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Monday, January 21, 2013

It Is Time To Take Names And Preach Repentance

When confronting Peter about his duplicitous behavior, Paul was not shy as recorded in Galations chapter 2. For Paul to be shy would imply that he was at least leaning toward trying to please people than God. What was Peter's sin? He would associate with Gentile Christians when he was by himself but withdrew from them when those from the Circumcision Party came. The Circumcision Party consisted of those who believed that Gentile Christians must follow all of the Jewish ceremonial laws including being circumcised. Paul regarded those in this party as preaching a false gospel.

The question the Conservative Church must answer today is how does it confront evil behavior? The Conservative Church has an answer but, like the behavior that Paul had to confront, it is duplicitous. When an average Joe commits sin, especially sexual sin, the Conservative Church is prepared to intervene and even bare its teeth. But when those with wealth and power sin, the Conservative Church backs away and becomes meek, mild, and some would say obedient. Sins such as waging immoral wars, destroying the environment, and manipulating the economy receive a far different treatment from the Conservative Church than personal sins committed by ordinary individuals. Why the double standard?

Those on the Left explain the duplicitous behavior this way. The Church, along with the education system and the news and entertainment media, serve as institutions of indoctrination to maintain the status quo with the status quo consisting of society being ruled over by those with wealth and power. This keeping the status quo can be done by either encouraging people to support the status quo or by minimizing dissatisfaction and resistance.

To see how correct the Left is in its assessment of the Church as an institution of indoctrination, one only needs to look at the tenets the Church teaches and the behaviors it promotes amongst its members. One of the basic tenets that the Conservative Church teaches its flock is to be preoccupied with oneself, to be spiritually narcissistic. This is first done through teaching the flock on how to be content in all situations. The result here is that contentment, especially in the face of hardship, is a measure of one's spirituality. Logically speaking, if one is taught that contentment is how we should respond when things are not going our way, one will very likely conclude that the way to help others who are going through trials is to teach them how to be content.

To answer this call to contentment, a parallel could be drawn here between the personal command to not to be anxious for our lives and not to work for food that perishes with how we should respond to those in need. Here, a different kind of double standard is imposed on Christians. Despite the Golden Rule, while we should learn to trust God and be content (Matthew 6:25-33 and John 6:27), we should look to provide for those in need (Matthew 25:31-46 and James 2:14-17).

Another way by which the Conservative Church leads its flock into a gross self-preoccupation is through its emphasis on saving faith. The way it is preached is that as long as one has saving faith, one can be apathetic to a world that is destroying itself. But we should note that that disinterest is selective. For when the world around us is doomed, this saving faith is adequate to give us peace. But how many Christians would have the same peace if they sold all they had to give to the poor?

Likewise, I have heard preachers reject the Social Gospel because feeding the hungry does means little if the same people are unbelievers and will condemned to hell. And the same goes with righting the wrongs of those who are oppressed. But here we must consider the source of these statements. Realize that these things are being said by well-fed pastors who, because of their own personal wealth, have more privileges than most people who live on earth. For not only must we ask the Biblical question of of how can people believe if there is nobody to preach the Gospel to them. We must ask how can people hear the Gospel when they are too hungry or oppressed to listen when it is preached.

The same self-centeredness can be found in the way Conservative Christians use Romans 13, the chapter that tells us to submit to all in authority, to quell resistance against the abusive practices of those with wealth and power. Basically, Conservative Christianity tells us that because of this chapter in the Bible, when it is those in authority who do the abusing, the hands of Conservative Christians are tied. There is a escape clause however. If  those in authority tell the Christian to do or refrain something that violates a Christian's conscience, the Christian is allowed to ignore those in authority.

The problem with the Conservative Christian approach here is that it reduces our relationship to tyrants to our personal obligations to honor those whom God has ordained as rulers. In so doing, those in the Conservative Christian are, again, being told to be concerned solely for oneself. They are being told to care first about being pure by submitting to those in authority while others suffer even cruelly. Their suffering, Conservative Christians are being told, is of no consequence. But saving oneself by being obedient, which in turn enables the persecution of others, is what is important.

Romans 13 is important. It played a role in Martin Luther King's thinking of how to react to abusive people in position of authority. However, unlike what the leaders of the Conservative Christian church tell their flock, King did not reduce how one should respond to unjust governments to Romans 13. Two other issues we must consider when determining how we will react to an abusive government are how we are to oppose evil and how to stand with the victims. In contrast to Romans 13, both of these issues call us to be concerned about and act on that what is outside of our interests.  Opposing evil calls on us to be stand against the evil of others while standing with the victims calls on us to show an abuse, and sometimes even death, defying compassion on others. We need to ask ourselves which behavior follows Christ's example more faithfully, is it obeying the authorities so that one is not punished or is it to risk what one has in order to protect innocent victims from bullies with power?

Now we should not jump to stereotypes about how the Conservative Christian Church teaches its members on how to respond to those in authority. Certainly some Conservative Churches, in the name of patriotism, condemn any resistance to the government that they see by some of its own politically progressive members. Other Conservative Churches, however,  allow for some of its members to resist those in authority but with a concern for not offending its good, submissive, patriotic members. These Churches do so by either merely trusting the consciences of those who resist or by exhorting people to take a political stand on whatever political side one's own understanding of the Bible leads them to.

This allowing for members to be on both sides of an issue can be a legitimate recognition of the complexity of an issue but it can also be used to dodge having to take a possibly costly stand. Just as we could ask how Christians could be on the both sides of the slavery issue during the 19th century, how can Christians be on both sides of fighting immoral wars,  of fraudulent foreclosure processes, of the poisoning of our food and environment, of the growing wealth disparity that is at least partially due to the reduction or elimination of workers' pay, rights and benefits, or the torture and/or murder of innocent civilians overseas? In short, how can any Church, in good conscience, be on both sides of all of the issues in a society where money rules and determines what is right and wrong? All of these attacks on innocent people and the environment are occurring because of government-corporation collusions where one hand washes the other and there is a revolving door for jobs between those in the private and public sectors.

Again, the Conservative Church has no qualms with persecuting an individual member for sexual sins but let a sin be both violent and perpetrated by either a businessman dressed for success or a person in a military uniform and we find that the Conservative Church is strangely silent. It is as if good clothes cover a multitude of sins. And one of the reasons for this double standard is that to take sides would mean that the Conservative Church could lose members and thus revenue.

Where the Conservative Church takes such a cowardly stand by treating defenseless, though not innocent, individuals harshly while overlooking the gross injustices of those with wealth and power, it exceeds the Apostle Peter's duplicitous behavior referred to at the beginning of this post. Already, those outside of the Church are trying to do the Church's job by calling those with wealth and power to repentance. Of course, without the Gospel, their calling of wealthy and powerful sinners to repentance will have many unnecessary flaws. But at least they are not afraid to say who is sinning and challenge them to repent. When will the Conservative Church do the same? When will the Conservative Church name those who are committing sins that devastate the lives of the vulnerable? The Conservative Church will do so when it commits itself to pleasing God rather than people. The Conservative Church will do so when it no longer agrees to serve as an institution of indoctrination for the status quo.

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