Archive for September, 2009

On Fascism — Chilled By The Warm Embrace It Enjoys Too Close To Home

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

“Fascism . . . seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Despite the idealistic goals of Fascism, attempts to build fascist societies have led to wars and persecutions that caused millions of deaths. As a result, fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.” (Historian Dr. Roger Griffin)

“Neither Fascism nor racism will do us the favor of returning in such a way that we can recognise them easily. If vigilance was only a game of recognising something already well-known, then it would only be a question of remembering. Vigilance would be reduced to a social game using reminiscence and identification by recognition, a consoling illusion of an immobile history peopled with events which accord with our expectations or our fears.” (French sociologist Pierre-Andre Taguieff).

“When Fascism comes to America, it will be cloaked in the flag and carrying a cross” (Sinclair Lewis, author of “The Jungle”)

“Hey, haven’t some of us who’ve studied Reconstructionism, “Christian” Libertarianism, Kinism, and Calvinist post-millennialism heard the same kind of stuff coming from some folks in Moscow? But wait — they’re Christians! They couldn’t be into this kind of stuff. I mean, could they?” (Keely Emerine Mix)

Speaking of "enemies" . . .

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Arizona has a history of appallingly bigoted and dumb politicians, but not even the inimitably dense and blissfully racist Evan Meacham or wingnut conspiracy theorist Joe Sweeney has descended to the filthy pit this Congressmember flails about in:

“He has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that
he is an enemy of humanity.”

- Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), on Obama (September 26, 2009) in St. Louis

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GKS–pkAl0 (Thanks to Tom Hanson)

No, Rep. Franks. An “enemy of humanity” is someone who uses ugly words and untruths to whip others into a frenzy of hate, prejudice, and intolerance. I’d love very much to believe that you’re not a member of a Christian church; I’d be equally thrilled, though, if the one you perhaps DO call home delivers to you a searing rebuke, your own personal platter of hellfire and brimstone straight from your pastor’s mouth to your brittle, cold heart.

I could, as you all know, go on at length about how despicable this man’s words are and how he’s demonstrated that he’s utterly unfit to hold office — but I’ll keep it short, straight, and simple:

If Franks is a member of a church, synagogue, prayer group, or para-church organization, he should be rebuked and counseled by his pastor/rabbi/minister immediately. He should apologize for his words and repent of his hatred of Obama, and if he doesn’t, he ought to be bounced.

I don’t know if the people of Arizona will rise up in outrage, but the Church there MUST. If no Church rebuke follows, and if he’s allowed to remain, sans repentance, in his church, then I’d offer the State of Arizona and the Church therein as Exhibit A in my identification of the sickening prevalence of the Christian-ish. The first six letters mean nothing to those who would countenance hate speech like this, and the Savior those letters together represent will judge harshly those who claim his name but cling to their hard hearts.

The Gospel, Part 3 — What Does "Gospel Life" Look Like?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

“What DOES Gospel Life look like?”

I don’t know. I haven’t seen much of it. I haven’t contributed enough to it. But here’s what my soul longs for . . .

First, I’ve discussed earlier that good behavior, right civic conduct, and the values that most of us agree on are not solely “Christian.” No religion promotes violence toward one’s grandmother, for example, and so we don’t assume good “Christian” behavior when someone instead cares for her elders, or simply refuses to harm them.

But even in a world populated by kindhearted people of many different faiths, and particularly in “Christian-ish” America, things just don’t look very good at all. Someone may have a hard time grasping their own individual sinfulness, but no one can fail to see the tide of evil that regularly washes over our world. Even with millions of committed Christ-disciples in the United States and many millions more throughout the nations, the world is in a vicious, violent mess. Certainly the situation on Earth and in time would improve significantly if all people, regardless of religious faith, or lack thereof, joined together to work to end war, poverty, oppression and the destruction of the environment; again, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on desirable personal and social behavior. But I am a Christian, a Christ-follower, by God’s grace, for almost 30 years, and it’s the failure of the Church, the Body of Christ’s followers, that concerns me the most — because I’m part of it. My behavior will never speak poorly of Islam. I pray it never speak poorly of Christianity.

This isn’t, however, just an in-house message designed for Christians by a Christian who’s dismayed at the failure of Christians to mirror Christ in the world. It’s not intended just for believers, although most of my readers, I’m assuming, are also Christ followers. I pray this is received as not only a call for the kind of societal revolution that Christ wants us to encourage, sustain, and nurture, but also an acknowledgment, a very painful one, that the picture of Christ reflected by his followers, myself included, is often pretty atrocious and rarely even close to pretty.

