moved back ten steps on the sundial? Why does the Bible say that the universe was created in six days? Progressive Christians aren’t “doubters”, but we investigate, we learn. Mulder from the X-Files would be a progressive Christian. “Trust no one” and “the truth is out there” are our mantras. This is why we believe that science can exist with God because our powerful God has no limits and can easily create the laws of physics to give us this wonderful world. When we use the brains God gave us to learn more about him, we look at, for example, the creation story and realize that it was written for a society that can’t understand concepts like the Big Bang, planetary accretion, the laws of planetary motion, and evolution so it’s explained in ways they can understand. Much as we might answer a very young child when they ask where babies come from with a story that begins “when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much” because they are too young to understand things like cell division, ovulation, and fertilization, not to mention the actual mechanics of human reproduction, and as they get older we explain more as their capacity for understanding increases. Similarly, God knew that a Bronze Age civilization had no way of knowing about scientific principles given their technology, but they did know that they have “a God that loves them very much” and framed the story of where we come from in that regard. As we grew older as a species and our understanding of the universe around us increased, we saw God’s use of science to create our world. The apostle Paul wrote “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” Progressive Christians use the same principles for understanding life, the Bible, and the world around us.
Another tenet of progressive Christianity is caring for the poor and needy. One would think this is Christianity 101, but many modern-day politicians like to loudly proclaim their Christianity as they make decisions while neglecting the heart of the law being compassion. This was an issue even in Jesus’ day. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” he said. “You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Social justice is a major theme of the Bible, there are over 100 verses in over 20 different books of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments that talk about doing good in the world. These passages implore those who want to follow God to “bring justice to the fatherless”, “show kindness and mercy to each other”, “to do justice”, “defend the rights of the poor and needy”, and on and on it goes. Laws like North Carolina’s HB2 that actively discriminate against transgender people, are those that concern a progressive Christian the most, as they ignore the many, many exhortations in the Bible to give aid to those who are being discriminated against. And if it is your own legislation that is doing the discriminating, the onus is on you to fix it if one claims to be a Christian.
Love for everyone. This is something that a progressive Christian takes very seriously. The reading I chose for today is the “too long, didn’t read” version of the Bible. You’ll notice that the person who asked the question of Jesus was probably a lot like you and me, “Teacher, look, I’ll level with you. This book is huge! There’s like over 800,000 words in it! I don’t have time to read all of this! So, quick, what’s the part that I really need to know?” And Jesus asks him what he thinks the needs to know, and he gives Jesus two well known Biblical commands that are the basis of progressive Christianity: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself, which Jesus also agrees are the most important. But then he goes on and then asks who exactly their neighbor is, because dag nabbit, if they want the short version, they want to do as minimal work as possible. Jesus launches into a wonderful illustration of who our neighbor is by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it, you may remember, a man, in need of urgent attention after getting beaten up and robbed, is ignored and shunned by prominent religious figures, but is helped by a Samaritan. Now, we today know the term “Samaritan” as someone who selflessly helps others, thanks to Jesus’ story, but when he said it, the audience considered Samaritans to be people they weren’t to associate with. They worshipped in the wrong place. They didn’t follow the laws of the Torah, and who knows what else is wrong with them. Next time you hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, substitute today’s current bogeyman in where “Samaritan” is. A Muslim. An LGBTQ person. An African-American. An atheist. Whoever it is, there’ll always be one to use. The people that were looked down on by Jesus’ audience is our neighbor. The one that we are not showing love to. And they are to be the ones we are to open our homes to, the very ones that make us the most uncomfortable.