If the Church were passionate about Christ, consumed by love, and devoted to the Gospel, it wouldn’t share such tremendous responsibility for the rejection of the Christian message among billions throughout the world. Notice that I said “responsible.” No one is accountable for rejecting Christ except for the person who sadly does so, but a Church that tolerates the convenience and privilege of the Christiani-ish and froths and spits with anger against sinners — when it’s not simply ignoring them — is at least partly responsible for presenting to the world a Jesus who isn’t at all appealing. The Gospel should, if truthfully presented, cause offense, and to a certain degree Jesus should, as well — if, for example, you’re an unbeliever who can’t handle the whole “Prince of Peace, turn the other cheek” stuff and searches for a macho savior who kicks ass and hates the same people you do, you’re not going to flock to his message. That condemnation is, tragically, well-deserved, and it’s nobody else’s fault.

But we shouldn’t craft a Gospel with deliberate and unnecessary offense. We cannot, if we’re true to our Lord, construct a “way of salvation” peppered with obstacles and defined by ruts and dead ends, and we can’t delight in having the Gospel offend the kinds of people we really don’t want to spend eternity with anyway. And we absolutely cannot approach people in a way that makes US the offense, and if we do, we will conclude, on Judgment Day, that it’d be preferable to find a millstone, a length of rope, and a sea to dive into. We are never accountable for someone else’s eternal fate, but if the Church felt the proper responsibility to present a true and loving Gospel in true and loving ways, I suspect we’d marvel at the numbers of people who find the Jesus we’re pointing to, and we’d be astonished — pleasantly so — at the transformations that would follow in the home, the Church, and the social/political/economic/environmental world we live in. The New Testament tells us to be ready, to “have an answer” at all times for “the hope that lies within us,” and admonishes us to do it “with gentleness and respect.” We can’t “respect” people outside of the Church if we pray harm on them, say we hate them (often for the same sins we commit as well), and treat them with contempt, mockery, dismissal, and indifference to their suffering.

A Body determined to repent of being Christian-ish and instead be Christ-followers would weep in soul-shaking grief that any human being, anywhere, is ever abused, oppressed, or told they’re worth less than the very heart and blood of Jesus Christ. That Body would recoil in horror if became aware of that sin happening in the name of its Savior. It would run from ANYONE or ANYTHING that promoted bigotry and oppression in Christ’s name — and, at the same time, would run right TO the doorstep of anyone who did so, rebuking them in strength, courage, faith, and righteous anger. If Christians took Jesus seriously, we’d stop admiring people who seem to live pretty clean lives on the outside and whose “internal” sins of lust, contempt, greed, and mistreatment of those near to them we deem none of our business. We’d NEVER look the other way when domestic abuse happens, and we’d hang our collective heads in utter shame that it happens as much in “Christian” homes as it does in others. No pastor would ever tell a woman to “just submit,” would ever counsel exasperated parents to hit their children, and wouldn’t even consider covering up the sins of the prominent among them when those sins are hidden away in the bedroom, the kitchen, and other venues away from discerning, courageous eyes. “Hidden,” “personal” sins have a way of leaking out of their protective shells, poisoning those closest to them and splattering on the image of Christ.

A Church determined to rid itself of those stubbornly clinging vestiges of Christian-ish “traditional moral values” would usher in a gentle revolution in the home. Women would be believed and empowered, not “protected” by the male domination and privilege that is the root of their oppression, or “honored” by the condescending “headship” brought about by a Christian-ish conformity to un-Godly secular social mores like patriarchy rather than conformity to the Word and character of Jesus. Children would be safe; tragically, the “Christian” home can be one of the most dangerous places a child can be. While the Christian home ought to result in nothing other than a haven of peace, creativity, instruction, and rambunctious, abundant love, the home adorned with Christian-ish idols of patriarchy, gender roles, and control will be filled with violence, the wielding of power in hierarchy, inequality, rigidity, and despair for those raised in it.

Sex, sexuality, gender, and relationships would be based in love, not shame; truth, not tales designed to gloss over real-life struggles. The Christian-ish obsession these days with sexual purity before marriage would focus less on courtship and more on friendship, less on strict rules and more on healthy boundaries, less on parental investment in a daughter’s sexuality and more on her confident understanding of her body and her faith in her Lord. A healthy understanding of sexuality, coupled with mutuality in marriage that rejects coercion, manipulation, and power, would go a long way toward reducing the number of abortions in this country and would make an enormous dent in the spread of HIV around the world. Such a transformation is possible, but not if the Church continues to accommodate culture in an understanding of the sexual. It would leave to the Christian-ish the silly fads that worm their way into youth group, men’s group, and women’s group.

Actually, I wonder if a true Christian witness in an unbelieving world would even HAVE men’s groups and women’s groups; perhaps that testimony would introduce to those around it the entirely Christian idea that gender is not the first thing, not the most important thing, and not the lasting thing about a person. Groups of believers would gather together based on common gifts, shared interests, preferred style of Bible study — not by sex. No woman would find her primary identity as “his’s wife,” and no man would find his as CEO of something. The believer would find her or his primary identity as the Beloved of Christ, and nothing would be exalted before that, and not especially under the Christian-ish guise of “family values” or “traditional marriage.” Traditional marriage hasn’t worked out so well for women throughout history, and it’s often been detrimental to men. Betrothal to Christ Jesus, though, can lead to an affirming, mutual, passionate and enduring marriage between a woman and a man, a marriage that would never be a tool to blunt the service or nurture of another believer.

The truly Christ-following Church would be filled with gentle people who disagree about some issues — debating heartily, not heatedly — and would seek to prayerfully recognize what’s truly black-and-white, essential to the Gospel, and what’s gray, a peripheral issue over which believers can simply disagree. I suspect that Church would find considerably more “gray” than the Christian-ish club it’s often supplanted by. Some would believe that homosexual practice is always a sin; others would trust the Lord to guide gays into stable, healthy, monogamous relationships. No child would ever be beaten by his father for being homosexual, and a father who did would be sharply rebuked by other Christians, faithful women and men who protect the abused from the abuser. Likewise, no gay or lesbian person outside of the Church would be beaten by vicious attacks from a pulpit hypocritically adorned with a cross and chalice, and a conservative view of Scripture as it regards homosexual practice would never be a license for the kind of rank homophobia that sullies the Church, wrongly exalts the heterosexuals in it, and encourages, by omission or commission, the mistreatment of any human being — never, and not ever because of their sexuality.

The Bible says all creation groans under the burden of sin, and I see evidence of that suffering all around me in the mistreatment of animals, the destruction of the environment, and the lousy theology that approves of them both. The Church would repent of perhaps one of the most permanently scarring results of its fawning obedience to the culture of greed and exploitation around it — the “redeeming” of natural resources in the appalling, and inexcusably stupid, belief that God wants us to tear through his creation, extract as much as we can as quickly as we can, and call it all good, appropriating one of the most beautiful themes of Scripture, “redemption,” to describe the violence done to the Earth. As followers of him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, a Christ-committed Church would trust science, revere scholarship, and encourage stewardship as caretaking, not rape. Science would not be feared; no truth is apart from God, and no discovery can ever reduce the sovereignty of the God we worship. If, for example, we read of a six-day creation in the Bible, and yet science demonstrates, with seeming irrefutability, that the world is actually millions of years old, we don’t declare war on science and scientists. We don’t give up on the Bible. We instead, confidently and cheerfully, approach the issue with humility: We just simply accept that we don’t know, and can’t know, everything. There’s not a choice here between the truth of Scripture or the truth of science, but instead a third choice — humble awe of a God who, thankfully, is bigger than what we can understand, and gratitude that we’re not actually worshiping a Deity that we can fully “get.”

Lastly, although not exhaustively, this Body of believers who shed the Christian-ish substitute for the Real Thing of Christ, would be known by its determination to be known by its love — for each other and for those on the outside. Even, perhaps especially, for those who hate them. It would gladly share in the sufferings of Christ by entering into the grief and suffering, poverty and despair, of others, seeking out people held in low esteem and eagerly imparting to them a message that shows how greatly they’re esteemed by their Creator. It would hate poverty, not the poor, and it would be laughed at, mocked, pitied, and despised by the rich and powerful and well-connected. It would take up the cause of the despised — the ill, the poor, the prisoner — and gladly endure persecution for the sake of Christ. It would deeply desire the betterment of those around it, hating the idea of injustice and seeking to never benefit from it, horrified and stung by the knowledge that some of us have while vowing, then, to hold all we have in an open hand.

Nothing I ever do, or did, contributes to my salvation. But I love Jesus. I like to give him gifts.

That Church, that living, breathing, loving Body, wouldn’t be liberal. It wouldn’t be conservative. It would read and study the Bible, not idolize it, use it as a missile or a mallet, and not ever dare to suggest that any of us can fully understand (apprehend, master) it. The Word of God would be our toolbox to build roads to Jesus and construct a society that reflects him, and it would be the constant nourishment of the Body. The Church would simply . . . BE, and BE in love for Christ Jesus. Most of all, it wouldn’t be a Church I deserve to be in. The only goal I have in my life is to fill my heart and my hands, my mind and voice, with the things that point to Jesus, whose death and resurrection give me entrance by faith. He requires only faith in him; he enables all things for his sake. In the words of a popular song, “This world has nothing for me, and this world has everything.” To be a Christian is to be in the tension between the Already and the Not Yet, but it can never exist with one foot in the Christian-ish and the other in the sanctuary.

The Offense Of The Gospel, Part 2 — What is "The Gospel"?

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Earlier I discussed the three-fold nature of “the offense of the Gospel” described in Scripture — the impolite discussion, first of all, of “personal” things like religion in a culture that freely discusses anything else, the insistence of the Christian that truth claims have a place in discussing spiritual things, and the always-unwelcome assertion that the hearer of the Good News must contend with the bad news that he or she is a sinner.