This care for others drives one of our primary tenets, caring for all. Progressive Christians care for the poor and oppressed in the face of the dismantling of social programs designed to give them care. Progressive Christians care for marginalized groups like the LGBT community and support same sex marriage despite widespread attempts to not treat them as equals even by other Christians. Progressive Christians support people of other religions and cultures even though rampant discrimination exists based merely on where they come from and who they worship (or don’t). Progressive Christians care for conservative Christians, despite their beliefs being against ours. Even if they don’t follow the Bible’s guide for doing justice and helping out the oppressed, we still, as progressive Christians, follow Jesus’ example of caring for everyone, no matter who they might be. And yes, this even extends to Donald Trump. We can, and should, speak out against policies he proposes that discriminate and are anti-Biblical, but being a person like the rest of us, we are not to ridicule the person much as we would wish not be ridiculed. You’ll notice that earlier I mentioned that Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees a lot. They were a religious group that cared more about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. Sounds a lot like some modern day conservatives, more concerned about what the Bible says by the letter than what the Bible means, right? These were the type of people that would remind Jesus that healing on the Sabbath is wrong. And, yes, if you look at the Old Testament as it is written, legalistically, healing and other work that Jesus did on the Sabbath is forbidden. Jesus reminded them though, that right actions are better than right beliefs, God cares more about what we do for others than if we have kept rigidly to a literal interpretation of the Bible. So you’d imagine that all of Jesus’ followers were progressives and the Pharisees couldn’t stand him. However, a Pharisee also came to Jesus to ask questions and to listen as well, a particular Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus calmly asked questions and listened to what Jesus had to say. And, more importantly, he still never stopped being a Pharisee after he became a follower of Jesus. We believe in a big God. Big enough for both the conservative and the progressive, as long as we respect each other.
But how do we let others know about progressive Christianity? Not all of us can be lucky enough to be asked by your Reverend Jonasson to speak before a group of wonderful people about what we believe. You’re not going to see progressives to go on a missions trip for the purpose of proselytizing to strangers to “win” people to Jesus. Sure, you will see plenty of progressives go to other countries to lend their expertise to help disadvantaged whether it is building houses in Mexico, or teaching English in Japan, or supporting local child poverty projects in Cambodia, but that is more because of our primary tenet of doing social justice. As for letting others know about progressive Christianity, there is a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that demonstrates the progressive’s view: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words”. I have found with dealings with non-Christians that simply being a progressive Christian and quietly living your life doing social justice and defending the oppressed is far more effective to show them what Christianity is about then have them be treated the same as if you walk into a car dealership only to be accosted by a salesman right away wanting to sell you something. We find it much more like Jesus to show his message of respect for all by building relationships with people first rather than setting out to “change” people we don’t know, which runs afoul of our principle of “relationship and respect”. I mentioned earlier that Jesus gave us the top two instructions for Christians, “love God and love others”. Progressive Christians also have an unofficial third commandment to guide their actions, which is summarized by a maxim by noted blogger and Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton that has become known as “Wheaton’s Law”, which states “Don’t be a jerk”.
So I’m sure by now you’ve been listening to me and wondering two things: one – how much longer is this guy going to keep talking, and two – this is a lot like the Seven Principles of Unitarianism. And I will agree there is a lot of overlap, as Unitarianism is a progressive faith. However, being progressive *Christians*, we do these things (respect of others, justice for the oppressed, love for all) because of Jesus’ example. Jesus’ claim to be divine is a central tenet of our Christianity and we use our inquisitive nature to determine that His claim is true. Recognizing Jesus’ words as those spoken by a God that loves us, we follow those words with that in mind. And it is our belief in a powerful God that sets us apart from the conservative Christians. Both of us believe in and worship the same all-powerful God, a god that is bigger than anything and can do anything, and conservative Christians loudly proclaim that their God is more powerful than man. But do they really believe that? It seems that more than God, the right-wing conservative Christians often put fear as their god. Fear of the “gay agenda”. Fear of Muslims. Fear that Christianity is going to be made illegal Any Day Now. All of a sudden, their all-powerful God, the God they believe made the universe in the blink of an eye, the God that they believe will defeat Satan in the End Times, is suddenly afraid of a Muslim community centre, is afraid that schools don’t have prayers. They stop focusing on God and start focusing on The Other. Suddenly, God is not in control. The God that we believe in as Christians is all-powerful, he doesn’t have limitations. And yet, there is a whole subset of Christians that worry about Christianity being eroded because their God, is a God that cannot do things. We believe God is always there. Jesus reassured us of this: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
There is a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln that says “a house divided cannot stand”, and the Christian church is divided lately. One group publicly seeks the favour of their God by withholding God’s love from others, convinced that only a certain type are worthy of God. They proselytize to others as if they were “projects” to be saved, unwavering in the conviction that their beliefs are right. And they stick to a literal interpretation of the Bible at the expense of the environment and scientific progress in the care of others. The other group welcomes all no matter their race, beliefs, or orientation, as they too were welcomed by God. They seek honest and genuine relationships above talking about religion. And they are hungry to learn more: about their God, about others, and about the world around them. Rather than loudly proclaiming their faith, this second group quietly helps others without seeking recognition for it.