But what message could possibly be important enough to risk offending another? What is it that Christians feel so strongly about that they would risk alienating those they most want to impress, favorably, with their message? And how have seemingly innocuous ideas of what makes a “good” Christian demonstrated a very real, and very troubling, departure from the core of Christianity itself?

In a predominately “Christian-ish” culture such as ours, where different religious views and traditions are considered secondary to a homogenized code of decency and right conduct that has become a civic religion regardless of the origin of those mores, it’s common to hear that certain actions are “Christian.” We take a casserole to a sick neighbor because it’s “the Christian thing to do.” We trumpet modesty, thrift, kindness, generosity and civility as “Christian” virtues and consider a lifetime of decent conduct and membership in a Baptist or Methodist (or Catholic, Pentecostal, or Episcopalian) church sufficient testimony to the “Christianity” of the deceased. Most tragic is the blithe assurance we hold regarding our own faith, as long as it’s vaguely grounded in Christian tradition and produces a life of virtue and civility. The Christian-ish — the substitution of civil religion and tradition for true commitment to Jesus Christ — may produce and encourage right living, or maybe not, but it is responsible for the spiritual death of millions and millions of people — good people, the kind of people we all want to be, who die in their sins because they know all about Jesus and yet don’t actually know him.

It’s not the enemy of our souls who is responsible for all of this, although he certainly reaps the benefit. The impotent and accommodating witness of Jesus’ disciples in this country has ushered in an era in which the right political views and an uncomplicated decency is considered “good enough,” just as individual sinners, myself most definitely included, consider themselves “good enough” when first confronted with the claims of Jesus Christ as represented by the Christian Gospel. It’s as offensive as it is untrue that the personal and public virtues of thrift, modesty, kindness and tolerance are somehow “Christian.” Of course they’re part of the expected conduct of Christians, but they’re also virtues common to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and other adherents to various religions and faith traditions. Neither is this “ethic of decency” solely practiced and embraced by religious people; it’s entirely possible to be a decent human being and reject with vehemence any idea of the transcendent, whether in the form of a Deity or not.

It sullies the testimony of Christians to assume that all good conduct is “Christian.” If that’s the case, then, why exalt, much less work to proclaim, the Gospel of Jesus Christ? If good behavior were somehow enough, wouldn’t the encouragement of virtue be sufficient, both for individuals and for society as a whole? Even if individuals could agree that they are sinful, and that society is saturated with sin, wouldn’t feeling bad about it be enough?

It’s here where the offense of the Gospel is revealed in all its jarring, complacency-smashing beauty. It isn’t enough to be good; it isn’t enough to cling to a particular religious tradition’s truth claims, and it isn’t enough to wish for the good of others around you. “The wages of sin are death,” the Bible proclaims, and even the fiercest opponent of the Christian Scriptures has to acknowledge that the world is reeling with violence, greed, and oppression, and reeking of bigotry, hatred, and destruction. Refusing to call it “sin” doesn’t make it less so, and while it’s often difficult for people to see themselves as sinners, most people can honestly say that the world around them is, in fact, sinful. So what is the Christian’s response?

The only possible response is the only possible remedy for humankind’s disastrous individual and corporate circumstances — the Gospel of Christ. It’s both simple and profound, easily understood and yet terribly difficult to accept. The Gospel of Christ makes the staggering claim, first of all, that all of us are sinners. A debate over original sin, while interesting, isn’t necessary to illustrate the point — in tallying our sins, God stops counting at one. Just one sin is enough to separate us from a Holy God. And that’s the good news — there’s no need to expend any energy in trying to determine if we’re in need of a Savior. I’ve sinned more than once just today; thank God he no longer counts mine against me, solely because of the work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel proclaims what I don’t want to believe and offers hope that I don’t want to need; it announces that we are, undeniably, separated from God because of our sin. We may all recognize the degree to which we’re hurting — separated from peace — because of the effect of other people’s sins against us, but we struggle with the idea that we, “good” as we are, are nonetheless separated from God.

The Good News gets worse, in a sense, by proclaiming that there is absolutely nothing we can do to remedy our situation — to bridge the gap that exists between God and us because of our sin. God wants us to do good things; the Christian’s faith is evidenced not by her words but by the “fruit” she demonstrates, and that fruit better correspond to the character of Christ Jesus. The Bible refers to the expected and empowered conduct of the Christian as the Fruit of the Holy Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, mercy, and self-control, and it describes behavior that’s inconsistent with life in Christ.

But the emphasis on our good works is not their contribution toward one’s salvation — they contribute nothing. That’s another blow to the unbeliever, for whom good works are seen as appropriate currency to gain favor in the market of faith. Desirable as they are, our righteous deeds and most sincere virtue are utterly worthless as a means of gaining salvation. Being “Christian-ish” requires a steady flow of good works tepid or fervent; being Christian requires acknowledgment that nothing we do, have done, or will do, no matter how beautiful, pious, sincere and loving, can change our situation. Our sins condemn us just as our righteous works fail us.

But our Gospel offers us hope in the form of the death and resurrection of Christ. Here it is in a nutshell: The Gospel proclaims that we’re all sinners (the one writing this easily as much as anyone reading it), and that our sin separates us from God. In God’s great, unfathomable love for us, he sent his son, Jesus, to pay the price for our sins in our place, dying on the cross so we don’t have to die in our sins. His death paid the price; his resurrection ensures our victory over sin and our union with him here and after our physical death. He paid the price, bridged the gap, died in our place, and did it fully in love, for all humankind. Because of Jesus Christ, my sins, past, present, and future, are no longer counted against me; to God, the “guilty” verdict is done away with and my innocence is guaranteed. I still sin — any Christian who says she doesn’t is lying — and yet my Savior’s death and resurrection is a verdict of righteousness and victory applied to my account, solely because of him — his righteousness, his love, his work on my behalf and yours. That exchange is available to all, simply because of the astonishing love of our God. All it takes is faith — plus nothing.

So if my good works, my sincere efforts to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with my God, don’t save me — don’t impress God so that my sins are overlooked, like some cosmic set of scales that may or may not tip toward goodness on my part — why should I continue doing them? That’s the subject of my next post, an unexpected Part 3 that is necessary, I think, because while the Gospel message is sufficient for salvation, the Christian life cannot stop at securing one’s eternity by trusting in Christ. The Christian’s testimony should rightly keep relationship with Christ in faith as its primary focus, but too often “getting saved” is seen as the end. It’s just the beginning, and that’s where the societal transformation that being Christian-ish cannot bring about comes into play.

What Is The "Offense Of The Gospel"? (Part 1)

Monday, September 28th, 2009

I write a lot about the witness of the Gospel, or the proclamation of the Gospel, or the living-out-in-a-sinful-world of the Gospel, but I don’t think I’ve ever discussed the “offense” of the Gospel, or even, for that matter, what I mean when I say “Gospel.” So I’ll discuss the offense first, and then, in my next post, I’ll explain what I mean by “the Gospel.”

It’s easy for religious terms, particularly Christian vocabulary, to take on a meaning not at all consistent with Scripture, and often not at all consistent with the very thing the words themselves describe. Christian doctrine, described in certain objective words and phrases, is a collection of truth claims derived from the Bible. Doctrine is not at all a substitute for the destination it points to — relationship with Christ Jesus and the forgiveness of sin and assurance of eternal life it brings — but it informs and describes the faith represented in the life and teachings of Christ, and what we know and believe about him must, to be truly Christian, conform to the Word of God. Being in love with Jesus while caring little for the truths that describe the movement that bears his name is not Christianity; at the same time, loving the doctrines more than loving Christ, or the ones he came to save, isn’t either.

While I and other Christians happily announce to one and all that “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion,” there is, nonetheless, a set of beliefs garnered from the Scriptures that we Christians not only “believe,” but consider to be revealed truth. Ours is a faith based on knowledge and a trust based on what we take to be truth; we believe what we believe because it makes sense to the Spirit-informed mind, and we act on that belief because the Spirit brings us to a response, the passion and emotion of which make it no less logical and rational. First, we know about God. Then we come to know God, running into the Divine arms on a road paved with assertions about his character, his work, and his intention for us.

The fact that a religion puts forth any claims to truth, however, is problematic to those who see truth claims as the provence of science and history; religion, they say, is entirely subjective, and assertions of fact in the realm of the spiritual is an odd, and offensive, mix of categories. We live in a time that elevates spirituality, as long as that spirituality, however rigorous in its practice, is devoid of claims of objective truth. You want truth? Facts? A historical record? Well and good, our culture says. Study chemistry, the biographies of Victorian novelists, or a history of the Haitian Revolution — but don’t insert objective truth claims into the spiritual, the last, and perhaps the only, bastion of subjectivity in an increasingly rigid, scientific, technological world.

Christians live, too, in that scientific, technological world, but we, along with conservative adherents to Judaism and Islam — the Abrahamic faiths, or “religions of the Book” — live comfortably in it because of our understanding, however different, of the historicity and factual nature that forms our doctrinal positions. And while religious faith calls for a commitment generally more life-altering than the study of, say, gastroenterology, the Abrahamic religions are as comfortable with assertions of truth regarding their faith as they are with assertions of truth regarding the ascending colon.