Which of these do you feel do you feel are doing the words of the Christ that they worship? Go and do likewise.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys this blog, but are wondering why there isn’t an audiobook version of it, well stop right there! Firstly because this is a blog, they don’t make audiobook versions of blogs. Secondly, you’re in luck, because the closest thing is about to happen, and you can be there!
Thanks to longtime reader of this blog, Rev. Stefan Jonasson, your intrepid blogger has been invited to speak on progressive Christianity at his church as a guest speaker. And if all the reading has got you tired but you’re still interested in hearing about progressive Christianity, you’re invited to come down!
Time & Date: Sunday August 21, 2016, at 11:00 am. I promise not to speak for too long.
I will basicaly be speaking about what progressive Christianity is and how we use Christianity to promote a more inclusive world. Of course, if you’ve already read this blog, you’ve done your homework, so you’ll be ahead of the game!
If you can’t make it out to Gimli (and I pity you if you can’t, as I said earlier, Gimli is an absolutely lovely town), I’ll be posting the text of the sermon on this blog shortly after the 21st. It’s also mainly based on past entries (but with enough new stuff to keep you interested) so you’re ahead of the game again if you’re a regular reader.
I’d love to see you at Gimli and meet some of my readers!
Oil and water. Nitro and glycerin. Politics and Thanksgiving dinner.
There are some things that should just not be together. Many also think that science and Christianity is one such pair up as well. However, by rejecting Science, one of God’s creations, evangelical Christians are denying a gift God has given us, and once again they are putting their all powerful God into a box that they declare he is not powerful enough to get out of.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the tenets of progressive Christianity is learning and researching things and discovering with the awesome brain that God gave us to do exactly that. Combined with the allegorical nature of much of the Bible to better aid in understanding to a pre-scientific civilization, and we have no problem seeing the creation story for what it is, a way to explain an unfathomably-old universe to those who had no way of figuring that out. For many centuries Christians, curious about the world around them, have sought to learn more about the world, and God has only been too happy to help them. Giving them the knowledge of how to make telescopes, God revealed a heliocentric solar system that we didn’t know about previously. The big bang theory, one of the cornerstones of the scientific understanding of the universe as opposed to the creationist view, was first discovered by a Catholic priest and was mocked as a way to try to have religion explain away what science hasn’t discovered yet. (And could you blame them? Everything being created out of nothing (the primordial atom that predates the Big Bang)? Sure sounds like the Biblical literalist’s view of creation!) But fundamentalist Christians often get hung up on the literal view of creation, they hang their whole faith on the fact that God must have created the world in six days, they fear that if they are wrong about that, if the Bible is not meant to be literal, that their whole faith system will come crashing down.
This obstinance has led to persecution of scientists like Copernicus and Galileo in the middle ages and ridicule of the aforementioned priest that developed the big bang theory, followed by an official denial of his work by the church. But progressive Christians don’t mind having their notions challenged, that’s what we love to do. Our faith is on Jesus, an unchanging solid rock, not creation. When God created the universe doesn’t matter. How God created the universe doesn’t matter. What matters is God. And our studying of His creation can bring us a lot closer to knowing Him and how He works.