So while Paul and the other writers of the New Testament refer to the stumbling block or offense of the Gospel, they wrote in a time in which truth claims were expected of religious faith — or of secular philosophy, however easily discarded a particular philosophy might have been by first-century thinkers. These secular philosophies, while more fluid than absolute, were at least the product of an epistemology that insists that human beings can KNOW — that there was security in the simplest exercises in logic, a security that enlivened philosophical discourse even when “the truth” wasn’t yet apprehended, or supplanted former “truths.” (See Acts 16-18). The Jews in Christ’s time were the recipients and keepers of an extensive history of God’s dealings with human beings, as well as a Law comprised of some 400 specific commands; they might have taken offense at the truth claims about Jesus that Paul set forth, but it was the content, not the nature, of his preaching that riled them. And while the stumbling block was and is, perhaps, felt and understood differently for the first-century Jews and for 21-st century unbelievers, it is, essentially, the same truth that gets to people. It got to me 29 years ago, and I’m glad it did. Because no matter how long I live, I’d be dead now without accepting it.

The primary offense of the Gospel, Scripture says and experience bears out, is the part that insists that the hearer, no matter how educated, devoted, and enthusiastic she is in her worship, is a rank sinner. It’s so . . . impolite. Well-bred people don’t tell other people that they’re sinners, lost and separated from God and entirely unable to win his love. It really pisses people off to hear “Good News” that starts with the fact that even the nicest people among us — and we’re usually not one of them anyway — are separated from God because of their own sin. As an opinion, that’s just uncalled for; as an assertion of fact, it’s enough to incite behavior that proves the truth of the initial point with utter, and unfortunate, clarity.

The first claim of the Gospel, that we are all sinners, violates every tenet of the majority religion around us. The people of the United States have cooked up and presented to one another a lovely substitute for the Christianity they continue to insist is their heritage, a culture of good behavior and vague religiosity that claims Christ, and whose adherents care little, if they’re aware at all, that they aren’t claimed by him. This was the religion of my childhood, when I was nominally Catholic and tremendously polite, dutiful, and well-behaved. I was Christian-ish; I was “basically good,” and not like the “obviously bad.” And in a Christian-ish sort of culture, where people say they’re Christian because they’re not, say, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, or Zoroastrian, the ease with which “good” people cement their status by comparing themselves to Charles Manson, the September 11 terrorists, or even the obnoxious drunk down the street, is pronounced. Undoubtedly, most people do lots of good things, and most of us think we’re pretty good compared to people who do the bad things that we don’t, or who, if the judgment of sin were like a 4-H competition, would be the ones we’d most like to stand next to — secure in the belief that we’re bright, smiling, well-groomed, and quick to remind the judge that the stink and filth in the barn doesn’t come from us.

We set the bar for personal righteousness only as high as that of our neighbor’s worst behavior, and the bar of offense is low, too. We’re polite people, and polite society requires that you not go around telling people they’re sinners, they’re separated from God, and all of their good works are, as passage to eternal life, about as valuable as the bag of moldy mozzarella they threw out last night. The message might well be Christian, but it’s not very Christian-ish. It’s offensive, particularly to people raised in an atmosphere of rote civic religion — an assurance that ours is a Christian nation, and its citizens are, by birthright, members of God’s family, as long as they act like “good citizens.” Good citizens don’t like to be told that good citizenship doesn’t matter from an eternal perspective, and is wholly insufficient even from a temporal one. Polite society easily forgives the anger shown toward someone who would even suggest such a thing.

It’s understandable, really, and entirely to be expected of the devoutly “Christian-ish” — those who cling to a vaguely religious and generally decent set of behaviors and attitudes that comport nicely with national, familial, or social identification with all things Baptist, Catholic, or Presbyterian. It works well enough to continue as the nation’s true religion, and Satan has won no greater victory than that brought about by two centuries of national belief in a creed that asserts the one acceptable truth claim for the Christian-ish: that this is a “Christian nation,” which must, then, make its citizens “Christians.” Millions of people will spend eternity separated from God because they clung fervently to the Styrofoam of civil religion — the Christian-ish — and not to the Rock that is Christ.

Being Christian-ish requires adherence, in the name of Christ only when pressed or peeved, to common social mores that distinguish decent folks from bums, troublemakers, and scoundrels, but to be Christian-ish demands no real understanding of doctrine, requires a comfortable recall of Bible stories learned in childhood with little concern for Biblical literacy, and insists on deflecting truth claims and evangelistic efforts by an appeal to the “personal” nature of religion. Ronald Reagan was perhaps one of the nation’s best examples of Christian-ish, civil religion, as far as any of us can know. He captured the hearts, certainly not the minds, of millions of Christians who asked nothing more of this God-fearing hero than his occasional reassurance that he was, in fact, a God-fearing hero. Christian rock artist Steve Taylor said it well with his wry salute to Reagan in “It’s A Personal Thing:”

It’s a personal thing, and I find it odd
You’d question my believing in a personal God
I’m devout, I’m sincere
Ask my mother if you doubt
I’m religious, I’m just not radical about it

It’s that “personal” thing — private, none of your business — that, coupled with shock at being informed of one’s sinful status, is what joins with the presumptuous assertion of truth claims in the spiritual realm to make proclamation of the Gospel a three-point offense to those who hear it. The job of the Christian is to gently, lovingly, and faithfully call out the Christian-ish elements of our society, proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with respect and humility, and bravely withstand reaction to the offense of the Gospel without adding to it by being obnoxious, unloving, and condemning. We were offended once, too. That offense got our attention, and the Holy Spirit graciously helped us over the stumbling block that is the first truth of the Christian Gospel. Because you’re a sinner, too, just like I am.

There’s no truth more sickeningly, regularly, obviously verifiable than that one.

Gone . . . And, I Hope, Forgotten

Friday, September 25th, 2009

It looks like someone, or Someone, has convinced Chris Witmer that his anti-Keely “satirical” blog isn’t such a good idea, given that it copies my blog format, has my picture, and uses my name and “Prevailing Winds” in anagram. It’s been removed — and not because of any plea on my part, although I certainly am glad.

Here’s Witmer’s note from yesterday’s Vision 2020:

“The blog has been revamped; since the old format had made its point, there was not really any reason to keep it that way.

Hopefully if there is any offense it will be solely the offense of the gospel.

The fundamental raison d’etre of the blog remains unchanged.”

I’m not sure what point the “old format” made, but I’m glad it’s gone. I choose to call it an answer to prayer.

Apologies Over The Years And Across The Miles

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

My friend Nick Gier, chairman emeritus of the University of Idaho’s Religion and Philosophy Department, wrote this in my support on Moscow’s Vision 2020. I thank him for his kind words and for letting me copy what he wrote onto Prevailing Winds; I’m doing so not because he compliments me, which was very nice of him, but because it gives us an idea of what might spur an apology from Witmer:

“When Chris Witmer learned that I was traveling to Tokyo in December, 2007, he invited me to have lunch with him while I was there. I declined, saying that I was astounded that he thought that I would want to see him after all the nasty things he had said about me and my friends.

In a return e-mail he apologized profusely for any wrong that he had done me, and urged me to reconsider lunch. I answered that I didn’t trust him and that was the end of the matter. If Witmer could apologize to me, then certainly he can apologize to Keely, one of the most eloquent and elegant ladies that I know.

What about it, Chris?? If you were man enough to apologize to me, then you are certainly man enough to apologize to Keely. Of course, it has nothing to do with “manliness;” it has everything to do with being a decent human being.”
Nick Gier, Vision 2020, Sept. 23, 2009

I’ve already forgiven Witmer, and of course I would accept his apology. But I’m not holding my breath, as he’s made it clear to me that apologies are useless; only repentance and seeking forgiveness is possible for the Christian, and I don’t see him repenting of his blogstalking behavior anytime real soon. Life goes on, and in my next post I’d like to discuss another book I’m reading — “Eliminationism: How Hate Talk Radicalized The Right,” which came in the mail yesterday morning.

Timely, eh?????

Confidential To My Concerned Friends

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Regarding “Viper Gal Sin Wind,” yesterday’s primo example of Cowardice in the Covenant:

I acknowledged it. I exposed it. I do not intend to dwell on it.

And yes, it appears to be Dontbia Nass himslf, Chris Witmer. Pray for him.

By Now You May Have Heard . . .

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

If you’re a reader of either Moscow’s Vision 2020 or Christ Church elder Dale Courtney’s Right-Mind.us blog, you know that someone out there in the extended Kirk family has dedicated a blog to slamming and sliming me. And they get to. Free speech entitles anyone to run the rhetorical gauntlet between disagreeing with me and hating me, as long as they don’t libel me. Yes, it’s terribly sad that the bar is set so low regarding the integrity of a Christian critic, but that’s the situation I find myself in with whoever has set up a blog solely to slam me. I welcome dialogue, especially with those who disagree with me, but this — this is insane. You’ll understand after you read this — after you actually see it.

I don’t deny that I was initially shocked and unsettled by what my friend Tom Hansen pointed out on Vision 2020 this morning. Still, any concern for me must be overshadowed by concern for a guy who has taken his hatred of me down roads I’ve never seen — or would have imagined. This man has taken things a step or two too far, in ways that immediately make the simple existence of his “Viper Gal” blog more significant than what he actually says in it.

Here’s what he’s done.

He’s taken the letters of both my name and of Prevailing Winds and reproduced the format of my blog, right down to the colors, font, headers, and arrangement, in creating “Viper Girl Sin Wind” at the address below. This brave Covenant gentleman writes as Eimy Reekenxlime — “Keely Emerine Mix” scrambled to make a name that reads “I Me Reeken Slime.” He even uses my picture, lightly Photoshopped to appear in the negative. All in all, it looks just like Prevailing Winds, except for the integrity part. Once again, a Kirk defender has gone all brave and courageous-like by hiding behind a pseudonym — this time, taken from my own name — and so far has filled 23 posts with rants and taunts against me.