I build molecules for a living. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that job is. I stand in awe of God because of what he has done through his creation. Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God. – James M. Tour, nanoscientist
Related to the topic of science and Christianity is the miracles in the Bible. On one side is the same Biblical literalist who sees that many of the Bible’s miracles are scientifically impossible (and thus, “miracles”), and on the other is the progressive Christian, aware of the science God created to do things on earth and recognizes God’s use of science to achieve what a pre-scientific people would call a “miracle”. I have heard fundamentalist Christians bemoan the fact that Christians in the developing world report miracles (the kind that are found in the Bible) all the time in the present day whereas we have, according to them, drifted away from God, depriving us of miracles. Yet God has given us the knowledge to see the same things that some call “miracles” through his great creation of science. The same event would be seen by one who can’t understand science as a “miracle” and to a Christian who can understand science as the same gift of God, and how He did it. I suppose there is something to be said for not spoiling the fun by revealing how it’s done (which is why magicians never reveal how their illusions are done), but “pulling back the curtain” is a great way to understand God even more.
As progressives we need to defend this God that has no limits from the box that fundamentals want to put him in. Our God can easily have created the world via the scientific process. This is easy to believe if you believe that God is all-powerful and has no limits. We also need to learn about God’s awesome science, and teach it to our children since God has let us learn about it. Christianity and science is a mix that not only complement each other but also help us understand God and the Bible better. He cared enough to give us the gift of scientific understanding. The least we can do is acknowledge the giver.
In the spring of 1992, riots broke out in Los Angeles based on racial discord and inequality. The focus of the riots, Rodney King, a black man who was beaten up by white police officers, famously said amidst all the anger and violence “Can we all get along?” It seems that not only has this plea been ignored in the ensuing quarter century since it has been said, but we have found more ways to be divisive. Just in the last few months alone, people have found new ways to hate another: in politics animosity is not only towards opposing political candidates, but against candidates in the same party; people bullying one another over choice of recreational activities; and #BlueLives Matter / #AllLivesMatter vs. #BlackLivesMatter.
Division is not a trait of progressive Christians. As Christians, we recognize that we are all “created in God’s image”. As progressives, we realize that everyone deserves to be treated equally. As such, you would think that progressives would be behind #AllLivesMatter. After all, the Bible says in many places that God loves and cares for everyone. However, when we look at the example of Jesus, while it was obvious he cared for everyone he came across, whether they were rich or poor, powerful or oppressed, he spoke mainly about those who were disadvantaged by society. He had a special affinity for those who were always oppressed and maltreated by society, the beatitudes were written to reassure the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who yearn for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted, minorities all. Jesus got #BlackLivesMatter. While he showed love to all, he knew that certain groups needed His attention and care more right now, as they were not being shown it in the world. Most of His recorded visits were to the oppressed of his time, the women, the poor, the sick, the minorities. We may not be any of those things, but Jesus has ensured us that He loves us too, these groups need Him more right now. And this is why He has asked us to especially care for them too, as Christians our concerns should be Christ’s concerns.
The Bible is actually quite colourblind. Skin colour is rarely mentioned in the Bible, probably because for thousands of years the Scriptures were read primarily by those of a localized region, the same region where the events occurred and thus the reader knew what the people of the Bible looked like. They looked like themselves! They could feel good that God’s word was meant for them alone. While God created us in His image, after Christianity started to spread to other races, we started creating God in our image. In the Middle Ages, artwork started to depict God (a divine being with technically no skin colour, but anthropomorphized in the Bible, again to help us better relate to Him) and Jesus as the same race as those now in the majority of Christendom (Europeans). It probably didn’t help matters that at the time they were at war (the Crusades) against the residents of the Holy Land, and the subtle propaganda of reminding people that their God is their race and doesn’t look at all like the people they are fighting most likely aided to that. But that was again getting away from God’s message of a colourblind Bible. Other races portrayed Jesus as someone they could relate to, we took it one step further and insisted our white Jesus was for someone the whole world should relate to, creating feelings of inferiority in other races that Europeans specifically avoided by making sure that they (Caucasians) weren’t worship ping a different-race Jesus (Palestinian).