At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing — what looks just like my blog, with my picture, saying some pretty rough things about me. I can take the criticism; whoever this is (No Weatherman? Dontbia Nass/Chris Witmer?) clearly finds my analyses and rebukes of Doug Wilson and his attendant ministries and fan/employees disgusting. I’ll be monitoring the site regularly for anything libelous or otherwise out of bounds, but I can’t stop him and wouldn’t if I could. I’ll just ask that he refrain from attacking my family, and I’d hope he would stick to the issues without insult. He won’t, but I’ll be keeping close watch on him in case he goes too far.

Of course, he already has gone too far, simply by being a nameless coward with what appears to be an enormous amount of free time on his hands, not to mention an enormous amount of interest in me. Yeah, it’s more than a little creepy. I think copying my blog, using the letters of my name, and borrowing my picture is despicable behavior — not only cowardly, but malicious, dishonest, and entirely deserving of rebuke. I’ll be in touch with Doug Wilson today or tomorrow to ask him to condemn this particularly weird display of Covenant apologetics and pastoral appreciation. If he knows who’s done this, he ought to call him out, whether or not the creep actually attends Christ Church. After all, loyalty to Wilson is what drives this and many other blogstalkers; Wilson isn’t excused when his fans and followers take the Serrated Edge places he may or may not have intended.

Dale Courtney, incidentally, has a link to it on Right-Mind.us, and he’s evidently thrilled that someone out there will do what he himself says he won’t; he likens reading my blog to cleaning out a toilet with his bare hands. That cheerful and peacemaking assessment will certainly earn Courtney points with his pastor. I’d hate to begrudge him that, but I hope that Wilson re-acquaints himself with pastoral responsibility and care and demands that this particular fawning accolyte knock it off. I’ll report on his response once I get it.

So. This is really ugly, really sobering, really disturbing stuff. And I suppose you could make a case for my somehow deserving it; I waded into the pool to play against the big boys, and I certainly can’t ask them to hold back when I’ve dished it out myself. But– what I’ve dished out has been legitimate, pointed, critique regarding behavior that requires it, if the Gospel and its witness on the Palouse is to be considered at all. I’ve done nothing shameful, nothing for which I apologize (other than the times I HAVE apologized because I’ve either gotten my tone or my facts wrong), and nothing that ought to provoke the obsessive hatred of a man who stalks and mocks me as he has. Which doesn’t seem terribly Christian.

Of course, stalking and mocking are the province of those who have no legitimate argument, and doing it anonymously — Dontbia Nass, “DAD,” No Weatherman — is utter cowardice. I have not dedicated my blog to the incessant tearing down of Doug Wilson. I have dedicated it to sharp critiques of wrong actions and errant theologies, while offering reasons for the hope that I and other Christians have in Christ Jesus. But no matter what I’ve done, even (and especially) the things for which I’ve later apologized, I’ve done them under my own name. I’m afraid only of dishonoring the Lord Jesus. I am not ashamed, and I use my name both as a caution against writing recklessly and as a testimony to my faith in Christ. I long for this man to dare to do the same.

So here’s the address — http://vipergalsinwind.blogspot.com/. I’d welcome your comments, but I do ask that you gird your loins and square your shoulders and use your real name. After all, how do you expect to conquer the forces of evil, vanquish non-believers to subordinate status, and usher in a socio-political Millennium Kingdom if you’re afraid of a middle-aged homemaker with a laptop?

When Christians Encounter Bullies Foreign And Domestic

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Journalist Cal Thomas, on standing up to bullies on the playground and in American foreign policy:

“. . . Stirred by his adversaries’ impotent responses, the bully felt free to slug anyone he fancied. Most kids tried to avoid him, thinking their demonstration of weakness might protect them from being hit. It never did. Having set themselves up as easy targets, the bully went after these kids first. This lesson learned early in life has served me well as a citizen of the United States . . . During the Reagan years, in matters of foreign policy, self-defense was known as ‘peace through strength.’ And it worked. America’s strength and the assurance held by much of the world that we were willing to use our muscle against threats served to deter those who might have wanted a piece of us.’” (Cal Thomas, Spokesman-Review, Sept. 22, 2009)

OK. Cal Thomas is a Christian. He helped form the Moral Majority, he proudly argues the case of the Religious Right, and he is, perhaps, the most prominent Christian newspaper columnist right-wing evangelicals have. His conservative-Christian bona-fides are impeccable and his commitment to Christ rarely, if ever, challenged.

So why applaud a foreign policy, never mind a playground policy, that looks so remarkably unlike Christ’s teachings in the Gospels? “Peace through strength” may well keep a nation safe from its enemies. What it doesn’t do is keep it safe from the judgment of Jesus Christ.

And shouldn’t that be of first concern to those of us who take his name?