One famous example where the ethnicity of a character was deliberately chosen as the “other” was in Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan, which I’ve referenced a coupletimes before in this blog because it’s a great example of the progressive’s mantra to care for others regardless of how you view them. Jesus specifically used someone who was among the most oppressed in his society to be the one who shows kindness, and to be our example, rather than just leaving the do-gooder nameless where we can just picture ourselves in there and feel good about it. If you’re not familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan, let Matthew Henry share with you the story:
. . . he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
… Jesus replied:
“A man was going down from Saint Paul to Falcon Heights, and fell into the hands of police officers, who stopped him, shot him, and stood by, leaving him for dead.
Now by chance a white man was going down his Twitter feed; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side saying #AllLivesMatter.
So likewise a white woman, when she came to the place on her Facebook feed, and saw him, passed by on the other side saying #BlueLivesMatter.
But another, while traveling social media came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to the dead man’s family, his community, and bandaged their wounds, having poured vocal compassion and appropriate silence on them. Then he put their burdens on his own back, brought them to others, and attempted to address them.
The next day he had not forgotten, and took two friends by the hand saying, ‘Take care of them also; and when I come back, we will continue the work together. The Lord will repay whatever social capital we spend.’
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man, the family, the community, which fell into the hands of these robbers of life, both literal and emotional?”
The questioner said, “The ones who showed them mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
God seems to have a serious mixed message problem lately.
There are lots of people claiming to be His exclusive spokesperson lately, from the Islamic terrorists to the evangelical Bible thumpers. From the Trump-supporting tow truck driver who left a disabled Bernie Sanders-supporting woman on the side of road because “the Lord came to me and he said get in the truck and leave” to the Republican lawmaker who said that God personally told him to warn against same sex marriage. (I find it interesting to note that many of the challengers for the Republican presidential nomination claimed God told them to run. Yet the eventual nominee (Trump, as well as his two leading Democratic challengers) didn’t claim that divine persuasion was behind his run. You suppose God was pulling their legs?)
There are also those on the other side too, the many bloggers I link to in this blog, as well as this blog itself saying that God has told them a completely different thing from what the conservative Christians say God has told them. (Oh and don’t forget when athletes from sports teams all over the U.S. thank God for their win (never hear anything when they lose, do you?) even if they’re playing against a team that God supposedly favoured just last week. (Besides, I have it on good authority that God is a fan of the Winnipeg Jets and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, so they’re wrong.)) It’s gotten to the point that God has had to call a press conference angrily denouncing those who claimed to speak for him. (At least, according to the Onion. That’s a reputable source, right?)
This isn’t a new problem either. One of my favourite Bible passages is 1 Kings 22. In a nutshell, the king of Israel sought advice for how an upcoming battle would go for him. All of the prophets said that it would go well except one (after giving what is probably the most awesomely sarcastic reply in the entire Bible. Is it any wonder why I love this passage?) Despite not being a ruler who has ever shown any presumption to care about what God has said, he knew that this prophet was actually saying what God wanted him to say. How could he tell? Probably because God often doesn’t say what we want Him to say. The sports teams above? They want to win. All those Republican candidates? They want the nomination. The tow truck driver? Well he’s against Bernie Sanders supporters, so God must be too, right? This is why God is God and we are mere humans, God is far wiser than we are. We, as humans, have agendas to push. Earlier, I compared the Bible to Wikipedia, saying that it is easy to add in our own agenda and make it say that it’s something God wants. And, as illustrated above, conservative Christians often have no problem doing that. Whereas one of the central tenets of progressive Christianity is questioning, an answer that readily agrees with what we expect isn’t going to cut it with a progressive Christian.
So the fact that there are so many different voices claiming to speak for God, all of which are different, and all of which conveniently fits what the speaker wants you to believe should be a good indicator if what the person is saying is really from God or is just a fake testimonial.
Either God is having fun and trolling everyone, or someone is lying.